So, we have made our way back to the Asturian coast to Candas and to the same campsite as before (Camping Perlora). Hey, we needed a rest after the Fiesta at Sanabria.
And what do we return to? Another fiesta!
I’ll not take you through everything we did upon our return to Candas and anyone wanting to learn more about this town need only refer back to the previous entry of a little over a week ago. It will suffice to say that the weather was once again kind and we enjoyed the same bars and restaurants as during our earlier visit and… here’s the proof:-
We stayed two nights so as recharge our batteries and then we were off to France for more of Vanya’s Cremant; pausing on the way in Cantabria at both Lierganes and San Roque de Riomiera.
I last visited in Montrejeau in July 2019 (during Tour 2) but I never kept a blog that Tour, choosing instead to simply post brief details on Facebook. I recall I wasn’t very complimentary about the town in my FB entry. That was perhaps unfair because I didn’t get a good look at Montrejeau. My focus then was more towards the excellent camp site I stayed at (Camping du Paradis) and my trip to ‘le plus beau village’ of Saint Bertrand de Comminges where a medieval festival was under way. That was a great day but, it is time to put the record straight about Montrejeux.
Once again I chose to stay at Camping du Paradis and once again it was brilliant (nice pitch, facilities and people) although it is now three times more expensive than it was in July 2019. No matter, it was good enough for us to stay 4 days.
As for Montrejeau it’s a small town with no more than 3,000 people but, it has a couple of real plus points and it has some history. On balance I was a little unfair about the place and while Montrejeau is unlikely to set the world alight in my lifetime, it is a reasonable base from which to explore the Haute-Garonne.
So what did I see this time that I never saw before? Well, for a starter I missed the town’s main street. Instead I made my way from the campsite down along the Boulevard Bertrand de Lassusand then onto and over the town bridge to Saint Bertrand de Comminges. I returned the same way and as such missed the Marie (the town hall), the war memorial (it’s really quite unique), the Eglise de St Jean Baptiste (beautiful plain inside) and L’hotel de Lassus (the town’s most impressive mansion).
The church, L’Eglise de St Jean Baptiste, has an unusual octagonal shape tower but is otherwise unimpressive, until you get inside. The arched dark wooden roof and the roughly hewn cream coloured stone walls complement each other wonderfully well and the church isn’t full of garish furniture that might detract from what amounts to a beautifully simple interior. I like it.
L’Hotel de Lassus is not, nor ever was, a hotel. It’s a mansion (many French mansions are referred to as l’hotels), dating from the late 18th century and it belonged to the same Lassus family whose progeny subsequently built the 1892 Chateau de Valmirande. Nowadays it is used as a reception hall and there is a small space museum inside it.
One other attraction I sought out during this more recent visit to Montrjeau is it’s leisure centre and lake. The lake was developed out of a former gravel pit and extends over thirty hectares. To one side of the lake is a ‘Blue Flag’ water park complete with water slides and a bouncy obstacle course (I had to restrain Vanya from the obstacle course on the water) and the other side of the lake is for fishing.
So, Montréjeau does have more to it than I first thought after my visit in 2019.
I mentioned too that it has some history. Well, it was the scene of one of the last battles between Republicans and Royalists during the French Revolution. In the summer of 1799, anti-revolutionary insurrection broke out in the area which threatened even the city of Toulouse. The Paris Directory quickly sent an army to the area and the rebels were crushed at Montrejeau in August 1799.
The dogs were suffering in this year’s very hot weather (for weeks, even in the foothills of the Alps, the temperatures have been up in the high thirties) and so we decided to make our way west from Italy to the north of Spain where they are currently in the mid twenties. Sasso di Bordighere was chosen by Vanya because it took us quite a way west (into Liguria and within a few miles of the French border) and because the campsite reads very well. My gosh, what happened to all those wild camps I used to do in the Balkans? We seem to be using campsites nearly all the time now.
I’m not complaining; leastways not about A Bunda which was the name of the campsite Vanya had chosen. It is a small, shaded, tranquil site carved out of an olive grove near the tiny hamlet of Sasso di Bordighera. It offers decent sized pitches and wonderful views across the valley and the guy who runs it with his family, Alessandro, is as friendly and helpful as they come. He’s particularly proud of his gardens (with good reason) and the scent of rosemary is everywhere.
As for Sasso di Bordighera itself, it is an ancient fortified village high up on a rocky ridge, overlooking (part of) the town of Bordighera some 4 kms away on the coast. Sasso is Italian for stone or rock; hence it’s name. The village is little more than a hamlet with just 200 inhabitants, surrounded by olive groves and orchards. There is a tiny shop, a church and, just at the edge of the village, a small restaurant.
