24th June 2011-06-24
We have noticed the changes in the weather and the Italian landscape in Le Marche since our arrival here at the end of April.
These changes are clearly visible as we look at the surrounding hills and valley around us in our temporary accommodation — a beautifully converted property, perched on a hillside within the Apennine range above the Metauro valley; an ideal quiet location for walkers, artists or photographers.
The quaintly and typically romantically named sleepy hamlets of Borgo Nuovo, Montefelcino, Borgo Ville and Ponte degli Albiri lie close to each other and accessed by country roads winding up and down the hills among beautiful landscape scenery which is forever changing as the seasons progress.
Fossombrone is the nearest larger town just a few minutes drive from us. The much larger town of Fano (well worth a closer inspection of its old quarter), is a twenty minute drive East to the Adriatic coast. Not as touristy as its northern neighbours of Cattolica or Rimini, but it is however popular with locals and those of us fortunate enough to have discovered it.
Certainly, the weather has changed dramatically recently, from the extremely heavy rainfalls often leading to minor franas, landslides, which block the storm water drains on the country roadsides and often across the road itself. Local contractors were soon out and about, however, with their tractors and earth movers enabling traffic to pass after just a short inconvenience We were for a few weeks, during spells in between rainfalls, plagued by clouds of “summer snow” — huge clumps of white cotton ball-like pollen floating in the breeze released by the Poplar trees in the valley below. At times, it resembled a blanket of snow lying on the grass it was that thick.
After the heavy showers and more continual rain and thunderstorms in May, we are now basking in thirty degree plus heat with clear blue skies and a scattering of fair weather cumulus on most days as we approach the end of June. Occasionally, a light breeze swings up from the valley below which is a welcome respite from the baking heat. The heady scent of lavender wafts gently around us as does the smell of freshly mown hay recently gathered down in the plateau around Fossombrone.
This change is particularly noticeable with the agriculture in the patchwork of fields clinging onto the steep hillsides. Lush green areas of early cereal growth have now changed to light golden brown as the crops mature moving like waves in the breeze. Patches of colour are interspersed among the natural woodland growth around them.
Small clumps of trees have been spared during the land clearing years ago and along with individual olive-trees, they have been allowed to grow in some cultivated fields and are now surrounded in a golden sea complimenting the overall views. Bare patches of the light coloured, almost white, areas of earth have had the heavy clumps of clay broken up and the soil smoothed over and planted awaiting the first shoots to appear.
The only sounds we are subjected to are the occasional barking dog from the farm across the valley from us or the dawn chorus acting as our alarm clock at first light around five in the morning. Other than this, from time to time there is the sound of clanking steel and chugging engines reverberating around the valley as the cingoli, caterpillar tractors, crawl up the steep sided fields in a cloud of dust breaking up the earth as they move, but less so now as summer sets in. More noticeable from afar, straight lined and curved furrows are cut into the slopes to allow rainwater to run freely and protect the seedlings during heavy downpours.
Such a hillside lies behind us – at almost a forty-five degree angle; it would have been a long hard day’s work in the pre mechanisation era when horses or bullocks were used to plough and till the heavy soil. The hill is capped by a large copse of oaks and other deciduous trees; we are convinced it is the home of deer. We keep our eyes open when having a late evening BBQ in the garden and if lucky we are treated to a brief encounter with one of them as it gives us an enquiring look before disappearing again.
We have also been visited by a hare, a lovely specimen, lean and tall and looking very healthy. It came into the garden while we were sitting there, gave us a cursory, casual look before ambling off up the bank, across the field of early sunflower plants and into the copse. Hunting is a favourite past time for the local Italians, we just hope our visitors escape them and the inevitable cooking pot come the hunting season in autumn.
In addition to the wheat and barley crops, it is now becoming apparent that another of this year’s subsidised rotational crop is sunflower seed. The evidence of this is all around us adjacent to the fields of cereal. Some are in various stages of growth due to the timing of planting in each field. From shoots a few inches high to the taller thick stemmed plants all tightly bunched together. The formal lines when planted as seeds are now obscured as they grow and fight for their own space as each individual spreads out. In some of the earlier plantings, individual yellow heads are starting to peep through as they look around at their younger siblings who will themselves start to flower in the not too distant future.
At the lower levels, near the small village of Lucrezia and surrounding hamlets on the plateau of the Metauro valley, the sunflower crop is now in full swing with large areas blooming in glorious yellow carpets as seen when driving past on the road to Fano. It is possible to get closer through the village of Lucrezia and onto the narrow roads and farm tracks to the fields.
We look forward to the changes autumn will bring to the landscape around us, it will add to our spring and summer experiences in this part of Italy before we finally leave and feast on the memories back home — accompanied by a good glass of Le Marche wine of course!
2nd July 2011
We have been here now for about six weeks and settled in to a very quiet and picturesque location. Le Marche is squashed up against the Adriatic on its eastern flank with Umbria to the West. The smaller boarders to the North and South are adjacent with Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo respectively. The tiny principality of San Marino also lies on the northern border. The province we are in is a combination of Pesaro and Urbino (PU), Pesaro on the coast to the North and Urbino inland to the West of Pesaro.
Very picturesque agricultural landscapes with deep valleys and steep wooded hillsides interspersed with large areas of cleared land (mostly at steep angled slopes), for crop growing are all around us as we look out from the garden. On our day trips by car it is noticeable that the area is largely unspoilt; no wind farms blotting the landscape, very few electricity pylons of the large structures we see elsewhere, mainly just the occasional single pole carrying a line to a remote farm house tucked away among the trees. Surprisingly, very few vineyards are found here unlike Piedmont where vineyards are very much part of the landscape. Here in Le Marche, the land is given over generally to growing crops and cereals with just a few vineyards dotted about; olive growing seems to be preferred to vineyards. Having said that, the local Marche wine is very palatable but is probably less well known than the more familiar wines of nearby Tuscany or Piedmont. Le Marche is a Truffle area and the locals claim that they are the Truffle centre of Italy. What the truffle experts in Alba, Piedmont think of this is anyone’s guess! The many woods with their variety of tree species clinging to the hillsides would seem to be ideal for truffles as there are many likely locations with suitable growth to support this delicacy.
On our travels, we have come across large areas of farmland devoted to Sunflower growing. This must be the main crop for this year as much of the land seems to have been devoted to this subsidised crop. They are now in established growth and it won’t be too long before they start to flower – I can’t wait!! My thoughts of driving into Tuscany for my last chance to find sunflower photos now seems to be not necessary, there is enough to keep me busy on my doorstep once they start to flower. I have mapped out their locations and will be prepared once the yellow flowers start to bloom.
Venturing out and about in the car to enjoy the scenery is a frequent anticipated excursion for us as there are some fantastic views when negotiating the twists and turns of the narrow roads up and over the hills. Not far from us, at a higher level, we can see the Adriatic as we look to the east towards Pesaro. The seaside town of Fano is our nearest destination to the beach and is just twenty minutes or so from our villa. The drive to Fano, once we drop down to sea level, is not that interesting as the terrain is flat and uninspiring with industrial areas spreading out from the town. Fano itself deserves a closer inspection as it has interesting buildings and streets in the old quarter; its attraction, certainly for the locals in the area, is the seaside which has a long seafront of pebble and sandy beaches along the promenade. Fano is not up to the standard of say nearby Rimini or Catolica but it is pleasant enough and just a short drive away.
Several excursions to major towns have been undertaken and we have enjoyed seeing the diverse scenery en-route; preferring to make our way via the “pretty” route and avoid any busy major roads or autostradas where possible (with terrible road surfaces unfortunately!). On the Adriatic coast we have ventured to Pesaro, Catolica, Ancona and Fano of course. Urbino and Perugia which lie inland and westward, also Gubbio, Assisi and Todi have also been briefly visited. Future trips are in mind before we finally leave in September when we will head for Ascoli Piceno and Lake Trasimeno, however, we are not ignoring the local areas as there is much still to see and revisit in the meantime.
