Hello, we’re James, Aileen and Zeus

We’re touring Europe in a campervan. This is about our adventure.

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    Week 15/16: Porto, Douro Valley, Peneda-Gerês, Santiago de Compostela and a looooong drive to Italy


    We had planned to head west from Sintra, on our journey back through Spain, but when we checked the weather forecast, Porto was enjoying equally good weather, so we headed north instead. We found a dog friendly hotel, the Catalonia Porto, with a good parking lot nearby and spent 2 days exploring the city.

    Porto is a fascinating city, abound with contradictions. It has clearly been a place of wealth, with streets lined with neoclassical and baroque buildings, lavishly decorated churches, the port lodges, the Bolsa Palace (stock exchange) etc. and yet so many buildings are derelict – left to the ravages of time and near collapse. The city is also a major tourist destination – the beautiful waterfront Ribeira district is a clear draw, as are the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, and yet Porto retains a feeling of not being overly commercialised – there isn’t much evidence of “chain” restaurants or shops, there’s a slight aged or grungy feel to much of it, and its residents seem to just be getting on with their lives. With some exceptions, Porto just didn’t feel like it overly pandered to it’s tourists, which was refreshing after the glitz and international nature of Lisbon.

    Here’s a rundown of the things we most liked about Porto:

    1. Wandering through it’s narrow hilly streets – Like Lisbon it’s a very hilly city, sitting on the steep slopes of the Duoro river valley. So you get a good workout wandering through it’s narrow streets, and have lots of interesting vistas that suddenly appear, with their fascinating mixes of over-the-top and rubble-piles

    2. Tasting Porto food specialities – in line with its unfussy vibe, Porto’s local food specialities include Cachorrinho – basically a hot dog on a toasted bun with spicy sauce, Prego – a steak sandwich, Tripas à moda do Porto – a tripe and bean stew, and Franceshina – a ham, sausage and steak sandwich covered with melted cheese and a tomato beer gravy (their version of a croque monsieur). We enjoyed the first two at Cervejaria Gazela, a buzzing beer hall around the corner from our hotel, washed down with a mound of batatas fritas and a bottle of Dao wine. Aileen tried the tripas stew at Casa Bragança – It was tasty but she needed a nap afterwards. We didn’t bother with the franceshina.

    3. Visiting a port lodge – one can’t visit Porto and not be fascinated by the odd square-mile of warehouse looking structures across the river, with very familiar names emblazoned on their sides – Taylors, Grahams, Sandeman etc. We decided to do a tour of the Ferreira port lodge, which has the distinction of being the only lodge owned by Portuguese. Antonia Ferreira played a major role in the development of the Portuguese wine industry as well as expanding and improving the port business she inherited when she was widowed at 33. It was interesting to learn how Port is made – wine is made at their vineyards deep in the Douro valley, which is then transported to the warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia where aging takes place because the location enjoys milder temperatures and shade being north facing, and was also convenient for onward exportation to the big port drinkers of the world – the UK! The walk over the Ponte Luis I bridge is also well worth it, as you get amazing views of the Duoro river with Porto on one side, and Vila Nova de Gaia on the other.

    4. A nice meal at Atrevo – we were also keen to try a more modern restaurant (one can only have so much grilled seafood with potatoes), so we had dinner at Atrevo, a small restaurant in the Bonfim district near our hotel. It was a lovely 8-course tasting meal with a heavy focus on seafood. Our favourites were the tuna carpaccio, a crab and small prawn “sandwich”, and the cod with a buerre blanc sauce.

    5. Gawking at fresh food at Mercado de Bolhão – the Bolhão market sits in a beautiful neoclassical building that has clearly been recently renovated as it’s very clean, but still has excellent local produce – meats, fish, cheese, fruits and vegetables – for Porto’s residents and tourists alike. Rue Formosa, the road the market sits on also has a number of good looking delis piled high with produce, and with “interesting” window displays.

    For Harry Potter fans out there, we did try to visit Livraria Lello, a beautiful art nouveau bookship with an iconic red staircase, but there was not only a queue, one had to pay to get in!?

    Douro Valley

    From Porto, we decided to head inland to check out the steep vineyard lined-slopes of the Duoro wine region. We parked up in an area de autocaravanas in Peso da Régua, along the banks of the Duoro. It was very nice indeed to sit in the sunshine by the river surrounded by terraced hills with vineyards. We enjoyed a wine tasting and some nibbles at Garrafeira Gato Preto on our first night.

    The next day we did a walk from Mesão Frio , which ascended quite steeply up to Miradouro de São Silvestre do Cima do Duoro, a miradour with a swing (!) and amazing views of the Duoro valley. The walk then descended quite steeply past vineyard terraces, and some tiny little villages with pedestrian-only streets where old Portuguese men and women smiled and said hello as Zeus walked by. The steep terraced slopes and gently flowing river were visually striking but were also a good reminder of how hard it must be to work the land. The very steep ascent back to Mesão Frio was hard and Aileen needed a lot of encouragement to amble up the hill. We passed nice looking Quinta de São Bernardo and decided the area would be a nice place for a luxury retreat in the warmer months – lots of wine, nice lodgings, gardens and/or pool overlooking the Douro, sunshine bliss.

    The following day we booked a tour of Aneto, a small vineyard run by 2 brothers. Grape growing has historically been a family enterprise, and their grandparents had divided their land amongst their 14 (!) children when they passed away. The Montenegro brothers were the first in the family to foray into wine making. It was interesting to learn about what grapes they grew in which plots. Their more western (cooler) plots grow white grape varieties and Pinot Noir. Their eastern plots deeper into the Duoro Valley (hotter) grow the varieties typical of Duoro red wine – Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Tinta Francisca, Tinto Cão. We were also surprised to learn that they make late harvest wine with noble rot Semillon grapes. The Botrytis fungus requires very specific conditions hence the style of wine is made in specific locations like Sauternes in France or Tokaj in Hungary.

    Illness strikes in Peneda-Gerês

    From Duoro we headed north to Soajo, a mountain village in the Peneda-Gerês national park. We looked forward to doing some walks, some cycling and the promise of good facilities (loo, showers, bike cleaning station).

    On arriving we had a good surprise. The campervan parking was next to what looked like a cluster of ancient burial tombs, which turned out to be Espigueiros, 300 year old grain stores. By the campervan site there were about 16 clustered on a granite outcrop and we later found others scattered through the village. Each store is constructed from shaped pieces of granite with narrow slits to allow the passage of air through the store and supported on granite mushroom legs to prevent rodents from getting at the grain.

