Making Our Way Through Spain
Over the past two weeks we have been making our way through Spain towards Portugal, a drive you could easily make in a day. According to Google Maps the quickest route from our first point of Bilbao to where we are now, just over the border of Portugal would take just 5hr 23mins. It’s taken us 20 days. And what a twenty days it’s been, full of beautiful stops and a wide range of different landscapes, from the sea to the city. We’ve been driving slightly more purposefully in our second and third week of European Vanlife- we had planned several sights we wanted to see on our way down the coast and we stuck with these as our main route points, adding stops in between for places that looked interesting, or just happened to be half way! Breakdown as follows:
Night Eight, 7th Dec Ortigueira
This is the same spot I left off at in my last blog post, we stayed for one more night on this beautiful cliff top above the beach cove. The next morning we offloaded and reloaded the toilet and water (prettiest water point so far!) before heading off to our next destination.
Nights Nine and Ten, 8th, 9th Dec: Playa De Espineiro
This spot was absolutely amazing and also our first adorned with a ‘camper-vans prohibited’ sign. This didn’t put us off as when we arrived there was already one other van parked, making their lunch after a surfing session. The beach here was a glorious one, with white sand and a wild sea that sat within a rocky cove. The beach stretched longer than the shoreline and you could follow the stream, that ran into the sea, along the beachfront up to where it became a river. There was one solitary house perched on the cliff looking down onto the beach. It was newly rendered in white with very cute blue shutters and a matching blue picnic table. There was a path winding its way straight onto the beach... what a place to call home! At this spot there was a steady stream of locals coming and going, to stroll along the beach, walk their dogs, paddle in the sea or just to watch the wild waves crashing from the comfort of their cars. I like places such as these, where they are so obviously treasured by the locals. There were a few trees between the parking and the beach where we were able to hang our hammock which felt very luxurious! I’m looking forward to be able to relax in it in the summer months! We also had another shower here using our shower bag, always nice to feel refreshed! I attempted a swim, after a lot of paddling over the two days I really wanted to be able to go in but the waves were far too strong and it just felt dangerous. I wasn’t even up to my waist and I could feel the tide trying to pull me out so I decided to leave it. A walk up to the cliff showed waves crashing against gigantic jagged rocks, just the other side of the beach, we joked that is looked like Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. I’ve never seen a sea quite so ferocious. We were sorry to move on from this spot but so far two night have been enough for us in any one place.
Night Eleven, 10th Dec: A Coruna
We next headed to A Coruna to see the Tower of Hercules- an ancient Roman lighthouse. We parked and stayed the night in the lighthouse’s car park (all free) and there were many other vans too. Our neighbours from our previous spot, who had left there one night before us turned up and parked beside us again, such a coincidence! The lighthouse itself was square, not curved, and was still in use. We climbed the stairs to the top of the tower to take in the view, out across the ocean and the town. The information within the tower said that it was from this point that the Romans first saw, and decided to conquer, Ireland- not quite sure how they could have possibly seen it from there? All we could see was the sea! We enjoyed the lighthouse but were glad that we’d arrived on a Monday when (by chance) it was completely free as we didn’t feel it would have really been worth spending money on. We walked into the town to see Plaza de Maria Pita where there was a stunning building that was used as the town hall. It was also covered in Christmas lights which was rather pretty. Here there was a children’s Christmas fair in the square with lots of Santas and fake snow- very festive. We walked into the town again after tea because everything is open until about nine as they close during the day for siesta. Went into a really cool packaging free shop where you could buy all cupboard essentials (spices, different rices, pastas, grains, seeds, nuts, dries fruit etc.) by weight either in your own tupperware or a paper bag. I’ve heard about these places but never actually seen a whole shop devoted to it. Wandered through the Christmassy streets and then back home.