Our location is up in the hills with lovely views all around us. A steep track off the main road bumps and winds its way up to the house. On arrival it was a bit nerve wracking as we had a full car load and concerned that we might bottom-out at some stage, fortunately, the suspension is adjustable so we avoided any contact with the track as we inched our way up. The peace and quiet here is the stuff of dreams, just the occasional chugging of a caterpillar tractor working its way up and across a forty-five degree hillside as it prepares the earth for planting. Apart from that, just the dog barking from across the valley and the dawn chorus each morning as the sun starts to rise is all we have to put up with. We occasionally are treated to a rare view of a young deer venturing out from one of the copses in the evening and taking a long look at us from afar as we sip our glass of wine over a barbeque. A badger was also spotted scampering across open ground to do some mischief somewhere. A Hoopoe treated us to some comical antics as it constantly flew/jumped at the windows as if to see who was in the house and why! We assumed it was looking for a mate and its reflection was a potential candidate, whatever the reason, it was comical to watch as it wasn’t doing itself any harm against the glass. A couple of dogs wondered through the garden one evening, obviously living wild as they were certainly not well fed but still looked fit, very timid and didn’t stay long. An unexpected and unknown dinner guest arrives in the dark hours as we have yet to spot him/her. It feeds on a meal of dog biscuits we leave out on the grass in the hope that one evening we will discover what our visitor is, until then, it is being quite well fed and seems to like the food which will stop once we discover its identity.
Our nearest town is Fossombrone just a few minutes away; closer by we have the romantically named hamlets of Montefelcino, Borgo Ville, Borgo Nuove and Ponte Degli Albri – very quiet and typically Italian all located among farmlands and hill tops with fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. A Pizzeria is located just outside Borgo Nuovo which we have visited once or twice for a special treat and must have one of the best panoramic views from its conservatory of any Pizzeria anywhere in Italy!
One of our first tasks here, apart from keeping the garden and surrounding area tidy, was to start our own vegetable patch. First and foremost, as we have had previous success, was to put in some tomato plants, followed by courgettes and lettuce then a couple of varieties of beans. All are doing well and we have had our first of the lettuces recently. Small green tomatoes are starting to appear but the beans are looking a bit sorrowful at the moment and we are not sure if they will be successful or not but possibly needing a bit more time. The courgettes are flowering but do not look as though there will be any fruit at the end of the flower growth.
Our time here will be up in September when we will have end our extended stay and return to Guernsey. There is one longer trip planned for July and that is a return to Manzoni, near Alba in order to celebrate my aunt’s 100th birthday. It will be a (reduced) family affair with a gathering at our favourite Agritourismo “Ca’Brusa” in Manzoni (near Monforte d’Alba), where we have had delightful experiences in the past. Just a short three or four day break before returning here to continue our house-sit until the owners return in September.
18th April 2011
Faced with a long road journey from Spain to Le Marche in Italy, it was decided that we would look at other options to avoid making the long road trip to our next destination where we are to house sit. By cutting out the drive up the east coast of Spain, through southeast of France and into Italy via the Riviera thence Tuscany to Rome and beyond, we opted to travel by ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia as a short cut. We would then be able to spend a few nights outside of Rome in order to do some sightseeing in the city before moving on to Le Marche
We booked our sea passage using Grimaldi Lines through Direct Ferries. Our ferry (The “Cruise Barcelona”), leaves Barcelona at 10 pm on the 5th April with an overnight sea voyage. During the daytime before our departure, we would be able to spend some time having a look around Barcelona before joining the queue for the boat. Taking the ferry, we reckoned, will reduce our costs of fuel, tolls, accommodation and wear and tear on the car, plus we will feel more refreshed when we finally arrive and hopefully be more capable to cope with the infamous Rome traffic; it will also make a welcome change and be more comfortable for us as the car is once again fully loaded with all our chattels.
With our arrival in Civitavecchia at 6pm the following evening, it should take just a couple of hours to drive to the Hotel Artis where we have booked for three nights; this will allow us two full days to see as much of Rome as possible.
In the meantime, I drove from our rented villa in Torre to Barcelona alone as Lynda had departed for Guernsey a few days previously in order to get her annual medical checkups completed. It was easier to get flights to the U.K. from Spain plus we had a few days in hand before reaching our final destination. After a six hour drive, I managed to time my arrival at Barcelona airport with about half an hour to spare in order to meet Lynda on her return to Spain from Guernsey.
A brand new terminal had just been opened and very impressive it is too. Having congratulated myself on timing my arrival so well, I was a bit deflated to find that the flight in from Gatwick (Easyjet of course!), was delayed by an hour and a half! Anyway, we eventually met up and made our way into Barcelona to the Ibis hotel which I had pre-booked when still in Torre.
It was quite late when we arrived so it was a quick snack in the shopping complex of which the hotel is an integral part, followed by an early night with the intention of sightseeing in Barcelona next day prior to our scheduled 10pm departure on the ferry.
Next morning, in bright sunlight, we found our way on foot to the Metro station at Sant Andreu Arenal and a short journey to Catalunya station. After walking along the wide busy streets of La Rambla for a while, we opted for the tourist bus in order to see as much of the city as possible in the short time we had available. For 23 Euros for the both of us, we sat on the top deck of the “Barcelona Bus Touristic” enjoying the sights as all the landmarks came into view. The highlight being the iconic La Sagrada Familia, still unfinished of course and with the tall cranes still in evidence, fascinating none the less with all its quirks and unusual gimmicks in many nooks and crannies. Everywhere you look, you will suddenly spot some strange carving or object, usually in bright colours dotted around the external structure. As we drove along the streets, many of the buildings of interest suddenly appeared wedged between more modern edifices and interspersed with earlier Modernista styles. The pot-pourrie of architectural styles made for a really interesting tour as we came upon yet another surprise around each corner as we drove around the city. Barcelona also lays claims to having been an important city for Columbus and statues of him are dotted around claiming him as one of theirs.
At around 5pm, we retraced our steps back to the hotel via the Metro and the short walk, collected the car and made our way to the ferry port. Finding the port wasn’t too difficult, locating the collection area for our particular ferry proved difficult; at one point we found ourselves among and being dwarfed by a queue of enormous and angry articulated trucks trying to find their way out of the port and having to cope with a little lost C5 under their wheels! After a few u-turns we finally found our way and joined up with the queue waiting to board the (correct) ferry. Among the parked vehicles were several coaches carrying Italian students who were returning home after their end of graduation Culture Visit to Spain. They were in high spirits and enjoying themselves in the car park while waiting to board; we enjoyed seeing these youngsters having a good time and all in good humour with no rowdyism – we didn’t think the same later on that night though – their “good humoured fun” got very thin by 3am in the morning and right outside our cabin! Even in my Victor Meldrew mode I couldn’t persuade them to go to bed. We eventually successfully pleaded with the duty Purser to get us another cabin a few decks below which was much quieter and managed to get some sleep for what remained of the rest of the night, fortunately there was no rush to vacate the cabin next day.
All hands on deck next morning – some students looking decidedly weary! Just before noon, in a calm sea under clear blue skies, we approached the straits between Corsica to the north and Sardinia to the south. Navigating the narrow passage between the two islands, the ship steered a dog-leg course through the “Bocche de Bonifacio” passage. The Corsican Mountains were in clear view and still showing a mantle of snow near their peaks; on the right, a small futuristic looking tourist village appeared on the Sardinian coast as we passed very close to the lighthouse on the Arcipelago della Maddalena islands. The two islands eventually disappeared below the horizon as we steamed north east towards our destination.