    Unfortunately this was also the time at which James began feeling unwell.
    Being sick is not much fun and in the confines of a campervan, there are some additional challenges, but at least Soajo was a nice place to take it easy for four days. We observed the dramas of stray dogs, cats and their feeders. There were also cows, goats and horses meandering through the place (plus their bells to alert Zeus of their impending arrival). We watched widows decked in all black doing their daily walk to the cemetery close to our site (and one carrying a haybale on her head). As James began to feel better, we did some short walks and got an interesting tour of another campervan that a Swiss couple had designed and had custom built, a very impressive bit of engineering and packaging.

    We left feeling disappointed we hadn’t really explored what seemed to be a beautiful area with lots that would interest us, but we were also relieved to feel better and move on, particularly since it had been a stressful time for Zeus who felt he needed to guard us against the menagerie of stray and grazing animals.

    Santiago de Compostela

    From Soajo we headed back over the border into Spain and to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia and is famous for it’s Cathedral, allegedly on the burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. It’s also the final destination for the (hundreds of) thousands that attempt the camino each year. We visited the exterior of the Cathedral. It is very big, the scale and drama is impressive, but it left us somewhat unmoved. Neither of us are religious so it didn’t have an emotional significance. Maybe if we were practicing Christians or had just completed the Camino de Santiago mega hike, it might have been different. That meant the touristing activities were completed quite early and we could dedicate the rest of the day to a food crawl. Highlights included:

    • Octopus with clams (Galicia majors on seafood)
    • Tortilla (egg and potato variety served as free accompaniment to beer at Bar La Tita )
    • Grilled pork served on potatoes (Raxo con patatas)

    On to Italy!

    We’d been mulling different ideas of how to head back across Spain and how much time we wanted to spend in Spain vs. seeing other parts of Europe. As always the weather played a part in the decision too. We didn’t want to travel through the center of Spain as it was too cold, and a period of very wet weather was forecast for most of Europe. So we abandoned any plans of seeing the north coast of Spain. We decided that we weren’t going to get much out of the experience in the rain and it’s do-able as a future trip. Instead we opted to do three long driving days:

    • Santiago de Compostela to Puente San Miguel near Santander – rained nearly all day so decided to push on with longer driving days than we’d origanally intended
    • Puente San Miguel to Carbonne near Toulouse – more rain, back into dog-friendly France (enjoyed an arrival drink at a local bar with Zeus in tow)
    • Carbonne to Latte, Italy – The rain had stopped when we woke up so we had nice riverside walk with Zeus followed by some much missed croissants. A bit of road debris hit us on the autoroute – it originally sounded like a puncture but turned out to be a bit of the underside of the van was broken. James successfully removed it with kitchen scissors whilst stopped on the hard-shoulder. We’d originally planned to get as far a Nice, but campsite was full so pushed on to Italy!

    Latte, Italy

    Latte is just on the Italian side of the border with France and on the coast. We appeared to snag one of the last spots at the campsite. This was a relief. After 3 days of driving we were ready for a rest and to take care of some other life admin which included:

    • Cooking food for Zeus
    • Doing a big load of laundry at the local launderette
    • Having a showers
    • Writing our blog 🙂

    Latte town centre consisted of the campsite, a Conad city, the launderette and a pizza place – all very handy!

    The Conad appeared to be small supermarket, but it was like an Aladdin’s cave that extended under the hillside, and one was left in no doubt that they were in Italy with the ramshackle nature – pants next to meat, stationary next to pasta. The shelves were overflowing with lovely Italian food, and the shelf of spring greens was a glorious sight to behold. We stocked up and enjoyed some nice meals in the van. There appeared to be a lot of French crossing the border to stock up on ciggies. The store also had a very good cafe were we had our first much appreciated helpings of Italian pasta.

    James also managed to squeeze in a short road ride in the hills above the coast, something he’d been keen to do after feeling under exercised following being sick.

    A nice discovery for us is that Italy is dog friendly. We found we could take Zeus in cafes, restaurants, the launderette and more recently Aileen heard barks emanating from supermarket shopping carts at a Carrefour and said hello to a dog by the chicken section. This has been a much appreciated change after 2 months in less dog-friendly Spain and Portugal.

    What’s next?

    We plan to explore the Ligurian coast and depending on the weather, either take the ferry to Sicily or not!

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    Week 14: Sintra and Alcobaça

    This week’s exploits mostly cover climbing and mountain biking in Sintra, but we squeezed in some cultural sights in Sintra and Alcobaça too.


    From Lisboa we headed 30 minutes west to Sintra, a mountain ridge that sits along the coast west of Lisboa. Sintra is a magical place and it’s not surprising that throughout history, Portuguese’s royal family and wealthy have built palaces in its hills. Sintra sits on a fault line where volcanic forces created a dramatic granite ridge littered with boulder strewn hills hiding under forests, that plunges to meet the Atlantic Ocean. James describes it as “a little paradise for climbing and mountain biking”. For Aileen, sitting on a boulder under trees with sunlight streaming through the leaves was a happy place to be.

    James’ Climbing and Mountain Biking Adventures in Sintra

    (We normally write the blog in the third person, but here James will use the first person.)

    Climbing and cycling is my thing. Aileen was generous in supporting me, particularly for climbing where being the support crew can be rather boring and cold. Thank you!

    Climbing in Sintra

    The climbing in Sintra is bouldering on medium and coarse grained granite. The are 11 different areas described in the Sintra Bouldering guide. We visited 3 – Peninha, Val das Acácias and Capuchos. All had a nice selection of boulder problems and a distinct character.

    • Peninha was a nice introduction with boulders scattered in the trees. The highlight was a V5 on a tall boulder by the roadside 666 o Diabo Vive (“666 the Devil lives”), good enough to do twice.
    • Val das Acácias was the crag we spent least time at, partly because it was cold and Zeus seemed vexed with the surroundings. But it looks like there is lot to explore.
    • Capuchos is next to an old convent and features lots of different styles. I would like to return to do the V5 Jumping Jack Flash, the finishing jump referred to in the name was too high for a single crashpad.

