A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

A Guide to Exploring Denia, Spain

 

Delightful Denia, sat in the south east corner of Spain teeters on the edge of the Costa Blanca magnet. And yet Dénia could not be further from the Costa image that has been generated by decades of tourism to this sunny, southern fringe of Europe.  Authentic, vibrant and offering a wide variety of things to see and do, Dénia draws us back year after year. 

We are not great ‘returners’ to places because there is so much of the world to see, why would you want to have a return visit to somewhere? And yet, we all have our favourite ‘go to’ places where we feel instantly comfortable and pretty much ‘at home’. Dénia is that place for us. After five visits over the last three years, we strangely find ourselves magnetised to this corner of Spain and especially during the winter months, provides just a little sanctuary for our travel weary tyres.

And each visit opens up something new to us drawing us further in to Dénia’s irresistible charm. So much so that we feel we have now compiled a super list of things to entertain and delight you as you make your way to Spain’s southern beach belles. Why not swap the tourism of the coast for a little bit of authentic Spain wrapped up into a dynamic ball of culture, gastronomy and entertainment. 

 

Here is our Guide to this fabulous destination that could offer you a winter get away or a summer vacation with relaxation and activity blended together like a perfect cocktail. 

 

1. A peak into Dénia’s history

Dénia’s story begins way back when it was the capital of the Muslim Kingdom – if you are a historical purist then you would have to acknowledge evidence of Dénia’s prehistoric existence going further back than the history books can reveal. May be back then there was little interest in the town’s southerly location and oceanic position, although certainly as we crawl along the historical timeline we can see why Dénia was so widely admired by outsiders. 

The Greeks, Muslims, Christians and French have all placed their mark on Dénia in some form or another; whether it’s been to trade the raisins that were a strategic export from the town for over 100 years or using the 11th Century castle to protect their kingdom, Dénia’s place in history is firmly set.

In 18th century the Spanish regained control of this important region and it has been firmly in charge ever since. Now a modern grip has been placed on the town offering respite to tourists albeit not in the same way as its Costa cousins around the corner.  Dénia manages to maintain its authentic roots, charm and unobtrusive personality – that is until festival time. More on that in a moment.

With its busy fishing port and ferry hub for the Balearic Islands, Dénia refuses to remain passive in Spain’s economy. With its discrete hotels and restaurants positioned along the pedestrian promenade that stretches from sandy beaches, marinas to craggy coves, Dénia demands attention from those intent on passing by on the nearby AP7. Will you be one of them?

 

2. Our 3 favourite things to do in Dénia

 

Walking around the harbour, marina and promenade

The enormous marina oozes opulence as you weave your way through the Nautical Club and observe the gin palaces on display alongside the town’s promenade. For a moment you can gaze at their lavish lifestyle and dream. In stark contrast next door the fisherman moor up their rigs ready to off-load their daily catch in preparation for the fish market. Between 5-5.30pm every night, it’s worth heading into town to watch their antics and get a real cultural feel for Dénia’s working personality. Serenaded by parakeets that fly between the palm trees that lines the coastal road you can also admire the mastering of the Balearic ferry coming into to dock at 3.30 each day.  If you fancy the walk around to the breakwater behind the ferry terminal, you are rewarded with gorgeous views as you look back to the town’s skyline – particularly beautiful as the sun sets. A solar powered boat will happily escort you from just behind the ferry terminal back across the harbour to the main town promenade – all for free. 

 

Dénia’s markets

There’s nothing more authentic than a local market, where you rub shoulders with residents going about their daily lives. I love the feel, smell and look of markets with their vibrant colours and regional fare on display to tempt your taste buds. Dénia has two weekly markets; Monday morning’s market is all about clothes, shoes and accessories located at the western edge of the town at Mercadillo. And Friday morning is all about the fruit and veg stalls which is just two blocks away from Dénia’s shopping area – Marcos de Campo. Two streets of stalls draw you in with their calls of ‘Todo Euro’ – all for a £ – and there are certainly some bargains to be had. Although they don’t do much for the reduction of plastics sadly. 

At the top end of the Friday market area, there is also an indoor market, which is well worth a butchers, as they say! With meats, fish and bizarrely some vegetables too, this is a permanent market area and is great to wander around. So treat yourself to a coffee or chocolate and churros and just watch the market world unfold before your eyes.

 

Come in March and experience Las Fallas

Dénia may be a working port and a hub for authentic Spanish life, although you come mid March and the whole town takes on a completely different vibe. Firecrackers pop, bands play through the streets, traditional Valenciana customs come out of the wardrobe and 50ft statues appear through the streets. Las Fallas, the most bizarre experience that has to be entertained if you are in Spain in March. Throughout the whole Valencian region, this ancient tradition that stems from carpenters brings towns along this eastern coastline to life. For a whole week, these incredible works of art that have been crafted during the year are presented to the town. A competition for the best in their category, are vied for and money awarded for the most original art form. Papier maché, steel and wooden structures loom above you with intricate detail, which at the end of the week are burnt! It is just something you need to experience, just once in your life. Check out more about the festival by clicking here. 

