Highlights from our France to Spain Road Trip
Winter is a season that calls us snow-birds south to the warmer climes of southern Spain, where we can shelter from the harsh realities of England’s unpredictable forecasts. Except the call of Español is far more than just a winter haunt – it’s an destination that us Brits have pretty much fallen in love with, especially so for lovers of life on the road with our trusty steeds.
There are so many routes to take heading south; the quick ones, the mountainous ones, the ferry ones or the meandering ones. Whichever path you may be considering, perhaps driven by budget, speed to destination or time constraints, we would like to offer one of our routes, taken this winter. With time on our side, we decided to follow one a meandering route that has granted us the opportunity to go off the beaten track, breathe in a few new places and plot a path that makes the journey all part of the experience. So we hope that this gives you some options for your next trip to southern shores. Check out our interactive map below by clicking on the dots for more information, camping co-ordinates and pictures of our highlights.
Our starting point – Southern France
We had the advantage of already being in France after our adventures earlier in the year, in Eastern Europe. France is always a lovely place to come ‘home’ to and it truly feels comfortable and known to us. So after two months meandering around the south coast and the Pyrenees for some housesitting, we were ready to hit the road and make our way to Spain, in readiness for a Christmas rendezvous with my mum.
Having crossed the French Border in 2016 via the east coast of Costa Brava, we wanted to try something new and, given our love for the Pyrenees, this seemed like a perfect road-trip for us. We had 10 days to reach Dénia on the south-east edge of Spain, so a bit of wandering pleased our nomadic souls. A number of ports of call found themselves on our very sketchy itinerary and the rest, we knew would be added along the way, based on other people’s recommendations and research that piqued our interest.
So here are the highlights of our Road-Trip south.
Mirepoix – Ariège
Our journey actually started close to Carcassonne and so taking the quiet roads through to the Pyrenees must include Mirepoix. We have been many times before and yet this quaint little village, with its delightful chocolate-box central square of quirky, wonky buildings, never disappoints. This medieval village looks like something out of an Dickensian novel and you will want to stop for a coffee or lunch and just watch the world go by. Caste your eyes upwards as the view is as beautiful as the one at your eye-line, as the detail in the shop signs and the colourful displays of their window sash are just so picturesque.
Lourdes – Hautes-Pyrenees
Taking all the minor roads rather than the speedy autoroutes, we meandered through the French countryside, keeping the snow-capped Pyrenees teasingly to our left. Little French villages in all states of attire imploring us to stay awhile. Although our destination was firmly in our heads; Lourdes in the Hautes-Pyrenees. It was a long hike, especially when SatNav took us on a circuitous route and we had to do a food shop and fill up with diesel. Still we arrived at Camping du Loup, a five minute walk from the famous town, ready for supper and bed.
Now Lourdes really does divide opinion. If you go in the Pilgrimage period, April to October then I sense it takes on a more sombre feel, as the town is filled with people searching for hope and a miracle cure to their ills. We visited at the end of November and loved the vibe and the lack of crowds. Whilst religion is of course Lourdes’ new identity, behind this are intriguing origins of its ancient market-town. The partnership between tourism and religion is a delicate one and as one of France’s most popular tourist destinations, secondly only to Paris, you may have to look beyond the shops selling bottles for the Holy water. After all, every book is more than its cover and we loved what the area had to offer in terms of activities, the possibilities of the funicular, the kayaking, the walking and the history. Whatever your religious beliefs, Lourdes is definitely worth checking out – especially out of season. Here’s our full blog on our visit – Lordy Lourdes
The Pyrenees via the Somport Tunnel into Spain
Post Lourdes, we hot-footed it out of the Pyrenees as there was a threat of a big artic front coming in and the last place you want to be in a camper is in the mountains when the snows hit. Our route took us towards Oloron, just south of Pau, along the valley floor, which was so lovely especially with all the autumn colours. Then a turn left heading south through the Pyrenees and the Somport Tunnel. En route Red Kites flying on the thermals will distract your eye and the ever changing scenery of mountain communities will elicit the odd ‘ah’ from your delighted heart. Little villages clustered along the valley floor in the shadow of their towering protectors, prepare themselves for the harsh winter ahead. Smoke already billowing out from their chimneys, their wood piles strategically stacked in readiness for what will almost inevitably arrive. And the paternal dominance of these snow-peaked pinnacles command respect as the ever-changing weather swirls around their heads. The Somport Tunnel is temporary respite from the overwhelming feast for the eyes as you adjust to the darkness. Opened in 2003, this 8.3km tunnel has almost a magical feel to it, as you enter it in France and you exit it in Spain. One tunnel, two countries and not a Border Patrol crossing to be seen.
Canfranc Estación – The Titanic of the Mountains
Our main purpose for taking this route was to check out the intriguing abandoned train station at Canfranc. Myles had read up on it and its mystery drove us to explore. It’s so easily missed, as no sooner are you out of the tunnel you hit the signs for the station. Blink and you will miss it.