Nights Twelve and Thirteen, 11th, 12th Dec: Fisterra
Bit of a weird day here due to lack of proper route planning. We set off from A Coruna at around lunch time but, mistake number one, without having eaten lunch. We really needed to empty our toilet and fill up with water so needed to head to a spot where we could do so, we chose a spot nearby with the thought of filling up and then choosing where we actually wanted to go. However, it was a difficult drive up, up and up very steep, thin and winding roads. We finally arrived after a bit of an anxious journey and quickly ate some food! Remember to always eat lunch!! Then we filled up and headed off. But again we hadn’t spent time choosing our spot (we were using the park for night app) and really just chose a spot at random. After another longer, and again difficult drive we arrived at the spot which was down a steep and very bumpy gravely track. This was our first instance of not feeling comfortable where we were. It was a deserted jetty where you could lower a boat into the water, absolutely isolated and incredibly windy. In every direction we turned there was no sign of life, we felt exposed and unsure. Within the hour it would be pitch black and there was no lighting anywhere nearby. Describing this place it could sound like bliss, being so in the middle of nowhere but something about it just felt wrong. If it feels wrong, it is wrong as you’ll spend the whole stay, no matter how beautiful the place could be, feeling uncomfortable which isn’t fun. So we headed out of there and to the nearby (about half an hour) town of Fisterra. We chose this spot (in a car park/picnic area overlooking the coast) as we thought it would be an easy drive and an easy place to park. It was and we felt safe, which is so important. We cooked and headed to bed as it was already dark by the time we had arrived, ready for a fresh start the next day. Fisterra, as it turned out, was really nice. I think, in the Summer months, it would be touristy and there were quite a few backpackers still about. The main attraction, aside from the beach was the lighthouse billed as being ‘the end of the world’ which sat on the most Northern point of mainland Europe. If you kept going across the sea the next point you’d would have been America. It was a nice place to visit and I enjoyed the 6km walk there and back. We made use of the local laundrette that evening and had fresh bedding, always nice!
Night Fourteen, 13th Dec: Casaca de Azaro
This was one of the points that we had planned to visit on our route and wrote about at the end of my last blog post. It was most definitely worth it! A beautiful waterfall that we had all to ourselves as it’s the middle of December! Really peaceful place. In the Summer months the waterfall is illuminated by colourful lights at night which would be worth seeing if we were ever in the area during the peak season. Unfortunately this was the start of the rain which hasn’t quite stopped since and we got absolutely soaked on the way back home. A change of clothes and we walked up the (very steep) climb to the viewpoint at the top of the waterfall. It was a nice view but not spectacular due to the dam and hydroelectric plant right by the waterfall. Still a good walk. We had planned on parking at this viewpoint but after walking past the 39% incline signs we decided it wasn’t worth trying to drag Vincent up the steep hill. Instead we spent the night about five mins from the waterfall in a gravel clearing. We nearly left as there were noises that sounded like repetitive gunshots/ explosions periodically through the evening. The only reassuring thing was that there were no sirens and the locals didn’t seem perturbed. We figured it must have been either someone hunting or something to do with the power plant. The noises went of periodically until they just kept going and going at about 9.30. We packed down and got ready to drive off when we saw fireworks out of the window. Felt pretty stupid that night!
Night Fifteen, 14th Dec: Santiago de Compostela
Another point we had planned to stop at, Santiago de Compostela, in order to see the Cathedral. We knew that we weren’t going to be able to park anywhere pretty in this ancient town and instead parked in a large gym car park on the edge of it. The attitude in mainland Europe towards parking is completely different to the UK, no one seems to mind where you park, it’s nearly always free and vans are totally accepted. Although this was a gym car park it was quiet and still lined with trees. There was one other van stopping over. The Cathedral itself was stunning, more from the outside than inside. The inside was gilded and heavily decorated, with lots of confessional cupboards lining the walls. I thought it looked a bit tired and there was no stained glass that we saw which is the prettiest part of a church. The old town surrounding the Cathedral was built in the same sandy stone as the Cathedral and it was a lovely place, although still touristy even in December.
