Friday, 9 February 2018

Tabernas to Marbella | Costa del Sol | Espania 2017/18

4:28pm, Saturday
High 21°, low 4°
Bright sunshine, breeze
Alt: 3 metres above sea level
Distance covered: 2537 miles

*Map of the journey.

*I mark my small scale atlas with a green line to indicate my route. The small arrows denote overnight stops. It's great to have the overview of the trip that this atlas provides, and you can't beat the paper map! Since the last post on our off road journey into the desert region of Tabernas, we've covered quite a bit of ground. Arriving this afternoon at a secluded spot just behind the beach on the way into Marbella.

We spent a number of days at the eucalyptus grove which I had discovered half way along the off-road route. It was easily accessible from the road, but it had not been 'discovered' and added to any of the online free camper spots that I could see. This was a great thing, as it meant we got the place to ourselves most of the time - only one other campervan chanced upon it for a night during our stay. It seems like a long time ago now, and I honestly have no idea when I was there. This can often become the case when living free from the structures of the working week and having tuned out of the daily radio broadcasts due to poor coverage. (Radio 4 can often be found on 198 LW, with a particularly satisfying amount of static and hiss) ..reminding one that you're far from 'home', though everywhere I settle feels like home after a few days. I often get to know a space intimately when camping under the trees in the sunshine, bare feet on the dry earth or sand.

About this time I had a text from some friends I'd met on previous trips, a lovely welsh couple who spend much of the year travelling in their converted Merc van. We arranged a meeting the following weekend - it would be in the mountains somewhere north-east of Granada. I knew it would be cold there, so spent a bit of time making sure my heaters were working properly. There were a good few km to cover before the meet up, and first I would drive on through the Tabernas desert area, famous for the western films made there in the 1970's. I decided not to visit having already absorbed the atmosphere during my rambla drive and camping in the area, but I stopped nearby where I could overlook the scene..

Exploring a side-road which led me on an old dilapidated road close to the motorway, I came upon another 'western' attraction, which had its own run-down character on top of its movie-set credentials. There were a number of these old billboards along this road, which was probably the main route back in the 70's..

It wasn't long before we were trucking north west and into higher ground and we could see the snowy range of Sierra Nevada on our left, by compass, due south. I wanted to stop for the night somewhere in the valley, but with a good view of the mountains so I could contemplate the view with the changing light, as the sun dropped in the west over the whitewashed villages. I navigated to a deserted motorhome service area with a water supply, and adjoining it was a terraced park with a strange circular fountain, surrounded by a circle of stone dogs. Completely fenced in, it was a fantastic place for Rio to run riot after his football and work on his ball control which is improving rapidly. He can now dribble the ball in circles and then back towards me for another long kick back into play. I will soon be on the phone to Jose Mourinho! The next day I utilised a high wall, and parking the van next to it I was able to repair a solar panel connection that had corroded through leaving me 40 watts below full power. The panel at the front is tricky to reach, even so, but I managed to get it sorted out and now have the extra 2 amps that this provides - very important in overcast weather. I didn't see a soul during the day or so we spent here, so I was looking forward to seeing my friends in the next couple of days, but when I can sit in the sun with a nice view, a good book and a fully stocked fridge listening to Spanish music on the radio, the spirit of adventure is a stronger emotion than any sense of loneliness - you never know what the next hours will bring from nowhere into present reality.

Motoring on and climbing into the more jagged mountains, the temperature was dropping with every metre gained and on leaving the motorway for a pine lined road among rocky ridges I had a smile on my face, as Rio looked out the window excitedly wagging his little tail in anticipation of his own canine explorations in new territory. He loves the cold and snow which gives him even more energy than is even usual. I reached the meeting point a day early, with the afternoon sun shining, but the temperature already as low as 6°c - we were going to be in for a cold night! Rio raced around in the dry rustling leaves whilst I unloaded the second gas bottle from the roof storage in case it would be needed after dark. Ageing batteries means I cannot always rely on the diesel heater to last all night on the thermostat if it gets really chilly, so we have a backup propane heater. We were both in early, and being Friday got the pizza on and opened a tin of beer. I think I was reading that night, and shortly heard something other than rain falling gently on the fibre-glass roof above our heads. Drawing back the curtains revealed a glow from the cold moon, and about an inch of snow already carpeting the surrounding meadows and woodland. It was cold out, but I kept the window open and watched the snow drifting down in the moonlight, the constellations of stars above, sharp and distinct in the icy air. It was only just below zero, but compared to what I'd been used to for most of the trip it was cold, and the thinner air at this altitude added to the sense of slowing time.