Canfranc was put on the Spanish map when this out-of-place station with all its ostentatious grandeur was built in 1923, following the construction of the railway line and tunnel between 1912-1915. The station was formally opened in 1928 and it is the second largest in Europe; with its 240m long building, 365 windows, 156 doors and a platform of 200m. It remained open during WW2 as part of the Franco-Spanish International Convention, under which it was built, allowing some refugees to leave France into Spain.
Its life came to an abrupt end in 1970 when there was a derailment on a bridge on the French side and they could not afford to rebuild it. And so today, this glorious building stands in a sorry state, a ghostly station, where the faint echoes of passengers transiting across these mountainous giants can be heard through the wind, as it whistles through broken panes of glass. You can get guided visits into the station during July and August, although even when it is closed, just to stand and reconstruct in your mind how this station buzzed and thrived in its day, is enough of an experience. There are plans to turn it into a hotel and to rebuild the line, with the agreement of the French Government, so new life will be breathed into this town after fifty years. It is definitely worth stopping off at.
Jaca’s Monasteries, Aragon
We love exploring the hidden depths a place has to offer us curious travellers. It is all too easy to travel too fast and miss the secrets that lie just off the highway. So the region of Aragon was our explorative teacher. After a short stopover at Jaca, a ski-resort with its ancient hexagonal fortress, we headed for the hills. Taking our route west, our chariot guided us into the foothills of the Pyrenees towards the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña. En route we were enthralled by Santa Cruz de la Serós, with its honey-coloured stone buildings and two Romanesque churches, one of which was an all-female monastery in its day. Just to wander around this tiny hamlet and through its cobbled streets carved into the hillside, was a delight.
Back on the road, which snakes up through the mountains, gives you an incredible view of the Pyrenees, so stopping for a photoshoot is essential. And then you come to the beautiful old Monastery carved into the rocks with its brand new cousin about 2km up the mountain which will wow you as you take in its size and splendour. It’s like a magical kingdom with its dominant reign over the plateaus and valleys beyond – it is such an interesting destination. There’s plenty of parking up there and a place to stop over night if you want to camp and unless there’s snow coming in, a great place to stop awhile and indulge in some walking.
Laguna Gallocanta, Aragon
If there’s anywhere on the map that looks like a Nature Reserve then that becomes a magnet for us as wildlife lovers. And so when I found Laguna Gallocanta purely by chance, it was our chosen detour. After doing some research I found that it is a winter stop-off point for Cranes and is the most popular destination for these magnificent birds in Europe. So of course if became a beacon for us and in addition it was way off the beaten track, which had even more appeal.
So we headed on south past Zaragoza and turning off the motorway drove through some amazing countryside. At first it looks a bit bland although in fairness the snow did add a little more character. It didn’t take long though for us to take a few left turns and to see the whole landscape change dramatically. Twisting roads around rotund hills and valleys that looked like something out of the Hobbit and with its red soil gave a really atmospheric and beautiful drive. And then you approach Daroca, a fortress encased village, which out of nowhere stakes in claim from the surrounding landscape. We didn’t have the time to stop, as we’d been driving a while, although with its honey coloured buildings and fortress walls is definitely worthy of an explore.
Not far from Daroca, you will enter the tiny hamlet of Gallocanta, which is at the centre for the Nature Reserve and there is an Information Centre from where you can do Guided Tours from November to March and you can also stop over night at in the car park, which has views across the Lagoon. Now I will manage your expectations, as at this point of the year, sadly there was no water in the lagoon, so it looked a little sorry for itself, although the Cranes still came. You can’t get close to them by road or at the Information Centre, although you will see flocks of them coming in to land and with good binoculars will see them on the sandpits. It is a beautiful place to come – peaceful and so incredibly rural. Your exit from this region takes you on a narrow yet characterful road, through small Spanish villages with their ornate churches and cobbled streets that transport you into an authentic Spanish culture beyond the tourist magnetism of the cities and coast.
As short drive away from Gallocanta, is one of Spain’s most beautiful villages. If it had a body like France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages, then Albarracín would most definitely be on it. From the motorway, much like so many places, you can’t imagine what it would be like and you are almost tempted to by-pass it, although the 20 minute deviation is definitely worthy of your turning wheels.
Once off the main plain, you turn into the mountains which are full of character, incredible sandstone eroded cliff faces and a gorge route that will have you enthralled. It is a superb drive. Yet strangely with the weight of expectation on its shoulders, as we approached Albarracín, we found ourselves disappointed. Surely this modern town with its industrial area is not all there is to see? Alas our patience was rewarded as, when we turned the corner, rising in front of our disappointed eyes, is the very reason we travelled here. A church steel adorned with white and green mosaics, an archway where the road travels underneath the village and sandstone buildings that nestled amongst the rocks protected by a fortress that curves around the village. This sight had us feeling instantly humbled and apologetic for ever having doubted it.
For the best experience of 11th Century Albarracín, approach the archway and then turn left, climbing up to the far end of the village and then tracking back towards the main centre. There are so many alleyways to explore and vistas that take your eyes over the gorge below, where the winding Guadalavia river of emerald green gives a real sense of this village’s Alcazar and Moorish roots. And one of the best bits about this town, is that is hasn’t lost its soul to the tourists. For sure there are restaurants and a few shops, although its authenticity is clear to feel as you wander around the streets. We almost felt intrusive, as the lives of the locals continue regardless of the milling crowd.
