Cambrils (Catalonia), Spain February 2022

And so, on our way to warmer climes, we arrived in Cambrils (some 20 kilometres south of Tarragona) and decided to stay for a couple of days. Our reasons were that firstly, it was getting warmer by the day (and the forecast was even more promising); secondly, there is far more to Cambrils than L’Estartit (and for the most part it is open) and; thirdly and perhaps most importantly, we arranged for a local vet to see Nala and Beanie about a Spanish Pet Passport (now that, because of Brexit, their existing EU Pet Passports have been made redundant).

Our decision proved to be good one. The fact is, we needed a rest. Ordinarily we take our time on these tours, driving as little as possible and properly exploring and/or experiencing the places we choose to stop at. That wasn’t the case on this particular tour. Storms and freezing weather across the whole of France had compelled us to head south as quickly as possible. It was time to get back to doing things right and that day’s sunset promised great things…

We stayed at Camping La Llosa which sits on Playa La Llosa and was an easy 15 minute walk into the town. Cambrils could be described as just another Spanish summer holiday resort, albeit one with 9 kilometres of 10 blue flag, golden, sandy beaches but, what sets it apart is it’s proximity to the three mountains of Llaberia, Argentera & La Mussara (water and mountains go so well together) and it’s many fine restaurants, including at least one holding a Michelin star (the Ca L’Estrany).

Ca L’Estrany was not to be but, on the seafront we found a small restaurant (Braseria de Porte) which had an appealing menu and we sat and ate and stayed until they closed. Vanya rated her meal, Crayfish followed by a Seafood Paella, as one of the best of her life. I tried Razor Clams for the first time in my life but found them a mite rubbery. No matter, we would both recommend the Braserie de Porte.

Razor Clams. They were a tad rubbery but I’ll try them again. I’ve seen a Rick Stein recipe which appeals

The next day I went for a long walk along the coast to and from Salou – no reason other than that I fancied the exercise.

During my walk along the coast I stumbled across a rather intriguing work of art which I subsequently learned was created by David Callau Gene in 2011. They are sculptures of three fishermen and two mermaids and were put up to mark the 100th anniversary of a great storm which killed 140 Cantabrian fishermen, many of them from Cambrils.

Yes, we enjoyed Cambrils – as much for the rest as anything. And yes – we managed to get Spanish Pet Passports for the dogs. They now have dual nationality.

Tarragona (Catalonia), Spain February 2022

Leaving L’Estartit very early by our standards we set off further down the Catalonian coast for Cambril pausing at Tarragona on the way.

Much of our time in Tarragona was walking to, from and along the lively, wide, tree lined Rambla Nova (the city’s main street) where we also sat and enjoyed some of the local beer and tapas. We saw a few of the city’s sites during our short sojourn but missed so much more. You need a good two days at least to do the place justice.

Walking alongside one of Tarragona’s fine beaches (the Playa del Milagro) to the Rambla Nova, we passed the remarkably intact remains of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre built during the reign of the Emperor Augustus in 2 AD. Augustus wintered in Tarragona, or Tarraco as it was then known, after his Cantabrian campaign. The amphitheatre could accommodate more than 14,000 spectators and in 259 AD was the scene of the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus and his two deacons. How on earth any one person, let alone 14,000, could enjoy such a spectacle is beyond me but the amphitheatre is just one of many Roman ruins in the city which, collectively, have caused Tarragona to be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Tarragona’s Amphitheatre

Tarragona’s 15 kilometre coastline comprises a number of beautiful beaches and the Playa del Milagro with it’s wide sandy shore is one of the most popular. One of the best views of the beach and it’s palm fringed promenade is from the Balcon del Mediterraneo which is to be found at the eastern end of the Rambla Nova.

Looking down over Playa del Milagro from the Balcon del Mediterraneo

There are some interesting statues dotted across Tarragona. One in particular on the Rambla Nova caught my attention. It sits towards the western end of the avenue and is entitled “Castells of Tarragona”.

The forming of the Castells (Human Towers) is believed to have started early in the 18th century in or around Tarragona and it has since spread throughout Catalonia. Indeed, an annual competition is now held in Tarragona every summer with teams known as ‘colles’ descending on the city from all over Catalonia to compete in building the tallest and most complex towers made only of human beings of all ages and sizes standing on top of each other. As many as 500 people have been known to form a colle and it is not unusual for the towers to reach ten tiers. The concept has attracted so much interest that UNESCO has declared the Castells a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

As was mentioned beforehand, this was a brief stop in Tarragona. There is a great deal more to see in the city (principal among them being the Roman Forum and the magnificent 12th century Cathedral of Santa Maria) but we had to move on – our dogs were due to see a vet in Cambril.