The views from the village towards the coast are stunning; those from the restaurant, even more so. I reserved a table for us on the restaurant terrace for that very evening.
Pausing only briefly in Heviz, we headed for Lenti, still in Zala County (named after the River Zala) but further west near the borders with Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. We were committed to going back to Austria at the weekend because our daughter Rohan would be travelling to Enzesfeld (and we were keen to both see her and pick up on where we left off with the Dedic family) but we had to keep our options open. Keszthely didn’t make the same positive impression on Vanya as it did on me and she remained unsure about this part of Hungary. As it happened, we needn’t have worried. Lenti proved a great place to visit and Vanya enjoyed it so much that our planned one night stopover was extended to three nights.
We were going to Lenti for a specific purpose. The campsite Vanya chose sits alongside a spa complex known as the Lenti Thermal Spa & St George Energy Park and guests of the campsite are given free access to the spa for the duration of their stay.
It proved to be a really good spa complex. Vanya rates it better than any of those she used in Budapest. According to the blurb the water is a 40,000 year old sodium-hydrogen-carbonated water. Okay, fine. The spa comprises 5 outdoor pools, 7 indoor pools and 1 pool which is half inside and half outside. We favoured two of the outdoor pools being, the medicinal pool at 36-38 degrees centigrade and the adventure pool (with the lazy river, water jets, bubbles and big slide, etc) at 26-28 degrees centigrade (but which was closer to 30+ degrees because of the hot weather).
What we particularly liked about this complex is that the spa pools are spread across 8 hectares of lawn around which are bars, restaurants, food kiosks, etc and we didn’t once feel crowded despite the place being busy.
Another unusual feature of the complex is the Energy Network or Earth Radiations, more often referred to as Saint George Lines or Dragon Streams. It seems that sometime in 2002, ‘Earth Radiations’ and ‘Crossing Points’ were discovered in the area of the Lenti Thermal Spa and, according to certain authorities, “the energy radiation here harmonizes the flow of energy throughout our bodies and triggers positive processes that can restore our physical and mental balance”. The Spa has marked the Crossing Points of the Lines with columns or posts and guests are invited to spend between 20 and 30 minutes at these posts to maximise the beneficial effects of the spa.
I know very little about Saint George Lines and Crossing Points but I do know that time spent in the spa complex was time very well spent. We used it every day and found the whole process very relaxing. Sated would be a more accurate feeling. I think if I were to visit the place again I would stay in the 4 star Balance Hotel next door to the Spa Complex. This comment does not reflect badly on where we stayed but the Balance Hotel also provide sauna rooms and massages. That would have been cream on the cake.
But I haven’t talked about Lenti itself. It’s a small quiet town of just over 7,000 inhabitants. We didn’t see much of the place during our stay (preoccupied with the thermal baths, I suppose) but, I walked into the town centre a few times for a ‘look see’ and to replenish our supplies from two local mini-markets and we both took the dogs into the town for a meal one evening.
It’s a tidy town, almost Slovenian or Austrian in many respects (although the roads in this area by no means match those in Slovenia or Austria). There are a couple of small but nice squares and small parks (funded by EEC money judging by local signage) where a number of locals seemed to congregate as the day cooled. The largest of the two squares we saw was the one in the town centre where St Michael’s Church and the War Memorials are situated.
The people we met in Lenti were very welcoming but none spoke English and the fall back language was definitely German. Our Hungarian is non existent. What really impressed us about the place was the low prices. In one bar opposite where we were staying, three pints of lager and five glasses of Irsai Oliver (a very respectable Hungarian wine) cost just 9 Euro. That is £7.56 at today’s exchange rate. We used that bar more than the once and we’ll no doubt be bringing some Irsai Oliver back from Hungary.
* Typically, Irsai Olivér wines from Hungary are dry, medium bodied, with low acidity and a pronounced aromatic fragrance giving it a Muscat-like character.
And so to Bacharach on the Rhein. We were going to stay for a day, have a quick look around and then move on. That’s not how it panned out. We stayed four awesome days enjoying everything about the place; our campsite (we had a great spot overlooking the river); and the town itself (Bacharach now figures up there among our favourite places to have visited during our European Tours – Matera, Obidos, Vannes, etc); and most of all, the German people whom we met and talked to during our stay (locals and holidaymakers alike). Indeed, Vanya now sees Germany in a totally different and much more positive light than when we toured Bavaria and this is due largely to the German staff and customers of the Kurpfalzische Munze bar.