We disembarked quite quickly and managed to avoid the HGV’s as they started to rumble down the ramp behind us. Back in Italy once more since the previous October, we headed off to Rome well, the outskirts we hoped, as our hotel was off the Rome ring road to the south east. Garmin did her job well, only once getting herself in a twist when trying to direct us onto a railway line! Not ‘her’ fault really as roadworks near the hotel had confused the poor thing! Being a hotel without a restaurant, we set off after checking in to look for somewhere to eat. Even though we were in Rome (almost) there was a surprising shortage of eateries in our area. Not having had decent directions, we eventually stumbled across a small Pizzeria where we gratefully tucked into our familiar tucker.
Snowy peaks on Corsica
North coast of Sardinia
Feeling pretty tired, but having had a good night’s sleep we set off the following morning to commence our Roman expedition.
The hotel receptionist, (a different sole from the previous night), was very helpful this time and gave us a few tips on how to get into and around Rome using public transport, namely the autobus and metro.
Our first purchase was to buy a tourist “Metrebus” ticket at 1 Euro each from the hotel reception. These are valid for differing time periods, ours being 75 minutes which would be more than enough to get us to the nearest metro 45 minutes away at the “Subagusta” Metro station. The short bus journey was as uneventful as it was uninteresting; we were however, still a long way from the delights of Rome. At the metro station we purchased more Metrebjus tourist tickets from the vending machine which would allow us to travel on buses and/or the metro and valid for three days, these came to 11 Euros each which seemed to be a bargain. The Rome underground is efficient but very scruffy but we had no difficulty getting around once we found the route signs on the walls. Emerging after about eight stops at “Termini”, a mainline and metro station with bus connections and located pretty much in the centre of Rome, we could see straight away that we had “arrived”!
Not knowing really where to start as we hadn’t made a fixed plan, we decided to walk down the “Via Cavour” armed with our touristy map and aimed for the Coliseum passing by the Santa Maria Maggiore on our way. It was very warm and sunny but fortunately with the occasional light breeze; full of tourists of course but probably fewer than there will be later in the summer. Circumnavigating the Colosseo, we could only marvel at the size of structure and try to imagine the poor souls who had to build it piece by piece only to be thrown to the lions afterwards for all their trouble! It was an interesting walk full of inspiration both near and farther off down the wide roads ahead or behind us.
The obvious choice once again, as in Barcelona, was to head for the buses, namely one of the many tourist buses of which there were plenty. Having bought our 48 hour bus passes at 20 Euros each from the nearby Colosseo Metro station (or you could by one from a reputable bus rep at the allotted bus stops – they have ID badges), we settled on the top deck of our red double decker run by the “110 Open” company and plugged in to our audio travel guide as we commenced our sightseeing. The ticket allows hopping on and off, so we could disembark whenever we felt like it. For the first trip, we chose to do the whole trip and then decide on the next tour where to get off and on as it took our fancy.
We saw many of the famous sights of Rome, all of which, we had heard about or seen written in various books and guides; even with so many tourists about, it didn’t diminish our sense of awe of these wonderful buildings – monuments, statues, bridges, fountains, the Vatican and the ancient Roman structures themselves. As each of the icons came into view, it was a wonderful sight as we passed by experiencing in the flesh other than from travel TV or books.
Having spent most of the day in this way, our final visit by foot, was to the Trevi Fountain. What a beautiful structure this is! Thronged by tourists just sitting on the steps opposite or on the fountain wall all enjoying the moment, it was a wonderful sight and a lovely atmosphere. It was difficult to walk through the crowd but really worth the effort as we eventually got down to sit on the fountain wall – and toss a coin into the water for good measure!
Lynda throwing our money away into the Trevi! .
The crowds gather at the Trevi
On our second day, we retook the bus tour, this time alighting at several points, namely the Vatican and the Coliseum. At the Coliseum, Lynda opted for a guided tour as she had previously covered the Coliseum in a Open University Course a few years ago – she now wishes she had seen the building and been on the tour before taking her exam! We parted company for a couple of hours as she joined up with her group and I wandered off just up the road to explore the “Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II”, Colonna Traiana, Mercati Traianei and the side streets thereabouts.
Narrow streets nestled in between famous old Roman walls with several small restaurants and cafes frequented by tourists and locals eating and drinking al fresco – no doubt, Romans of old would have done similar in their day! On meeting up a couple of hours later, I joined in with the group as they did the second part of their tour, this time to the “Palantino” containing the grounds and ruins of the origins of Rome. Our American guide was excellent and seemed to know his Roman history; stories of how Rome was formed – allegedly from the vestal virgin who produced the twins Romulus and Remus 2,754 years ago! We saw the ‘mini’ chariot race course Circo Massimo where apparently goats or donkeys used to pull the chariots around this mini version of the real thing. The grounds of the Palantino overlook the large area of The Roman Forum – walls, rooms, columns, buildings and roads all of which had been discovered after excavations and previously hidden from view by the frequent floodings of the River Tiber. After the tour, we walked down to this area and saw pieces of marble columns, some still standing, others in pieces in strategic positions around the grounds. Passing the Arch of Septimius Severus, we found a very ‘un’ ancient Roman chariot in the form of a Hot Dog wagon. We didn’t mind too much the Roman price and tucked in to a welcome fast food snack, part of which we fed to the pigeons who were cadging food from us, then trundled off to see more sights. After walking to the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II” we jumped back on to a ’110 One’ and continued round to a drop off near the Spanish Steps which Lynda had always wanted to visit. There were a few signs pointing the way but no obvious signs of any steps, that is until we got closer and found it off to the right of the street, hidden from view as we walked down. It is not actually the “Spanish Steps” but the ‘Scalinata Trinita dei Monti” in the Piazza di Spagna — the Anglicised version no doubt down to Hollywood!
Yet again, tourists in abundance and all sitting on the steps looking down as others looked up waiting for a space to go and sit for themselves, Lynda was one of them! Getting near to the end of our day and our trip to Rome, we made for the Termini by way of the Trevi Fountain for one last look. We were glad we went the day before as by this time the sun had moved and cast a large shadow over the scene before us, it was still a marvellous view none the less.
Retracing our steps back to the Termini was a bit longer than expected, we had hoped to use up our last of our 110One ticket to get there but someone had lost theirs so it was a walk rather than a ride. I won’t say who lost theirs but I forgave her in the end, it was better to walk anyway!
The metro trip back was crowded with the late rush hour so we made for a bar when we got off at Subagusto for a beer and apperitivi for a respite before jumping onto our bus back to the Artis hotel. We chatted with a very friendly pair of Italian brothers in their 30′s who had returned home to Rome after spending a few years in New York. They both spoke perfect English (or rather American) as they delightfully had a New Jersey accent with Italian undertone! They had come back to Rome to work and to be with their mother again; in fact she rang one of them as we spoke!
Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
”Anyone for my Coliseum?”
We eventually found our way back to the Artis when we got off the bus, but unfortunately we stopped at the wrong bus stop so it was a while before we retraced our steps and found our way there (my fault this time!), arriving fairly tired but having had a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Not enough time to for seeing all the sights in just two days, but who knows, we are only three hours drive from Rome at our new house sit.Lynda had wanted to visit the graves of Keats and Shelley,her Favoutite Poets (on her own I hope!)next time .
After checking out of the hotel, we set off to Casa Celeste in Le Marche via the ring road then joining the A7 north towards Florence then east via Perugia and Assisi. Heading NE on the S3 at Assisi we drove through some beautiful scenery (but on shockingly bad surfaced roads!) to Fossombrone then on to Casa Celeste. We found that we had driven almost the total width of Italy’s boot as the Adriatic coast is just half an hour’s drive from our destination and the sea is viewable from the higher hills around us – plans for some beach trips later this summer!
Harry, our host, met us at the bottom of his lane which joins (almost – more next post) the main road and is difficult to locate first time. We arrived at around 4pm met Katharina and settled down for a couple of days turnover as they prepared to leave for Germany in the next few days.
Beautiful countryside here and lots of local interesting places and landscapes to explore – but more of that in our next Blog.
