So, here we are in the middle of France, craving a full English breakfast. And we have never been to Gibraltar. So, in other words, the perfect excuse for a road trip with a bank robbery, Sierra Nevada and the Spanish Costas! 2000 miles through Spain along the Spanish Costa down to Gibraltar for breakfast and then ease our way back up with a side trip to the Sierra Nevada and we even witnessed a bank robbery.
September is a great time to head south, with the weather still quite warm but far less of the crowds that you encounter during the summer. All of the campsites were not booked in advance and were picked according to distance and time of day. Most were barely half full so there was plenty of space available (apart from a few which seemed to be local favourites). It depends on what you’re looking for but we found the campings to be good value with clean ablution buildings and a bar/restaurant available nearby if you are so inclined.
We met friendly people, took in the gorgeous countryside and warm Mediterranean waters, and to top it all off it is very easy on the pocket! Great place – Spain!
We found the east coast (costas) to be very developed, particularly the northern region; however, an hour inland it becomes very rural with rugged landscape and forested mountains.
This has to remain between us, as it is just perfect as a campsite destination. Somewhere east of Girona, it makes for a good option to spend the night when you’re coming from Nice or Cannes. Set in the pine trees with occasional views of the surf and the wide beach which is just a short stroll away. The beach bar there is rather tricky because you end up spending far too long sipping cocktails before a good swim in the warm waters.
Altea & Benidorm
Altea seemed like a good place to peel off the road and find a space to camp for the night. This is a town just north of Benidorm and it hugs the coast with rather nice beaches. We found Camping Cap Blanch, which is right across the road from the beach, and therefore perfectly situated with a rib restaurant next door that was rather good. The only downside was the heat and lack of a breeze under the shade nets that covered the whole site. It is also nestled between apartment blocks, of which the residents seem to enjoy partying until the early hours! Perhaps the perks of an early pension mean a disregard for the clock.
Heading south the next morning took us through Benidorm with its iconic highrise buildings. We weren’t sure what the attraction was to this place, perhaps the weather was a big draw. Quite a lot of references in English, like an outpost – but very different to our ultimate destination.
This is quite a strange one as you follow the coastline south. From out on the horizon the rock rises out of the flat landscape, quite a sight! We pulled into the Sur Europa campsite at La Linea de la Concepcion. It has green grass pitches with shade and good ablution blocks, but the pitches are a little on the small side. The beach is a ten-minute walk from the camping and opens out into a long sandy area stretching to Gibraltar. There isn’t much here in the form of restaurants or entertainment, just miles of sand.
The proximity of our campsite to Gibraltar makes for an easy transfer the next morning. It is a surreal experience, with the rock looming over us as we go through a similar customs border control to England. It is fairly quick and painless though, and then you are presented with the runway. Something you definitely will never do anywhere else, and quite strange to drive over this space, along with many trucks, buses and foot traffic.
A Short History
Gibraltar may seem a strange place if you zoom out and look at where it is perched right at the southern tip of Spain. It really should be Spanish, but the English held onto this tiny rock since the War of the Spanish Succession, refusing to succumb despite many sieges during hundreds of years. It was seen as a site of strategic military importance controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean.
As such it has remarkable similarities to England, with the architecture based on the UK buildings, many a Union Jack fluttering in the sea breeze and a disproportionate amount of English pubs. I fully expected to change over to the other side of the road when driving, but this seems to be the only concession to the mainland, along with the adoption of the euro instead of the pound. Entry is equally unique in having to cross the airport runway (!).
a lap of the rock in fifteen minutes
Once over the runway, you pass a bus depot with the strangely out-of-place double-decker London buses parked up, as if fresh out of the UK. Turn left at the roundabout and you drive along the narrow road overlooked by the cliff on the eastern side of Gibraltar. A couple of houses and buildings cling to the rocky shoreline. A small tunnel deposits you at the southernmost point where you loop around onto the busy western edge. It is a lot bigger and wider here, and with a bit of luck, you can take one of the few roads to a little viewpoint overlooking the port a few miles away. In fact, everything is just a few miles away!
What we would do manage to do (unexpectedly) is find parking right on the Corral Road parking area next to the Landport Tunnel. A bit of luck is needed, since space is at a veritable premium all over this place. But we take to the tunnel, enter the Grand Casemate’s Square, and don’t get any further.
Right here is the Lord Nelson, as British a pub as anywhere and right on cue for breakfast. A pint of Guinness on the side (and a cup of tea) makes this a delicious occasion. The food was on point, well presented and one of the best full-english I have had. Maybe that had to do with the colonial setting and the rock high above intruding into your eyeliner.
A stroll further into the town along the Main Street promenade reveals a time warp and double-takes as it looks exactly like it could be in England. There’s a lot packed into here, along with a horde of tourists, some of whom have been disgorged from the giant cruise ship docked a couple of blocks away. We decline a visit to the hills and the famous monkeys and opt to hit the road north again. In true colonial spirit, we have seen, we have conquered (a fantastic breakfast) and now we are leaving this hustle and bustle, suitably satiated, vowing to return! A whistle-stop tour and we need to head into the interior.