La Seu d’Urgell (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Leaving Montagut we headed off towards La Seu d’Urgell in the Catalonian Pyrenees, just to the south of Andorra. Two stages of this year’s Tour de France are being held in Andorra next week and we have it in mind to visit during the event.

We took our time over the journey pausing at Ripoll (to stock up on supplies) and near Cercs on the Panta de la Baells (to enable the dogs to take their now customary morning swim). There were other stops too but these were just brief photo opportunities

We arrived at La Seu d’Urgell early afternoon and and parked up some 3 km outside of town between the two small villages of Castellciutat and Montferrer. This gave me plenty of time to conduct a brief recce of the town. It’s a small, fairly pretty town of some 12,000 people, sitting at the confluence of the Segre and Valira Rivers just 12 miles to the south of Andorra. This area is all about cycling, white water rafting on the Segre and, surprisingly, cheese – Spanish cheese producers descend on the town from all over the country every October for a major cheese fair.

Having walked the 3 kilometres to d’Urgell in 33 degrees centigrade, I was delighted to stumble upon the cool tree lined avenue of Passeig de Joan Brudieu near the centre of the town. A couple bars on the avenue were open and locals of all ages were simply sitting in the shade and chatting over a beer, wine or coffee. I can appreciate now why such avenues are a feature of so many Spanish towns. They provide much needed relief from the hot afternoon sun.

From the Avenue I made my way to the old(er) part to the town where most of the shops sit in a stone arcade (which, once again, is designed to protect the local inhabitants from the sun) and that arcade led me to the Romanesque Catedral de Santa Maria.

Just a short walk from the Cathedral is the Olympic Park which was built for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The white water canoeing and kayaking events were held there in 1992 and while those same sports facilities are now available for locals to use, much of the area has been given over to gentler pursuits. For instance, there are now two very welcoming bars in the complex (not that I had time to use them – I had to get back to the Van for the football – England v Italy in the European Championship Final at Wembley).

And so to the football, after starting brilliantly (England were 1-0 up within just 2 minutes following a great strike by Luke Shaw) it turned into a disaster with Italy first equalising and then, after extra time was played without any further score, winning on penalties. The saddest thing is that Italy deserved their win.

The football was memorable on two counts. Firstly, England lost despite having the home advantage and being odds on favourites. The second was the electrical storm which hit us just after Italy equalised. Strong winds came from nowhere and caused absolute havoc across the campsite. We made it into the Van just before the thunder, lightening and heavy rain struck. We got away with it but some serious damage was caused to the vehicles and tents of people camped both sides of us.

The next day was about my visiting the two local villages of Castellciutat and Montferrer and finding us a pub for lunch. That was easy. Montferrer has no shops, bars or restaurants – absolutely nothing. Castellciutat has only the one pub but it did us proud. Despite it being Sunday (or because of it?) the pub was packed with locals who all seemed to know each other and the mood was lively and friendly. Add that the beer and food was good and inexpensive and we were more than happy to while away a good two hours sitting at a table outside and relaxing.

And so to Andorra…

Montagut (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Day 15 of our Tour saw us visit Besalu and then move on to a very quiet campsite just 13 miles away near Montagut i Oix on the edge of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park. There is very little of any interest in the area (unless you enjoy walking rough woodland trails up and down hills) but that suited us fine because we had booked in for two days with a view to simply chilling. We did that alright and enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed for a third night.

One absolute must during our stay was to watch the European Championship Semi-Final match between England and Denmark and that was achieved despite the camp having only very weak 3G and seriously poor Wifi. Vanya managed to stream the match on to two different I-pads (don’t ask me how) and while the I-pads took turns freezing one at least would work sufficiently well for us to follow most of the match. It wasn’t ideal but it worked and of course England won!

About 400 metres from our campsite alongside the road to Tortella is a narrow 28 metre high single arch 14th century bridge which crosses the River Llierca. Would you believe, Vanya actually made it to the top of the bridge? It was the river flowing very slowly under the bridge which most impressed the dogs. It became their private swimming pool with Beanie in particular loving the daily swim.

Of course, I cannot sit and do nothing even on chill days and so on two of our three days at Montagut I wandered off into the Garrotxa Park on short walks. They weren’t brilliant walks because (a) many of the trails are indistinct and (b) the tree line in this part of the world is so high that it is virtually impossible to get decent views but they kept me occupied.

My first walk was along part of Spain’s GR1 route and it took me from the Pont de Llierca up to and well beyond the Oratori de Plansalloses which chapel is popularly known as the ‘Saints Bodies’ after a legend that tells of the small bodies of numerous children being found there.

