Catalonia, Europe 2013, Spain, Van Travels

2. SPAIN – Catalonia

View of L'Escala from beach bar at Empuries

SAT 22 JUNE 2013

After leaving Argeles-sur-Mer in the sunshine, we decided against the scenic coastal road south to Spain, mainly to avoid spending too much of a promising day driving, and reluctantly took the A9 motorway (and paid more tolls!). We also decided it would be nice to ‘settle down’ and base ourselves in one place for more than a day or two.

Leaving the motorway after Figueres, we drove to L’Escala, intending to stay at Ille Mateua Camping at Cala Montgo to the SW of the town, only to find it was full. We were advised to try Camping Neus, which was further from the beach (850m) but less crowded. It proved to be a fortunate result. We selected a pitch opposite the toilet block (a classic mistake!), and met our neighbours Keith and Sarah and their dog Peg, in their big twin-axle Burstner, who had been away from home (S Wales) since last October! We had a swim in the cove before dinner (BBQ sausages).

SUN 23 JUNE 2013

We cycled via the marina in L’Escala to visit the market on the sea-front promenade, locked the bikes and strolled through the market stalls to the old town, where we had a tapas lunch opposite the small beach on the north shore. When we returned to the van, I walked up to the Torre Montgo (tower), which has extensive views across the Bay of Roses on one side, and across Cala Montgo on the other. We made spaghetti with clams and chorizo for dinner, and in the evening watched the fireworks for the San Juan fiesta.

MON 24 JUNE 2013

Sunny and warm when out of the wind, the beach at Cala Montgo was jammed! (holiday weekend), but managed a swim, bit of a lazy day, crab spaghetti for dinner.

TUE 25 JUNE 2013

Whilst Jane went to the local beach, it was still very busy, too busy for me, so I went exploring the tracks to the south of Cala Montgo on the bike, [insert 2493]

reaching Punta del Mila, the SW point of Cala Montgo. [insert 2491]

Had a swim in the cove after lunch, and enjoyed a tasty pizza in Montgo in the evening.

WED 26 JUNE 2013

Jane went to the cove again but didn’t stay long too busy and very windy. I cycled via the old town to have a look at the beaches at Empuries beyond L’Escala, getting as far as the small community of Sant Marti d’Empuries.

The coastal path/cycleway provides a good view of extensive Greek and Roman ruins, [insert 2533]

the original Greek ‘old town’ was established in 600 BC, and was later replaced by a larger ‘new town’ on the shore, the Romans arrived 400 years later and built a city next to the new town.

In the afternoon, we both cycled to Empuries, as the beaches were less crowded, [insert 2513]

we swam and I snorkelled, found a very pleasant beach bar with superb views across the Bay of Roses, [insert 2538]

with thatch umbrellas and very drinkable beer at a reasonable price, [insert 2537 or 2540]

and later treated ourselves to a paella in the very attractive small square in front of the church in the medieval village of Sant Marti d’Empuries. [insert 2529]

On the way back, I bought fresh calamari from the fish shop.

THUR 27 JUNE 2013

Spent the day at the beaches in Empuries, [insert 2555]

swam, but too windy for snorkelling, after cycling back, we made spaghetti with calamari and chorizo, delicious! Spent an enjoyable evening with Keith and Sarah, and their friends Siobhan and Jeff from Ireland, another couple who are experienced long-term tourers. Hearing Siobhan’s description of driving around the steep winding roads around Begur with their caravan, did influence our decision to leave that for the next time.

FRI 28 JUNE 2013

We walked the coastal path along the south shore of Cala Montgo, [insert 2557 + 2567]

I fished from the rocks without success. Risotto with bacon and marinated calamari for dinner, cooked on the portable gas burner outside, delicious!