One of the things I loved best about this tiny village, in the middle of nowhere, is how the views changed around every corner. From the view of the arcing fortress defending the village’s honour, to the perspective from the fortress heights; views over the village walls to the gorge below and out through the windows of the castle remains to the land far away. And that’s before you even wander the streets looking at the quirky buildings, the architecture, the roof lines and the cobbled streets that feel like a maze at times. It is an atmospheric experience and you easily need 1/2 day to wander, absorb and climb to see the full picture of this little hideaway.
N330 Teruel to Utiel, Aragon
After our little dalliance with Albarracín, we hot-footed it over to Teruel, which according to the Guide Books can be one of the coldest towns in Spain – hey we’re not scarred of a bit of cold. After all we’d just endured -11. We did have a quick trip into Teruel given we were so close, although we were disappointed. It was one of those towns, where the battle between old and new rages on and somehow the ancient world seems to be loosing out with modern culture consuming its precious history. Whilst there’s no denying that the main Plaza del Tourico is very pretty with its unusual buildings and undercover cafe bars and restaurants, trying to capture Teruel’s Mudéjar monuments, isn’t easy despite not being far apart from each other. You could almost do with having a Drone to rise up above the tightly packed buildings to really get the beauty of the cathedral and other iconic buildings that would have stood proud in their day.
Teruel needs to be visited as we’ve never seen architecture like it, although an hour will do perfectly well and then move on, as the countryside that is about to greet you is far superior, in our humble opinion. The N330 route is your travel guide for this part of the journey. Taking you away from the built up town and into the heart of a natural tapestry of ochre red and yellow rocks, filled with copious amounts minerals from eons beneath the sea. You could almost imagine yourself in a Spaghetti Western with the pillars of rock being akin to their American cousins and John Wayne galloping through the valley on his trusty stallion. Small villages, kilometres apart from each other, survive on the energy of the land and as the road winds around valleys, gorges and hilltops, you feel lost amidst its natural paradise. Your journey becomes timeless and the vistas entice you to travel slowly and mindfully until you reach Utiel for an overnight stop.
N330 South from Requena to Cofrentes, Valencia Community
The final stage of our journey south was the route from Utiel to Requena with a short diversion south on N330 towards Almansa. Here the vineyards create a patchwork across the countryside and then surrender to the pine-clad mountains. The road turns this way, then that, through the ochre walls and all we could see were acres of forest – oh and a couple of power station funnels! As our heart sank feeling that these blots on the landscape would ruin our experience – we held steady!
And patience brought us to the oasis of Cofrentes, which sits at the confluence of the rivers Júcar and Cabriel – hence its name, originating from the Roman name Confluentum. It is here you can try the regional dish of Gazpachos, eaten by many of the mountain workers and Orza which is a cured sausage. Food aside you have guided tours around Cofrentes’ Gothic Castle and El Cerro de Agras – the region’s only volcano, which still shows some activity by way of the Hervidieros Spa, where gas escapes from the chamber to a spring where the water looks like it is boiling. A river boat trip can be taken up the Júcar for 14km of the Júcar Route and if fishing is your thing, the pike and black-bass in the reservoir may appeal. January, May and August are their festival seasons where this tiny population gather as a community to honour their religious icons and celebrate together. For a tiny village in the middle of the mountains, this is where you can begin to experience, not only the mountain way of life, the true sense of inland Spain with its rituals and traditions. Walking, cycling, fishing – there’s plenty to amuse you in this mountain hideaway.
So this brings us to the close of our route from southern France into Spain, via the Aragon region. What a Christmas sack of gifts this was and how thankful we were not to rush through this area. Whilst we have by no means explored all its depths, we have at least a taster of Aragon’s presence and know for sure that we will return to uncover more of its delights. We hope that it might influence you to stop awhile and also unwrap its hidden depths.
Travel off the beaten track, drive slow, see much and learn plenty as you explore the land which has much to offer the curious explorer.
Imagine a beautiful lake encased within a basin of iron-red earth that in the autumn is home to yellow and rust-coloured trees dotted around the hills. Accompanied by autumnal warmth that has you basking as if in a pottery-kiln and sharp blue waters that makes the camera scream out for shots, there is so much that Lake Salagou has to offer the late season visitor. Let’s see if I can tempt you.
Salagou Lake Map
Just an hour away from the Mediterranean coast and 90 minutes away from the Camargue, this beautiful region of Languedoc-Rousillon is perhaps one of those ‘Road Less Travelled’ places, as people flock to the seaside resorts. This typically French countryside with its iconic vineyards and roads lined with plane trees, gives you so much more than the over-populated towns along the high-rise south.
Lake Salagou… there truly is something for everyone
Lake Salagou is actually man-made, back in 1968 as a preventative measure for the, prone-to-flooding river Salagou, whose swollen waters often threatened the agriculture of its surrounding land. That said, the lake is beautiful none the less and whether you love sailing, fishing, kitesurfing, SUP, kayaking, cycling or horse riding, there truly is something for everyone.