 

2. Rides for cyclists

Dénia is positioned beautifully in a basin nestled between the Montgó Massif and Mount Pego creating a landscape of orange groves and almond trees. With these comes a lot of gorgeous flat cycling routes. For those looking for something more challenging, then just a few miles inland you will find plenty of mountains to test your skills, like the Col de Rates.  Cycling teams from all over Europe come here to train in the winter, so serious cyclists are well catered for.

 

gentle cycle through the orange groves

The route from the northern side of the town on the Via Verde to Els Poblets is fabulous. With the heady aroma of orange blossom from the acres of fruit laden trees, this car-free ride is wonderful. With the site of Mont Pego to entice you, this is a super leisurely ride. A quick refreshment at Els Poblets and then take the same route back, or along the coast if you are a looking for an alternative. From Camping Los Pinos, it’s a 18 mile round trip. From Dénia centre it’s about 11 miles. 

 

 

A challenging cycle around Montgó

If you are looking for something more testing or you have an electric bike like we do, then why not give the Montgó circuit a go. The ride will take you up the challenging mountain route from Dénia to Javea and then hugging the lower edges of the mountain you head back into Dénia on a good 19 mile round trip. And the views at the top are spectacular.  

 

A cycle to Jésus Pobre Sunday market

Another nice stretching cycle takes you out of Dénia out to a little mountain top village that each Sunday has a gorgeous  artisan market. So armed with strong legs for the ascent to the village and some pennies for a bit of lunch and a beer, you will be in for a treat on this fabulous cycle.  

 

3. Our 3 favourite Hikes for walkers

Dénia offers some wonderful walking, with gentle strolls along the coastline to more stretching hikes up through the Montgó Natural Park. Take your camera, your binoculars and of course water and layers as the afternoon winds can brew up suddenly in this area. Whilst we’ve not scaled the heady heights of Montgó as yet, we do have three favourite walks that we recommend. 

 

A saunter up to the Pepperpot

You can either join this walk from Dénia, if this is where you are staying and walk along the coastal promenade, or from Camping Los Pinos at Les Rotas. As you wind your way along the Mediterranean Sea, the crashing waves are mesmerising. This south easterly edge can be a bit breezy in the winter and early spring, especially whipping up in the afternoon so you will often see surfers trying their luck on the waves. Just past restaurant Mena, you follow the signs for Torre del Gerro and wind steeply up the hill to what is lovingly called the Pepperpot. This building that purveys the coast below it is actually the remnants of a 16th century fortification built to protect against pirates. The views from up here are magnificent. For instructions, you can use this link. If you’re feeling energetic, you can carry on up across the hill over towards San Antonio Lighthouse, although this is a big stretch and will take you another 2 hours round trip. 

 

A hike up to Javea’s windmills

This is a great climb up into the hills overlooking Montgó. Not only are you treated to superb views that can on a clear day take your eye up towards Valencia, your nature-loving personas will adore the wild rosemary, lavender and 650 other species of flora that call this landscape home. En route you will come across a run down and abandoned village that is now home to some amazing graffiti artwork. Perhaps locals see this as a blot on the landscape, although it is certainly a unique vantage point. As you continue to climb, you cross Las Planes and towards the ancient windmills that were built to maximise the winds that blow here to farm their wheat. Now mostly restored these windmills, some of which have been converted into homes, have incredible views over the Javea shoreline. It’s a walk that requires at least 3 hours and some sturdy boots, although a great hike of about 6 miles. For routes check this link out

 

A Walking Tour of Dénia

Every town seems to have their own free walking tour and Dénia is no different. If you head to the main Tourist Information Office you will be able to pick up information about their Walking Tours. We took ours during their LAS FALLAS festival in March 2017 and the tour takes in the Old Town as well as all the festival statues that are created specifically for this event. It is well worth visiting in mid-March to experience this extravaganza. 

Check out our gallery here….

 

4. Our 3 favourite places to eat

Dénia is a Mecca for food, as you might expect being both in Spain and on the coast. If you love seafood, then you. are going to love Dénia’s eating experiences. We have found three amazing places to eat that are our go-tos when we are here.

La Republic – Denia Marina

This is a place to come for a special event. It’s a five course meal for €21 and with views over the Marina and out to sea, it is a stunning location, with great prices. We adore it here. Read more about this special place here.

 

Fuegos – Bar and Grill

If you are looking for something more earthy, then you will never go wrong with this local restaurant. Always busy and in the four visits we’ve had here, we’ve not been disappointed. With a Menu del Dia for €14 and their house speciality half a chicken, this place is excellent value. 

 

Llaollao

Not a restaurant, although a must when you visit Denia – the frozen yoghurt shop. This is a great treat and if you can imagine your naughtiest ice-cream fantasy with toppings galore then you will have come to the right place. Located in the lower end of the buzzy Marco de Campo shopping street, Llaollao can’t be missed. It’s fluorescent green – and for between €3-4 you can have a tub of frozen deliciousness with toppings that take you back to childhood. We highly recommend it. 