20th March 2011
Our hosts, Richard and Jackie, returned from their relaxing holiday in Bali yesterday and we are now en route back to Torre de la Horadada for a couple of weeks pending our further travels to Le Marche in Italy for our final house-sit.
The next house-sit at Casa Celeste is not due to commence until the weekend of 10th April so we decided to rent again for the time being in the same area when we first arrived in Spain.
Having said goodbye to our hosts, the cats, dogs and our neighbours Kim and Martin and Sian and Martin, whom we had got to know during our stay in Casa Luz, we drove off in fine sunny weather enjoying the scenery as we sped north towards Cadiz on the A48 then eastwards to Seville. Unfortunately, we missed a final goodbye with Ramon, a very amiable young man who runs the Surfing School (Trafalgar Surf) whom we saw often but was with a client on the day we departed.
We avoided the AP4/E5 toll road and used the A4 to Jerez then linked up with the A382 and A384. The landscape was fresh and green with many orchards of fruit trees in full blossom adding more colour to the scenery. Shortly after passing Arcos on the A384, we spotted a large lake to our right with an interesting looking town just below us perched above the lake. Being time for a coffee break, we broke our journey and found ourselves in narrow streets in Bornos, a quaint old town full of character set in the Sierra de Cadiz. Its history dates back to the Iron Age. There are buildings from the Roman and Arabic eras with its buildings and gardens an absolute delight. With all this history to explore and a large lake (Cola del Embalse Natural Area), to either sit and admire or take part in water sports or bird watching, it certainly has tourist potential away from the normal tourist locations. The Information office is set in a glorious building (Palace of Los Ribera -15th/16th century), with a large courtyard leading onto cloisters, gardens and loggia. Being a Sunday, the older generation attended mass in the baroque church (Santo Domingo de Guzman), whilst younger mothers and children dressed in their Sunday best passed by as we drunk our Café con leche sitting outside in the sunshine at the “Bar Titi” – we didn’t spot the ceramic tile above us bearing the name until later – guess who spotted it first!
1 Inner courtyard Palace Los Ribera
An hour later, after a brief stroll around the town and a look at the lakeside, we set off again on the A384 towards Villamartin intending to stop for lunch at Algodonalas which had been recommended to us as an interesting place to visit. Everyone and their granny was out and about enjoying the Sunday lunchtime in warm sunny weather. Parking was at a premium which meant we had to park the other side of town and make a short walk back to the centre. Full of locals and a few tourists, we looked on as children played on the tree-lined narrow elevated promenade or in the area in front of the church. Older women strolled arm-in-arm in their elegant Sunday finery or sat gossiping on the benches in the shade. It all made for a relaxing and charming experience – reminding us of passegiatta scenes in Italy.
2Main Street, Algodonalas
After a leisurely lunch, we picked up where we left off and pressed on towards Granada where we had reserved a room at the Hotel Saray, the same hotel we used for our New Year’s Eve stopover in 2010. Keeping to the A92 and the Sierra Nevada with its snow cap tops in the distance, we made good time with little traffic to deal with until we got nearer and changed to the A92G taking us into the city centre. Heavy roadworks were still in evidence around the approaches to the hotel which necessitated many “Recalculating” instructions from Thelma (our nickname for the Garmin SatNav). I was prepared for this as we had the same problem on our previous visit. The hotel appeared at last and it didn’t take long to book in – however, it required some nail biting manoeuvring to get the car into the underground car park with a two meter clearance; I was in some trepidation regarding my estimated calculations of the car’s total height as I had the Thule roof pod on top of the car this time. I made it in with millimetres to spare and the box remained unscathed!
Our evening walk into the town centre was familiar as we recognised the streets from our previous visit. The Christmas decorations were of course now long gone and so had the rain. Shops were closed being a Sunday but plenty of people enjoying themselves in the cafes and restaurants or just taking in the atmosphere. Colourful Arabic shops in narrow streets by the cathedral were open for business displaying their Moroccan artefacts, it was fun just looking around and chatting amiably with the shopkeepers while piped Arabic music played in the background. We came away with a few items which will eventually find a place in our Guernsey home.
After a good nights’ sleep, we set off on our final leg to Torre via Murcia and Cartagena arriving at our villa at two pm where we are now settled in for the next couple of weeks.
10th March 2011
After a weekend of handover, our hosts departed for Gibraltar airport en route to Bali for a well earned three week holiday. This was to be a welcome break from a busy year with their B&B business. We have been left with the responsibility for looking after the house plus eight cats, two dogs and a “Wwoof-er” (see next paragraph!). It didn’t take long to get to know the cats’ different characters and their foibles and they certainly keep us entertained with their antics. The dogs (two small terriers) are well behaved and respond to us quite readily – which is fortunate as we take them on long walks on a very long beach!
Our day starts bright and early with a shortish walk for the dogs whilst the cats are fed. I help out with the “WWOOF-er” (Worldwide Working On Organic Farms), who has stayed on for a week before moving on. She has been helping out with the large allotment and tends to all the husbandry a vegetable plot requires.
It is quite a large area which needs constant maintenance in order to keep everything in tip top shape. The fruits (and Veg) are used to supplement the B&B meals. There are a large number of orange trees on the plot and a huge lemon tree, with several of them in full fruit and others coming into blossom once more. One of our tasks is to collect a box of lemons once a week and take them to the local co-op on behalf of the owners. The oranges are weighing down the trees so we frequently gather up a large quantity and convert them to orange juice which is then refridgerated and drunk throughout the day or at breakfast.
Conil de La Frontera is a seaside resort on Spain’s West coast – Costa de la Luz, with a large sandy beach and palm tree lined boulevard running the length of the sea front. Being on the Atlantic coast, we are often treated to large swells and rough seas which often reminds us of home! Similarly, for the past week or so, it has been a case of high winds and rain, rain, rain!
The tourists are mostly Spanish who come here in the summer from their homes in Seville or Madrid, a few Brits find their way here also and seem to prefer this area to the normal destinations on the Mediterannean Costas; quite a few Ex Pats have now settled here and there are two couples nearby.
It’s a very friendly atmosphere and very relaxed, very little crime (from conversations we have had) and it is pleasant to stroll Conil’s narrow streets in the evenings in order to savour the atmosphere and perhaps partake in a tapas or two – and some local Rioja of course.
The countryside around here is quite spectacular, green fields, lakes, pine forests and white villages are all in a couple of
hours drive, and the beaches too which are a surfer’s paradise – board surfing, wind surfing and kite surfing are all popular, especially when the sea conditions are right.
As we were near to Cadiz one afternoon, we took a detour and headed for the city. The approach is along a long and straight road from which we had glimpses of the sea and swell on the beach not far from the main road on our left as we drove north.
Parking was surprisingly straight forward as we soon found an underground carpark near the harbour as we came off the main road into the city. Cadiz itself is lovely, reportedly the oldest city in Europe.
We had just a few hours there, but enough was seen to be impressed by the narrow streets in the town centre which are full of character. Frequently, coming round street corners, we were delightfully surprised by the view of very impressive and large plazas dominated by a large building or cathedral.
The huge harbour is never far away and was full of ships with various cargoes moored up at the berths. Definitely a must return should we pass this way again.
At the time of writing, the car has been packed yet again in readiness for our departure on Sunday (20th March) when we are heading back to the Costa’s on the east coast and returning to Torre de la Horadada for a couple of weeks. We will be renting again as we only have a short period before our next house-sitting assignment in the Le Marche region of Italy. Our “Spanish for Dummies” has now been replaced with “Italian for Dummies”, it gets confusing trying to differentiate between the two lingos! The plan is to take a ferry from Barcelona on an overnight voyage to Civitavecchia and hope to find somewhere to stay near Rome (no way am I driving in Rome!!). A couple of days exploring the city will be a great experience and one we have often thought about doing if the time was right – hopefully the time is now right. For our final evening here, we are to accompany our British friends who live nearby and indulge ourselves in the local Tapas bars in Conil.