Bacharach is picturesque little town of less than 2,000 people on the left bank of a scenic stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley some 50km south of Koblenz. It started life as a wine trading and shipping station in the middle ages. We visited a number of towns in the area during our stay but none were as pretty as Bacharach. You don’t need to take just my word for it. The great French novelist Victor Hugo, who visited the town in 1842, was moved to describe Bacharach as one of the world’s prettiest towns.
There are two main thoroughfares through the town, the Oberstrasse and the Langstrasse both of which run parallel with the river. They each have narrow cobblestone streets and half timbered houses many of which date back to the 15th century. The oldest house in Bacharach, on Oberstrasse, dates back to 1368 and has been renamed Altes Haus (Old House). Oberstrasse contains most of the town’s principal buildings (the church, the town hall, hotels, bars and shops, etc) while Langstrasse, closest to the river, is now largely residential.
It is believed the town’s name is derived from the Roman god of wine and revelry, Bacchus, and certainly this area has long been associated with wine production, particularly white wines. The hillsides around Bacharach are rich with vineyards. We got to sample quite a few Riesling wines whilst in the area.
Most visitors to the town will sample the region’s Riesling in a local Weingut and two in the very centre of the town which came recommended are Fritz Bastian’s Weingut zum Gruner Baum and Weingut Toni Just Hahnehhof. Each appears to offer good value tasting sessions. However, whilst in Bacharach, we chose to sample the local wines (including some by Fritz Bastian and Toni Just) in the less formal setting of the town’s bars and hotels where we could meet and talk with some of the locals. It is more expensive this way and we do perhaps miss out on some inside information about the wine from the wine producers themselves but, there’s no better way to enjoy the stuff. The atmosphere in a welcoming friendly bar such as the Kurpfalzische Munze, drinking what the locals drink, and meeting and talking to them easily surpasses what sometimes can be sterile wine tasting session with other tourists.
A little more about the town. Towering above Bacherach is the Burg Stahleck castle (520m above sea level) which was destroyed in the late 17th century (some say by an invading French army and others say it was on the orders of the Archbishop of Cologne) but, it was rebuilt in the 20th century and is now a Youth Hostel and open to the public. You can take tea and cakes on the castle terraces whilst taking in some fine views down the Rhine. Having said that I think that the Postenturm, which is not as high and easier to get to from the town centre, makes for a better viewing point.
Just below the Burg Stahleck is the Wernerkapelle ruin, originally a pilgramage church built between 1289 and 1430. This ruin has a particularly dark history. It started with the murder of a teenage boy, Werner of Oberwesselin, in 1287. He worked for a Jewish family and, with anti-Semitism rife in the area at that time, the Jews were blamed for the crime. Retaliation saw some two dozen local Jews killed. Rubbing salt into the wound, the catholic church subsequently made Werner a saint and the Wernerkapelle was commisioned.
Sadly, Anti-Semitism has been rife throughout Europe for most of the last two thousand years. Bacharach was again touched by it once some 90+ years ago after the Nazis took power in Germany. This was brought home to me during our stay in Bacharach when, whilst walking along Langstrasse, I chanced upon some Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) in the names of Willi and Emma Keller. Stolpersteine are small brass plates inscribed with the names of individuals who were victims of Nazi persecution. They are usually built into the pavement outside the building where the individuals last lived and are intended to keep alive the memory of the ordinary people (my words). Willi and Emma Keller were brother and sister who lived at 43 Langstrasse in Bacharach before being seized and deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. They didn’t survive Theresienstadt. The stolpersteine are part of a pan-European commemorative ‘art’ project and an increasing number are being placed throughout many countries in Europe. I have previously seen them in Hungary, Nederland and Germany. There are others in Bacharach (and we saw them in some other towns we visited in this part of the world) but, credit to Bacharach and the other towns for supporting this initiative. Many towns simply will not tolerate them.
I simply cannot finish this blog on such a sad note. A few more photos of a very pretty town:-
In this area it is almost de rigeur to take a cruise either up or down the Rhine. We did both; first of all heading up river to Rudesheim on the right bank of the Rhein and then, two days later, down river to Sankt Goar on the left bank and Sankt Goarhausen on the right. Those boat trips are covered briefly in separate blogs.
On this particular tour, we may well have saved the best for last. I don’t recall how often our route into and out of of France along the Opal Coast has taken us straight past the thriving little town of Montreuil sur Mer but, from now on, I suspect we will be stopping here again and again. It is a lovely little wholly unadulterated French town so unlike others in this particular region of France. We both liked everything about the place although it is no longer “on the sea”. The Canche estuary silted up some 500 years ago and the coast is now some 12 kms away.