 

5. Things to see beyond Dénia

You could easily while away your time in Dénia alone with buses, bikes and your own feet to guide you. Although beyond this magical town is a plethora of other sites that are worth exploring. For many of these we have hired a car, or had friends take us to these spots, so if you have additional transport, these are definitely worth looking at.  

 

The caves at Benidoleig

Not more than 15 minutes by car, or if you are feeling fit, you can cycle to (especially if you are electric assisted). The mountainous region surrounding Dénia is a jigsaw of natural and historical pieces that need to pulled together to complete your visit here. Whilst not the longest caves we’ve been in, they are of great archeological and scientific value. For a mere €3.90 per adult, €2 for children, this is definitely worth visiting. For more information check here.

 

Jalón Valley –  Almond Tree Blossom

Just 20 minutes by car inland, you weave your way through the Gata de Gorgos and reach the small town of Jalón, which if you are in the area in February is a must visit destination. With orchards of Almond trees, which are the first to blossom, this is a magical site. With the frame bordered by mountains, the pink and white flowers are worthy of photographing and walking through. The scent is heavenly.

 

Javea/Xavia

Javea is a popular tourist destination with its protected bay and shelter from the magnificent Montgó Massif. From Denia it is only a 15 minute drive away and buses will also take you there. It’s worth exploring for its harbour, coastline and old town. There is also a ferry that runs to and from Denia to Javea for €18 pp if you want to top off your experience. It runs from April to October – for more information and timetables, click here

 

Stand on the Greenwich Meridian point at Beniarbeig

Only 15 minutes away by car, or slightly longer if you cycle, you will reach the lovely little town of Beniarbeig. Famed for its old bridge monument and its Greenwich Meridian Point. Standing at this spot seems strange when you think you are directly in line with London a mere 1200 miles away.

 

Guadalest

If you have your own transport or can hire a car, then slightly further afield it is really worth visiting this gorgeous region. Just 15 minutes from Benidorm, Guadalest is steeped in history and is known to be one of the most highly visited sites in Spain. With its a reservoir surrounded by mountains and the castle and old town perched precariously on a precipice, Guadalest is full of charm. For a mere €4 you can enter the castle house and indulge in its history and bask in the views that, on a good day will take your gaze to the Benidorm coast. 

 

 

6. 3 Recommendations for sleeping

Dénia feels like home to us and each winter it draws us back. If you love the relative safety of a campsite then you’ll love  Camping Los Pinos.  At the southern end of the town, away from the buzz of port life and nestled in amongst the pines, you will feel a warm welcome from this family run site. Just a minute’s walk from craggy coastline, this site is perfect for watching sunrises, walking and cycling. The longer you stay the cheaper the site. For stays over 7 nights you pay only €15 and over 21 nights just a mere €12.50. It’s a multi-cultural site with a lovely mix of Dutch, German, British and French all connecting and social events at night, if that is your thing. Although this site is getting so popular that you will need to book.

 

Wild camping isn’t officially permitted in Dénia, like many places in Spain, although we do see vans down at Fernando’s restaurant at the northern end of town. Interestingly on Google Maps, it’s listed as an RV Park!  (38.847934, 0.102204). Although it’s a bit too busy down there for us with vans side-by-side. A night or two seems to be tolerated alongside the marina (38.837167, 0.120973).

 

If you ever need camping accessories or van supplies, then there is an excellent store up in the near-by El Verger. Just a 15 minute drive north, you will find an extensive offering of everything to do with camping, motor homing and caravanning. There’s even an Aire here if you need an overnight stop or services. (38.861775, -0.007745).

 

And if you prefer hotels or apartments, then why not check out Hotel Port Dénia by the Marina or the Bravasol Apartments in Las Rotas, right by the campsite. The apartments overlooking the coast can be rented for €29 per night if you are staying for 21 days or more. 

 

 

Final thoughts

Dénia has so much to offer and after three years and five visits, we still find new places to explore, by foot, by bike and further afield by car. Rich in gastronomy, festivals and day to day life, Dénia is ready to welcoming you with open arms and a warm heart. Each time we leave, it gets just a little harder – and that is coming from two free nomads roaming the world.  So next time you are heading for the Costas on the south coast, just make a short diversion off the motorway and check out the delights of Dénia – you’ll not be disappointed. 

 

 

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Life is an Adventure

Life is an Adventure

We love that travel introduces you to new people who glide gracefully into your life and provides the chance to reconnect you to old friends. Old friends who travel from your past and settle firmly in your present.  This year we had a chance to meet up with old work colleagues from nearly 30 years ago. What a lovely rendezvous it was too. We swapped stories and their tale of life-change and adventure inspired us so much that we asked them to share it as part of our Guest Post series.  So we are delighted to introduce Tracy and Martin who take you on their journey from the deserts of the Middle East to rural France and how they created their very own ‘Good Life’.  Over to you, guys….

 

Oh my, life really is an adventure. Neither of us planned to have careers in the insurance industry… it’s just not something you choose when you talk to your careers teacher, unless you want to be an actuary of course!  But we both did, and it opened lots of doors for us. The door to travelling the world, to living overseas and more importantly, to financial independence.  