One of the things we loved the most, was the shape of the lake which actually belies its man-made conception. It has formed its own curves, inlets and secret coves over the last fifty years and provides refuge to a veritable feast of wildlife and I’m sure a sanctuary to its carp-filled waters.
Get off the beaten track by taking one of the many forestry paths or the lakeside cycle trails that tests out your mountain biking skills with its rugged terrain and see the lake’s many faces. Each corner offers a new vista of this stunning blue treasure. Parking areas are dotted around everywhere and you will see many campers bunked down for the night in both official and unofficial places, which out of season seems to be tolerated by the local Gendarmerie.
On the northern side of the lake, a must-visit site is Celles, When they built the lake, the original intention was to raise the water level firstly to 130m and then to 150m, which would have flooded the village that stands at 144m. So the village was abandoned although the second level was never initiated, leaving Celles unaffected, paradoxically. Today, the buildings of this tiny hamlet are in rack and ruin, with vegetation being the only resident in this slightly eerie place. With the lake licking the fringes of the village’s perimeter, the local commune are currently planning to renovate the entire village, having already started with the local Mayor’s house. Over time, each building will get the loving care that is needed to bring it back to life and breathe fresh energy into this once thriving agricultural community.
Further outside of the lake, not more than 30 minutes away heading north-east, you have Les Gorges de l’Herault, Le Pont du Diable and the medieval village of Sainte Guilhem le Désert. You will notice plenty of walking signs around and through the village, which are part of the pilgrimage route Santiago de Compostela. Also en route to the village you have caves that look interesting, although we didn’t stop here. Certainly the Devil’s Bridge is a great place for swimming and picnics, and Guilhem cut up into the mountain rock, with its ruined castled keeping watch is a must visit, given that it is on the 100 Most Beautiful villages in France list. We would recommend out of season though, otherwise you run the risk of sharing the place with the crowds.
Pont du Diable
There are other sights, such as Gignac, Claremont l’Herault and Cirque de Mouréze which is a natural amphitheatre of dolomites and all worth seeing if you are in the area for more than a couple of days, unlike us sadly. Although so beautiful is this area and Lac du Salagou in particularly, that we will be back to explore some more.
In the meantime, why not divert your path away from the crowded and built up region of the south coast and head inland. Place your feet upon the earth that is shaped by Mother Nature and cultivated for its richness and feel the tranquility that Lake Salagou offers the humble visitor.
Scoobie’s camping spot
If you are coming with your camper, then there are plenty of wild camping spots along the lake. There are a couple of campsite that are open from April until beginning of October, and two official Aires that whilst have no facilities, do allow you to park up for free. Here are the co-ordinates:
Wind 34 – 43.644036 003.383137
Camping Le Salagou – 43.645460 003.389700
Rive d’Octon – Overnight parking with services 43.65425, 3.318127
Come on! Give it a go – you’ll not be disappointed.
When you’re stuck in the system of life, the idea of travelling seems somehow quite Utopian. Escaping life’s rules and being free from all your worries and strife. Now there’s a dream we can all buy into.
Yet the reality of travelling is that there is no Utopia, no grass is greener on the other side. Don’t get me wrong, leaving the System and travelling full time in our camper has been the best decision we’ve ever made, (second to getting married, I hasten to add) and we’ve never been happier. It gives us an immense freedom, a joy that is indescribable and an inner peace that I’ve never had in my life. More importantly, I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
Although this is not a dream-like state where everything is rosy and where we all live happily ever after. Life still comes with strings attached, with unpredictable challenges and outright trauma sometimes. It is though all about how we handle those situations and which ultimately define us and our life experiences. Living on the road is no different.
As I reflect on our nomadic path, sat on the cusp of a change to our lifestyle, I feel like after 19 months travelling full time that I can, with a degree of credibility, assess life through more realistic glasses. And it is both beautiful and stretching all at the same time.
We have seen fellow nomads get caught up in hurricanes, we’ve seen couples not getting on and heading home, we’ve seen others being offered jobs that they couldn’t turn down or family having babies that draw them home. Sometimes illness throws you off course, the needs of a close relation calls for your support, or children need to return back to finish their schooling.
However we travel, for however long we travel, it is still life and the ups and downs still need navigating. That is something you can’t escape. And if travel feels like an escape, then don’t be fooled by this illusion as you will be disappointed. After all, our taxes still need paying and financial institutions still need interacting with.
A heap of questions danced in my mind about what would happen next
For us, we have recently had an opportunity to put our travel commitment to the test after a financial sideswipe threw us temporarily off course. Our journey so far has been blessed by only a few financial constraints. Whilst we are mindful of our expenses and we have a budget to honour, it hasn’t been, until now, hugely restrictive on a day to day basis. Yet a significant shift in our rental income hit us two weeks ago and sent us, well in truth me, spiralling into a vortex of uncertainty and panic.
A heap of questions danced in my mind about what would happen next as the reality of our situation expanded from just a short term issue to a medium term challenge. Now we’ve had some problems to deal with along our way, so I don’t think for one minute we have been complaisant on our nomadic journey although this change in finances, which came overnight, was a bit of a shock to the system.
