Some of the best village ramparts in France
Yes I know there are a number of plains in Spain and the rain certainly does not “mainly fall” there but the high plain we drove across yesterday was vast and promises to continue to be vast for at least another day!
The last two days have been more about travelling than anything else. I have tried to pick out routes and stopping places that were interesting but we are now officially on the “driving home” leg of this trip.
We left Portugal on Thursday driving east from Braganca to Zamora. I opted for the old road through Miranda del Douro rather than the fast new motorway to the north as this route offered better scenery and the dramatic crossing of the dam on the Douro at Miranda del Douro which marks the border with Spain. There was a frost when we got up on Thursday with the thermometer at -1C outside. I am still finding it hard to handle the big difference between day time heat in the sunshine and the way it cools down fast as soon as the sun goes down and the sharp cold of the mornings! We pop our noses out of Bertie in the morning and try and work out what to wear for a visit that day – it feels really cold and the urge is to layer up but we know that within half an hour we will be warm from walking and the sun will warm us more and by mid morning we will be stripping off those layers so the calculation is how few layers (ie cold) can be put up with now to save lugging those extra coats etc with us for the rest of the walk/trip/visit. I tend to choose to tolerate the initial chill and that works out well until we spend anytime moving slowly in the shade when I get quite chilly. Eileen goes the other way and piles on the layers which she then has to carry around but then she does not get so cold in the shade! We will probably have got it right in a few days and then we will be out of this area and back into warm, wet maritime France which a smaller daily temperature range and the calculation then will be “is it going to rain sooner or later?”
Anyway back to Thursday. There are two version of the N218 to Miranda del Douro – the newer N218 which is much longer on the map but looks less wiggly and the inviting looking and slightly shorter old version the N218-2 which wiggles up and over the moutains and down and across the valleys. Of course I chose the wiggly one since it saved me a whole 10kms although it probably added at least half an hour but that was an extra half an hour of stunning scenery. Have I mentioned we really like Portugal?
We arrived in Miranda del Douro in good time for lunch. I had sussed an interesting looking parking area on Google Maps beside the Douro. What Google Maps does not manage to get across to me is the vertical dimension – to me everything looks pretty flat on Google even in Street View. My lunch spot was only half way down the side of deep gorge that is the Douro valley. An excellent spot and with great views in both directions but I had completely underestimated the depth of the gorge here. I was thinking more in terms of the Douro at Barca del Alva when we last crossed the Douro or even the Tagus at Vila Velha de Rodao. Miranda del Douro is actually at the top of the gorge and you drive right past the town before you realise that there is a cliff face to be negotiated to get down the Douro and then a dam to be driven over to get to Spain. If ever there was a natural border this is one.
After lunch we had crossed the dam and were back in Spain when we realised we should have changed the clocks before we moved off – Spain is on CET and 2pm has become 3pm. The phones all switched times automatically as soon as they connected to a Spanish mast but the other clocks need to be changed manually which meant that all the way to Zamora we were having to remember which device was on which time zone!
The scenery was immediately more scrubby and more arid as we climbed the far side of the gorge and the roads got noticeably better. Spain keeps her roads so much better than Portugal does. We crossed two more deep valleys each with dams and reservoirs and then we were on the flat of the high plateau.
Zamora was another shock. I knew it was big town but it was far bigger than we had expected and boasted a fine citadel and castle which loomed over the aire we had chosen. Once we had parked up and settled Bertie after his long drive (117kms) we set off for a quick look around the castle and the citadel. We were tempted by the cathedral but at €5 each and limited time we decided to checkout the castle instead (free!).
Friday dawned chilly and sunny once again. Not quite as cold as Thursday morning and no frost but still only +1C. This is a good sized aire with individual pitches for 40 motorhomes – it even has a service point with two bays so that two motorhomes can fill and empty at the same time! The place was about half full mainly with Spanish and French vans, we were the only British and there was a Swiss van behind us and one or two Germans.
We made an effort to get under way in good time this morning. There were two jobs to do in Zamora before heading off – one was to fill with LPG and the other was to go to Lidl. We do like Lidl bread as they do a large brown seedy loaf the like of which we can’t find anywhere else. Most panaderias and local supermarkets only sell white bread of various kinds although some have a “pale brown” loaf but it is not the same as good chewy seedy “German” loaf such as Lidl sells. Sadly Lidl in the UK does not sell this loaf.
By the time we had done all that and, in the process, driven right across the town it was getting on for the middle of the day. I had not planned a coffee stop as I could not find anything relevant in Park4Night but since time was running on we decided to go straight through to our lunch stop which promised yet another fortified medieval village (!). The first section was fast, empty motorway as far as Toro and then we turned off on to lesser roads northwards across the plain. I was not sure what to expect and no idea how quickly we would cover the ground. Had this been Portugal then speeds of around 20 – 30 mph could be expected. Here in Spain we were bumbling along happily at 50mph and I was having to remember to be aware of speed limits. We had grown lazy in Portugal – there are speed limits but usually we struggle to get that fast!
Urueña was indeed quite remarkable – a C12 walled village on a bluff overlooking the vast plain to the north. We parked right under the walls of the old Castle and had our lunch. Then it was time to explore. The castle itself looked interesting but turned out to be no more than a shell containing the village cemetery. However most of the walls had a wall walk although this was not quite continuous and we had to climb up and down between the sections. Wonderful views across that huge plain. The village itself was very quiet. The church was locked, the tower viewpoint was locked, the shops were closed. In theory this was a “Village of Books” apparently famed for all its book shops but these were closed in February it would seem. We never found the Tourist Office although we suspect that was closed too! Anyway we had a good walk round and the walls and views were great and it made a perfect lunch stop and leg stretch.
Our stopover tonight was in Ampudia a small town that boasted a free aire with free services beside a castle – perfect! There was one other van there when we arrived and it was British – 100% GB occupation in any aire here is unusual. What was quite extraodinary was that a few minutes later another van arrived, also British as was the next one too! Four vans and all British. The fact that this aire is just a days drive from Bilbao might go some way to explain the coincidence!
After a good natter and a cup of tea we set off to see if Ampudia was worth more than one night. There is a big castle and the town is supposed to be quite interesting with its arcading. On several streets the houses are built out over the pavements and supported on wooden or occasionally stone, columns. These look quite strange and seem quite out of place – the last time we saw anything like this was in Uzes in France but that arcading was very different with heavy stone arcades.
We decided that a quiet day tomorrow would be good and we would explore the castle at leisure and I would catch up with this blog and generally we could have a relaxing day.