Martin is Irish, but lived in Royal Leamington Spa for most of his life and I’m from the Isle of Man. We both worked in insurance for over 20 years in life and general insurance & takaful (insurance products built on islamic principles). We lived in the Middle East for a combined total of 26 years in a variety of countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE (Dubai) & Bahrain.  We had a great life and loved every minute of it… even during the Arab Spring which saw the Saudi Army on the streets of Bahrain for 6 months.  Tanks at traffic lights is just not something the Highway Code prepares you for!

Living and working in a tax-free environment helped us save more than would ever have been possible in the UK and this enabled us to plan and prepare for a different future.  Bahrain is a fabulous place, but isn’t where we saw ourselves living long term.  We were there for the experience of living & working in a different culture and to achieve something else… a future that enabled us to live how we wanted; working outdoors, having adventures and more importantly, being our own bosses.    

 

For us it’s adventure all the way. 

 

It all started in 2012 when we bought a house in France. We knew we wanted to come back to Europe, but didn’t want to return to where we’d grown up. We’d been on this amazing adventure in the Middle East and didn’t want the adventure part to end.  We didn’t know much about France and pretty much picked it by putting a pin in a map, but when we visited, we loved it. The next thing we knew we’d bought a house and were visiting at every opportunity. 

After every trip it got harder and harder to leave our French idyll and in 2014 we seriously started planning for what life might be like A.B, (After Bahrain!) Whilst living overseas, one of the things we struggled with was finding someone to look after and care for our French home the way we would look after it.  We wanted to turn up on holiday and not have to wrangle the garden back into shape! Martin was always happy to give the ride-on mower a spin, but wrestling with chainsaws and taking 5ft of growth of hedges was not our idea of a holiday!      

On a visit in the summer of 2014 we saw a little cottage for sale in the next village and decided to buy it as a gîte. And from this point we knew we would be leaving Bahrain and moving to France sooner rather than later. After all, preparing a gîte for guests from 3,000 miles away, is a bit tricky!

During this time we also had to sort out ‘stuff’. At one point, we had 4 houses; one in the Isle of Man, two in France and the one we rented in Bahrain! That’s a heck of a lot of ‘stuff’ to sort out! We sold the house in the Isle of Man and rehomed or gave away belongings that we no longer needed and then did a similar thing in Bahrain. However, having done all of this we still managed to have a 20ft container when we left Bahrain!

The last few months of 2014 were all about planning what we would do when we got to France and how to maximise our incomes, once we stopped being employed. People have said to us that we must have been mad to walk away from permanent sunshine, tax-free income and a life where pretty much everything is done for you. However, although we were sad to leave our friends, in April 2015 we galloped towards our French adventure without a second thought.

The first few weeks were idyllic.  There was a warm, early spring in 2015 and it was wonderful.  We brought our 3 dogs and our cat with us from Bahrain and it was amazing to explore the area with animals who had essentially lived in the desert all their lives. One of the things we missed most when living in Bahrain were the seasons; it was either hot, or less hot. Here in France we get such a variety of weather and we love it all. Even on the coldest, crisp French day there is something wonderful about being outside and then sitting in front of a roaring fire.

Eventually our container arrived and for me this marked the day that the ‘holiday’ ended and ‘living’ in France really began. As there was no turning area at our house the poor driver had to reverse the lorry all the way up a 1km lane to reach our house and then the unpacking started. During that time we asked ourselves many times why we had brought so much, and where are we going to put it all. Well over the last 4 years we have rationalised and organised and now, eventually, we fit nicely in our French home!

With some help from a local business set up to help English speakers in France, we got our businesses organised. We decided to set up 2; one for gîtes and property letting; and another one to provide property management and security services to owners who didn’t live in France but who wanted their properties looked after. We called it Mayenne Cottages as we’re based in Department 53, La Mayenne. We knew what we would have wanted from a business like ours, so this became our offering.  Owning a French house for many people is an asset, but is also a place to breathe, a chance to explore different cultures and their home – we’ve found it really enjoyable to work with our customers over the last 4 years.

 

You reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff.

 

We’re often asked if we miss life in the Middle East and the honest answer to that is… sometimes. We miss the friends we made and I miss having a cleaner and someone to do the ironing!  However, the world is a really small place and with today’s technology it’s easy to keep in touch with our friends around the world. And with regards to the cleaning and ironing, I can honestly say I’ve become a different person! I used to be really uptight about everything being spotless, tidy and in its right place. My family used to move things for a laugh just to see if I’d notice!  Yes our own home isn’t the tidiest all the time, but we don’t worry about it and I save my uptight nature for when we’re preparing the gîte for our guests!  