I’m a great believer, when I’m not in a state of panic, that every situation offers learning and opportunity, even if it’s not clear at the time. So when the shock wore off, we were able to assess our new situation with fresh eyes. We looked at all avenues; the thought of returning back to UK was the one that filled me with most horror. Aside of that we had two basic considerations – how to generate more money and how to lower our expenditure.
…and from that moment on, drama turned into opportunity.
Given that returning to UK was not a desired route for either of us, we put our rational heads into gear and from that moment on, drama turned into opportunity. Within the space of a day we had come up with a strategy that was full of synergy and positivity where we could both reduce our spends and raise our income levels. It was a strategy we had already built into our vision before we left England and now it was time to initiate our house sitting plan.
What a perfect opportunity for us; a chance to stand still after 19 months of busy travels and working as travel bloggers. A great way to reign in our campsite fees, diesel, gas and general wear and tear on the vehicle. A way of meeting my ‘helping’ gene, allowing others to fulfill their travel needs and an lovely opportunity to experience a new part of Europe from the very heart of its community. Plus on top of all of this, we will have the time to push forward with our Motoroaming venture and expand our offerings, which is important to us both and hopefully generate some passive income.
We have turned what felt like a storm of travelling doom, into a silver-lined cloud
When we told a few friends about this, they have been gutted for us, as many of our plans for next year have had to be shelved. Morocco postponed, the Baltics rescheduled and generally our European travels restructured for 2018. And yet we are not only excited, we are so incredibly positive about this junction. With four house sits under our belt, secured in just one week, we know that this is what is destined for us – it is our vision coming to fruition and we couldn’t be happier.
We are still nomads, if that label is important, we are still travelling and we are still committed to full time adventures. There is no ending, no grieving, just travelling in a different way. We have turned what felt like a storm of travelling doom into a silver-lined cloud. As a result the Motoroamers will have some alternative travel perspectives and a new take on our destinations that we hope will inspire you and that we are excited to share very soon.
So what’s the moral of this story?
- Travel is just life lived differently to the norm, free from just some of life’s traditional rules.
- Travel comes with consequences and choices just like any other lifestyle.
- Challenges and dramas hit us when we least expect them, it’s how we choose to deal with them that defines us.
- Travel is multi faceted and three dimensional; it’s how we create meaning for our life and how we let labels of ‘nomad’ or ‘full time’ get in our way.
- There’s always a way through when we remove ourselves from fear and the vortex of panic.
So our final thoughts remain; travel when you can, however you can, for as long as you can, just travel.
House sitting agencies we have used are;
www.trustedhousesitter.com – become a member £89.00 per year and £30 for a one-off payment for an advanced level Police Check.*
www.mindmyhouse.com – become a member for $15 per year.*
www.housecarers.com – register for free and become a member for £30 per year.*
* These are the currencies that we paid to register as UK residents.
The Motoroamer’s Restaurant Review
For some people eating is a passion and cooking is a work of art; for others, it’s just a necessary evil. Whichever is true for you, there’s no doubt that seeking out a traditional restaurant is one of the best ways to get a true flavour of another country’s culture.
We don’t eat out often because when you have the luxury of your own home on wheels, eating in is so easy. Although we do love to try local food and experiment with regional delicacies; yet finding a restaurant that serves up authentic fare and not just a tourist designed menu at exorbitant prices, can be hard. Let’s face it we are visitors to a strange land and whilst we may well be armed with the latest Travel Guide, finding a place that suits our budget and our palette can be like looking for a needle in a haystack – especially in the heart of a throbbing city.
So when someone can share their personal insights of an outstanding restaurant with great food and service, then it surely must be done.
Hungry in Hungary
With our flying visit through Hungary and a pit stop at Budapest to rendezvous with friends and family, we were introduced to a restaurant that looked too good to be true. Our research took us to their website that promotes their unique approach to dining, offering traditional Hungarian recipes inspired by Grandma’s family kitchen. And unlike lots of websites that often don’t uphold their promises – The Hungarikum Bisztró most certainly delivered – on all counts. And we liked it so much we went back twice.
So how can I take you on a gastronomic journey that imparts our experiences and inspires you to visit?
Location, Location, Location
The Danube, Budapest
Let’s start off by the Bisztró’s location. So you are two streets away from the Danube and the bustling vibrance of cruise boats, ferries and tugs gliding up and down the waterway. You are only four blocks away from the most stunning of Budapest buildings – the Parliament Palace and in the same vicinity you have the M3 Underground Metro, making it position perfect.
Now, I’ll be honest, the building that the Bisztró calls home is not magnificent from the outside and has a very understated feel about it, so your initial reaction is one of caution and uncertainty. A discretely branded sign hangs inconspicuously above the door, giving you little hint to the splendour of what is behind. And then you walk through their entrance…
The minute you enter you are transported into a home-from-home room that feels like it could be your own personal dining room, offering no more than forty covers, yet giving you an immediately intimate feel. You are then struck with panic – will we be able to get a table? Your fears are soon allayed, as the girls study their booking sheet and soon have you sat down, even if you have to wait for just a few minutes. In our two visits, the restaurant was full although no one was ever turned away.
