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Europe 2014 - Across the Plains of Spain

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Across the Plains of Spain

Arriving at Santander late afternoon we easily found our route onto the free autovia and headed east before turning off on the N346 towards the free aire by the entrance to the Cabarceno animal park, and settled down for a peaceful night with about ten motorhomes of various nationalities. We then drove on mostly empty roads through small towns then climbed over the Puerto del Escudo hills and down to the flat plain stretching into the distance. We took a minor road along the northern shore of the massive Embalse del Ebro (reservoir) and drove on the N611 beside the autovia to the aire at Aguilar de Campo for another free night. After a very cold night we continued south on the empty main road alongside the equally empty autovia then west to Carrion de los Condes where the town centre streets were closed for a farm machinery auction and fair, and across gentle hilly land with large windfarms to Ampudia and another free aire situated near the large castle in the interesting old town.

Aguilar de Campo glass fronted buildings
Aguilar de Campo
Ampudia castle
Ampudia - castle
Ampudia colonnaded street
 Ampudia - colonnaded street
  Salamanca Plaza Maior panorama       
Salamanca Plaza Mayor
The weather was overcast as we drove across the plain to Toro, a larger town with busy main streets, and on to the outskirts of Salamanca where we missed a turn on the ring road and ended up in the busy city centre. After passing seemingly endless traffic lights and pedestrian crossings we reached the suburb of Ste Marta de Tormes and the ACSI campsite at the Hotel Regis, our base for a couple of days, with an hourly bus to the city centre. The next morning it was cold but sunny as we took the bus into the city centre which was quite empty as it was a Sunday. We strolled around the magnificent Plaza Mayor and along the side streets to the Casa de las Conchas then passed the "new" cathedral (consecrated in 1733) to reach the museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. We returned to the campsite for a lazy afternoon and set off the next morning via a supermarket where the fresh produce was considerably cheaper than in the uk. Taking the straight and empty main road to the south west with the usual lack of laybys for a lunch stop, we reached the Sierra de la Peña de Francia and climbed up the winding road with several hairpins to the top of the mountain for a fantastic 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside with snow on the distant peaks. There were only a handful of people at the top where we walked around the monastery. We slowly drove back down and  continued to La Alberca the preserved historic National Monument village with its narrow cobbled streets and several shops selling the famed serrano ham joints. We pulled in to the free aire with about ten other motorhomes. At least the service point waste drain seems to have been cleared since we visited a few years ago! The next morning we took a short waymarked walk through the surrounding forest then drove on minor roads through hills of rough scrubland with olive groves and small villages. We amazingly came across a layby with stone picnic benches for lunch, at a piscine naturel where the local river had been dammed, obviously a popular spot in the summer. After  passing through the town of Hernán Pérez we turned off towards the wooded hills of the Sierra de Gata and the free aire in the small village of Torre de Don Miguel. It was still warm in the evening as we strolled around the old village centre of balconied houses with many flower pots and a large church with palm trees.
 Torre de Don Miguel flower pots
Torre de don Miguel flower pots
Taking a diversion to Plasencia and the Montfrague Natural Park where we stopped along with lots of twitchers to look at the eagles circling around the rocks, we reached Trujillo where there was a cheese festival taking place with nowhere to park so we headed for the busy free aire in Caceres. The old city centre was busy with people strolling around in the evening sunshine.

Caceres pottery balustrade
Caceres pottery balustrade
Heading south the next morning we found a rare Repsol service station with Autogas LPG on the N630 road and it was open on a public holiday so we topped up our Gaslow bottle. We bypassed Merida on the busier Autovia then took the road to Zafra passing a police speed checkpoint luckily at a sedate 70 km/hr, possibly the limit for all motorhomes in Spain - it would appear to depend on the width of the hard shoulder! The aire at Zafra was on a busy roundabout by the centre, we felt not suitable for overnighting, but we stopped there for lunch and a walk around the town centre with a few interesting buildings and a large castle now a parador (a state owned hotel).

Our route took us south to the Sierra de Aracena and a stop at a rustic campsite in chestnut woods near Fuenteheridos. We found a pitch next to a German registered motorhome with a British couple, now living in New Zealand, who were touring Europe for four months - it was good to have a chat in English for a while. (Note - don't pitch among sweet chestnut trees as the millions of old spines on the ground get everywhere!) We had a lazy day in warm sunshine, walking into the small white town with its twelve fountain spouts and back through the woods.

The next day we set off for a tour of the hills visiting Almonaster la Real, a delightful town with many attractive old buildings overlooked by an ancient mosque, castle and bullring. The tower of the castle had steps to several levels with open galleries and no protective barriers - I decided not to climb to the top! They were preparing for a festival but it wasn't starting until 10.30 that evening so we didn't stay and left after listening to the prolonged peal of church bells at midday.

Salamanca Casa de las Conchas    Salamanca new cathedral
Salamanca -  Casa de las Conchas and  new cathedral

Salamanca Art Deco museum  Salamanca Art Deco museum     
Salamanca - Art Nouveau and Art Deco museum façade

View from Pena de Francia
View from Peña de Francia

Pena de Francia ironwork screen
Peña de Francia ironwork screen

La Alberca square
La Alberca

Toree de Don Miguel church
Torre de Don Miguel church

Caceres Plaza Mayor
Caceres Plaza Mayor

Zafra castle
Zafra castle

Fuenteheridos twelve spout fountain
Fuenteheridos - twelve spouts of the "fountain"


   Almonaster la Real bullring    Almonaster mesquita    Almonaster la Real church       
Almonaster la Real - bull-ring, ancient mosque and church

Rio Tinto open cast mine     Valverde del Camino Casa Direccion villa     Valverde del Camino church front
Rio Tinto opencast mine                  Casa Direccion English villa                       Valverde del Camino church

We were now approaching the coast in Huelva province and the countryside became rougher with mostly olive plantations spreading across the hills. After a diversion to look at the multicoloured open cast mines at Rio Tinto we found the listed campsite nearby to be closed down so drove on to reach the small town of Valverde del Camino.
After finding the free aire on the edge of the town we enjoyed an evening walk by the Casa Direccion, an "English" style villa and garden, to the town centre with an impressive church and many bars. The town is known for the manufacture of leather boots.