Life is short. Since we moved back to Europe we’ve lost 2 close family members and we’re determined to enjoy and make the most of our lives.  We have no regrets for giving up our life in the Middle East and moving to a different way of living.  Oh boy, we’ve had to learn fast!  We were essentially a couple of townies now living in rural France. With the help of the YouTube Angel and God of Google we acquired a huge number of new skills.  Martin has become the master of the chainsaws, mowers and whatever other equipment he has stashed in his workshop!   And I’ve had to learn how to create a vegetable garden, set up a greenhouse and then store, preserve and make the most of the masses of fruit and vegetables that nature provides. 

Some of our friends and family think we’re ‘retired’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.   We’re just as busy now, but not desk jockeys working 15 hr days and travelling all the time.  We used to be in airports on average twice a week and now perhaps only once a year.  In fact our time in France is the most amount of time we’ve actually spent together since we got married!  That in itself was a challenge; we both had good, responsible careers and both have our own ways of doing things so we do butt heads occasionally.  It has all taken a bit of adapting to, but we’ve now found a more balanced way of living and have learned that having new things all the time or the latest gadgets really isn’t that important. We still have goals, they are just different now and generally involve making things, learning new skills, growing things and in the next couple of years getting some chickens!  Yes you’re right…we’ve turned into Tom and Barbara Good and if you’re too young to remember them, the YouTube Angel will help you out!

 

How did we do it?

So if you’re wondering what our process was to get to this point, here’s what we did.

  • Prepare as much as you can in advance. We love a good spreadsheet and prior to moving we went into spreadsheet overdrive! We thought about what would we do with our time because neither of us were ready to stop working completely; how would we deal with the language issue; and what budget would we set using 3 options; (the doomsday scenario – no income; a medium level of income; and a high level of income). The key point being to answer the question – If the doomsday scenario kicked in, could we still live?   
  • However, you have to accept that even with the best preparation there will be many unknowns. You have to have the confidence in yourselves and each other to know that, whatever crops up, you can deal with it together.
  • And ultimately, you reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff. If you only prepare and never take the next step, there is a danger that you’ll spend your life saying ‘We would have;  We could have;  We should have’.

 

I guess reading this everything sounds simple and easy – I just want to say that moving countries is never easy.   You’re adapting to a new culture, a new way of life and, in some cases, a new language.  Our French was rubbish before we moved here and we’ve had to learn on the ground and fast. Our language skills still aren’t brilliant, but we improve a little bit every day.  We’ve had our ups and downs; like the day Martin couldn’t work out how to get cash out of the ATM machine because he couldn’t understand it; or the time we tried to exchange our Isle of Man and Bahrain driving licenses for EU ones and came up against the legendary French bureaucracy! However, it’s all about your mental approach to it.  Do you see it as an insurmountable obstacle, or do you see it as an adventure?  For us it’s adventure all the way. 

So whilst we don’t know what’s round the corner, especially with the changes happening within the EU, we know one thing, that whatever comes along we have faith in our ability to manage and adapt and it’ll just be the next stage in our adventure. 

For more information about Mayenne Cottages services check out their website here.

 

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5 Road-trips to/from Spain

5 Road-trips to/from Spain

Travel may be a full-time commitment for us, although each country offers its own special road-trip. We love exploring new territory and despite in our early days chasing the sun, now we have much slower-paced journeys; even if it is snowing and freezing temperatures. We’ve come to appreciate that it is only through slow travel that we get a real sense of a country and uncover its authenticity and cultural uniqueness. 

Over the three years we’ve been on the road, Spain has been our choice for winter and spring. And our road-trips in and out of Spain have varied. Sometimes we have crossed the border from France and sometimes we have started in UK. So we thought we’d put together our routes that have taken us into and out of Spain.

We have chosen to focus on routes and POI rather than time and costs. In part because, having done the exercise a number of times, there is little difference in the total cost whether you cross the Bay of Biscay or the Channel. Unless your ferry price tag is over £600 as was quoted for us in January 2019!  By the time you have taken into account diesel, travel time, food, LPG, weather uncertainty through France (if travelling in winter) and of course the unseen costs of wear and tear on the vehicle and additional miles on the clock, the Spanish ferry often works out better in many ways. 

We hope that our routes offer you some options for your next road-trip, where we feature plenty of off-the-beaten track routes on quiet roads that seem to be populated more by vultures and cattle than vehicles. With a list of related blogs, places we’ve called home, co-ordinates and photo albums, you can explore how your next road-trip to Spain might pan out.  

 

Road-trip 1 – 2016, Santander south 

On our maiden road-trip to Spain, we took the ferry from Plymouth to Santander. After an overnight with some elephants, we then headed south towards Cadiz taking in the sights of three UNESCO Cathedrals en route. After a bit of meandering east we finally hurtled our way up the west coast to Roses before we launched ourselves into our French road-trip. Our highlights that year were Segovia, Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura, El Rocio on the south west border with Portugal, Denia on the south west coast and Valencia. Here’s our Maiden Voyage Interactive road-trip map. Click on icon on the top right of the map to enlarge it.

 

 

Road-trip 2 – January 2017, Bilbao to Dénia

After Christmas in UK this second road-trip was the infamous ‘Storm in Denia‘ moment. If you haven’t seen Myles two weather report videos, then they’re worth a watch. Weather Report from Spain 1 and 2.