Decorated in comforting autumnal tones of deep red and golden yellows, this delightful restaurant creates a warm ambiance that penetrates your tourist weary souls and you feel this wave of restfulness wash over you. And that’s before you have even looked at the menu of simple Hungarian delights. Red checked cloths grace the tables and bookcases of paprika paste and Hungarian wines decorate the walls – you really do feel at home.
Food, Glorious Food
Then you get your menus, in the language of your choice accompanied by a tablet that shows you each and every plate of food so that they can tantalise your imagination as well as your tastebuds. So the difficulty now is what on earth you will eat. Will it be the crispy leg of duck with Hungarian red cabbage or the plaited pork fillet with paprika sauce and cabbage dumplings? Perhaps it will be the Special Dish of the Day – strips of beef fillet in a traditional goulash style sauce and fried potatoes.
And in that gap between your tantalising expectations and your first mouthful, that is so often filled with an emptiness that has you chewing on your fingernails, the girls come out with a complementary appetiser of delicate chunks of Hungarian bread baked with bacon and a piquant paprika dip that will have you reaching for a glass of wine to dowse the heat building in your mouth. The local wines I’m told are delightful and the beers, I am happy to report are scrumptious.
During our first visit, my greedy ego just wanted to taste everything, so I indulged in a platter of Hungarian tasters of bacon and chorizo styled sausage and breads, which was delightful. Although, as so often is the case, my eyes were too big for my tummy and by the time the main course arrived with big smiles and a warmth of your closest friend, I was already quite full. Although nothing was going to stop me from enjoying the deliciousness of my crispy duck. It was heavenly, as was each and every meal on our table. Simplicity and hearty plates of food draw you in seductively to their regional charm.
And with satiated appetites, the girls finally bring you a complementary glass of Grappa; a blast of fire water that alights your mouth with an explosion of taste, rounding off this divine restaurant experience with a sensory finale.
Hungarikum Bisztro Team
We must not go without a mentioning István and his team; both behind the scenes in the all-important the kitchen and the front-of-house. The food is cooked with loving care and consistency and it is delivered by a team of angels. They treat you, not like visitors or tourists, they engage with you like friends and there is a sense of their desire to give you a great experience. The team is picked with care and they each uphold the restaurant’s values that puts authentic cooking and service as its priority.
So as you leave the sanctuary of this friendly and warm restaurant back into the buzz of Budapest, you take with you memories of gastronomic delights in your belly and an eating experience that goes deep into your heart, however you happen to feel about food. This is one place that not only promotes the tastes of Hungary, it also represents Hungarian’s hospitality perfectly and we implore you to put this on your Budapest tour.
You arrive as hungry visitors and you leave as friends of Hungary.
Address: 1051 Budapest, Steindl Imre Utica, 13, (47.503462 19.048057)
Telephone number for recommended reservations: 36 30 661 6244.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/hungarikumbisztro or their direct website www.hungarikumbisztro.hu
As those lovely Roman chaps used to say, ‘Tempus fugit’ – and you know what? They were right, time really does fly. I can’t believe where the last year has gone; a whole twelve months has past since we embarked on the biggest week of our lives, EVER!
From the humble and yet inspiring beginnings of a Silver anniversary road-trip in New Zealand, we packed up our belongings, said ‘goodbye’ to jobs and handed the keys back to the rented house we had called ‘home’ for four years. We stuck two fingers up to conformity, leaving behind what society classes as normality – after all who wants normal when you can have adventure and a life on the road? I get that this isn’t for everyone and, if truth be known, four years ago I would have said that it wasn’t for me either. Yet we’ve never been scared to do things differently and boy, this was seriously different.
So on 4 March 2016 we left English shores for our European road trip, yet as we said au revoir to Plymouth’s port, little did we know how life on the road, with our trusty chariot Scoobie, would change our lives, possibly forever. Read more about our pre-road trip preparation and tips here…
As I look back now, on the cusp of our first anniversary, I’m wondering how appropriate it is to celebrate this landmark. Is it with champagne? Is it with a meal or do we simply acknowledge with a huge amount of gratitude how life has unfolded for us? The latter certainly seems like the only way to mark this significant date. No doubt we will reflect on the months that have passed and reminisce over the ups and downs of our nomadic life and the people we’ve met along the way.
Although the thing that will hit us the most will be the lessons we’ve learnt, and are still learning, as we meander our way through this new lifestyle. So, what are those lessons?
Here are our TOP 10 Lessons from our Nomadic Classroom.
1. The first is, how fear can take over your dreams. Fear of what others might think, fear of what could happen in the future or fear of how safe you will be in a strange country. Fears so big, that if not addressed can consume you and hold you back from living the life you deserve. Realising that fear is only a self-constructed thought can release you from its grasp and enable you to live your dreams. We challenged each fear and looked at them with logical eyes and common sense. We worked out the likelihood that those fears ever materialising and generated contingency plans should the worst ever happen. Once you strip away fear’s power you fly free. See more about overcoming fear here…
2. Have the courage to be different. Conforming to society’s expectations can be a comforting blanket to be enwrapped by, although this has its limitations, especially if your wanderlust is calling. We came to the conclusions that however others may judge us, this is our life, our dream and life is too short to accommodate norms that no longer fit your dreams. This is our time to fulfil our potential.