Look out for our next adventure on future blogs.
3rd March 2011
Our rental period in Torre de la Horadada was planned to finish at the end of February by which time we will have hopefully secured a house-sit somewhere, either in Spain or Italy with possibly France or the U.K. as an alternative. Lynda had been plugging away at the House-Sit websites to try to find something suitable to apply for - ”suitable” in the sense of it being within our time-frame.
Checking the sites regularly, we were interested in two house sits that came up which suited us. One was in Spain and not far from Cadiz, the owners required house sitters for three weeks from the 25th February. The other prospective house sit is situated in the Le Marche region of Italy and is for about six months April – September. Both of these house-sits slotted in pretty much back to back and with enough time between the two to allow us to travel. Further negotiations by email resulted in a personal chat on Skype with the owners and we were lucky enough to be offered both house-sits. We would still have a gap of a couple of weeks so we decided to revisit Torre de la Horadada in between house-sits and rent a villa (hopefully our previous one) until our departure to Italy.
The journey from Spain to Italy will be by ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia allowing a couple of days to visit Rome whilst we are en route to Le Marche. Taking the ferry will reduce the road journey and the cost will be much less as we will avoid three or four hotel stop overs, petrol, food, tolls and wear on the car, plus it will be more relaxing for us. That was the overall plan, first we had to pack up and set off for our house-sit in Casa Luz, Conil de la Frontera in Andalusia on the Atlantic west coast of Spain.
Whilst all this was going on, we had an unexpected visitor at our front gate. A young (we think) Jack Russel bitch wandered past the property looking a little lost and with just a frayed piece of plastic string round its neck as a collar.
We obviously couldn’t just ignore it so she was invited in after a quick check around the neighbourhood vicinity to ascertain if someone had recently lost a dog – no one in sight to claim her. Being late on a Friday, we weren’t able to take it the local vet in Pilar who has connections with a dog home. One of our neighbours is a lovely German lady who has lived in Torre for over seven years and has herself taken in three dogs who were looking for a home. She advised us that it is unfortunately a common problem as dogs are often abandoned in this area by their owners – presumably they are confident that some one will soon adopt them.
She was named Bambi as a working title as no collar nor name tag was on the dog. After she got used to us she was a delight to have around the house and we were soon vying for her attention, our son Peter and his partner Laura were with us for a short break so Bambi was spoilt rotten. We took her on walks on a lead which she soon got used to and even came on a car ride with us when we took Peter and Laura to Alicante for their flight home.
Come the following Monday, our German neighbour accompanied us to the vet in Pilar where we said a sad goodbye as we handed her over, it was a near thing that she nearly came back but it just wasn’t possible to take her on with our future travel plans.
It is hoped that she now has a nice and secure home with someone who will look after her.
Lynda’s replacement passport had fortunately arrived at last just a few days before departure so that was a relief. Apart from the cost, it was quite a complex procedure to go through in order to get a renewal. Downloading forms initially to report the loss, apply for copies of our marriage certificate and Lynda’s birth certificate had to be done on-line (the copies we had were not acceptable), and posted on to us. It was useful however, to have had a copy of the original passport as the details from that were required to report the loss to the embassy and the police (the original police report was also required when renewing). We are indebted to the owners of “The Mail Room” – an extremely useful service which provides all manner of advice and information to Ex Pats living in Torre de la Horadada, they assisted us in getting everything checked and forwarded on to the British Consulate in Madrid, so our grateful thanks to them.
So, having bidden a sad goodbye to Bimbi, it was time to pack up the car once more, settle up with our landlady and head off to our new house-sit.
Heading off south towards Almeria, we used the route we had taken on our previous trips. The journey was uneventful in good sunny weather and little traffic on the AP-7, A7/E-15 by-passing Almeria then onwards towards Motril. A few miles before Motril the A7 changed to the N340/E-15 and is the original road as the A7 continuation into Motril seems to be still under construction. Once past Motril we picked up the A7 again and bombed on passing Malaga and Marbella making for Estepona where it would be time to look for a hotel for the night. We looked at a couple of hotels but soon gave them a miss as they looked too expensive even to venture inside and check the prices! Picking our way further west, we investigated a few villages and for one reason or another discarded them in turn until we came across one we liked the look of. We settled for a hotel we came across in San Luis de Sabinallas, Manilva just a few miles west of Marbella and very near to La Linea which, of course, is the link to Gibraltar.
The receptionist directed us to a restaurant a short walk from the hotel and along the beach front. I had the most fantastic steak ever at the “El Estribo” restaurant which prides itself on Argentinian food and in particular Argentinian steaks. Mine was a two inch thick of delicious medium/rare sirloin washed down with a bottle of Rioja – definitely worth a detour for if you are in that area.
The next day, as we had plenty of time to spare before our arrival at Casa Luz which was scheduled for around 6pm, we decided to “pop over” to Gibraltar and have a look around there. I had made previous visits to Gib while serving in the Royal Navy so I was keen to see how things had changed. Having arrived by sea in those days, I was not prepared for the long line of traffic snaking along the sea front of La Linea waiting to cross the border – and the airport runway! Hold ups were numerous what with the border controls and ATC holding us up to allow an incoming or outgoing aircraft to use the runway.
Finally across, we found a multi-storey car park and set off to wander around the streets – all dominated of course by the huge grey slab of the peak towering above everyone and everything. The weather was great and the town bustled with locals and tourists. It certainly had a British feel as a lot of the shops were familiar to us – Marks and Sparks of course and a magnet for Lynda who set off inside while I wandered around to find the harbour I once entered in my navy days.
After a couple of hours in “familiar” surroundings, we decided to call it a day and drove back across the border into La Linea, the return trip seemed a lot quicker than earlier.
We took our time heading north on the A381 passing through the Sierra Blanquilla and skirting the lakes at Embalse de Barbate with trees surrounded by water.
At about 6pm we eventually found our way to Casa Luz (after a little help) and settled in to our new temporary accommodation in a lovely villa which offers B&B and a surf-boarding school. The property has a large organic garden of orange and lemon trees and a sizeable vegetable plot – plus eight cats and two dogs for us to look after during our stay.
We have been here in Torre de la Horadada since October last year and apart from a few day trips to Cartagena, Murcia and an overnight in Granada for the New Year (see previous post), it was decided we should venture further afield and enjoy more of the “real” Spain.
Having checked the Spanish meteo on-line, large orange disks depicting the sun hovered encouragingly over a series of five days that week so, we packed a couple of overnight bags, then set off on the Sunday morning. The forecast was spot on – clear blue skies continued for our six-day adventure.
We headed off to Malaga where we had booked online into the Hotel MS Maestranza Málaga. Very quiet roads keeping to the AP7 initially then inland via Granada on the A7 and A92 N. The low flat coastal plains changed dramatically as we headed west when the Sierra Nevada’s snow topped summits started to appear as we approached Granada. The southern route via Almeria and the A7-E was an option but we preferred seeing the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Alhamilla above Almeria however, is well worth a visit as they are quite spectacular too. After checking in to the hotel and securing the car in their underground car park nearby, we took a stroll along the beautifully tree-lined promenade alongside the large harbour/marina. The wide walkways have a large canopy of leafy shade which must be a welcome relief for the summer tourists in the 40 deg C heat.
Next morning, we continued on west but this time opting for the coastal route to have a look at the famous/infamous Marbella. Navigating via the busy streets en route as well as coping with the annoying speed humps which cross just about every street in Spain at infuriating intervals, we finally reached Marbella. We didn’t explore the town, just drove through and marvelled at all the luxurious villas and hotels lining the route. Having had our “luxury-fix”, we headed out of town going north via spectacular scenery high up in the Sierra Bermeja. A good road snaking its way every higher, provided superb views of the towns on the coast behind us and in the distance, the ghostly shape of Gibraltar appeared on the horizon in the far distance, we soon lost sight of it as we rounded the next bend. The moon-like landscape typical of the Sierras, generally gradually gave way to beautiful rolling hills almost devoid of trees but with gorgeous lush green (possibly young cereal shoots) stretching for miles as we entered the Serrania de Ronda below the ancient town of the same name – Ronda. The view reminded us of the Tuscany hills but with fewer trees and without the famous Cypresses, but spectacular none the less and certainly different to what we had been used to seeing so far in Spain.