This was a speedy trip south from Bilbao to Dénia, our favourite ‘go to’ place, so not a very exciting offering, although if you need to get south quickly from the ferry, this is how we did it.  

 

 

Road-trip 3 – December 2017, Carcassonne to Dénia

After housesitting in Carcassonne and St. Gaudin in France, we headed south across the border for Christmas and a rendez-vous with my mum. We took a gorgeous road-trip through the Pyrenees, which included our highlights of Lourdes, Estacion Canfranc – the largest station in Europe which is now sadly abandoned and Albarracín in Aragon. Such a great route, check it out below.

 

 

Road-trip 4 – February 2018 – UK Bound for MOT

The back end of that same trip took us north towards the ferry for Caen in preparation for our first MOT. And because we were in no immediate hurry, we tootled north taking an inland route and found some amazing spots, like Girona, Besalú and Peralada.  

 

 

Road-trip 5 – January 2019, Caen to Dėnia

Our most recent trip to Spain has brought us south from Caen this time. We had some serious fixes that were required, so we had a two month stint in UK over Christmas. Scoobie went in for a little Spa Retreat to get his repairs done and we had time with friends and family. Unfortunately because we didn’t have a fixed date for returning to Europe, by the time we were ready to book, the ferry fares to Spain were extortionate at over £600, one way. So we decided on our favourite Caen route and to drive through France. We had some corking stopovers and had an absolute blast through unchartered territory. We meandered for 12 days from door to door and took in Bilbao and the Guggenheim museum, Castroveijo rock formations  in the Duruelo forest and the natural thermal springs of Montanejos close to Valencia. What a great road-trip this was. Check out our road-trip below.

 

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Bilbao and its Guggenheim

Bilbao and its Guggenheim

Think of Spain’s Bilbao and what comes to mind? Ferries, industrial port or perhaps the most iconic building – The Guggenheim Museum.

Set on the northern coast of Spain, Bilbao is much like any other city you pass through; enormous, all-consuming and  a tad impersonal. Remember that my views are coloured by being a predominant introvert who finds the vibrations of cities easily overwhelm my senses.  

And as we drove inadvertently through the centre of Bilbao’s hub, with congested streets, towering six story buildings rising like vertical umbrellas, I was left with the same detachment that I feel in many of the cities we visit. Had we made a mistake coming here?

Still we have come to appreciate after three years on the road, that travel is made up of a myriad of experiences. Each one we either love or tolerate and yet all of them are necessary to broaden our cultural horizons. So we valiantly continue to put cities on our agenda; some we end up adoring like Zagreb, Bratislava and Seville and others just don’t really do it for us like Vienna, Salzburg and Florence. 

Guggenheim's home - Bilbao old town view

You really could be forgiven for thinking that Bilbao is just about the ferry. And yet in the last twenty years, it has taken its rightful place on the tourist map. Its most significant draw is the masterpiece of the Guggenheim museum and whether you are an art lover or not, this building is renown around the globe for its architectural brilliance.  I’m neither a great artist nor an art fan if I’m honest, although sometimes there are things that are so iconic that visiting is a given.  I love that visiting somewhere new can influence how I think and feel or affect my perspective on life. And that’s why a visit to a place as iconic as the Guggenheim felt important. With its curves and light attraction everything about this building attracts the eyes and creates intrigue. Despite the art within being priceless, the building itself makes a statement all of its own.

Guggenheim museum view

With a tantalising tease of the cityscape from our lofty campsite at Kobeta, we took bus 58, which goes every 15 minutes from right outside the campsite into Bilbao old town. The €1.35 fare was a steal, allowing us to save our energy for the promenade along the river Nervión. 

On a still winter’s day, this city aspect was pleasing to the eye, providing a moving atmosphere that coloured our memories.  Our city preview from the previous day was fast fading from my mind. The architecture bordering the river, (that has its source in Burgos), is an eclectic mix of colonial, modern and medieval and it fringes the river banks with a certain je ne sais quoi. Whilst Bilbao, as the most active shipping port second only to Barcelona, has obvious roots in industry, make no mistake – this city is rebirthing and presenting its creative transformation to its European counterparts. Check out our gallery of pics below. 

For now though let me share with you the virtues of the Guggenheim. Although I am not steeped in knowledge about the museum, I just knew I wanted to visit. I had heard its reputation for being one of the most incredible pieces of architectural art in the world and that alone made me want to go. And there’s no doubt that it is more grand than the grandest thing you can imagine.

Our arrival at the Guggenheim could not be mistaken as this magnificent curvaceous beauty seemed to rise up from the industrial port’s ashes with grace and power. It is not an understated building and with pieces of artwork around the outside, I was captivated before I even entered its doors. Yet enter we must, as this was an experience I had been waiting for.  

We paid our €16 per person and passed through the well guarded security. There are three levels, each one offering a slightly different artistic theme. The first, Room Zero blew my mind and messed with my balance. A mirrored room gives an impression of Alice in Wonderland and as I watched the looping video, the way the images bounced off the glass walls is quite magnetic, making 3D seem like child’s play.