3. Remember this isn’t a holiday, this is a lifestyle. For our first three months, we grabbed at everything; visited every UNESCO site there was and ticked off Natural Parks, cathedrals and cities as though they were going out of fashion. We soon realised that we needed to evolve from tourist travellers into nomadic travellers if we were going to stay sane. So stopping in one place for more than two nights became an important ingredient in our adventures. You don’t need to see everything all in one go. Hopefully there is always tomorrow (finger’s crossed.)
It’s all about balance.
4. Balance is important – learn the art of stillness and movement. Our first six months was a lovely yet a busy period as we not only settled into a rhythm, we committed to seeing friends and family. We hadn’t quite got used to creating a kinder schedule for ourselves. We soon realised that travelling is tiring and needs respect. Whilst we have no regrets of any one of our visits, we could have been more mindful of our needs and stresses. In twelve months we’ve covered nearly 13500 miles and 10 countries during that time, which is phenomenal. Although at the other end of the spectrum we had five weeks at one place in January, which had us itching to travel again. So finding a balance between being still and smelling the roses whilst travelling to a new ‘home’ is really important and has taken us a year to work out. And we think we’ve finally grasped it, although I’m not sure you ever get it ‘right’!
5. Embrace simplicity. I’ve never been a Madonna – material girl, although Myles might disagree with the number of shoes I’ve brought with me. Yet we’ve stripped back a three bedroomed house and fully functioning kitchen to all the bare essentials for our 7.5 metre space. And there’s absolutely nothing we want for – at all. Although what we have learned is to be creative with the resources we do have, be inventive in how we store things and embrace simplicity. We cook more simply, we live more simply and we dress in a way that feels comfortable. We regularly stream-line what we have by doing a bi-annual cull – anything not used or worn during that time is recycled. A number of my shoes have found themselves back in my mum’s care because I hadn’t worn them. Life on the road demands simplicity and it’s such a lovely value to embrace as it brings so much more peace to daily life.
Wild camping in Playa de Carolina, Aguilas, Murcia
6. Wilding versus campsite. Over the last year we have done a fair bit of wild camping, although not as much as I thought we might. I’m not sure it was anything to do with confidence or safety – perhaps more to do with internet connection and a decent signal so we could work. Sometimes it depended on the country, for example Slovenia and Italy don’t encourage wild camping, so places are hard to find. There are some definite periods during the year when wilding is a ideal; Easter, July/August (when campsite fees are crazily expensive and you can’t use ACSI) and January/February when lots of us ‘snow birds’ are looking for some winter warmth. In between, we’ve found a rhythm that gives us a bit of wild camping and then a top up on a site so we can juice up, do washing and get some good wifi. Don’t miss out on wild camping though, as you get to meet some amazing characters and the sites do just what they say on the tin; wild, wonderful and warming to the soul. Read more about our wilding perspective…
Living life together in a small space is doable.
7. You can have harmony in a small space. Who would have thought that two people (or more in some cases) could live harmoniously in such a small space. Whilst we have met people for whom it hasn’t worked out, as it has put too much pressure on their relationship, for us we are stronger. We have found a way to live, work and move around the van such that it doesn’t invade each other’s space and we regularly talk about how we’re doing and iron out any frustrations. Of course during the summer we have a whole ‘outside’ space to luxuriate in. Winter can be more compromising, although we have baggsyed our own ‘office’ space and we have a couple of rules like, only one person in the kitchen at one time and always make the bed. Otherwise we are so pleased at how well we flow, even after nearly 30 years together.
8. Be a gracious teacher and student. We came into our road-trip with a little experience of owning and travelling in motorhomes before. Although having a holiday or short-break to living full-time are miles apart and we never underestimated the transition we knew we would have to make. So we studied, researched and honed our skills before we left and soon realised how much more there was to learn on the road. Like to how fix a punctured toilet miles from anywhere and getting off wet ground, even with grip mats. We really do feel like every day is a school day. Although it’s lovely to talk about our experiences and choices with others, if they ask. We love to share and receive and we have adjusted so much of what we do based on other people’s experiences.
Root yourselves not in one place.
9. You root yourself wherever your tyres stop. One of my worst fears before we embarked on our nomadic journey, was not being rooted in a home that I could call my own. I’ve always been a home bird and loved coming back after a holiday. So how would I cope not having the security of a roof and four walls? This has been my biggest revelation of the whole year really. Roots are not in bricks and mortar; roots are wherever you stop for the night; roots come from your own feet and not from an address that you can return to. Scoobie is our home and he provides our roots and our routes. And although we’re loving this now, it might not always be this way – so when or if that time arrives, then we will create new roots, in a new way. As Paul Young sang way back when, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.’ Let go of roots and your freedom to explore expands exponentially.