    The weather in February was great, although possibly a little warm for climbing. We were surprised not to see more people climbing (the wall I visited in Lisbon was busy, and yet excellent boulders 30 minutes away were dead quite) and also slightly disappointed. Being able to hook up with other climbers would have been fun and helpful in attempting some climbs.

    Here is my summary of climbing in Sintra:
    • The rock is good quality, with nice holds and features, but can be quite aggressive on the skin
    • There is a nice range of different boulder problem styles, different hold types. In the V7+ range there are some very good looking features that would be fun to try with more crash pads and a crew
    • For the most part landings are very good – helpful if you only have a single crash pad and inexperienced spotter
    • The guide is good – it has clear descriptions on access and crag character, nice photos to get you psyched and well marked photos and topos of the boulders (Note: 27 Crags has some coverage, but is incomplete)
    • Every crag we visited had a short or very short walk in and no issues with parking 🙂
    Mountain Biking in Sintra

    My friend Jon had shown me the trails of Sintra on a previous visit 6 years ago. That was a great trip so I had a decent idea of what to expect. I did 2 afternoons of riding:

    • For the first ride, we parked at Albufeira do Rio da Muia, a reservoir on the south side of the park. I rode some trails I’d done on my previous trip: Pedra Branca, a long trail in several sections that previously featured some (now rotted or removed) wooden bridge a.k.a north shore sections and now seems to be characterized by rock sections. This was followed by Kamikaze, charaterized by some steep sections and multiple drop offs. And finally, Dimas a relatively easy but fun trail that follows the banks of a stream downhill through eucalyptus trees, crossing several times via little bridges. It’s worth noting the gaps between trees feel very tight with modern wide handlebars.
    • For the second ride we parked by Praia do Abano, on the Atlantic coast with the intention of completing the ride on a trail called Burros (“Donkeys”). I had not ridden it before, the trail descends from the highest part of the park almost 500 metres to the sea. So the ride started with a long climb. After the climb I took a wrong turn and rather than my intended warm up, rode Taca do Mundo into Kamikaze which is definately not a warm up but is a good test of skill and conditioning. That was followed by Monge/17 Pes which exceeded expectations. I thought it wasn’t going to be very good but it turned out to be a trail with great flow and lots of well built corners. Riding back past the Peninha crag and via a nice section called Lucky 1, leads to Burros (yes, there are Donkeys at the top). Part of the draw of doing the trail is the situation heading off the ridge out of forested land, and ending at the sea. It turned out to be great riding too – initial sections linking rock slabs give way to a series of tight bermed corners. After crossing a road the gradient lessens and becomes a fast well sighted singletrack leading to the coast.
    Here is my summary of the cycling in Sintra:
    • Most of the riding is in eucalyptus and pine woodland. There are granite rock features in all trails to a greater or lesser extent. Most of the trail surface is nice soil with plenty of support for cornering and braking, although there are some sections of granite gravel
    • The trail builders have done great work – trails are interesting, well maintained and have good variety in their style.
    • Trailforks has good coverage of the network of trails, including connectors and climbs – It’s easy to navigate and figure out a good ride
    • It would likely make a good venue for a mixed ability group – Most trails don’t feature very steep parts, although there are plenty of technical challenges. And the easier trails are still excellent fun.
    Is it worth doing a cycling or climbing trip from the UK?

    Yes. For both climbing and cycling similar comments apply:

    • It would be a good winter long weekend for climbing, or winter/spring/autumn long weekend for riding. There’s definitely enough interest for a long weekend and possibly a week, but for climbing you might run into issues with running out of skin on a longer trip.
    • It is a short flight from London (2:45 hours). Lisbon airport is close to Sintra (45 minute drive or 1 hour train ride)
    • The town is close to the crag and a nice place, with good options for eating, plus touristing options for rest days.
    • For climbing you would need a car to access the crags. For cycling it’s possible to do without a car (Jon and I did this on our previous trip). You can ride to the trails from town and you can take public transit from the airport to Sintra and it means no faff with picking up a hire car or trying to fit bikes into a hire car.
    Quinta da Regaleira

    We did mange to visit something aside from rocks and bike trails in Sintra. Quinta da Regaleira is a house and gardens built in the late 1800s by owner Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monterio and architect Luigi Manini mostly infuenced by the Manueline style.

    The estate’s most striking feature is the Initiation Well, which James likens to an inverse Tower of Pizza heading into the ground rather than rising above. Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monterio was (possibly?) a member of the Knights Templar / Freemasons and the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira are littered with features or monuments to that reflect Knights Templar symbology.

    We found the whole place to be both beautiful and fascinating, but also rather strange in it’s reference to a culture we don’t understand. The Poco Iniciatico (“Initiation Well“) was well worth the visit. It looks like the photos. The experience of descending down a narrow staircase into the gloom is as eerie as you might imagine, and there is a surprise – the bottom of the well leads to a series of underground tunnels connecting to grottos, waterfalls and other chambers, finally exiting lower in the garden where you can see daylight again.

    There a lot of other historical buildings to visit in Sintra such as Palacio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, but sadly none are dog-friendly and all are a vigorous walk uphill from town so we prioritised Quinta da Regaleira which we were most interested in seeing.

    Exploring Sintra’s coastline

    Sintra’s coastline has some pretty stunning features and beautiful beaches. A short drive from Sintra is Azenhas do Mar, a town with a ocean-fed bathing pool. We didn’t go swimming (brr) but the big Atlantic waves crashing into the pool was a dramatic sight. We watched the sunset from a restaurant just above the pool.

    We also enjoyed a seafood meal in Nortada, a restaurant in Rodizio, another nearby coastal town. We celebrated the 4th year anniversary of James surviving his brain haemorrhage with some tasty Arroz de Marisco, Portugal’s seafood rice stew, similar to but soupier than Paella.

    Aileen and Zeus enjoyed watching surfer’s trying to catch some pretty hairy looking waves on Praia do Guincho, a long beautiful sandy beach, whilst James was pummelling the hills above.

    Other Sintra Highlights
    • Berliners – We stayed in a small town called Janas (a short drive from Sintra), which had a bakery called Padaria da Carlotta that sold the best sugar donuts, and also some great bread. You had to buy the donuts before 8:00 in the morning or they’d all be sold. They made for very good crag snacks.
    • DOC Colares – We visited an adega in nearby Colares, and learned that it has its own DOC for wine. The region’s vines grow in sandy soil along the coast and need to be protected from the sea breeze by bamboo panels. The region’s vines have the distinction of being resistant to phylloxera, the blight that wiped out much of Europe’s vineyards in the late 1900s.