Trevelez is our next stop. it is only four or five hours by Land Rover and seems to be the gateway to the Sierra Nevada. The first part of the drive is epic, perhaps similar to the Pacific Coastal Highway in California – if you stay off the toll road and stick to the A7. It is as close as you can get to the water!
Then just past Malaga and Motril, you head inland, climbing away from the beaches. And it is quite a climb. The temperature is also a lot cooler and the dusty vistas with the incredibly large plastic-covered greenhouses make way for greener, treelined valleys.
In Trevelez you’ll find Camping Trevelez (just outside the village). It is green, with grass underfoot, shade and simple but efficient ablution blocks. The restaurant on-site serves a mean beer and a good meal. In town, there are many shops purveying large legs of smoked ham. And the temperature change is most welcome.
And then it is into the hills. This area is sparsely populated and there are several unpaved roads to explore. There is some forestry management and large open farms. Steep ascents and amazing vistas indeed. The local traffic disappears into the background and the roads become tracks. You could get lost out here…
And we do, to some extent, following dirt roads and climbing along logging tracks. The only hint of civilisation is fences and rusty old gates that need to be traversed. It is lovely and remote, and it feels determined to be using ‘low range’ to scale some steep pistes.
Eventually, we reach the small town of Laroles, after what seemed to be a long day following the Garmin and trying to figure out which way is west. We arrived quite late in the afternoon feeling well pleased with our pioneering abilities until we checked the map. And discover all of our efforts have added up to fifty kilometres of progress from our previous campsite…
Naturally, we need to retreat to the restaurant to rehydrate and process this information, along with a rather good dinner, especially since we are one of the only tables for the evening. The owner is trying hard. As we gaze out through the valley we can see the Med, about fifty kilometres away, an amazing sight and a reminder of our lofty perch.
This campsite used to be a municipal camping which lay abandoned for several years until the present owner set about turning it around. There are still signs of neglect being straightened out and some hard work to improve the facilities. It was all in all a pleasant experience with an amiable host.
Time for a bank robbery. And a short haul north through the Sierra Nevada to the A-92 and a leisurely drive to Tabernas at Land-Rover-speed, (which is rather leisurely). Here the countryside turns into a dry, barren desert, like something out of an old Western movie. Which is exactly what happened here.
Fort Bravo is an old, deserted wild west town set in a featureless landscape. The buildings are empty and lack any detail. The roads are dusty and it all looks a little dilapidated, just like a frontier town. This is where they filmed ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and many more of the old ‘spaghetti westerns’ in Clint Eastwood’s heyday.
You can imagine that with a bit of set dressing, it would come to life. And that is also what they do for the visitors, staging a bank robbery in true western style with horses galloping, guns blazing, some choice words in Spanish exchanged and a guy who dives out of a second-floor window after being ‘shot’, lying there in the sun for a full ten minutes as they play out the scene.
A jolly good show, and well worth the price of admission to feel a little bit of Hollywood magic. Or at least that’s what we make of it in the tavern in the middle of the town, trying to imagine how many takes it would need to order a beer from the old bar.
Camping La Caleta
This campsite is just south of Las Negras and slightly west of Almeria. It was such a great spot, we stayed an extra night. It is quite remote, being one of the few accommodations on this little bay, with beach access. There’s a great restaurant on site, with a killer seafood menu and the beach is not very busy, although the waves can be heavy when there is an easterly wind. If you are tired of those very busy, large campsites with three pools and an entertainment squad trying their best to get you to do a ‘Greased Lightning’ impression and generally disturbing the peace, then this is a great little hideaway!
A strange name to us Western European types, I suppose. But it is a large, sprawling coastal resort town, with many apartment buildings, restaurants, amusement arcades and a strict lifeguard that wouldn’t allow us to swim in the rather rough surf conditions.
The campsite is well organised, with a big pool, clean and neat ablution blocks and small but neat little pitches. Here we had the mother of all rainstorms, luckily just after our prawn barbecue and we had a pleasant evening.
Back onto the road, and heading north once again. Our destination is Platja d’Aro to reclaim our campsites from a couple of weeks ago. The route follows the coast, if you avoid the new toll road, and offers good views of the beaches and rugged coast. What did surprise us was the abandoned towns and older buildings like hotels and service stations. An indication that the new toll road highway (probably built with EU funds) has not benefited everyone in the area…
We languish under the trees at camping Treumal with frequent visits to the warm Mediterranean waters and long, slow afternoons spent at the beach bar. We think back to our intrepid adventure and agree that it was totally worth the two-week trek in the Land Rovers.
That breakfast was rather delicious and we saw quite a few things along the way. High-speed horseback chases through a dusty town, deserted coastal roads, solitary tracks leading into the Sierras, amiable hosts, good food and we are all a shade darker on the old skin. Throw in the warm seaside and sandy beaches and I can most definitely recommend Spain as a holiday destination – something for everyone!