10. You never really escape The Matrix. And finally, one of our biggest lessons that we learned early on was, although we had chosen to move away from what we call The Matrix (which contains all the ties, rules and regulations of life in the System), actually it’s everywhere. You never quite escape it completely. If, like us you still have a property that you rent out for income, then there are still landlord issues to deal with, bank incompetences, tax issues to sort out and rules that still require you to comply to some degree. So if escape is the thing you long for most, then the harsh reality is that you can’t. The quicker you realise this, the more freedom you will gain ironically. Stress still exists in our lives, although it is only ever self-induced. As long as you still have a NI number you will always have some ties and links to the System. That said, the hoops you have to jump through are significantly reduced, and now our stress, after years of depression, debt and anxiety, are at an all-time low.
So how would we sum up our experiences over the last twelve months? Although perhaps over-used, life changing definitely feels an appropriate phrase. We had a dream, overcame fears, worked together to make it happen and feel grateful for every moment that we are blessed to enjoy. And we can honestly say that we are happier than we’ve ever been thanks to those courageous actions and a whole heap of support from family and friends. We now play hard, work hard and live well, giving life a good old workout. We cherish every moment and each moment inspires us to keep on trucking. May the next year be equally blessed with health, adventure and happiness as we continue our exploration of eastern European shores. We hope you’ll join us along the way. Cheers!
Ms Moneypenny and Mr Rainman xxx
We’re not great fans of cities and built up areas – and in truth we already knew this about ourselves before we embarked on our nomadic journey. Although nothing reminded us more of our appreciation of the natural world versus suburbia than Spain’s Costa Blanca. Although we chose to by-pass the area completely last year, we have come to embrace the fact that everything should be experienced just once – allowing you to make your own mind up as you travel amidst the maze of reviews from fellow journeymen.
So when my mum came to stay in Albir in between Altea and Benidorm for two weeks, it was an ideal opportunity to check out whether these areas had a piece of magic that would send us away with our tails between our legs. Keep open minded to the possibilities, I kept telling myself.
Alas, as we drove from Dénia to pick her up, my fears had been realised. Tower block hotels, wall to wall shops and buildings, main roads, motorways and traffic. All the things we hate most about urban life’s suffocating energy. Still, perhaps there would be something around the corner to change our minds. After tauntingly missing our junction for Albir, as if to prove a point, the N332 took us all the way to Benidorm – ‘That’ll teach you’ it whispered in tune with Scoobie’s tyre tracks. The high rises that took charge of the horizon, creating their own concrete landscape reached out to us like monsters in a nightmare and we struggled for twenty minutes to get out of the area and back on track to Albir.
Now Albir certainly wasn’t quite as bad as its partying neighbour, although there was just something about the whole coastline that made us feel hemmed in and breathless. We saw the same landmarks in Calpe, that we thought would be a quaint fishing village. Disappointment certainly visited us that day. So you can imagine our relief when we took refuge for the night in the mountains a short drive from the tawdry coastline. As we moved mile by mile towards the mountain metropolis we knew our souls would be reset very soon.
The higher we climbed, the more Mother Nature’s high rises drew us into her raw magnetism. Our destination was El Castell de Guadalest, not more than 30 minutes away on the CV70, that had been recommended by a friend. My mum had also been there the week before on an excursion with the hotel and had enjoyed it, so it was a must for us. We were not disappointed, aided by the fact that we arrived after the crowds had long since gone.
We found a Motorhome dedicated parking spot, that for €4 for the night, gave us a peaceful and beautiful spot to rest our heads. And the views were to die for! Now this was far more ‘us’ and we felt like we’d come home.
Because of the area’s historical popularity, coaches arrive in their droves, winding up the mountain roadway to reach this little oasis of gorgeousness. So having been there overnight, we had a head start and, pretty much the place to ourselves. Whilst there are the expected tourist shops and photo-capturing entrepreneurs looking to sell you unwelcome images as you enter the castle walls, beyond these there is a real authentic air to the place.
Perched up high in what looks like a sanctuary protected by three different mountain ranges, bizarrely Guadalest shows plenty of military scars from Moorish battles dating back to 700AD, the earthquake of 1644 and a mine explosion. Yet this small mountain settlement stands firm and resilient against human and natural tragedies. It is a testimony to how people work together to keep their communities in tact.
Today the ‘Grand House’ built after the earthquake, the castle remnants, the clock tower and white-washed village of quaint homes, all offer the visitor a welcome sense of reality, history and substance. The views down to the coast are the only reminder of the concrete seaside conurbation, as this Eagle’s Nest spectacular gives you a taste of real Spain and the struggles that gave the country its character and charm.
The Guadalest Reservoir nestled far below the village’s lofty strong-hold is an emerald green gem that has every form of photographic tool clicking away to capture the artist palette of colours.
The reservoir is worthy of the short drive, so you can take in the scene from a completely different perspective. Looking up towards the village you get a real sense of its dominant position whilst feeling in the heart of a haven of beauty. The mountains tower above you and the chalky curves of the lake’s edges entice you to wander its perimeter and share lunch on its shores. And here there are no tourists; certainly out of season you will have this place to yourselves, capturing your heart as you try to imagine the history that has been carved here.
Guadalest is such an incredible oasis of beauty that must be seen. Don’t drive past on the motorway in pursuit of quieter shores without stopping to marvel at its magic. It cries out to be loved, admired and valued and, in return you will be treated to a natural piece of heaven away from the vibrations of Europe’s party capital.