After a couple of hours wandering around, we left Ronda to the mainly Japanese tourists and set off northwest to Seville.
We hadn’t pre-booked a hotel before we left as we weren’t sure where we would be at any given time. Relying on luck and a little help from our Garmin, we somehow found ourselves near the centre of the city and called in to the first convenient hotel which proved to be a good choice. The Hotel Don Paco was just Eur59 per night with an underground car park – we struck lucky on this occasion, but obviously had it been in the tourist season we wouldn’t have been so fortunate.
An evening stroll in the busy centre was enjoyable, mixing with the late night shoppers and cafes and restaurants doing good trade. Having a basic tourist street map, we managed to find our way around. The highlight of our evening stroll was to come upon the magnificent cathedral. The floodlights picked out the incredible detail of the building and we promised to find our way here during daylight to explore the building more closely.
As we had only planned a short two-day stop over, it was sensible to see as much of the city as possible by taking a city tour trip with the Tour por Sevilla y Triana for a two day get on-get off as you please ticket. Most newspaper kiosks sell tickets (Eur16). The open top double-decker buses can be boarded at designated stops. It was a beautiful spring-like day with clear blue skies, the bright sun picked out the detail in the ornate buildings and dappled light sparkled among the trees in the many parks and plazas.
The coach trip lasted about an hour and returned us to our pick up point. We walked a short distance to view the cathedral and the immediate area. Truly a magnificent structure and reportedly one of the three largest in Europe. We strolled the streets in the evening and stopped off for a Tapas and beer before turning in for the night.
Our return journey was via Cordobes to have a look at the countryside in the area which turned out to be rather flat and uninteresting. We made our way south towards Granada and the Sierra Nevada then Almeria. Large areas of orange groves with trees still full of fruit stretched for miles as we drove past. Occasionally, we saw smaller orchards with fruit trees in white or pink blossom adding a splash of colour amongst the greyish background. I had read reports that it was anticipated there will be a serious shortage of orange juice in the near future, because of the lack of oranges – it didn’t seem like a plausible argument when presented with the sight of all the orange groves full of fruit whilst on our travels. Unusually for us (it had to happen sometime!), we left it far later than usual in our search for a hotel for the night and left wondering if we would have to bed down in the car – and the temperature was dropping! Just outside the village of Sorbas, we happened upon a restaurant which was still open and able to serve a meal. We were the only two diners in a large room but with a welcome wood burner to keep us cosy during our meal. The owner directed us further into the town where we found a “hostal” Le Fogon and plenty of vacant rooms at Eur45 a night.
Next morning saw us on our way to Lubrin which is a typical sleepy hill-top village of white washed walls among the Sierra de los Filabres. We spent a short time there before making our way northeast towards the Costas on our final leg back ‘home’.
We arrived back at Torre de la Horadada about noon after having spent a very enjoyable week seeing some of the “real” Spain.
Cassinasco, Piedmont, Italy Spring – Summer 2010
Set among the hills and vineyards near Canelli in the province of Cuneo. Two dogs and a cat kept us occupied and entertained with their diverse personalities and antics.
The property is a large farmhouse surrounded by woods and vineyards above deep wooded valleys in a remote area and within easy reach of lovely walks.
A few jobs mowing the grass areas around the property and managing the comings and goings for the owners’ holiday cottage in the nearby village of Sessame.
This was a wonderful house-sit for a lovely family and many friends made in this area with whom we hope to remain in touch with.
Camarles, Spain Christmas – New Year 2009/2010
First visit to Spain where we house sat three dogs for the Christmas period.
Two small dogs allowed in the Finca and a large very strong but soft guard dog on a long leash living in a kennel outside the property.
The property was set among ancient olive groves about a mile and a half from the town of Camarles on the D’Elbre estuary with its Salinas and bird wildlife.
Powys, Mid Wales September – December 2009
Autumn and Winter in a remote and rugged but beautiful area of Wales. It rained a lot but when the sun appeared it was magical.
Quaint old Welsh farmhouse lovingly restored by its owner. We looked after the property and more importantly, tended to the needs of a beautiful husky. He was brought to Wales from the Canadian North by its owner.
It was a wonderful experience here for us made special by the kindness of the owner and friends, the scenery, the quietness and the “away from it all” feel. There were miles of stunning walks with the lovely Qimmiq accompanying us. We were able to venture further afield for a day’s outing exploring the wonderful landscapes of mid Wales all of which rekindled Lynda’s love of all things Welsh.
Le Gers, Central southern France February – October 2009
A large chateau was in its fourteenth year of renovation and still ongoing.
The owners wanted a break but had a need for someone to look after their large dog as well as the property.
Quite a task was undertaken in getting the large gardens in order by clearing large overgrown areas and general tidying up.
We decided to take a trip to Granada for two nights as a first time visit for two reasons, to see the Al Hambra palace and also to join in with the locals for a typical Spanish New Year celebration. We arrived after a three hour drive to our hotel the Saray, located within walking distance of the town centre.
Being too far to walk, the next day we hired a taxi to take us all the way to the hilltop overlooking Granada where the Al Hambra palace is situated. Despite the inclement weather, it was full of tourists and locals enjoying their visit to this fascinating piece of Spanish history going back to the 11th century. Full of wonderful architecture, towers, palaces, gardens, fountains, ponds, pillars, walkways and intricate designs on ceilings and walls, not to mention the superb panoramic views of Granada and the countryside below. More time than we had available would be necessary to see all it has to offer in more detail.
Setting off in good time after our visit to the palace, we headed for the city centre in anticipation of joining in with the locals to see in the New Year. The city was resplendant with christmas lights hanging above the streets and imaginatively decorating many of the trees in the streets and boulevards. It was ominously quiet at 10pm - we wondered if we had missed it all! Having found ourselves outside an Irish Pub and enquiring with the barman, we learnt that the Spanish spend most of the early evening having a family meal together before setting out for the festivities later. This was proved correct when at about 11pm we stumbled upon a street full of people heading towards the cathedral square and meeting up with a crowd already gathered there. It was a very good humoured and friendly gathering. Despite many carrying their own personal bottles of champers and other beverages, there was no sign of any rowdyism nor drunken behaviour. During the countdown, local tradition has it that a grape is eaten for each second of the countdown towards midnight, apparently this is to ensure good luck for the new year. At the stroke of twelve a huge cheer from the crowd heralded a splendid firework display – all bursting directly overhead and very spectacular; we wondered what the UK’s ‘elf and Safety would have made of that!
It was a great evening and a novel way of seeing in the New Year.
Tapas and Smoking
During our first visit to a cafe we were surprised to find that smoking was still allowed in cafes and restaurants in Spain. Having been used to the ban in the UK (and in Italy for that matter), it was like going back to the pre-smoke ban days at home. The smokey atmosphere we encountered here made us realise what a difference the smoking bans had made and how more acceptable things are now. One cafe we saw, had rows and rows of cured legs of ham hanging from the ceiling, presumably as a decoration/sale display. It looked very unusual and interesting but the thought of everyone (or almost everyone) smoking their cigarettes while tucking into their Tapas and wines, was probably adding to the already smoked hams hanging above their heads! Other “working mens” cafes we happened to wander into had clients sitting on bar stools eating tapas and dropping their cigarette ends and ash on to the floor as ashtrays weren’t available, the mess on the floor was unbelievable but hardly surprising! We have since learned that the smoking ban has been in force for a few years but cafes and restaurants were given the option of enforcing the ban or not. However, since January 2nd 2011, the ban is now complete and no more concessions are allowed. How the locals will get to accept this is unknown, but I imagine it will take some time and quite a lot of effort to implement the new laws given the popular cafe culture in Spain.