    Alcobaça lies about an hour and a half north of Lisbon. The reason for visiting is the huge Alcobaça Monastery that sits in the centre of town. It is a UNESCO heritage site and its scale dominates the town today, so imagining its presence when it was populated by monks is hard to get one’s head around. Construction began in 1178 and it was in use until 1834 when there was an extinction/dissolution of religious orders in Portugal shortly after the end of the civil war.

    There were two things we really wanted to see in Alcobaça Monastary – the kitchen and the tombs of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro. Two very different features of the monastery but both fascinating.

    • The kitchen – We had read about the kitchen beforehand so expected to see a big kitchen, but the size (and probable expense to build) was still breathtaking to see. It features several huge ovens/fireplaces and accompanying tiled chimneys three stories high. A “special” feature of the kitchen was a pool where part of the local river was re-routed to flow through to provide fresh fish and water directly to the monks. There were also some huge impressive marble slab tables, and a row of carved stone wash basins. We can only imagine the monks not being slim.
    • King Pedro I and Inês de Castro’s tombs – The tombs lie in the adjoining church and are stunning works of Gothic sculpture, that also tell the story of their inhabitants. Pedro and Inês are said to have inspired to story of Romeo and Juliet. When Pedro was prince, his father then King Afonso IV, prohibited their marriage and ordered the assassination of Inês. He considered the relationship between his son and Inês politically dangerous due to her Castilian family ties. In fact, Pedro and Inês had been married in secret for 5 years when she was killed. On becoming king, Pedro commissioned that Inês’ tomb be built to honour her as a queen. It features scenes of The Final Judgement with the couple being held aloft by angels. Pedro’s tomb sits across from Inês‘. He had ordered that they be placed foot to foot so that when the time came they could rise up and see each other straight away.

    What’s next?

    We’d originally planned to head west back towards Spain via the Alentejo region, but the weather forecast is more positive than we expected so we’re heading north to Porto.

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    Week 12/13: Sip of Sherry then on to Portugal

    In this blog post, we visit a sherry bodega in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and then hop over to Portugal, which unexpectedly was a bit of a shock to the system.

    Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Sherry Bodega Tour

    We had some good luck disguised as bad on the way to Sanlúcar de Barrameda (SdB). The Autocaravanas site we’d planned to stay at in Jerez was ‘Completo’ (full). So after a bit of google map searching, we found and ended up staying at a nicer autocaravanas site 15 mins south of SdB. After settling in and making some Zeus food, we went for a walk to a bar along the coast and managed to make it in time for a spectacular sunset over the mouth of Guadalquivir river with glasses of Fino in hand.

    The next morning it was a short drive to central SdB, where we parked the campervan and had an hour to orientate ourselves and give Zeus a stretch of his legs before our tour at Bodegas Barbadillo whilst Zeus’ snoozed in the van. We wandered past many bodega buildings with big open windows and descended the hillside into the old town where the market was in full swing and we saw lots of places that might be nice for a bite after the tour.

    We were both keen to do the bodega tour since we both have limited knowledge of the sherry making process and the difference between the different types of sherry. To be honest even after the tour we still feel like we have just scratched the surface. Sherry making is a complicated business!

    Of the three towns in the “Sherry Triangle”, SdB has the distinction of being the only place Manzanilla sherry can be made. This is due to its location at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river, which creates a specific microclimate ideal for the biological aging essential for manzanilla. Temperatures are tempered throughout the year, and it enjoys cool and humid air flow coming off the ocean and the river.

    The process starts the same for all sherrys – grapes grown in the D.O. region are pressed and then fermented. At the end of the fermentation process, a layer of flor (yeast) will naturally form on the surface of the wine. This is where the process diverges to the two main types of sherry – those that are biologically aged (fortified to an alcohol % that allows the flor to survive) such as Manzanilla and Fino, versus those that undergo oxidative aging (fortified to an alcohol % that kills off the flor) – most other sherries, but as we learned on the tour the two types can also be blended.

    The fermented and fortified wine is then placed into a Solera aging system in a bodega, a process of aging for all sherries whereby oak barrels are stacked three high, with the ‘oldest’ wine being at the bottom level and the ‘youngest’ wine being on the top level. Bodegas Barbadillo has 16 bodegas in central SdB, of various sizes and dimensions, with open windows facing the river. Their biologically aged sherries are aged in the bodegas with higher ceilings to maximise the benefit from air flow. Their Manzanilla is aged 3-9 years before being bottled.

    To bottle sherry, the winemaker will take aged wine from bottom barrels, but will retain a portion (“the mother”) of wine in the barrel. The bottom barrel is then “topped up” with wine from the 2nd level, and the second level is topped with wine from the 3rd level, which in turn is topped up with newly fermented and fortified wine. For biological aged sherries, they try to limit any disturbance to the flor in each barrel. So sherry is essentially an uber blend, where the mother could be a blend of wines far older than the 9 years, and similarly the flor is a persistant living thing that gets fed new wine each time bottling takes place.

    We really enjoyed the tour. Learning more about the complicated process of sherry making was great, as was seeing the massive bodegas, their most “famous” one nicknamed ‘Catedral’ because of the impressive height of the ceilings. And we definitely enjoyed the tasting.

    We tried a still wine made from the Palomino grape (the local grape variety used for dry sherries), a younger Manzanilla, their oldest/premium Manzanilla, a special edition Manzanilla that is also bottle aged that they made to commemorate their 200th anniversary, and a Cream Sherry, which gets a bad wrap in the UK but we found to be delicious. Cream Sherry is simply a blend of Fino (biologically aged dry sherry) and PX Sherry (sweet sherry made from Pedro Ximénez grapes and oxidatively aged). If you’ve ever tried PX Sherry, it’s like drinking concentrated raisin juice – delicious but certainly very sweet. So “Cream Sherry” is less sweet.

    After the tour and purchase of crucial sherry supplies, we woke slumbering Zeus up for a walk to Plaza del Cabildo, a nice square in the centre of town with restaurants and cafes, where we gorged ourselves at Bar La Gitana, mostly on fried fish and cephalopods to mark what would likely be our last Spainish meal for some time.