We parked up at Camping La Fontaine des Clercs, just outside the old town ramparts. Only two towers remain of the 13th century castle but there is a fine walk around the well preserved ramparts which almost completely encircle the old town. Because of her acrophobia Vanya didn’t join me on my walk along the ramparts.
However, later in the evening, Vanya did accompany me into the town through an old brick portal in the walls and she was as impressed as I with the place. I’ve not heard anyone talk about M sur M and it is therefore for me an undiscovered beauty with a mass of old houses and short cobbled streets and alleys. One of the streets, Rue Clape en Bas, features a series of workmen’s cottages dating back to the 16th century but you only have to look at the dates engraved above the front doors elsewhere in the old town to realise that almost all of it dates back to anything between 200 and 400 years ago.
We made our way through the town to the Place General de Gaulle which is a wide open space mostly given over to car parking except on Saturdays when the local market is held. This square is ringed by bar-restaurants, small arts and craft shops, patisseries, chocolateries and a particularly impressive fromagerie (Fromagerie Caseus) holding an amazing choice of more than 150 different cheeses. We were told that on Bastille Day the square is wholly given over to a huge Antiques Fair.
The square is also home to a statue of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig (There’s not many of those around the world). M sur M was Haig’s GHQ during WW1. The statue was erected in 1931 but had to be completely rebuilt after being used for target practise by occupying German soldiers during WW2. Why not?
Not far from the Place General de Gaulle on the Place Gambetta is the Abbey Church of Saint Saulve. Originally a 12th century church but almost completely rebuilt in the 16th century it is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the inside is seriously impressive. The church holds one of the finest collections of sacred art across the north of France and the relics of Saint Austreberthe who was famed for her visions and miracles.
There have been many illustrious visitors to Montreuil sur Mer but none more so than Victor Hugo (famous poet, novelist and dramatist) perhaps the most important of France’s romantic writers. He became a frequent visitor to M sur M after first visiting the town in 1837 with his mistress and the town and some of its inhabitants became the inspiration behind his great historical novel “Les Miserables”. Hugo frequently refers to the town as M sur M in his novel and the town became the home to the books principal hero Jean Valjean. Many characters in the novel were based on people Hugo met when he visited the town. He stayed at the Hotel de France (you can overnight in the same room he used) and the then Innkeeper and a barmaid were real life models for the characters of Monsieur Thenardier (the Innkeeper) and his wife. The characters of Fantine and her daughter Cosette too were based on people he met in the town.
Much of the old town including the Hotel de France look precisely as it did when Hugo used to visit and parts of it, especially on the street of ‘La Cavee Saint Firmin’, featured in the 1925 film version of Les Miserables. Every year at the end of July/early August some 500+ of the town’s 2,100 population put on an outdoor Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show of Les Miserables.
There are a number of fine restaurants in the town, the Chateau de Montreuil (with it’s Roux protege Christian Germain) being perhaps the most famous but there are several others listed in one or both of the Michelin Guide and the Gault & Millau French Restaurant Guide. Alexander Gauthier, voted France’s greatest chef just a few years ago, has three restaurants in the town including the two Michelin Star “La Grenouilliere”. La Grenouilliere was closed during our visit but at late notice and with our dogs accompanying us we were offered a table in a sister restaurant – ‘Anecdote’. Anecdote opened in 2015 in what was part of the old Hotel-Dieu hospital and it features the signature recipes of Gauthier’s father. Vanya and I will each testify that the food and wine was fantastic (as was the service).
Our evening in the Anecdote ended in a bit of an uproar after our German Shepherd dog (Nala) decided to move my chair just as I was sitting down after a trip to the loo. Much to Vanya‘s amusement and that of the waitress, I tumbled backwards to the floor and then; just as I was regaining my feet, I stepped into the dog’s water bowl. Even the Maitre d’ was laughing at this stage. No matter, it was a great evening and what a find!!
It was Friday 25 February when we arrived at Zaurutz just 17 miles due west of San Sebastian in the Basque Country. It is 27 March as I write this blog.
It is ironic that we were heading back to England from Spain in such a hurry only because Vanya had a Spanish lesson in Brighton on Thursday 3 March (and we had a place booked on the chunnel train). Crazy or what?!?
We stumbled on Gran Camping Zarautz but what a find! We could spend just the one night there but will certainly return. It’s a beautifully located campsite on Mount Talaimendi, overlooking the Bay of Zarautz, and within striking distance of the Spanish ports of Bilbao and Santander and, better still, the French border.
After a quick look around the campsite (which is one of the best we have stayed at in Spain) I reserved a table in the bar restaurant for that evening and then set off on the path down to the town. They site has a proper restaurant above the bar but we wanted the dogs with us and, anyway, all the food is prepared in the same kitchen.