Accompanied by our audio guides, which come as part of the entrance fee, we learnt about the museum’s design by Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry. The huge project came to fruition in October 1997 and has transformed the dockland water’s edge image beyond all recognition.  

Built in titanium, glass and limestone, this is a masterpiece, which in different lights takes on completely different faces. And in many ways, you could almost be satisfied by seeing the outside of the museum such is its craft and beauty. Although the inside will challenge you in more ways than one.

Guggenheim Close Up
The Guggenheim curves
The Guggenheim's artwork

With an open atrium in the museum’s heart, Bilbao’s newest creation cries out to be admired. Splendid are its curves. Magnificent are its angular glass windows and resplendent are its halls that house such dynamic pieces of work. From Picasso to Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and a host of other artists from decades past, the Guggenheim is a centre-piece for self-expression and an almost eccentric interpretation of the world. Well that’s how it seemed to me.

The first floor was a real challenge.  The descriptions on the walls alone introduced a whole new language to me that provoked intellectual thought.  If only I had been able to photograph them, I could have convey their linguistic demands more eloquently. 

The halls are intriguing, leaving you wondering whether these minimalistic white washed walls were a stroke of brilliance or an obscene waste of money. One room simply had two televisions playing news from CNN. Another had memorabilia stuck to the walls with an edition of The Sun catching my eye. To the modernistic gallery of contemporary work that challenges our concept of space and time. The modern world confronted by artists set on complementing progression and challenging the very heart of the world’s evolution.

One of my favourite pieces was The Tent without a Signal. A 10ft tent-like construction, which inside simply held a circular set of metal benches. An odd sight for an art museum, although the artist has made a huge statement to  technology and how it consumes our lives behind our devices. The tent covering is made from metallic fibres that scramble mobile phone signals, rendering them useless. The space is therefore held as a sanctuary to profound silence that allows the audience to truly contemplate the depth of their souls. This seriously appealed to me as a Meditation Teacher.

The other incredible hall is a permanent feature called The Matter of Time. Artist Richard Serra’s ‘rumination on the physicality of space and the nature of sculpture’ offers a playground for adults. With enormous spiral structures made from steel you are invited to walk through their metallic form. It felt oddly like a Universal truth – such a small speck in an expanse of space. Weaving my way through the curves and the mazes, I felt transported into an out-of-world experience where for a moment, fear set in as I realised that I could be on another planet. And yet when viewed from the upper atrium, their structures were so simple and yet the steel designs challenged my spirit through that simplicity.

Leaving the museum, we were engulfed in a mist – as if in one last artist act of creativity; the Guggenheim’s moat came alive, piquing my curiosity. Every last bit of detail is invested in provoking the artist within. I highly recommend visiting this sensory journey that is so much more than a museum. It is architecture, craft, imagination and self-expression in their very purest forms. And it has to be experienced, just once in your life.

Bilbao has been built on a foundation of industry and trade and yet is embracing its evolution into a contemporary city. It does still have some way to go, although with UNESCO bridges and of course its brain-child the Guggenheim, Bilbao is redefining itself year on year.

The Guggenheim mist

 

Facts for your visit

  • The Guggenheim museum is closed on Mondays.
  • Not all the Guggenheim exhibitions will always be open as often they will be setting up halls for new presentations, so better check before you visit.
  • There are no photos or videos allowed in the museum halls so don’t be tempted as there are guardians everywhere.
  • The Guggenheim Bar is very nice offering a good deal on the local delicacy Pintxos – Tapas. 3 Tapas and a drink for €9.
  • Don’t take large bags into the Guggenheim, as you will be required to store them in the cloakrooms.
  • The shape and lights of the museum interior may cause some issues if you have sensitive eyes or migraine tendancies, so be aware of this before you enter.
  • The Guggenheim is disabled friendly with lifts to each of the three floors.
  • Getting around Bilbao is easy with the buses and trams that zig-zag the city’s network.
  • Within half a day we had absorbed all we wanted from the city, most of which was within the hub of the Guggenheim itself. Unlike, say London, there are very few other major draws, except perhaps the 17 bridges that span the river and the Artxander funicular that takes you up to the mountain of the same name, giving you a great panorama of the city.
  • If you are visiting the city with your camper, The Kobeta Camping Aire (43.25955 -2.9636), which for €15 per night inclusive of electricity and services, gives you a great spot for watching the city and visiting by bus.
  • If you come with dogs, remember that they are not allowed on buses without a muzzle, nor will they be allowed in the Guggenheim museum.
  • And a sensible note! Wear comfortable shoes, as just walking from the old town to the Guggenheim and back again will reward you over 12,000 steps and 9 kms. Trust me, my blisters will confirm this very well.

 

Overall I am so glad we visited and it reaffirms my thinking; despite my lack of love for cities, they hold great secrets and cultural treats, so visiting is an essential part of a traveller’s itinerary and my education, which feels influenced forever. Check out our final gallery below.