Next morning my shoes!

By mid morning the snow was beginning to melt but there was a cold breeze, and my hands were freezing when we went out for a survey of the woods up near the ridge close to camp. I exchanged some humorous messages with my friends, and we decided on another place to meet up that day. It was too cold to meet up there, unless we were to sit inside most of the time burning gas or diesel to keep warm. It wasn't a long drive to the meeting place and of course mostly downhill, so I put the auto-box into neutral and coasted down from the mountains. I arrived first and the place was not so remote - it was a large forest; parkland not far from a town, the sort of place people may come to walk their dogs in the evenings. The was also a restaurant on the edge of a reservoir but I found a place more within the forest itself to meet my friends. It was still reasonably cold here, maybe like an autumn day in the UK, and I was wearing all layers, including a woolly hat and jacket. Still it was possible to sit with the door open and much better to catch up and socialise. It was great to see them when they arrived in the forest in their big dark green van, that almost vanishes against the trees in a place like this. We shared some nice meals and went walking with the dogs along the shores of the reservoir amongst other things.

There was however a scary incident that happened one evening while we were all in our own vans. The girls were preparing a meal and I was reading.. It had been a very windy day, and as we'd been walking earlier, the exposed, treeless area by the reservoir had some extremely strong gusts of wind that drove us back into the forest among the swaying pines. So, I was looking out the window, just by chance, and thump, thump! two trees fell to the ground, right parallel to our vans - it was very close. I immediately alerted the girls, who hurriedly got the cooking made safe, and we swiftly moved onto the dry bed of a higher, empty area of the reservoir. We parked beside a stack of recently felled trees for shelter form the winds. It had been a close one, and gave us plenty to talk about over dinner! After dinner we watched a film, 'Tracks,' about an Australian girl single-handedly crossing the continent by camel caravan in the 1970's. The journey had been featured in National Geographic magazine at the time. A very inspiring film for travellers like ourselves, though I think I'll stick to the Hiace van for the time being - mostly less temperamental!

The next day we all headed off on our journeys again, we left the place at the same time and followed one another out, so no-one was left behind, no one likes goodbyes, splitting off at a certain point at a road junction, each van heading into a new world once more.. I continued down form the mountains of Granada, towards the coast where I knew it would be a lot warmer and I could sit out once again in my shorts. On the way however, I stopped off at a large dam and reservoir with expansive views, and a peaceful atmosphere. It was really just planned to be a lunch stop, but after eating I felt really tired, so decided to stay on for the night. I got talking to a Czech bloke called Lucas, whom I'd run into before, some weeks back at the hot-springs of El Salido - at the time we had not spoken, but we had a good talk about life, travel, and income prospects, and the financial benefits of living in a van..

A partially collapsed look-out tower near Nerja

I arrived at the coast near the town of Nerja, Costa del Sol the next day by lunchtime. This seemed to be another place where a traveller like myself, for instance, could stop off for months and really get to know the area. It reminded me a bit of Lagos in the Algarve, Portugal, quite a busy small town on a sunny coast with beautiful scenery all around as well as endless cliffs and beaches. I stayed a few nights in this area, and of course only scratched the surface, but such is this tour of the Med' coast I'm on this winter. My favourite camp was atop a cliff, overlooking a beach where I could park right by the cliff-edge fence and have the great sea view and south facing sunshine streaming into the van for most of the day. The step of a camper is a real suntrap, and its possible to sit out of the breeze on a cushion and wear shorts and really enjoy it, when outside it'd be just a bit breezy for that. This is a big advantage of sliding door vans, over the big white motorhomes with their caravan style doors. My friend Paul calls it 'Van Bathing'.

The lookout tower in the photo was at the end of the beach closest to where I was parked. A winding path led down from the clifftop, past an abandoned old villa, smashed terracotta tiles all around, and then along a pleasant grassy path along the shore, or just a hop down onto the sand instead, take your pick. Good exercise to be had descending and then returning via this path a few times a day, but not enough to tire Rio out of course. There were a few campers also stopping here and in nearby spots, but it was nice and quiet with no-one spending more than a couple of nights. During the time here I also drove around a narrow minor road along the cliff edge, a natural park area, with steep drops,  amazing views out to sea and sunny lay-bys to stop in. Lots of grey haired ex-pat hikers en-route as well, waving as my van bounced along the bumpy road.