My second walk, the next day, was a longer route which took me in the opposite direction from the Pont de Llierca up to Montsiposit and then on to la Creu de la Ripolla. Absolute waste of time. The Santa Creu cross at the top of Montsiposit was more of a disappointment than the Oratori de Plansalloses. I had to fight may through a mass of thorns which cover the Montsiposit summit only to discover it the Santa Creu is little more than a small trig point with a cross on it. If that wasn’t bad enough, La Creu de la Ripolla proved to be nothing more than a yellow signpost pointing the way back to my start point and various other destinations.

Leaving the walks aside, we still enjoyed our stay in Montagut.

Besalu (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Wolfgang Dino, whom we met in Tossa, recommended Besalu as a place to visit and so we did just that (although I made a meal of the journey when, just two kilometres from Besalu, I took the wrong turning off a roundabout and added 20 kilometres to our route – Plonker!). Never mind; we got there in the end and we still had plenty of time to look around and enjoy a tapas lunch.

Besalu is a well preserved and enchanting little town on the Fluvia River at the edge of the La Garrotxa Natural Park in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Access to the town is across an 11th century Romanesque bridge, the Pont Vell, which leads into a maze of 11th to 14th century stone buildings and narrow cobbled streets date all of which are enclosed in the original 12 century town walls. The place is brimming with history and character and while there are a number of tourist shops, their focus is towards locally produced items, lace and ceramics (especially colourful Catalan pottery) and it really does not appear a particularly tourist destination.

Towards the centre of the town on the Place de la Libertat is the Church of Sant Pere de Besalu. Founded in 977 and consecrated in 1003 it is all that remains of a much older and larger Benedictine monastery on this site. There is a town market on the Place de la Libertat every Tuesday.

There is a second church within the town walls, the Church of Saint Vicene, but it doesn’t have the same impact as the Church of Sant Pere.

Besalu is one of the towns listed in the ‘Camino de Sefarad’ which is a network of Jewish Quarters, “each with significant Jewish Heritage”, stretching across Spain. Besalu had a sizeable community of Sephardic Jews (i.e. Jews who lived in Spain until the time of the Inquisition and who spoke a Spanish Hebrew patois known as Ladino) but this particular community disappeared not long after Pope Benedict issued his Bull in 1415 which prompted yet another systematic persecution of the local Jews by their Christian neighbours. The Christians in Besalu elected to board up the doors and windows of houses and block off all streets in the Jewish Quarter (except the one route out of town) and within 20 years all the Jews had gone. Besalu’s Jewish Quarter fell into ruin but in 1964 an almost perfectly preserved Jewish 13th Century Public Bath (the mikvah) was unearthed during local construction. It is this mikvah which secured Besalu a place in the Camino de Sefarad – there are only three still standing across the whole of Europe.

Tossa de Mar (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

Previously a quiet fisherman’s village on the Costa Brava, Tossa de Mar may now be considered the most northerly of the busy modern beach resorts that are typically Costa Brava and for that reason Vanya was not impressed with the place but for me it has a great mix of new and old and, at the risk of appearing a pompous git, integrates tradition and contemporaneity or modernism. Vanya won’t be impressed with that either.

One feature which sets it apart is the old town. It is the only place on the Costa Brava to have an almost fully preserved walled (medieval) town complete with castle turrets and cobbled winding streets. It’s not that large but it kept me amused for a good hour.

The town has 5 or 6 gold coloured Blue Flag sandy beaches within easy walking distance of the town centre. Sitting under the old town battlements the largest of these beaches, the 400 metre long crescent shaped Playa Grande, was ranked among the best 25 beaches in the world by National Geographic Magazine but just the other side of the castle and protected from North winds by the headland is the prettier smaller beach of La Mar Menuda.

There are purportedly three churches in Tossa de Mar but to me the the Esglesia Vella de Sant Vicenc amounted to little more than a ruin. The Saint Vicenc de Tossa is smallish well preserved church with a particularly nice ceiling but my favourite is the very little Chapel of Our Lady of Socorro.

We both enjoyed wandering the narrow streets of Tossa de Mar and we both appreciated the warm welcome of the locals. We stopped first at Dino’s Bar Ristorante on Calle San Telmo for a drink or two and got to talking with the German owner, Wolfgang Dino, who has lived in Catelonia for more than 50 years. He gave us his thoughts as to the best places to visit in the area and invited us to stay on and watch the Spain v Italy semi final of the European Championships but we were already committed to a nearby Sports Bar where the equally friendly owner had reserved us a table.

One other piece of relatively useless information before I head off out but it demonstrates the very real contrast that is Tossa de Mar – This town was the first place in the world to formally declare itself as an anti-bullfighting city. You wouldn’t expect that in Spain. Well done Tossa!

