Andalusia is a large region in the south of Spain and one of the hottest regions in Europe. A nice place to explore during the colder winder months. The coast of Andalusia is about 840km long and the coastal regions are broken down into the “Costas“. On the Atlantic coast of Andalusia is “Costa de la Luz”, on the Mediterranean side east of Spains most southly point Tarifa is the resort areas “Costa del Sol”, “Costa Tropical” and “Costa de Almeria”.
We drove to Spain from Portugals stunningly beautiful Algarve region. On our way towards Seville, we decided to break up the two hour drive and stopped at the Spanish town of El Rocío. It was like stepping into a Wild West Movie set. It felt kind of surreal, such a quiet nearly deserted ghost town with wide sandy roads that give way to horses and the odd few cars tearing around in every direction. We were half expecting to see a couple of cowboys to fall out of one of the taverns for a shoot out and fellas galloping around the sandy streets with pistols.
In reality, we found El Rocío an odd place, kind of surreal and clearly quite religious. Aside from the many churches there, there are church bells, religious mosaics and crucifixes on almost every other building including the houses.
The population is only less than 2,000 people and it was like a ghost town because it is so quiet. We were there mid-week however, I believe it is busier on weekends and apparantly a million people descend on the town once a year to celebrate Pentecost. This celebration has a cult status and dates back to the 13th century, when one man from the village saw the virgin Mary in a tree. A chapel was built where the tree stood and from that annual pilgrimages became increasingly popular throughout the centuries.
Until the 1950’s, the town only had a couple of houses and pilgrims arrived from around the region on their horses and wagons. These days many people still travel to El Rocío on horseback and wagons once a year hence the horse fences outside every house and tavern.
Now the town has grown hugely and there are many houses, owned by individual Christian brotherhoods from all over Europe who arrive for Pentecost. Each house has its own chapel, stable and place for parking wagons.
Nice to see it but we didn’t stay and after a wander around the town, made a quick getaway. YeeHaw
We drove on to the outskirts of the city of Seville where you can drive in whatever direction you want. We were headed for Malaga where we were picking up my sister Siobhán and nephew Patrick who flew in for a van life sleepover for few days before Christmas. We had been counting the days and weeks to their arrival. Airports aren’t usually campervan friendly so while Liam pulled in illegally to a bus stop outside the airports entrance, the kids and I waited at the arrivals hall. You know what happiness is when you see someone you love after being apart for a long time. We were buzzing and the kids were delighted to have their cousin over. Patrick is the same age as Ellen and Alex, actually he’s right in the middle and the three amigos had great fun laughing, playing and exploring the whole time.
We didn’t really plan anything as Siobhán and I were keen to chill, drink beer and catch up so we drove a little East along the south coast to Nerja where we picked a campsite right on the beachfront. We arrived to a very secure campsite with massive walls and locked coded gates to get in and out and inside it was like an oasis full of banana and avocado trees and a resident parrott called Anna who says Hola to you every time you pass. It was a really beautiful site full of trees and quirky play areas with plenty to inspire the kids but the only downside was it cost €53 for one night which seemed excessive for a low season stopover. The price we were expecting was €25 but that’s the price for a camper with two people so the extra charges were for the extra adult, kids and even €1 for Buckie. We were eating avocados for weeks afterwards as we picked plenty of the fallen ones from the trees beside the campervan.
The following morning, we decided to drive on another little bit. I was very curious about the beach town of La Herradura as I have been a member of a group called “Worldschooling Andalusia” which is run from the town by a lady called Elin. She is a homeschooling Mother who set up this group a few years back and it has grown rapidly. The idea was just a simple weekly meetup on the beach for other homeschooling families in the area and now people come from all over the world to stay for weeks and months at a time to join the meetups and take part in many various workshops, classes, group projects, trips and activities that are organised by Elin and some of the Worldschooling Andalusia members.
We arrived to the beautiful beach town and parked up right on the beach. It also had a promenade with some very inviting bars so Siobhán and I left the kids with Liam and went out to a flamenco bar to get our beer on.
The following day was beach meetup day on the beach and it was busy. I didn’t expect to see so many people at it. There were lots of little groups of families chatting, kids playing, teenagers chilling. We wandered over as awkward newbies and sat on the sand for a while. Siobhán & I were a little worse for wear and even more anti-social than usual so after a few minutes of observing the lovliness of the meetup headed for the nearest beach bar for the cure.
Siobhán and her family are vegan, actually it was her and my Mam that inspired us to go vegan a few years ago so we knew eating out would be a headache. In all our time on the road we’ve had a hard time finding restaurants serving up vegan meals so we made sure to have the camper packed with food, snacks and of course beer but when we arrived at our next destination La Herradura we stumbled across a beachfront restaurant with vegan options on it so we just had to go in, had a few beers and booked a table for that evening.