SAT 29 JUNE 2013

Based on Keith’s recommendation of his earlier purchase of an electric griddle plate (much easier to clean than a BBQ), I cycled to the other end of L’Escala to make a similar purchase (€20). Of all the advice generously given by Keith, this has proven to be a real gem, and has transformed our outside cooking experience. I snorkelled in the cove, and after lunch we had a look at the seafood restaurants near the port, prior to spending the afternoon on Platja de Riells, the main beach in L’Escala. After showering on the beach, we had a delicious meal in La Clota restaurant opposite the port, [insert 2587]

lobster with rice (similar to paella). [insert 2586]

SUN 30 JUNE 2013

Last day of the ACSI discount rate, or we thought it was, in fact you have to leave on the 30th to avoid a very significant price increase, so we packed up and left, after a very pleasant and relaxing week. Whilst L’Escala can be busy, especially around fiesta time, it appeared to be mainly local tourists who enjoy this relatively small resort. Camping Neus and L’Escala was a place we would return to. [insert 2589]

After saying goodbye to Keith, Sarah and Peg, [insert 2591]

we heading for the third of our four pre-selected campsites in El Port de la Selva (MMM magazine March 2012), in the Cap de Creus National Park, we drove around the Bay of Roses, via the small villages of Riumors and Fortia (SW of Figueres), visiting Empuriabrava, a with an extensive network of canals for mooring boats outside the vast number of villas and apartments. [insert 2593]

Whilst being a modern purpose-made resort (not the kind of place we are normally attracted to), it was interesting enough for a short diversion, after lunch in the van on the (very disappointing) seafront , we climbed up over the Sera de Rodes mountains north of Roses town. We decided to leave Cadaques for another trip, and dropped down the mountain road into El Port de la Selva, and found Camping L’Arola on the sea front facing the town at the other end of the bay. [insert 2617]

Whilst the setting was superb, Jane was not impressed, “it looks like a gravel car park”, and it did, definitely a step down from our the last campsite in a pine forest, no shade and very basic facilities. Unlike the photograph in the magazine, where the author’s van is surrounded by lots of open space, with no other vans in sight, we were hemmed in on all sides, not surprising at this time of year, it would be July in the morning.

We stayed anyway, and managed a swim on the beach before dinner, langostines, razor clams and chipperones (tiny squid) cooked on our new griddle, delicious! [Insert 2616]

We met a chap from Cambridge in a van conversion, on his first trip in Europe, like us, prior to watching over the bay as the fading sun gave way to the evening light, [insert 2622 + 2627 or 2628]

before walking into the village for a drink on the waterfront. In the course of our brief stay we met several people who return every year, and stay for several weeks, so it certainly has a strong appeal.

MON 1 JULY 2013

Walked past the village in search of some coves, but found it difficult to get into the sea over the rocks (we should have continued further along the path), after a picnic lunch we had a look round the old village, followed by a swim on the beach and a visit to the local beach bar. On the way back, I wandered down to the port past the nets laid out to dry, [insert 2648]

to watch one of the fishing boats unloading an intriguing variety of fish. [Insert 2654 + 2657]

French chap with a prime sea-front location engaged in serious sea fishing, with two light beach-casting rods in use all the time, set up with electronic bite alarms, he had caught two large fish, and a feast was to held with some of the other ‘long-term regulars’. [insert 2647]

We decided to eat in the site restaurant, which has a reputation for good value, €12 each including a bottle of wine, perhaps it was the the choices we made (carbonara / fish) but it was disappointing compared with many of our own meals, you get what you pay for. During the meal we met a Welsh chap and a Canadian, both living in London, and we enjoyed the conversation so much, we ordered a second bottle.

TUE 2 JULY 2013

I would have been happy to stay, but Jane was not happy with the facilities, shower doors hanging off their hinges, and hot water only available at certain times of the day, etc. and expensive at €20.50, than all our previous sites, so we decided to move on. We realised we need better self-contained facilities to get the best out of this site, as the location and the village can’t be faulted. Our next objective being the last of our four pre-selected campsites near Prades in the French Pyrenees.

We left on the coast road, leaving it at Llanca, on the N260 to Figueres, until we detoured to have a look at the old village of Peralada, based on advice the previous evening.

A medieval winemaking village [insert 2663 + 2668] with castle (now a casino), [insert 2686] we had lunch in the village before we joined the N11 at Figueres to France, avoiding the motorway, passing through a couple of awful commercial shopping strips on both sides of the border.