Driving through Malaga

I decided I wanted to cover a bit of ground on the next leg of the journey and make my way almost to the end of the Costa del Sol, in order to miss out most of the built up resort areas for stopping, but also to see what there was to see as I enjoyed the drive. I'd be passing through almost all of the package holiday destinations en route, so its always fascinating to have a look as I pass through - never having been one for the Spanish beach holidays in the 80's and 90's. I planned a route that would take me through the main section of Malaga, rather than by passing on the motorway, but next time I will by-pass it on the motorway! Malaga turned out to be a huge city, much bigger than I had expected, and the main route through was like driving through the outer and then inner city roads in any big European city, from dusty hard working areas on the edge of town, to palm tree lined dual-lane roads, passing by marinas filled with million-euro yachts, big hotels, and of course the run of the mill high-street chain stores and boutiques that we all love to see everywhere we go. I remained relaxed in the heavy stop-start traffic, as the rhythmic sound of the waves had not left me from my endless days watching the rising and setting sun and moon, and the changing moods of the Mediterranean.

Once through Malaga and out the other side, I took the exit onto the A7, that would run through Torremolinos, Fuengirola, and finally into Marbella, where I had heard of a secret little spot right behind the beach. Now this road turned out to be a VERY busy dual carriageway, with everyone seemingly in a rush to get god knows where really as it all looks pretty similar to me, but I'm sure there is a lot of economic activity and hard work going on here of course. The apartment and restaurant, wine bar lined streets, with other small businesses filling in the gaps, allow no room for slip roads at intersections, so traffic trying to get onto the road has to make a mad dash, often seeing a camper coming as an opportunity to pull out and cut into the endless flow of impatient traffic, which is a challenge on the brakes when you have a GB reg Mercedes right behind you trying to overtake to get an extra hole in at the golf course.. I think I've said enough to give you a feel for this road, the A7 Costa del Sol, be warned!

Arriving into Marbella in the Ace, things were looking altogether better. The sun was shining, and although the traffic had not let up, there were beautiful mountains to my right and a greater sense of space, more trees around and I could tell it was going to get interesting here. Finding the exit to my chosen, por la noche took a little while as I had to double back and enter the incessant A7 flow in the slow-off-the-mark house on wheels - I may have a turbo now, but I'm saving diesel. Soon I was bumping along a pot-holded tarmac 'track' between a gated community on one side and many gleaming villas on the other. This wound along toward the shore and entered a eucalyptus grassland grove with many flat areas, campers dotted about here and there but by no means crowded. I made it right down into the dunes behind the beach, having full confidence in not getting stuck in this van. It turned out that the area is a council serviced park which lies behind a beach restaurant. Winter camping is tolerated and there are even bins dotted about, emptied by a friendly council employee in a dune buggy on Monday mornings - he even gave me a handful of black bags for the van. Water involves a dusk expedition along the beach to a beach shower, whereupon, balancing a ten litre bottle on one shoulder - its possible to fill up. You can try 20 litres, but I'm not carrying it back for you! The supermarket is just across A7, but walkable via a handy footbridge in place for the gated community. I knew I was set-up here for a number of days. I had a huge grassy area for the dog, ample privacy, and other travellers for a chat, parked close by.

The beach itself is lovely, and being close to Marbella centre, has a steady stream of walkers, joggers, and many characters of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds coming along, some exchanging a few words, or joining in with Rio in his never ending cup-final mentality with the football. By this stage we have two footballs, found in the woods and re-inflated with my air-compressor - this thing has many uses, from cleaning out the diesel heater or stove, to pumping up the bike tyres as well as the van. I could sit on the wooden steps of the beach restuarant (closed) and watch the passers by, and just back over the dune is my house and private garden. Want a beer or a coffee? Just walk a little further along the beach, or if you're lazy its all in the camper anyway. I'll definitely be returning here at some point in the future. Marbella beachfront luxury in a prime location for as long as I want - price-less.. literally!

Thanks for following along!

Get in touch if you're in the area..

Have a good one!

Location: Marbella,Spain


  1. Nice post Chris, really got a feel for the area your travelling through, sounds like rio will be match fit for the world cup :-) Trev

  2. Nice post Chris, hope Rio will be match fit for the world cup :-)

  3. Hola, espero que todo te haya ido bien, nosotros tenemos otra hiace como la tuya, pero el frontal de los faros y el paragolpe delantero es muy feo, tu lo compraste en Portugal, si me .Puedes comentar que te costó y dónde lo compraste te lo agradecería, un saludo desde alicante

  4. Que tal, te ha pillado el temporal de Andalucía?

  5. Hola, por donde estas ahora