 

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A letter to Travel

A letter to Travel

 

Dear Travel

When you were our holidays, we loved the precious time you gave us, where we had the space to retreat, rejuvenate and reconnect.  Into the mix you would offer us a brief glimpse into the culture of our temporary home. Whether that was food from the local hostelry, a street market that would tempt our culinary delights, or perhaps even a regional celebration that honoured a local custom. You encouraged us to dip our toes into a way of life that seemed far removed from our own stressful existence. Returning home we would often recall our experiences and studiously review our photo album, sighing with a longing that accompanies that inevitable back to reality.

Sometimes because of the way our lifestyle panned out, you were simply days out or short breaks away; we loved the escape you opened up for us, which quite simply used to get us away from life’s grind. A day-trip in the car or a city break gave us a destination to blow away our corporate created cobwebs. A rare treat to remove ourselves from the daily routines of professional and domestic chores which, in that moment, made us feel alive.  Whilst these may have been all too short, sometimes they were all we could squeeze in amongst the stress ball of life.

 

And then three years ago, you showed up in all your glory –  Travel, the full frontal experience. You gave us a chance to fill our lives with adventure, freedom and choice – riches beyond our imagination. And whilst we look back at our vacations and short breaks with fondness, they neither fulfilled us nor changed our lives. Their healing necessary although their longevity impermanent.

Yet the opportunity to enjoy every inch of your personality has been profound. You are the greatest teacher, the most flamboyant of moments and you provide the most deep-rooted memories that exceed every expectation. We feel privileged to have connected with you at such a deep level. To have shaken hands with your hospitality and ridden the rollercoaster of adventures that have taken us to the peak of joy and the depths of stress. Each one proving that we are alive and free.

You are not, it must be said Travel, always joyful. You are at times like a teenager throwing tantrums that capture us in your trail of destruction like a shoal of fish. Testing, pushing, stretching – although it is in these tempestuous moments that our characters are defined, refined and honed. Our coping mechanisms are so much more resilient because of your challenges. 

Travel, you have taken us on a journey that with each step makes our heart beat as fast as a pair of star-crossed lovers on their first date. Around every corner you gift us with fresh vistas that take our breath away. You present us with stunning sunrises that herald a new day and powerful sunsets that gather the joys of that day underneath their rose-coloured veil. 

For the last three years you have invited us on your journey of discovery revealing far more than just the cultural uniqueness of the countries we have visited. You have subtly mentored us to look within and understand more about our nomadic selves, uncovering the simplicity of life that exists beneath the stars. With your help, each day we remove ourselves from the corporate and commercial hub that imprisoned us and start to relish the truth that is entwined around life.  How little we need to thrive; how little our materialistic possessions define us and how much more freedom we have when we grab the reigns from life’s galloping horse. 

With these gifts that sit underneath our eternal Christmas Tree, how enriched our life has become. Each morning we awake with gratitude as the sun dawns and with eager anticipation we await the day’s lesson. It’s not always an easy class, as sometimes you throw a curve ball or two to stretch us. Although thanks to your solid foundation we cope so much more easily with those tests.  Our stress from the old days are a dim and distant memory as deep wounds heal themselves and a fresh perspective graces our minds. 

Home for us now can be found wherever our tyres stop for the night. That temporary abode is as homely as any brick wall and front door. We have embraced the open road and the wide open spaces that span the globe. And so when our wheels stop from their incessant roll, we breathe in the peace from the sanctuary that you have carved for us; beside the beach, in the bosom of the mountains or nestled beside a babbling brook.

Is this why when we return to the source of our birth ‘home’ that we feel so unsettled?

The girl who was a home-bird, who found the security of her house comforting and stabilising – now craves the open road. The itchy feet syndrome never feels so real as when we are drawn back to UK. Sometimes for three weeks, sometimes for three months, we have pitstops that are always purposeful and necessary although feel so strange. What a dichotomy. Returning to the nest yet not feeling at home.

Travel, this is your greatest puzzle. You have captured our hearts so gently and gracefully that we feel almost lost in the familiarity of our home country. And this is nothing to do with those we hold dear. They remain the same gorgeous and kind-hearted souls that we love unconditionally. No this is more about us and how we have been affected by your infectious path.  We have learnt to be mindful in every moment, although I must confess that our minds often wander to the day when we return to the road. 

We never really appreciated what it meant to have itchy feet as we lunged from one stressful situation to another in the corporate web of yesteryear – driven only by the next pay check or weekend retreat. Now blessed by a self-generated freedom, the generosity you have shown us makes us crave more. An addiction that feeds the soul, nourishes the mind and nurtures our human instincts for discovery, adventure and evolution.

With every passing day we find ourselves longing to return to your route-map and are thankful for the love and support we have to follow our dreams. Travel, you have enriched our lives and we look forward to our homecoming as our tyres hit the tarmac for yet another new adventure.

Travel, we thank you for the lessons, the discoveries and the personal realisations that have made us grow as human beings and, and with hope as our companion, may it be for many years to come. Draw us further into your web of intrigue and massage our life with experiences that create a page-turning book of intrigue, passion and discovery.

With love and gratitude..

 

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