16th December 2010
Los Bandidos strike ……….
I have just returned from a lengthy session at our local Guardia Civile, these are the local police to whom we go to when the victims of criminal activities.
My brother and sister-in-law are here with us for Christmas. It was a sunny day and we decided to take a short drive down to the coast, especially to see the Flamingoes and other wild birds which are in quite large numbers feeding in the artificial salt lakes just inland from the Mediterranean coast. A large nature reserve is accessible just off the main road with board walks crossing the dunes which are fenced off to protect the plants and shrubs. Parking in a marked car park with other cars already there, we locked the car and set off for a leisurely stroll across the dunes to the beach. Returning after about half an hour, I noticed shattered glass on the ground by our car; my immediate reaction was “I don’t remember seeing that when we got out of the car earlier”. The horror of what had happened soon dawned as we got closer to discover the rear passenger door window had been forced and smashed open with glass everywhere. A rapid inventory followed and we discovered Lynda’s handbag containing bank cards, small amount of cash and passport had been taken. They either didn’t have time or weren’t interested in checking the car further as my passport in the glove compartment was luckily still there as was my camera bag in the boot. They added insult to injury by slashing a front tyre – presumably to prevent us giving chase had we happened upon the theft while still in progress. While my brother and I were sorting out the car, clearing out the broken glass and replacing the damaged tyre with the spare wheel, Lynda was given the task of ringing the bank to put a stop on our cards. Fortunately the car was still mobile and we managed to drive home, albeit in a drafty rear seat!
Our theory on the incident surmises that occupants of one of the vehicles already there, had noticed our preparations when leaving the car and had taken their opportunity once the coast was clear, they knew exactly where to look having probably observed us.
This has obviously tainted our thoughts regarding our long-term stay in Spain. The fact that we had no problems at all in Italy, leaving the car parked at many locations and returning to find it intact makes one wonder why now? The car is in for repairs and although covered by insurance, the excess is very hefty due to our use of the car for our extended period away from the U.K. Losing the passport is a real pain, the form filling and enquiries to get it replaced is time-consuming and bogged down due to the fact we require original documents for the replacement. Having copies of our passports doesn’t really help, except for completing the LSO1 Lost/Stolen form. The C1 form requires original documents which we have ordered on-line; the counter signatures are also a requirement which probably entails sending the forms home to get them signed and then returned to us here in Spain. Fortunately we are here until end of February so there should be time enough to get everything resolved.
Currently, the car is in the Citroen garage at San Pedro and we are in the process of submitting claims for the insurance and getting our passport renewal sorted. The dilemma now is what do we do for future outings and leaving the car in a car park somewhere? Might it have been better to have left the car unlocked so that any entry would be damage free? Or, more likely, more of our posessions might well have been taken if the thieves were left to gain access unhindered – probably better to lock up and pray and hope this doesn’t happen again!
So, in the meantime, a Very Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year to my Reader(s)……….and no more parking near nature reserves!
4th December 2010
It’s been a month since my last blog and since then we have moved villa but still in Torre de la Horadada. Our previous accommodation wasn’t really suitable for our three-month winter stay here, more suited to the summer weather with shorter stays. Our first and only enquiry regarding a move was successful as we found our present rental very quickly. Owners are only too willing to rent out their accommodation in the winter and at a very reasonable cost. We arranged to have broadband installed and the villa comes with a TV with UK channels plus a bonus of a hot tub out on the back patio!
We have been watching the UK news reporting the freezing cold and snow affecting the country. Some mixed emotions (for me) as I would love to be out and about taking loads of snowy photographs and downloading superb images into my PC (in my mind that is – in practice I would be huddled up in front of the fire and trying to cope with more important issues like the rest of the country!). Having said that, I will be envious when viewing my fellow photographers’ snow images when published on-line.
Our Spanish weather has been mixed but not as extreme as northern Europe. Cloudy with heavy rain some days but it is mostly sunny with some low cumulus being driven by a stiff westerly wind from time to time. Day time temperatures are in the low to mid 20C and cooling by a few degrees when the sun disappears.
The sunny days are utilised by taking a stroll on the long sandy beach which can be reached after a ten minute stroll from the villa. Long deserted stretches of sand with beautiful blues and greens in a clear calm sea lapping at the edge as we walk. Occasionally, a couple who may or may not be local or ex-pat, will pass by with a cheery “Ola” as they pass on their way often with a lively dog enjoying the walk also. We have taken “a plunge” when the mood suits and despite being the ‘Med’, the water is cold but nicely refreshing for a quick dip and out.
As I have mentioned previously, we are living among British ex-pats, the local Spaniards are very few and far between apart from the those working in the cafes and supermarkets. We are told that in the summer months the place takes on a different atmosphere and is full of tourists and many Spanish families who come to stay in their holiday villas and apartments. For the moment though, it is almost a ghost town with window shutters and gates firmly closed pending the holiday months.
Shops and supermarkets are nearby within the complex or a few minutes’ drive to the nearest town Pilar de la Horadada. The supermarkets cater for British tastes as many items are familiar to us, jams, Cheddar cheese, PG Tips Tea, Cadbury chocolate and Marmite! – items craved for when in Italy! We also have an English pub nearby, ‘The Snug’ which I have frequented to watch the recent autumn rugby test matches in familiar surroundings, company and beverage! All this, while welcome, is a far cry from our time in Italy where we were more in tune with the locals and their way of living - a way of life we were becoming both familiar and comfortable with – and beginning to miss.
However, we are here now and planning to explore and find the real Spain by taking trips further afield to search out Spain’s culture and way of life and get away for a few days from the Little Britain syndrome.
4th November 2010
On-line at last in the villa! Couple of engineers turned up and reconfigured the modem which had reset itself during previous attempts to get it working (not me – honest!!).
A far cry from the rolling hills and vineyards of Piedmont. Flat open spaces replaces the valleys and hills we left behind. Now located in a typical Spanish holiday town consisting of villas and apartments with their walled patios, balconies and eccentric architecture. Very few people about and even those disappear in the evenings, leaving the few restaurants and cafes that remain open this time of the year to close up by 8pm.
Embarrassing moment this morning. Popped into the local supermarket just across the road to pick up a few items in readiness for Lynda’s arrival tomorrow. I had only picked up a few things and went to pay at the checkout only to be told that my card was useless! Only the one card available and not enough cash handy to pay for the goods. A quick call to Lynda to ascertain if she had spent all our credit to be told that the bank had stopped our cards. We had asked the bank a month ago to rearrange our accounts and in the process they had issued new cards and cancelled the old ones. I wasn’t aware of this and to be fair to the bank, they had given us thirty days notice by letter, unfortunately the letter was sent to our Guernsey address. I scrabbled around in the car and totted up most of the money from our road toll fund we normally keep but this would have left me dangerously short on the motorway tomorrow should I encounter a toll en route to Alicante airport (this would be my first trip so I am not familiar with the route to take – the Sat nav does not provide toll information unfortunately). My fuel in the car was also getting low – good job I hadn’t discovered this problem whilst topping up with fuel at a motorway service station – no cash, no card and no way to explain myself – horror situation! So, my bag of goodies is left to thaw out in the supermarket waiting for payment tomorrow when Lynda arrives with the new cards. Found a couple of eggs in the fridge so my hunger pangs have been assuaged for the time being.
2nd November 2010
Getting more of a feel for the place now. Lakes the charm and sophistication of Piedmont but it is different and no doubt we will become accustomed to our new way of life here on the Costa Blanca.
Warm and sunny with clear blue skies. Stiff breeze first thing this morning but now calm.