    From SdB we headed west towards Portugal, stopping at Umbrete, 120 km from the border for an overnight stay before crossing the border. We considered stopping at Doñana National Park, which sits across the Guadalquivir river from SdB and is an important habitat for a whole host of migratory birds and some very important species such as the Spanish imperial eagle. Visting required we book onto a half day tour where we would travel into the park on all-terrain vehicles. Pets aren’t allowed and we didn’t think this would be fair to Zeus, so we skipped.

    Algarve and First Impressions of Portugal

    The next day we did the short drive into Portugal. Our first order of business was to see some flamingos in Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António a natural park that sits on the border with Spain. We did manage to spot some flamingos 🦩 but had to use binoculars.

    From there we headed to Tavira, a town in Algarve where we planned to spend a couple of days exploring the coast. The area de autocaravanas was ‘Completo’ (full). So we drove on and found another site further inland and just chilled the rest of the day.

    The next day we planned to try getting a spot at another campsite closer to the coast. We drove to Fuseta, the campsite was Completo. This started feeling like a recurring theme. Resisting the urge to keep driving around looking for a campsite/area with availability, we decided to just park, do a short walk around the town, and have lunch.

    From Fuseta, we drove on to another campsite. It was…. (can you guess?). Yes it was Completo. Finding campsites with availability in Algarve was quickly becoming annoying and we didn’t fancy the idea of spending our days just looking for spots in campsites. A couple we’d met at the place we stayed at overnight said the trick was to rock up at 9 am, and hang out until a space freed up. Errr. No way we going to do that. We finally found a space in a massive campsite in Olhão which was packed to the gills. We stayed a couple of days – we wondered into town and checked out the local market, had coffee by the waterfront and James took his mountain bike out for a ride in a hill north of Olhão, but didn’t enjoy the state of the trails so aborted and headed back.

    If on reading this post you can sense our first impressions on campervan life in Portugal weren’t very positive, you would be right. We considered it might be Algarve that we weren’t so impressed with. We’ve heard from friends and colleagues over the years how much they loved holidaying in Algarve. So we were definitely surprised. Our guess assessment is this:

    • For a variety of reasons, a higher proportion of tourists and campervans\motorhomes flock to Algarve
    • It could we’ll be that they’re fleeing the cold weather. Or maybe they just love the beaches, or both
    • In addition, Portugal has recently outlawed wild camping. So conceivably a lot of campervans/motorhomes that might have previously widlcamped are now competing for the same limited number of camping spots
    • We heard from a motorhome neighbour at one of the campsites that a lot of sites have closed – impacted by COVID travel restrictions. This has added to the capacity constraint.
    • Portugal infrastructure doesn’t, at least in our opinion, seem equipped to cope with the number of tourists. There’s a lot of “unfinished” construction (James says like France in the early 90s), local roads are often narrow and potholed,and based on our experience there aren’t enough places for campervans or motorhomes to legally park and stay the night. And rather annoyingly, many (most) sites don’t let you reserve a spot. So you just have to rock up and hope for the best.

    It would be unfair to say there aren’t some things we liked about Algarve:

    1. The coast and beaches are indeed beautiful. We did a walk on Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (Seven Hanging Valleys Trail), a coastline walk that featured some stunning examples of limestone erosion – arches, sinkholes, hanging valleys and beautiful coved beaches.
    2. We love that town markets are alive and well in Portugal. Most towns will have a covered ‘mercado’ where fish, meat, fruit and veg vendors can sell their produce.
    3. It’s nice that despite the mass tourism, we never felt any place we stayed was overly commercialised. Indeed most businesses such as supermarkets, restaurants, cafes seem like independently run businesses.

    Basically after more than a month in Spain, we just have to get used to the pace of life in Portugal.

    As neither of us are uber keen on beaches or aimlessly meandering through towns, we decided not to spend too much time on the south coast and headed west to Costa Vincentina.

    Costa Vincentina

    The difference between the west coast and the south coast could not be more stark. We booked into a campsite in São Miguel, on the edge of Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina, and it was EMPTY. Aside from us there was 1 other motorhome parked when we arrived. A few more campers arrived during our stay but it was never as full as any of the campsites we stayed at on the south coast.

    Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina is a very long and stunning stretch of coastline and protected land taking in the west coast of Algarve and stretching into Alentejo, the neighbouring region. The popular long distance hiking trail Rota Vincentina travels the length of the natural park. We did a short stretch of the walk from the town of Odeceixe. It was characterised by stunning rugged coastline, stork nests, pretty wildflowers, and a sulky Zeus who doesn’t like walking on sand. To be honest none of us enjoyed walking on sand very much.

    One of the main things we noticed in Costa Vincentina was the number of Indian subcontinent migrants. The first clue was the Indian/Nepalese supermarket we clocked in a tiny town next to São Miguel. São Miguel was also a tiny town but it did seem to have lots of buses parked in a lot on the edge of town. We guessed that lots of migrants lived in the town and were bused to/from the various farms in the area. We did a bit of internet searching, and found that in 2021 Portugal reached an agreement with India, opening it’s borders to Indian and Nepalese migrants to plug Portugal’s critical gap in labour for farming, construction, hospitality etc. industries. We found this quite interesting, given UK has taken an alternative and opposite approach of closing its borders despite a critical gap in labour.

    As part of our internet research, we also learned that following the 2008 economic crash, a lot of Portuguese decided to make significant changes in their lives and lots went on to set up farms and other business enterprises which has led to the more diversified growth of Portugal’s economy. We wondered for example, if the small Medrohno distillery we stumbled onto (thanks Google Maps) just outside of São Miguel was an example of this. Junior Jacques Distillery is owned and run by two young entrepreneurs aiming to make Medronho that appeals to modern tastes such as their barrel-aged Medronho and a lower alcohol version for cocktail making.

    From São Miguel we drove north to Vila Nova de Milfontes, a charming town at the mouth of river Mira and by the Atlantic coast. We only stayed two nights but it seemed like a town where one could spend more time – there was supping and kayaking on the river, surfing along the coast, walks along the coastline, and a good variety of bars and restaurants.


    From Vila Nova de Milfontes, we headed north to Lisbon. The approach we took in Seville to park the campervan in a secure location and spend a night in a hotel worked really well, so we parked the campervan in an area de autocaravanas site 10km north of the city centre, hopped into an Uber, and checked into Alecrim ao Chiado, a dog friendly boutique hotel in the Chiado district of Lisbon. Zeus, we’ve discovered, really enjoys staying at hotels. He likes the attention from all the staff. He likes the space and becomes a mischievous sock-stealing dog. He relishes being told not to jump on sofas or beds.

