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Monday, 3 March 2014

Europe Trip 2014 - Astigarraga to Palazuelos

19 February. Day 11
We slept well, with only a slight hangover from the mix of young ciders. It was a late start however and by the time we on the outskirts of San Sebastián and had found and parked in the Zerbitzu-eremua Autokarabana or “Welcome Area for Motorhomes”  it was time for a light lunch and a snooze!
Water and waste services are free on this aire but your stay is limited to 48 hrs and you must buy a ticket from the machine. There are strict rules against putting out awnings, tables or cooking outside, though leveling blocks and steadies are allowed.

The magnificent centre, waterfront and old town of this fabulous city are an old haunt from my seafaring days, and from this 6 euro a night aire, only a short bus ride away.

San Sebastian's "Welcome area for Motorhomes"

Overnight stop and service area
GPS: 43.3077 N, 2.0142 W

After debating whether to visit the city or save it for the warmer weather on the way back, we finally decided to head for Estella in the Narvarro region. After many miles of picturesque countryside we found ourselves on mountain road well into the Parque Natural de Aralar, and pulled into a large car park attached to a modest hotel or park lodge on the Basque Country/Navarro border. The lodge was closed and apart from a single car, which later departed, we were on our own. It would do for the night, and as if to welcome us, there was a glorious sunset with golden butterscotch light pouring through the trees. Later, Sue thought she could hear a wolf howling. As we discovered after, this was more than possible.

This spot is a starting point for many walking and nature trails, which are well illustrated on several information boards.

Golden evening sunlight in the Aralar Natural Park

Overnight stopover
GPS: 42.9605 N, 02.0999 W

20th February. Day 12

Early morning mist changes the atmosphere

It was an utterly quiet night, so quiet it was almost creepy... perhaps last evening's Dire Straits had driven all the wildlife back into hibernation! At an altitude of 600 metres the overnight temperature had dropped to 1.5 degrees and an early morning mist shrouded the hills and trees – very atmospheric. As we drove south through the parkland we had some wonderful glimpses of mountain scenery through the mist.

Spectacular sights came one after the other

Today's destination was Estella, another venue Sue had picked from the Green Guide. Founded in 1090 and on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, it appeared not a fraction as romantic as the guide made it sound – if fact we struggled to find what we were supposed to be looking for! We did however manage the Basillica del Puy: a modern but interesting church on the site where earlier pilgrims had set up camp!

Moving on, we got as far as Logrono, the capital of La Rioja, situated on the Ebro river. We availed ourselves of a free pump 'n dump on a vast car park attached to a stadium.

Overnight stopover and service area
GPS: 42.4792 N, 02.4572 W

Then to the Parque de la Grajera y la Barranca, which incorporates a man made lake alongside which a section of the Camino de Santiago passes, plus wooded areas and picnic spots. We put ourselves in the corner of a large and empty car park 3 minutes walk from the lake.

Got the place to ourselves again!

Overnight stopover
GPS: 42.4497, 02.5014 W

21st February. Day 13
Another very quiet night, and even some warm morning sunshine! I strolled to the cafe overlooking the lake to try the wi-fi, but the guy behind the bar was at a loss to explain why it didn’t work despite showing a connection. The trip wasn’t wasted though as I enjoyed a couple of red squirrels chasing each other around the trees!

We decided to take a route through the Parque Natural Sierra de Cebollera towards Segovia, through some fine mountain scenery. We stopped to watch some white water canoeists set off down the river, carefully checking each other's boats and securing their waterproof decks before launching into the rapids.

The mountain river provides good sport for canoeists

Later we came across a massive rock fall which had partially blocked the road. Amazingly a huge caterpillar digger was at a crazy angle halfway up the rock face, trying to remove the rest of the loose rock, mad or what!

We continued on the LR 113 until 8 km before Mansilla de la Sierra, and there in the middle of nowhere on a bend in the road is the Venta de Goyo hotel. We didn’t need any encouragement to park in the nearby empty roadside car park for the night! The hotel appeared to be open and had a fine looking restaurant decorated in traditional Spanish style, but sadly only the bar was serving. However, we enjoyed a few beers and free wi-fi and walked back to the van under a sky studded with bright diamonds, the only sound the River Ventrosa gurgling and giggling below – magic!

Our soundtrack for a nights sleep!

The Venta de Goyo Hotel

Overnight stop and hotel/restaurant
GPS: 42.1732 N, 02.8865 W

22nd February.  Day 14
A grey start to the day, but I went for a walk along the river, and amongst the smaller debris, found a large boulder that had fallen from the roadside cliff and crushed the metal Armco barrier – eek! That would have made a mess of our van!

Then it started to snow. We drove around the beautiful emerald lake created by the Mansilla dam. The snow got heavier and started to settle as we moved on, little villages and hamlets getting a dusting of white as we passed by, cattle and horses grazing free by the roadside.

Free ranging animals add their colour to the landscape

At Salas de Los Infantes we did some food shopping; the people delightfully helpful and friendly, then moved on to an aire at Hontoria del Pinar, a nice peaceful spot a short walk from town. The information office was closed, as did seem much of the rest of the town – just the winter population, behind closed doors.

Overnight stop and service area
GPS: 41.8439 N, 03.1642 W

The El Chatto bar was open however, local people playing games and watching the footy. A group of elderly ladies dressed in their finery came in, hair freshly coiffured. They refused to let us give up our large table for them, insisting instead on huddling around a smaller table; chatting politely away, nodding heads and touching arms – it was going to be a raucous Saturday night!

Sue was desperate for a stamp to post a birthday card and I went through the sign language with the strongly built and slightly sullen looking young barman. A long search and various consultations ensued, and despite my protestations to abandon the search he eventually came back with a big smile on his rugged face and a postcard of the town with the bar’s rubber stamp on it! I thanked him graciously, paid a few cents and ordered another drink!