Mushroom omelette with bacon and chips for lunch at the Greenwich café – far cry from antipasti and primi piatti!
1st November 2010
Ogni Santi day (All Saints) – Bank Holiday
I drove to Pilar, about a mile and a half from the villa, which is the nearest local town with shops, restaurants, supermarkets etc, Non descript town – not very characteristic but practical for shopping etc. and gave the car a good clean. I drove further on via the AP-7 (motorway quality national road) to Cartagena approximately 20 mins drive. Quite interesting, and deserves further visits. Fascinating ruins of an old bull ring (Plaza de Toros); built in 1834 and restored in 1911 but now sadly barely standing. The outer walls are supported by struts and supports; the old entrance is fascinating and in a relatively good condition. A Naval harbour and small marina is overlooked from the walks surrounding the old town. Due to the holiday, it was very quiet and fortunately not very much traffic about as I stumbled about driving in pedestrian areas!
31st October 2010
Halloween and the day the clocks go back. Walked around a little more to explore and found a more active square towards the beach and near the old building La Torre de Horadada from which the area has taken its name. Plenty of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes and bars and were all well attended by mostly Brits on this lovely sunny day. A few people on the beach but not noticed anyone swimming – this will probably all change once Lynda has been shown the swimming opportunities here!
30th October 2010
Overcast and cloudy today, it has been warm (20 deg) and sunny with fair weather clouds previously.
Quiet day just settling in and getting my bearings, several attempts to get on-line but unsuccessful, engineer promised by the landlord and will hopefully arrive early next week.
29th October 2010
I moved in around 10 am and spent an age unpacking the car and sorting our entire clothing etc into various cupboards and drawers – no doubt Lynda will inspect my choices with a critical eye when she arrives on the 5th Nov.! Fortunately, just across the road are a couple of cafes and restaurants. The café is run by English families and provide a good home cooked meal as specials or snacks off the menu. British beer and local wine are readily available all at a reasonable price. A large-ish supermarket is also just across the road which will be handy for our daily shopping.The villa itself is well-appointed on three floors – double en suite on the top floor, twin bedroom (our storage room!) and master room with nearby bathroom/toilet on the second floor. Small kitchen with ‘tired’ but useful appliances, good size patios back and front (morning and afternoon sun traps) and a communal pool behind the villa perimeters. The villa is generally comfortable and in pleasant surroundings. TV with UK Free view is available and broadband internet but is currently having problems connecting and to be looked into hopefully very soon. Wi-Fi fortunately is available at the café opposite so able to keep tabs on e-mails from time to time.
28th October 2010
Another early morning departure and I decided to crack on using the National roads again. Several miles of good progress from Gerona came to a sudden end with a huge line of traffic backed up for miles and took over an hour to clear, this was due to road works. To make up time (I had previously rang the villa owner suggesting I occupy the premises a few days earlier which was agreed), I found the motorway and pressed on to Valencia. After 130 miles and 25 Euros I exited at Valencia and onto the national route to Alicante & Cartagena. Coming off the main road I found signs for Torre Horadada and finally arrived at the villa. A couple of phone calls resulted in my staying at a nearby hotel (Lo Monte at 25 Euros per night!), as the villa needed to be cleaned up after the previous occupants.
27th October 2010
An early start after breakfast and scraping frost off the windscreen, I needed to make some headway towards Spain having spent the first day swanning about and not having made much distance from Nice. I opted to head for the National routes rather than the auto route as I still had a few days spare. This would allow any photo opportunities that I came across, but I had left the best of the autumn colours behind the previous day.
I set off quite happily and the National route was free of heavy traffic and I was making good timing. The problems started after about 30 miles – my Garmin was way off with its navigation and not giving me the information I was expecting. After several attempts at correcting the problem, it was obvious something serious was wrong. Turned out that I had lost my French maps! I had previously been relying on an Italy & Greece map which I had downloaded some months earlier but hadn’t noticed that my Europe NT map had been erased in the process! Fortunately, the French road signs (and roads) are excellent so I looked for the major town signs and headed towards Marseilles then Perpignan. This worked well but I had a close shave when I found myself heading for Marseilles city centre! I managed to back track and this time located the auto route to Perpignan.
My Garmin has a Spain and Portugal map downloaded to an SD card which I loaded up and thankfully the SatNav locked on and took me the rest of the way to my destination in Spain. I came off the motorway at Gerona and Garmin pointed me to yet another Ibis where I spent the night. It would have been interesting to stay longer in Gerona as the glimpses I had of it looked interesting.
26th October 2010
Lynda’s flight was scheduled for 10 am and having said our goodbyes, she headed for security and departures whilst I headed back to the car. I needed to repack some of the items in order to unclutter my rear view mirror; having done this and topped up with fuel at a petrol station, I elected to make a trip to the Col de la Madelaine as I was keen to see the views from there. As the weather was beautifully clear, I set off with high hopes.
Heading north from Nice, I was treated to some fantastic sights whilst following the river La Tinee at the base of the gorge. The autumn colours as I drove were fantastic and I soon found stopping places to take some photographs – I could have stopped more often – the scenery was so lovely especially with the snow appearing has I headed higher.
Just short of the Col Bernadette, I spotted signs indicating that the pass was closed, no reason was apparent but it was obviously snow as the hilltops were thick with it. Reluctantly I retraced my steps towards Nice but turned off about half way and along the Var valley towards Dignes les Bains. I was treated to yet more delightful views which necessitated more photo opportunities – just as well Lynda wasn’t with me as I was stopping at just about every corner!
Before it got too dark, I started to look for accommodation and found a Campanile at Dignes les Bains which was clean and comfortable and I had a good night after a meal there .
25th October 2010
After an emotional departure, our next stop was Nice in France for Lynda to catch the Easyjet flight to Bristol. The car drive to Alicante in Spain was estimated to take a couple of days at least, so it was preferable for Lynda to fly to the U.K. and join me later. She needed to catch up on a few appointments anyway and also take the opportunity to visit her sisters and friends in Swansea. We located the airport and finally found a nearby hotel which had parking for the C5 complete with its top box. Previous enquiries indicated that only underground parking was available but with height restrictions. Fortunately, the Ibis had a secure outdoor parking area which suited us.
Being about five miles from the centre of Nice, we decided to stay at the hotel and eat there and settled down for an early night.
24th October 2010
Having previously said goodbye to all our English, American, Australian and Italian friends, we set off in our Citroen C5 stuffed full with all our chattels and departed for Manzoni, near Monforte in Cuneo to take leave of my distant relations there.
After a coffee and chat, we finally headed off out of Piedmont and on to San Remo in Liguria on the Italian Riviera for a final farewell with my aunts who both live there. Due to a road closure in Monchiero and poor diversion signs (my excuse!) we missed the main road and ended up on a very long detour but with beautiful landscapes to make the error less frustrating. Arriving in San Remo around 6pm, we headed off with our aunt for a pizza in a nearby restaurant. We had made it in the nick of time as we were being followed by a heavy downpour; fortunately it passed by the time we left the restaurant. The storm soon returned however, and that night we were entertained by a huge thunderstorm accompanied with a “car wash” downpour and lightning.
23rd October 2010
Our final day in “Casa Fontana”, the home of Bob and Kerrie where we had spent the spring and summer in their Italian home looking after their dogs Millie and Kiki and the cat Leila; it was time for us to leave as Bob and Kerrie have returned to close up the house and return to the U.K. with the pets. Having had their rabies injections and chips inserted six months ago, the animals are now legally allowed to enter the UK after their incubation period.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our time there surrounded by woodland and vineyards in a typical Piedmont setting a few minutes from the sleepy town of Cassinasco perched on a hill-top overlooking the larger town of Canelli down below in the Belbo valley. On a clear day, we could see the snowy tipped peaks of the Alps dominating the distant skyline from Mont Viso to the southwest and continuing round to Monta Rosa in the north.