Tossa de Mar, a beautiful memory from my childhood of my first holiday abroad with my parents and my sister Rebecca. I was 6, she was nearly 4. We still have some old photos taken in Tossa, one in particular is of me and my sister sitting on a wall in the old medieval town of Tossa which sits high above the beach and the new town below. We managed to replicate this image years later when my sister and I took our children to re-visit our childhood holiday. Barlie was 16, Izzy 13, Natalie, 10 and Sam 7 and we were camping in a nearby campsite called Cala Llevado which was a fantastic site with it’s own beach. Another great holiday. Unfortunately, the site was closed in February so we were unable to stay here. So yet again, for a third time, I find myself sitting on the same piece of wall contemplating all the holidays of my lifetime.
My memory of our accommodation is a fuzzy image of a small hotel reached by a steep road. I remember the waiters wore black with long white aprons and I do remember they were very friendly. One sat me on the side of a deep well filled with water which when my mum found me nearly gave her a heart attack! I tried to find our hotel on this trip and I think I did but even if it’s the the one! It’s very close…..
Tossa has still managed to remain a small seaside town unlike it’s infamous neighbour, LLoret de Mar which should be avoided at all costs!
We were able to park the van on a nearby piece of land within walking distance of the town which was flat…..and important factor as this part of Spain is very hilly and most of the seaside resorts are down extremely steep roads. This we discovered the day before when Carlos found a parking spot in Canyelles…..the road down into the village was not for the faint hearted!
Tossa became famous in the 50’s when they used the town as a location for a film with Ava Gardener in it called ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’ also starring James Mason. The town have even erected a bronze statue of her! We watched the film which was very cleverly edited but you can clearly see the beach which really hasn’t changed at all. Tossa has retained it’s charm and managed to avoid masses of high rise hotels and you still get the feel of a small time fishing village. The Costa Brava is a beautiful part of Spain and leaving Tossa, we took the coastal road, a very windy, steep road which hugs the mountains on one side whilst providing breath taking views of the ocean on the other. Once again, not for the faint hearted! Our next destination, Pineda de Mar a province of Barcelona.
From Girona we were heading South to Barcelona since Lisa was flying back to the UK from there at the end of March. So we had a good three weeks to get there, which would have allowed us to walk at a leisurely pace – that is we had a long time to while away.
There was a place that Lisa had very fond memories of on the Costa Brava called Tossa del Mar. She had first visited this small fishing village when she was six years old and later when she took her daughters, this was a must visit location and somewhere I had never been. Our first stop after Girona was a lovely town on the coast North of Tossa, called Sant Feliu de Guíxols.
Sant Feliu is quite a large town, we denote by the fact they have a Lidl, but it also has an old historic centre, the small autocaravan aire is located a few minutes’ walk from the the old monastery which serves as the museum and tourist information. The Benedictine monastery, although in semi-ruin is a good example of the town’s medieval architecture. At the Plaça del Mercat. a fruit and vegetable market takes place every morning and the Plaça also has a fine fish market, full of locally caught fresh fish. On Sundays the weekly market takes place on the Plaça and along the Passeig del Mar with a range of stalls including cheap clothes well-liked by the locals.
To the South of Sant Feliu, the Costa Brava starts to earn its name, the road rises steeply and winding up onto clifftops where it meanders around many little bays with coves surrounded by pines with rocky or fine sand beaches. Here the coast becomes more rugged with forests of pine, oak, and cork trees and is an excellent place for determined cyclists.
We arrived here at the start of the Carnival weekend and were lucky enough to be able to watch the festivities and the parades. This is something that the local area takes very seriously, albeit with a light-hearted and joyous outlook. The floats for the parades along with their entourage were quite a scene and numerous, the themes varied from widely: African tribes, celebration of honey and bees, Neptune and the sea, Venetian masquerade ball, Candy Crush, the list just went on and on. The costumes were superb, and each member of a float had the self-same costume, hours of planning and preparation must go into this single weekend. The costumes were very good too, excellent workmanship was on show all round.
Ultimately the African tribes won best in Carnival and we left with wonderful memories of a lovely place to visit.
Girona, a city I have wanted to visit for a long time and finally, here we are! The Aire is located in the centre of the city and not only was it difficult to find even with our sat nav, it was also difficult to negotiate the narrow streets. On arrival, we were somewhat dwarfed by towering flats on all sides!
We decided to stay 2 nights at a cost of €26, which considering we have been camping free, felt like a lot of money!
The weather was not on our side as it was freezing but the old medieval city did not disappoint and once again we found ourselves amongst cobbled streets staring down through the eyes of history. This city was also used in the Game of Thrones and it was not hard to understand why.
We visited the Cathedral which was enormous and boasts the widest Gothic nave in the world, with a width of 22 metres. Inside were many impressive artefacts. The location was once again used for the Game of Thrones!
Whilst in Girona, we decided to treat ourselves to an evening out, a tapas bar in town recommended by the Aire. However, it wasn’t the best tapas I’ve eaten but certainly not the worst either! It is a great way to sample local dishes and there was certainly a huge choice, it was hard to know what to choose. The wine was good €8 for 4 large glasses of red. Not bad.
The road from Le Boulou was very windy and began through green pine trees gaining height all the time towards the snow-line. Carlos was driving and I was enjoying the beautiful views of the snow capped mountains in the distance. The road I have since learnt, is classified as potentially dangerous, as some sections are more than 11% steep. However, todays driving conditions were good and there was not much traffic on the road. On reaching the summit of Col d’Ares at 1513m, we found a place to park for lunch and admire the view which is the photo at the top of the post.
Our next stop was a free Aire at Sant Joan de les Abadesses which we nicknamed, St Joan the Badass! Another deserted town with no-one around and it was freezing. The only building of interest was an extremely steep an angled bridge. One night was enough.
January began in Germany, in Wiehl (pronounced veal) to be precise, spending a great couple of weeks with Juergen & Lisa’s sister. During our stay, we had plenty of walks in the countryside and more saunas than in the previous 12 months!
Shortly after my birthday (12th January if you want to send presents), we left Wiehl and headed South, leaving a few days before a massive snowfall and high winds brought northern Germany to standstill. We wound our way down south, past Koblenz, through Luxembourg followed by the Jura region of France which is close to the Swiss border. South of Lyon, the Mediterranean slowly appeared as olive trees, palm trees, soft fruit trees and vineyards were becoming more abundant. The weather was also improving and we were feeling distinctly warmer in the sun.
We braved the city of Marseille and it’s horrendous road infrastructure! Next destination was Le Beausset, where we spent time with Lisa’s friends Penny and John. We had a wonderful time helping them in the garden, building bonfires and pruning olive trees. The weather was kind and we ate lunch on the terrace, which has magnificent views towards the valley below and the limestone cliffs in the distance. Afterwards, we went to Sommieres and Boissieres a really interesting medieval village where we met up with Jo and Gaeton, some more of Lisa’s friends! We then headed to the Carmargue and the weather turned colder, more dreary and windier. It was in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, we encountered more severe winds causing us for the first time to move in the middle of the night because we felt so uncomfortable and very little sleep was had, not to mention, Lisa was having a panic attack!
By the end of January, we had settled into a pattern of starting out mid-morning, buying a baguette, stopping for lunch about 1pm and then finding our next place to stay before nightfall. We continued travelling very slowly towards Spain, with each day’s journey becoming shorter and shorter. Our last town before the Spanish border was Le Boulou, where we spent a quiet night opposite the local cemetery. Au revoir France, Ola Spain!