23 February. Day 15
It was a very cold night, and we awoke to heavy frost sparkling in the morning sun. We left late, stopping for some bread and buns in San Leonardo de Yague, then took the road through the Canon del Rio Lobos to just before El Burgo de Osma.

Canon del Rio Lobos

Not having any information about suitable parking in the town, we found a closed bar/restaurant next to a small derelict chapel alongside the road and decided to stop the night. When the barking dogs arrived later on, we realised that the building was actually occupied, but the owner was quite unconcerned.

Overnight stop and bar/restaurant
GPS: 41.6218 N, 03.0528 W

24 February. Day 16
We drove the short distance into El Burgo de Osma, the cathedral town of the Province of Soria, and eventually found a free parking space on the main road. There is the obligatory bullring, but on the other side of the road, the old town and cathedral have been beautifully and expensively restored, and were pretty deserted at this time of year. It is well worth a visit, with a good sprinkling of specialist foodie and souvenir shops amongst the narrow streets and ancient architecture. On the other side of the river is the separate and smaller Ciudad de Osma.

 Newly refurbished streets reveal the old architectural construction

 Catedral de la Asuncion

Not many people about this time of year

Leaving town in the direction of Gormaz, we found a coach and car park by the river which would have done nicely for the previous night, and given us easy access to the town. Doh! 

Overnight stop
GPS: 41.5866 N, 03.0733 W

The old Arab castle at Gormaz was built around 750 AD and was the largest citadel in Western Europe in its time. It looked spectacular from a distance and the view from the top didn't disappoint either. 

The approach to the Fortaleza Califal de Gormaz

Surprisingly, the place was completely open and unrestricted to visitors: no railings, no warning signs, no visitor centre – just hewn rock, dust and vegetation. Consequently it had an amazing atmosphere. Some parts of it have been accurately and sympathetically restored, and though some don’t like to see that, I do, finding it helps to give a sense of what it would have looked like in its day. Such work can also ensure continued access to the monument.

 Unrestricted access to this amazing monument

 Spectacular views from all sides

Some careful and accurate reconstruction preserves access

Gormaz Castle
GPS: 41.4930 N, 03.0082 W

Moving on through the countryside towards the main road to Aranda del Duero, we passed a vast and amazing plantation of we know not what – nut trees we think – taking up almost the whole of the floor of the valley; industrialised agriculture on a landscape-transforming scale

In Aranda del Duero we found the Repsol LPG station quite easily but discovered that the style of hose fitting had been changed since our last visit to Spain and none of our adaptors were any good! The male attendant hadn’t got a clue but fortunately one of the girls behind the counter knew where a set of adaptors were stored and thankfully found the magic connector.

LPG Autogas station
GPS: 41.6624 N, 03.6918 W

Finding the aire was a bit more difficult as Copilot tried to take us through a new construction site, but another approach got us there – a good size park next to the railway line, with free water again, and just a short walk from town.

Overnight stop and service area
GPS: 41.6684 N, 03.6958 W

Aranda del Duero is the capital of the Ribera del Duero wine region and is famed for having wine cellars that run beneath the streets of the town centre. There is wine festival in September that lasts for nine days. The town square is quite picturesque, and generally there was a nice feel to the place.

The elegant centre of Aranda del Duero

25th February. Day 17
We left fairly late again and headed for the ancient hilltop town of Sepulveda on some very minor roads. On the approach we parked above the gorge that characterizes it and were treated to aerial acrobatics by some Griffon Vultures. They whirled and dived, soaring in the high winds right above our heads – amazing. After a while we spotted them resting and nesting on some ledges on the rock face and I spent some time trying to get some decent photos, but the wind was too strong for my lightweight tripod.

Griffon vultures right over our heads!

We moved to a huge coach/car park well below the town and were once again alone. After a walk around the old town in the chill air to view some churches, we inspected a few bars and restaurants, but despite the towns reputation as a gastronomic centre we didn't feel drawn and after a couple of beers dashed home in the rain for one of Sue's fish risottos.

View over Sepulveda

Overnight stop
GPS: 41.2987 N, 03.7454 W

26th February. Day 18
The air temperature dropped below zero in the night, and the morning sky was dark grey and overcast. Again on minor roads we made our way for a look at Pedraza, but were unable to find any suitable parking that wasn’t a mudbath. The official parking sign took us up the hill around a tight turn to a narrow archway at the entrance to the town – we managed to stop before I took the roof off! I don’t think they had motorhomes in mind!

Segovia can trace its history back to 75 BC and is on the main route of the Camino de Santiago, its Aqueduct and old city was made a UNESCO World heritage site in 1985. We struggled to find anywhere to park, and there was a 2 hour limit on the blue spaces by the Aqueducto Romano. We spotted a coach park on the city map and worked out its position using Copilot. When we got there the car section was packed and the coach section half full, but we tucked ourselves away in the corner of the coach area and nobody seemed to bat an eyelid.

Segovia has a wealth of rich architecture

Unsure of the security situation, Sue went up for a tour of the cathedral, Alcazar, and the main square, then I went for a similar excursion on her return. There is a lot to see in Segovia, so if you want to really do it justice, it’ s probably worth finding a campsite with transport links to the town.

The enchanting Alcazar has much to see inside as well

The  Roman Aqueduct defines the city

After a driving tour around the ancient walls we found our way to Palazuelos, where there is a small Autocaravanas service point and nearby a gravel parking area with two Brit vans already in residence! We later shared the space with another Brit van and a couple of large trucks.

Service area
GPS: 40.9280 N, 04.0577 W
Overnight stop
GPS: 40.9287 N, 04.0544 W

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