Zarautz was quiet but it is February and neither the town nor the beach with all its facilities will be fully open until Easter. There was however enough to keep me busy for some three hours. If the truth be known, I could have sat and watched the waves for all that time.
I got back to the Van in good time to try the local, seriously strong, txakoli wine and some cider and then call Vanya for dinner.
The food was excellent. Vanya and I shared a whole Monkfish caught earlier that day and I consider it to be the best food of any of our tours to date. I suspect I enjoyed it most because I ate more than my fair share of the monkfish cheeks. Why on earth restaurants tend to serve Monkfish tails and no head is wholly beyond me. I suspect it is to do with cost. The cheeks taste fabulous.
The next day we crossed the border back into France.
From Peniscola we continued further south pausing only at Camping Mar Menor on the Mar Menor Lagoon in Murcia.
Camping Mar Menor is a good campsite in a wonderful (albeit somewhat isolated) setting, right on the waters edge in the middle of a small nature reserve. I’ll qualify ‘isolated’ – There’s an easy half hour walk through the nature reserve and then along a quiet beach promenade to Los Alcazares. There is also a military airport nearby but there were no flights during our short stay (not that Vanya would have been bothered – quite the reverse).
The campsite has a good restaurant, the Kinita, specialising in seafood. There is an outside seating area right on the beach but while the weather was bright and sunny during the day it was too cold at night to want to sit outside. We stayed inside and had one of the best meals of our tours to date; Turbot for me and a large Sole for Vanya followed by two very decadent desserts.
The campsite was really very good with massive, shaded pitches and all the facilities you need for an extended stay (and, believe me, we seriously thought about staying on) but with this being such a short tour we reluctantly elected to move on.
We were heading for Quimper and actually parked up in the municipal campsite near the town centre but, because the reception was closed for lunch and on a total whim, we decided to move on a few kilometres to the Chateau de Lanniron. Anyway, I’ve seen Quimper.
In 1969, for financial reasons, the owners of the Chateau de Lanniron decided to turn their 38 hectare estate into a leisure complex. A luxury campsite complete with restaurant, swimming pools, waterpark, various playgrounds, a golf course and driving range, etc were built around the 17th century chateau (and it’s garden terraces which drop down to the River Odet) and some of the outlying buildings on the estate were converted to gites. We booked in for the one night but stayed on for a second and were sorely tempted to stay for a third. Leaving aside all the facilities it is a great place to rest up. The pitches are huge and set in some lovely grounds. It is probably one of the best 5 star campsites in France (or anywhere for that matter).
Originally owned and used as a residence by the Bishops of Quimper the 15th century chateau was extended in the 17th century to resemble something like the existing property although; it was plundered and fell into considerable disrepair during the French Revolution and had to be restored. The property is quite beautiful and full of interesting history.
And all for 20 euros a night! September is out of the high season
And so we came to San Francisco Bay on the west coast of Galicia. The nearest town of any size is Muros but we were parked a few kilometres further west, just outside of Louro, at Camping a Vouga. It is rare that I make comment about any of the campsites we stay at but both Vanya and I were really impressed by just about everything at Camp a Vouga – in no particular order: it’s location on the beach, it’s views, the cleanliness of the site and facilities, the warm and friendly staff and, let’s not forget, the food and wine in the restaurant – all were superb.
After that first afternoon and evening in Camping a Vouga, during which we took the dogs down to the beach and then enjoyed an absolutely great evening in the campsite restaurant, we decided to stay on for a while and use it as a base to explore the surrounding area.
The next day I went walkabouts. I had no plans to go anywhere in particular. I simply started walking along the road to the west through the nearby village of Louro and then, seeing a fair sized stretch of water to my south (a lake), I beat a path through a thick mess of green scrub to get to it. The stretch of water was as much a marsh as a lake but it proved to be a wetland for birds and it had a great many residents of all shapes and sizes. I sat for ages just watching them.
Eventually I moved on. I found a walkers trail by the side of the wetland which led me over some sand dunes to a long wide empty beach that was the other side of the headland I had seen from our campsite. The setting was beautiful – a bright blue sea, fine white sand and a thick dark green background that was the scrub around the lake. But then, horror of horrors, I noticed I was not alone. There were only three of them but they were all nude and they were all men. I had stumbled upon a naturist beach! Call me a prude if you like but I couldn’t handle it and promptly set off towards that headland which would take me back to Camping a Vouga. There will have been easier paths back but none as quick as the direct course I followed.
So, having decided to stay on at Camping a Vouga and use it as a base to explore further afield, the next day we took a day out to visit Finisterre and Muxia.