El Port de la Selva (Catalonia), Spain July 2021

So we made it across the border from France without any issues. Because of Covid, Spain currently requires that anybody entering from either Britain or France be double vaccinated (or have a recent antigen test and isolate, etc) but nobody is checking. Indeed, it is as life is normal with no border controls at all. Having said that, we were double vaccinated before leaving England and we had the antigen test before entering France and in Spain as in France and England everyone does appear to be wearing face masks indoors.

Vanya found us what I thought at the time was an expensive campsite but, to be fair, it sits on a beach with crystal clear waters and with the Sierra de Rodes Hills serving as a backdrop – what more can you ask for? The fact is, too, that at this time of the year all campsites in Spain are bloody expensive and we’ve since had to pay considerably more – yes I am once again running behind with the blog.

The chosen campsite was on the coast at Platja El Port de la Vall, a twenty minute walk around the bay from El Port de la Selva, just to the north of the Cap de Creus and our first priority after camping up was to take the dogs for a swim in the Med. They loved it. Me, I thought it was a bit cold (and I never went in beyond my ankles).

We were never intending to stay more than one night at this place, and had already decided upon our next destination (Tossa de Mar), but we made time to walk around the bay to El Port de la Selva. There is an excellent well lit coastal path connecting El Port de la Vall with El Port de la Selva and this path takes you by numerous rocky coves with small pebble beaches.

El Port de la Selva is small former fishing port with a population of less than 1,000 which is now given over to the production of olive oil and what I will call ‘light’ tourism. Tourism is clearly the town’s principal source of income but there are no high rise buildings and the town remains quiet and unspoilt. It certainly wasn’t crowded with tourists during our visit and such tourists as we saw (heard) were all Spanish. Of course it might be different at weekends when nearby Girona and Barcelona empty out.

The wholly whitewashed town comprises an esplanade and two or three narrow streets all running parallel with each other and a series of even narrower alleys bisecting the streets. You could not get lost in this place. There are a number of bar restaurants and a handful of tiny shops but none selling the usual tacky rubbish associated with so many seaside resorts. Vanya really liked the place.

We spent far too much time in the town hunting down an ATM (don’t believe the google map which shows at least three – there is only one and it didn’t work!) but otherwise we thoroughly enjoyed sitting outside a bar on the promenade waiting for the sunset when it was time to return to the Van to stream the Spain v Italy semi-final. The problem with ‘Light’ Tourism is that football is not catered for (even when the national team is playing).

“La Jonquera” (Catalonia), Spain September 2020

Why on earth did we go to La Jonquera? Vanya had been told that the cheapest wine in France or Spain is to be bought at a retail outlet called La Jonquera on the Spanish-French Border where Spain’s Els Limits meets France’s Le Perthus. So off we set.

In reality Els Limits/Le Perthus is a shabby run down border town whose main claim to fame until recently was it’s roaring sex trade. Even though prostitution is legal in France, brothels are not and when the Paradise Club opened in 2010 (in Els Limits on the Spanish side of the border where brothels are legal) it’s 90+ rooms became quite a mecca for prostitutes and their clients (and it very much remains so today if the number of scantily clad girls hanging around the various lorry parks is anything to go by).

It seems the present mayor of Els Limits is trying to clean the place up (some hope) and a massive retail park has opened. Apparently it is the largest border outlet centre in Europe and if you are into last years labels and designer gear it is a must. For my part it is one of the shabbiest and seediest places I have ever been and it is to be avoided.

That’s the only photo you’ll get from me of Els Limits / Le Perthus

Cala Montgo (Catalonia), Spain – September 2020

We moved on to Cala Montgo and by far the most expensive camp site of our tour to date. It wasn’t a bad camp site being well situated (right on the coast) and with excellent facilities and Cala Montgo is a very clean, tidy and quiet little Spanish holiday resort with a large sandy beach and a handful of cosy bars and cafes but, you don’t expect Spain to be more expensive than France.

L’Escala is well thought of by the Spanish but we were not that impressed by the town itself and I wish we had gone just a little further north, more into the Bay of Roses. I didn’t reach Spain during my trip last year but I did a fair amount of research on this coast and I recall there is an excellent coastal walk going north from L’Escala through St Pere Pescador, Castello d’Empuries and Cadaques to El Port de la Selvas. Isn’t hindsight wonderful?

Cala Montgo – there’s a lovely sandy cove just the other side of the headland with a few bars and restaurants

The three best aspects to our camp site were (a) the swimming pool and (b) a nice restaurant just next door which provided great views over the Bay of Roses and (c) the short cliff walk (some 2 kms) to L’Escala. It was the swimming pool (and the weather forecast of 34 degrees centigrade) and a great veal steak that persuaded us to stay on in Cala Montgo for an extra day.

The stroll along the clifftop from Cala Montgo to L’Escala was brief but pleasant; L’Escala itself was disappointing.

Looking back towards Cala Montgo at the start of the walk