We arrived back at Torre Del Mar in southern Spain in the beginning of February, after nearly two months of hard driving and serious sight-seeing in Morocco. We were all exhausted! Michael’s ankle wasn’t good, he had an allergy that caused his face to look burned and sting like crazy and his back was sore. Grubie had an arthritis flare-up in one hip. We just needed a rest and a break from travelling.
Torre Del Mar is a great place to relax. The bikes came out and we settled in for a few weeks to relax and enjoy the amenities. Hot showers, electricity that works, cheap alcohol and good supermarkets as well as nice restaurants.
It was good to see many of our new friends again. Brian and Val invited us to join them at an all-you-can-eat Sunday Roast Buffet in nearby Torrox. Yes, we must be officially recognized as senior citizens now if we are doing buffets! We set off with them and 4 of their friends in their van, Brian at the helm. The meal was wonderful, the view was grand, the sun was warm and the company was fun. Beef, pork, chicken or gammon with stacks of different vegetables and of course the Yorkshire pud. Sue had her first ever Treacle Pudding for dessert and it was light as a feather! It was a fun day out on a Sunday in Spain, when the whole place seems to close down.
Another highlight was meeting up again with Erika, who we knew in Adelaide and who is now living in this area. She and her Spanish partner Antonio picked us up and drove us into the mountains to explore. Antonio had been born in this area and knew all the back roads as well as entertaining stories and history, translated by Erica. We drove at least 50km into the mountains behind Velez-Malaga and got very high, so much so that our ears popped. The views were absolutely spectacular over the mountains and the reservoir to the ocean. It’s such a shame that the photos don’t do it justice.
We stopped at a little ‘wayside tavern’ that used to be a stop-off on the mule train to Granada. It was built in 1699 and had been beautifully restored. We sat in a sunny courtyard for a bottle of red wine and looked at the ‘cell’ where they had housed the bandits that they captured in the area. Apparently this was a very active area for banditos and there were even some still around as late as 1970!!
We did a bit of an olive-trail, driving on tiny back roads to find a World Heritage Listed stand of 1000-year-old olive trees. Yes, that’s correct, 1000 years old! They were wide and gnarly and not planted in rows, but in a grove interspersed with much younger trees. It was very beautiful.
We continued to the nearby town of Periana to visit the cooperative where they press the olives and make the oil – it smelled fantastic. We bought some bottles of the oil produced only from the 1000 year old trees. Still driving on little mountain tracks we stopped at a ‘fountain’ (a fresh water spring). The spring had been used to power a flourmill and they still have a wood-fired bakery there today. Then we visited another oil mill where they were famous for their green (unripe) olive oil. It had a fascinating museum of the old olive presses.
Eventually we made our way to Alfarnatejo to a fabulous restaurant called Los Pirineos de la Costa del Sol. The views were breathtaking and the food divine. We shared a tuna, olive and capsicum carpaccio followed by goat and pork. The pork was the standout, being meltingly tender. Beautiful red wine accompanied it all.
What a wonderful way to spend a day!
The weather in Torre Del Mar has been perfect. Cold in the night and early morning then quickly warming up to be quite hot in the afternoons if you are in the sunshine. On Sunday we walked down to the beach with Claudia and Jürgen to what we had called the “Old Lady’s Restaurant” but discovered was really called the Tranqui Beach Chirringuito. This was our farewell meal with them before they headed back to their home in Germany.
We had another great fun day with Erika and Antonio. They drove us around the ‘swanky’ areas of Malaga and we enjoyed looking at the (largely Edwardian) beautiful mansions, including the recently restored Hotel Miramar. It was wonderful to get a different viewpoint of the local life. Then we visited what used to be a fishing village on the outskirts of Malaga called Pedregalejo, but is now mostly a hang-out for the ‘beautiful people’ of the area – so of course we all fit right in! Back from the seafront were the lovely old fishermen’s cottages (now worth a small fortune) and we enjoyed a leisurely wander around before hitting the seafront for lunch. The best puntillas/camarillos we’ve ever tasted, just barely cooked and without much batter/coating! They look like baby squid but are a totally different animal. Although only perhaps an inch long they are fully-grown and you eat the whole thing, head, eyes and all. Very delicious! This was followed by an almond nougat ice-cream served with a mini bottle of Chivas. You mash the two together and yumm! Pure decadence.
On the way home we had another adventure, turning into a road that got narrower and narrower and ended up really being a creek bed that necessitated a 100-point turn. Well done, Erica!
Finally we dragged ourselves away from Torre Del Mar on February 20th to slowly make our way back to our home base in Jarnac by late March. We wanted to visit the places we hadn’t seen on our first trip south along the Mediterranean coast when we were racing to get to some warmth - namely Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona. We also wanted to take the trip a little slower this time.
We began by travelling 360km, just north of Cartegena to the idyllic beach resort of El Portus. There was nothing there except a beautiful cove and stunning sunset views – no shops, restaurants or businesses and nothing for tourists. Very Zen!
Next we travelled 141km to El Campello, about 14km north of Alicante. Now we were in the built-up, high-rise Costa Blanco between Alicante and Benidorm and beyond. We had lots of trouble finding somewhere to stay and ended up in what was described as a ‘no-frills new camping area’. It was great for us with a bus right outside the gate into Alicante.
The main reason for our stay was to visit the Volvo Ocean Racing Museum at the port. This museum shows everything about the Volvo around the world yacht race, which used to be called the Whitbread Classic. It was a really well-curated display that included a simulator and lots of videos and interviews.
Our next stop, 168km up the road was Valencia. This is the 3rd largest city in Spain, so it’s huge! We had to drive from one side to the other right though the city which was great for Sue to be able to sightsee, but not so much fun for Michael. Next day we caught the train back into the city for a good look around. Valencia is a feast for anyone who loves architecture, with it’s interesting mixture of old and new buildings.
A highlight for us was the cathedral. We actually saw the real Holy Grail. (Monty Python fans shut your mouths!!) This is the chalice that is believed to have been used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is of polished stone and has been dated to 57BC. It is superbly housed surrounded by alabaster carvings and has been in the Cathedral of Valencia since the 15th century, after years of having been fought over by various groups. The cathedral itself was beautiful too.
On another day Sue went back to Valencia and Michael stayed home with Grubie. Sue really wanted to see the modern architecture of the city. Valencia has been plagued by floods throughout its history, so after a particularly bad one in the 1950s they decided to divert the river away from the city. This was finished in the early 70s and the old riverbed turned into a green park with many beautiful modern buildings housing performing arts centres, science museum, a planetarium and an oceanographic centre etc. The area is known as known as ‘the city of Arts & Sciences’ and is a bit like the Smithsonian. It’s a fantastic place to wander around and you could spend days there if you went to all the exhibits. The other place of interest was the port area with its old warehouses and modern buildings built when they hosted the Americas Cup.
After Valencia we have a few more stops on our way back to Jarnac for our yearly tasks of visas, insurance and car maintenance.