Nights Sixteen and Seventeen, 15th, 16th Dec: Ourense
We made a bit of progress towards Portugal in the alomost two hour dive from Santiago de Compostela to Ourense. There was only one thing we wanted to see in Ourense: the hot springs! They were amazing! Such a luxury especially when we have no running hot water in the van! The thermal pools were located along the river in a park. There were about six different collections of pools running along the river; we went to two different ones. There were basic changing rooms and lockers to store your stuff as well as outdoor showers, water taps and a lifeguard (during peak times). This was all completely free! There were pools of varying temperatures so you could work your way up to the hottest one. The very hottest one was so hot we couldn’t stand it and only one woman stayed in for more than thirty seconds, it really felt like you were being scalded! It started to rain whilst we were in the pools which was so lovely, watching the raindrops bouncing off of the pools surface. We stayed the night in the car park for the pools; there were other people also staying and cars came and went as the pools are always open. The next day it was raining all day so we did some work, both doing some articles for Van Clan and we watched The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. We made veggie burgers, mash and onion gravy for tea which was so nice. When it was dark we headed out to the Thermal pools again, going in the closest ones this time. So nice to be able to see the stars whilst in the hot water. The pools were busy even at night, regulars would come down just with their dressing gown and car keys- would be such a nice thing to have in your local park! The next day we wandered down to fill up our water bottles and found the first set of pools flooded over! It must have rained a lot over night. Filled up our water and headed off to our next set of hot springs.
Nights Eighteen and Nineteen, 17th, 18th Dec: Near Bande
These thermal pools were Roman baths, amazing to think how old they were and who might have used them. Again there were pools with varying temperatures, the hottest one really deep. Along the side of one of the pools were individual bathtubs which were great! These baths felt more authentic and the scenery around them was much nicer, the view beyond the pools was of the lake and then mountains ahead and a forest to the side. They were, however, covered in algae but this didn’t matter once in. The parking was right next to the pools in a little forest clearing and was a great spot, if a little busy- always about four vans plus cars coming and going. We met our fist British van neighbours, we chatted in the pools and helped them fix their wing mirror that they’d smashed off on the way down to the pools. Was nice to meet some other people travelling! The locals in the pools were also very chatty, we wish we had some Spanish but it’s still funny trying to navigate a conversation with gestures and nods! We spent the two days in and out of the pools (mostly in) but found we were all bathed out by the end of our time here, they really are very hot! This was our last spot in Spain as we were very close to the Portuguese border.
If you’re in this area I would definitely recommend visiting both hot spring spots as they’re both so different. The first was very clean and organised, you were meant to always wear flip flops and would be told so by the lifeguard. The cleanliness made the thermal pools feel very luxurious and we couldn’t get over the fact that it was all free. There was no algae in the first set of pools and there was access to a hot outdoor shower and basic changing rooms after bathing. Take a padlock if you go as, until 7pm there are lockers available. The second set of hot springs, Roman baths, were just amazing. I imagine they were exactly the same 100s of years ago. Here there are just the pools with none of the added extras but a sense of safety- we left our van unlocked the whole time without a worry. This place is incredible, to be able to bath in such hot natural water with that view is a real treat. If I had to choose just one spot to visit it would most definitely be the Roman Baths.
Night Twenty, 19th Dec: Portugal!
We made the 1.5hr drive from the Roman Springs to our first Portuguese spot! We’d been in Portugal for five minutes before I checked Google Maps and realised that we had already crossed the border! There wasn’t anywhere for us to show our passports, not sure if we’ve done something really wrong here? Anyway, we’re in Portugal, yay! Neither of us have ever been to Portugal before so it feels quite exciting to be able to see a whole new country together! We’re currently just outside of Capeludos parked at a very high view point, spectacular views all round!
We are spending Christmas with friends who live here in Portugal, right in the middle, so we will be making a bit more progress than we’re used to to get there in time for the 21st/22nd. Feels a little strange to have a destination and a timeframe but we’re planning on driving back round Portugal at a more leisurely pace after Christmas. Looking forward to seeing what this new country holds! Let us know if you have any must see spots to recommend in Portugal!