It was sad to say goodbye but thankfully they are just a short flight away. After dropping my sister and nephew back to the airport at Malaga we were in search of an aire de servicio to empty our full grey water tank, toilet cartridges and fill up our fresh water tank. The aire’s are few and far between along the south coast of Spain unless you go to a paid campsite which are way out of our budget so we arrived at the next aire which was at the port in the Spanish town of La Linea that borders the British territory of Gibralter.
We had been spotting the 426m high limestone ridge for miles and as we got closer grew more curious about it. The rock of Gibralter is currently a British Overseas Territory with a population of 30,000 people all living on the 425m high, 2.6sq mi, limestone ridge at the tip of Spains Iberian peninsula.
We had to hunt out our passports which we hid in a “safe place” and pulled into the port at La Linea where we strolled to the border which had massive queues of cars waiting to go over. As there’s no VAT charged in Gibralter, many people go over for quick trips to stock up on fuel, cigarettes & alcohol. The diesel prices there were really cheap at €0.95c but not cheap enough to go through the hassle of driving over in a campervan.
We decided to walk over, you go through border control and then cross Gibralters airport runway, just walk right across it & if there’s a plane coming in to land or take off then barriers are rolled out to stop people passing. Apparantly it’s the most dangerous airport in the world.
We walked across the runway and through the town battlements straight into the shaded main town. It was really busy, as we imagined as 30,000 people live on the 2.6sq mi piece of land at the southernmost tip of Spain and after a quick stroll through the busy streets we headed straight back through customs and back into Spain again. It immediately felt warmer 😜😂 Liams Grandad sailed into Gibralter port many times with the merchant Navy so it was really nice to see that and get a sense of what the port was like back in the day and learn a little of its complicated history and present day politics first hand.
Our next destination was a little further west to the town of Tarifa which is the most southerly point in Spain where the cool Atlantic and the warm Mediterranean meet each other and where the distance between the continents of Africa and Europe are closest, divided by only 14 km of water! This is why Tarifa is the wind mecca of Europe. The wind bundles up in the Strait of Gibraltar and kitesurfers and windsurfers from all over the world come to enjoy all of that wind!
Much of our time on the road is spent looking for our next long term spot to park up. Long term being anything over 3-4 days. On our way north of Tarifa, along the little bit of the west coast of Spain, we found just that, an amazing quiet beach off the beaten pot-holed dirt track and it was just what we needed after a lot of driving along the south coast of Spain. We pulled up on a remote beach by the small village of Bolonia, unknowingly beside a perfectly planned and well preserved Roman city ruins called Baelo Claudia and a little further down the beach were some huge sand dunes. It was the perfect spot for us to stay and we ended up staying right through Christmas where we explored, swam in the sea every day, ate on the beach and watched the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen. Santa didn’t forget us either, we woke up on Christmas day to some lovely surprises for the kids. Christmas isn’t really a big deal here in Spain we’ve seen hardly any of the usual festive advertising, songs or consumerism which suits us just perfectly. I heard that Santa here takes kids away if they’re bold, lol, and presents are usually given on January 6th when Spanish towns come alive with parades and festivals to celebrate the christian story of the arrival of the Three Kings.
The dune at Bolonia is over 30 metres high and 200 metres wide and under the force of the strong easterly winds along the south west coast of Spain it is still moving inland. They are so much fun to explore and climb, then you have to stop and rest at the top while admiring the amazing windy views. Running and tumbling down a dune is so much fun and over way too fast, the kids were down in about 10 seconds! In our week of being there, it was interesting to watch the dunes craters and shadows alter and changing shapes.
We were free to explore the Roman ruins which was located just beside us. Parts of the town date to the C2nd BC but it thrived during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54AD) at a time when the Roman Empire ruled over 1/5 of the population of the planet. We love Roman history and being able to explore the city really brought that history to life.
You can see its Forum (town square) where the towns basilica stood (you can see its remaining 12 columns) that was built by Emperor Augustus (Julius Caesars nephew) in the 27 BC – 14 AD.
We played in the amphitheatre to the North which is still in use today where productions of traditional Spanish theatre are held throughout the year.
We saw its thermal baths, it’s aquaducts, it’s residential area and little shops along its shopping street. On the beachfront is its tuna salting and garum (fish sauce) factory which made the town so successful as it traded with nearby Africa and the rest of the empire.
There are various temples dedicated to the gods & godesses, one to the Egyptian goddess Isis, as well as temples to Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva.
The city fell into decline from the C6th due to structural damage from a series of earthquakes, followed by raids from Celtic and Barbary pirates and subsequently after 1,000 years of rule in Europe, the fall of the Roman empire.
We really loved our time at Bolonia and highly reccommend that anyone travelling to the province of Cádiz to take the time to explore it.
Our next stop was Suryalila Yoga Retreat Center near Seville where I trained to become a yoga teacher throughout the month of January. It really is the most incredible place nestled in beautiful unspoiled hilly countryside and we are still here, enjoying every moment.