    We didn’t have a specific agenda so we spent time wandering the streets of Lisbon and did some culinary tourism. Lisbon is well suited to wandering, with several distinct neighborhoods having different histories in relatively close proximity. Also, because the city is arranged across seven hills there are good views and a number of miradouros from which to observe the city.

    In the course of our wandering we sampled two foods from Lisbon:

    1. Pasteis de Nata, which people may have tried in London coffee shops, are small tarts of crispy layered pastry filled with egg custard, optionally finished with a dusting of cinnamon . The freshly made Lisbon originals are great with a real contrast in texture between the components (which you don’t find in the London ones, sorry) and whilst inexpensive, are treated with the due respect they deserve e.g. they are carefully packed in beautiful boxes. We sampled pasteis de nata from Manteigaria, Castro, and Pasteis de Belem. We didn’t have a favourite. They were all very tasty.
    2. Bifanas are likely less widely known. It’s a pork sandwich, but again the pleasure comes from both the taste and texture of the ingredients. We stood in a queue at As Bifanas do Afonso for some time before we got to sink our teeth in some. They were delicious – a chewy bread roll with good crust and pockets in the dough to hold tasty pork juices, filled with tender pork steak slices. They were well worth the long line. P.S. There are no vegetarian options.

    In keeping with a theme of contrasts when dining, we enjoyed a great meal in a contemporary and understated restaurant in Barrio Alto, the nightlife district of Lisbon. A Nossa Casa has a Portuguese and Brazilian influenced menu. We enjoyed a fabulous meal in the serene surroundings whilst the chaos of Barrio Alto with people getting very drunk and/or hooking up unfolded outside.

    On leaving Lisbon we stopped at the Belém district to visit Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a UNESCO World Heritage monastery that was built in the early 1500s by Dom Manuel following Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India. The order of monks at the monastery gave comfort and guidance to sailers. It’s an example of Manueline architecture and decoration which, in it’s ornate detail, reflects the wealth of the time i.e. the Age of Discoveries. It was certainly a remarkable site to visit, but it would have been interesting to learn more about the history of the monks in the monastery.

    On the way back to our campervan we stopped to admire Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a huge riverside monument and tribute to to Henry the Navigator, who was a central figure in Portugal’s maritime discoveries and expansion. We then took Zeus for a short stroll to the Tower of Belem, another fine example of Manueline architecture, which was built as a good backdrop for intragramers (joke) – it was built to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour.

    Lisbon felt very vibrant as a city. James had visited the city a few years after the global credit crisis and the city felt at a low point then, with little energy. The contrast from that low point was significant and an interesting comparison with London. Lisbon felt to us like a forward looking and positive place. It has a cosmopolitan “melting pot” feel with a significant population of young professionals from different countries, possibly due to Portugal’s liberal immigration policies such as nomad and golden visas. Our internet search for a pet-friendly hotels returned a fair number of co-working “hostels” that advertised working space, health and wellness facilities and bars/restaurants – “all-in-ones” for the international worker. English was the predominant language heard on the ground. There were a lot of trendy looking restaurants and bars. We found a cafe near our hotel that roasted it’s own coffee beans so we bought a big pack and have staved off James-meltdowns-due-to-lack-of-coffee for some weeks. With the good there is no doubt also some bad – there’s homelessness on the streets, and we understand a looming (or present?) housing crisis for locals. It will be interesting to watch how Lisbon continues to evolve.

    What’s next?

    We’re heading west to Sintra, were James hopes to enjoy some MTB trails and climb some big rocks, where we hope to do some good hiking in the forested hills of Sintra, and possibly – Zeus welfare conditions permitting -visit the National Palace of Peña and other sites of interest such as the Initiation Well.

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    Week 11: Córdoba, Sevilla and Costa de la Luz

    This week we explored 2 more of Andalucia’s fascinating cities before unwinding in beautiful and seemingly unspoilt Costa de la Luz.

    Cordoba – Mezquita-Catedral, the Medieval city and snacking

    After seeing the majestic Alhambra in Granada, we were curious to see the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, which had been described to us as a “cathedral built inside a mosque”. Despite knowing what we were going to see, the description still didn’t quite prepare us for how shocking it is to see in reality.

    As you enter the Mezquita, the first thing you see are hundreds of soaring double arches, for what feels like as far as the eye can see in all directions. Your eyes are immediately drawn upwards. It was clearly a grand site for Islamic worship. In Córdoba’s heyday in the 900 AD, it was the biggest city in Western Europe and the Córdoba caliphate encompassed much of the Iberian Peninsula, plus the Balearic Islands and some of North Africa. Córdoba became a place of pilgrimage for Muslims who could not make it to Mecca or Jerusalem. The size and beauty of the Mezquita reflect how important Córdoba must have been to the Islamic faith.

    As you walk further into the site and your eyes grow accustomed to the setting, you notice that, woven into the arches are Catholic capillas and chapels dedicated to various saints. At the centre of the site is a soaring Transept, the main Cathedral. Construction of the Catholic elements began in 1237 following Fernando III’s conquest of Córdoba.

    On the one hand, it was shocking to see what was obviously a majestic place of worship for one religion, disfigured by another. The differences in how each religion worshipped could not be more stark. The mosque elements of the site included the graceful arches, intricate carved stone and mosaics. The Catholic elements of the site incorporated numerous paintings and sculpture depicting the human form of saints and the holy trinity, as well as elaborate gold objects used in Catholic worship such as chalices and other objects for the alter or processions.

    On the other hand, one could appreciate that much of the original mosque was preserved. Rather than tearing it down to build a new Catholic place of worship, the Catholic elements where built onto the original mosque structure. In our era of the mashup, this could even be considered culturally relevant.

    Whatever one’s views on the matter, it was definitely a unique and awesome sight worth seeing.

    We spent some time walking around Córdoba. The medieval city centre around the Mezquita-Catedral is fairly compact with narrow winding streets, so it’s a lovely place to wander. Aileen enjoyed peeking into patios, usually places of lush greenery hidden from view inside otherwise simple-looking building structures. We found the statues of Averroes and Maimonides, eminent philosophers (one Muslim, one Jewish) from Córdoba’s heyday who believed that philosophical reasoning could and should be applied to religious faith.

    Finally, we sampled some Córdoban food specialities – Flamequín, jambon rolled in pork, breaded and deep fried, and ox-tail croquettes. Both were delicious.

    Sevilla – Real Alcázar, escaping the van and tapas-fest

    From Córdoba we headed to Sevilla. Whilst driving we considered our options on where to stay. It had been quite cold in Cordoba so we didn’t find the idea of staying in another cold parking lot appealing. In addition, none of the caravan sites around Sevilla seemed handy for exploring Sevilla’s nightlife. So we booked into a dog-friendly hotel, El Rey Moro, in Barrio de Santa Cruz (Sevilla’s medieval Jewish quarter) for 2 nights, and parked the campervan in a secure parking place in the port area of Sevilla.

    We’ve been happy living in the campervan for the past 3 months, but it was was very nice to be able to have a hot shower (with dry towels) when we wanted, get into bed without having to put on multiple layers of clothes to stave off the cold, and generally enjoy some space. Zeus also enjoyed jumping between the sofa and bed, especially when being told not to.

    The streets in the center of Sevilla are very narrow and totally inappropriate for a campervan, but do have lots of different tapas places to try. So for 2 days we enjoyed having other people cook for us. Highlights were cazón de adobo (marinated and fried dogfish), tortilletas de camarones (shrimp fritters), espinaces con garbanzos (spinach and chickpea stew), washed down with good but cheap wine. We fully appreciated the 5 minute walk back to the hotel, bellies full and buzzed from a good night out in Sevilla.

    On the day we arrived, we wondered what the big compound near our hotel was. It turned out to be the Real Alcazár, a palace-fortress that has evolved with Muslim and Christian monarchs – including Al-Mu’tamid, Fernando III, Pedro I, and Isabella and Fernando. We decided we needed to see it. We found the most impressive site to be Palacio del Rey Don Pedro, a palace that Pedro I built with the help of Muslim artisans his ally Mohommed V in Granada sent. They were also responsible for decorating Alhambra’s Palacio Nazaries. So the palace is largely in Muslim-style but incorporates elements that were contemporary to Catholic culture at the time. The harmonious integration was in stark contrast to what we’d seen in the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba.

    We visited Plaza de España, which is historically or architecturally less significant than the other places we’ve visited, but was a fun way to spend the afternoon. It’s a semi-circular building and plaza with a big fountain and pond, built for the 1929 Sevilla Expo. It features tiled alcoves showcasing all the provinces of Spain, in alphabetical order. We noted that many depicted conquistas. It was great for people watching (Tik tok-ers and Instragramers let loose), and Zeus met more of his fan club, more particularly 2 Ukrainian students who missed their Italian Greyhounds back home.

    We had hoped to visit the Sevilla cathedral which also incorporates elements of the mosque that previously occupied its site. The cathedral’s impressive and iconic tower is a repurposing of the mosque’s minaret. But we didn’t have the time so it’s one to visit for our future selves.

    We were a little nervous when we returned to the van, that it might have been broken into or the bikes stolen off the back. We’re please to say we found it as we left it.

    Costa de la Luz

    After 4 days of visiting cities, it was nice to spend some time in relatively undeveloped Zahora on Costa de la Luz. Our campsite sat next to a coastal pine forest and you could hear horses neighing and frolicking nearby. We were a short walk away from beautiful, sandy and very quite beaches. It seems however, there was no escaping from history geeking – the coast overlooks the site of the Battle of Trafalgar.

    We did a hike along the coast in nearby Parc Natural de La Breña y Marismas del Barbate. It had awesome views of the coast and ocean. We wondered if the landmass we saw in the distance was Gibraltar, but after checking Google maps it must have been Tangier!

    We also enjoyed a bike ride along the coast between Los Caños de Meca (where we had a sherry stop), and El Palmar (where we saw lots of surfers and wild camping but not much surfing).

    What’s next?

    We’d like to visit a sherry bodega in one of the nearby sherry towns, and then possibly head to Portugal!

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    Week 10: Granada, Malaga and El Chorro

    Visiting Granada and the Alhambra with a Campervan and a Dog

    We finally made it to Granada. After several failed attempts last week at parking at Areas de Caravanas near Granada, we decided to change tack and just drive and park in Granada. We usually find driving into and parking in a city with a campervan loaded with 3 bikes a nerve wracking affair. But after some careful research into parking near Alhambra, we decided to go for it, and had an excellent experience. We drove into the city early and snagged a plum corner spot in the parking lot closest to the Alhambra. This gave us time to wander down to a churerria in town for breakfast before the first booking we had for the Alhambra.

    The other important consideration we had was juggling visiting the Alhambra and Zeus care. We decided to take turns. James had a 10 a.m. slot to visit the Alhambra, and Aileen had a 1 p.m. slot. This gave us 3 hours each, which seems a lot, but there is so much to see at the Alhambra.

    We were both quite moved at how beautiful the Alhambra (a Muslim palace and fortress) is. It was built in the 1200’s by the first Nasrid emir and was home to 23 successive emirs, until the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492. It’s quite hard to believe it was left to fall into disrepair for hundreds of years, housing beggars and squatters and being partially destroyed by Napoleon’s army, before restoration began in 1828. It was first brought to the world’s attention by the writings of Washington Irving in 1832.

    Palacio Nazaries is the main draw at Alhambra, and for good reason. It is quite simply, a work of art – with intricately carved stone walls and wood ceilings, elaborate honeycomb vaulting and framed windows with sweeping vistas of Granada, beautiful tiling, delicate fountains, each room unique. We were particularly impressed by the Haren, with its large patio surrounded by 124 delicate marble columns, and the serene sounds of water emanating from a central fountain of 12 stone lions.

    Aside from Palacio Nazaries, we each visited Alcazaba, the main fortress and ramparts. Red, square, foreboding and utilitarian, it sits in stark contrast to the beauty and serenity of Nazaries.

    Palacio Carlos V is a Renaissance-era palace that was never completed, and now houses the 2 museums of Alhambra – the Museo de la Alhambra which has a collection of Muslim artefacts from the Alhambra, Granada and Cordoba, and the Museo de Bellas Artes. We were most interested in the former, which unfortunately was closed the day we visited.

    The Generalife, the summer palace and gardens were probably less dramatic a site than it would have been in spring or summer with full bloom and foliage, but visiting in winter did let one appreciate the design of the gardens and palace, and views of the city. After visiting the other areas of the Alhambra, the Generalife felt more relaxing and playful, a good way to end and wind down from the visit.

    While James was visiting the Alhambra, Aileen and Zeus explored a bit of Granada – more particularly went in search of remnants of Muslim rule in the city. They enjoyed most wandering through the narrow streets and alleys of Albaicin, Granada’s old Muslim quarter, up to Mirador San Nicolas which had great views of the Alhambra and Granada.


    From Granada we headed to Malaga, which we hadn’t really considered stopping at, but had to because of our appointment at the VW Service Centre in Malaga. After dropping the van off for service in the morning, we took a short train ride into the city for a bit of touristing which mostly involved eating. Our first stop after coffee and breakfast was the Mercado Central, the city’s main market. It was nice to see it was a proper functioning market with lots of locals buying their supplies for the day. We love exploring a market to see what fish, meat, cheese and vegetables are on offer in the area. We spotted lots of small local prawns – which was a sign we needed to try some. So we snagged a table at Mercado de Atarazanas, one of the bars at the mercado, and had a deeeeelicious lunch of mixed fried fish, fried prawns and grilled razor clams, washed down with white wine.

    After lunch we meandered through the centre of Malaga, stopping for some very tasty gelato at Casa Mira, and to let Zeus’ many admirers pet him. We headed to the Alcazaba, remnants of a moorish palace to check it out. Unfortunately it didn’t allow dogs. We then head towards the port and gawked at the amazing trees we saw along our walk. Malaga is a good place for tree spotting – we saw some really old looking gnarled rubber trees, the kind you’d expect to see in old quarters of Delhi or Mumbai, some floss silk trees, natives of South America, with their massive swollen bottoms and spiney branches, and lots of grand and clearly old palm trees.

    We were pleasantly surprised by Malaga. There’s a lot to see. It has a lot of museums – 2 Picassos, and outposts for the Pompidou, Thyseen, and many points of interest outside of high culture. Unfortunately many sites aren’t possible to visit with a dog. Malaga also has a feeling of uncomplicated and unadorned pleasures – the sun was shining brightly, the food was simple, fresh and delicious, and there was a positive vibe as locals went about their business.

    Aileen’s Food Poisoning Incident

    It had to happen at some point. James had spent the morning at a climbing wall in Malaga, whilst Aileen and Zeus chilled in the campervan. We then started our journey to El Chorro without first stopping for lunch. Aileen does not cope well with driving through squiggly roads on an empty stomach, so we stopped for a bite at a roadside restaurant in Alora, just south of El Chorro. It was almost 4 in the afternoon. Aileen ordered the fish. That was the likely culprit. She then felt even sicker the rest of the way. The following day she was completely wiped out, and it took a couple of days to feel normal again. The lesson here is don’t order fish in a mountain restaurant.

    Aileen is very grateful we had booked to park/stay at Casa La Paz El Chorro, a casa rurales in a stunning setting, owned and run by a lovely couple from the UK, Julie and Glynn. They have space for two campervans, and a dedicated bathroom for the campers. So we had ready access to bathroom facilities 😅

    El Chorro: Hiking in El Chorro

    El Chorro, a small village in Malaga province was founded to house workers for the construction of hydroelectric plants by the Chorro gorge in the early 1900s.

    The most famous sight in El Chorro is the Caminito del Rey, a walkway with bridges and tunnels, some of it built into the vertical cliff walls of the El Chorro gorge. It was constructed as a means for transporting workers and materials for building the hydroelectric dams.

    The original walkway has fallen into serious disrepair over the years and has sections missing. Dangerous to scale, until 2015 it was only used by climbers to access routes. James hadn’t climbed here but had heard stories from friends about their accessing routes via the train tracks and the walkway, and how scary the experience had been. It was named the deadliest walk as a number of climbers unfortunately died over the years at the site.

    A “new” path was built in 2015 directly over the original path which is still visible, and allows tourists to visit the path safely. Having said that, a recent rockfall destroyed a section on the northern half of the path. On the day we visited we could only complete the southern end of the walk, which included the sections along the side of the gorge and the suspension bridge. The northern half continues into the valley behind the gorge. We had seen some of the northern half on a good walk we did the the previous day. (Our) Words can’t really describe how dramatic the setting of the walkway is, so we’re sharing pictures!

    We also did a hike in Parc Natural Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, that took in 3 miradors (viewpoints) – Mirador de las Buitreras, Pico del Convento and Mirador del Embalse – and ran above the Caminito del Rey. It was a relatively short but rewarding hike with amazing views of the Gaitanes canyon, rivers and dams. It was also excellent for wildlife spotting – we same some wild deer, wild goats, and lots of eagles soaring overhead and sweeping through the canyon beneath us.

    We suspect there was a lot more good hiking to be done in the area, but we had to take it relatively easy while Aileen was recovering from her bout of food poisoning.

    El Chorro: MTB

    James also did a couple of mountain bike rides around El Chorro. It wasn’t somewhere he was aware of for off-road riding, but it turned out to have an interesting selection of trails. His first ride was the shorter of the two, and on the same side of the valley as our camping site. It did an ascent up a winding road to some pretty good views of the valley. There was choice of two mountain bike trails heading down after the climb. He took Slippery when Wet, but with hindsight should have taken Fast and Loose which he rode the end of and was a fast hand built flow trail. He was planning to go back to ride it, except the trails on the second ride / other side of the valley were so good.

    His second ride was a longer workout. James explored the other side of the valley and found three downhill trails of very different characters. The first was called El Moab and like it’s namesake Moab, Utah, it took in several sections of exposed rock, at times with steep drops that needed to be either ridden or avoided. The second was a fast flow trail following the course of a dry stream incorporating the river banks and gulley. The third headed down from La Mesa which is a table top mountain overlooking El Chorro. As well as stunning views in all directions, the peak also had a big reservoir which is part of the surrounding hydroelectric infrastructure and made navigation around security fences difficult. This trail followed a more natural path and was very rocky and physical to ride cleanly.

    It also looks like there would also be some good road riding in El Chorro, but the mountain bike takes precedence.

    What next?

    We plan to head to Cordoba and Sevilla to explore of more of Spain’s fascinating Muslim history, and maybe head down to the sherry towns on the coast. We’re also inching closer to Portugal!