A ROAM WITH A VIEW – on our road trip to Spain in March 2014 that inspired us to get a motorhome of our own
“It’s a bit like a motorhome…” said our two-year-old son Darley as the vehicle rolled up.
“It is a motorhome,” cried out his excited four-year-old brother Daniel. In fact it was a Swift Escape 686, but Darley’s recently taken to saying things are “a bit like” whatever they actually are.
Here it was, delivered to our door by Lloyd from Chief Rentals, the hire firm that looked after us magnificently when we decided on a Spanish road trip. This came about after a decade of promising we’d visit where my wife Debs grew up in Jávea, coupled with a dislike of flying.
So hiring a motorhome to get there via Brittany Ferries’ route to the northern Spanish city of Santander was the answer. I’d always found boat, train and road travel more rewarding and less stressful than flying. It’s a slow ease into a new country rather than getting dumped in a place with new language, climate and culture. It’s the journey not just the destination!
But when I’d first mentioned a motorhome trip to Debs she’d been as aghast as she was thrilled now that our six-berth accommodation on wheels had arrived. Like many people she thought motorhomes were cramped and cold. Reminding her this wasn’t one of my old VW campers I’d persuaded Debs a few weeks earlier to look inside Chief’s rental range.
There she saw the space, noted the hot water, shower, loo, oven, fridge and heater (runs off gas or electricity and retains 20°C even at -15°C outside). To make it even easier, Chief provides bedding, bikes, food hamper, child seats – everything, including the kitchen sink that was already there.
That brought us to the moment we set off, driving something 7m long and 3m high for the first time. It was a relative doddle, and when doddle became fun the only issue was we both wanted to drive!
Another daunting thing that proved otherwise was the thought of booking campsites. Although we were up for some “wild camping”, for most nights we wanted to be on campsites for water and electricity. But rather than the dozen calls we thought Debs would have to use her fluent yet rusty Spanish for it took us just one call to The Camping & Caravanning Club that also arranges ferries and holidays.
Prior to set-off, packing had been easy too with no worries of what could squeeze into bags. We simply chucked everything we wanted in the motorhome. We’d even planned on taking our dog, but then decided last-minute he’d probably enjoy a holiday from us…
So off we set and straightaway saw more than ever, with the elevated views letting us see over hedges into fields we’d driven alongside countless times. Our world just got bigger.
Boarding the Portsmouth ferry was hassle-free too – we simply rolled up and on, so much easier than lugging bags around a crowded airport. On board it was like a hotel, and even with two active little boys our 26-hour journey flew thanks to the children’s entertainer, playroom, cinema and delicious restaurant/cafe food.
Our en-suite cabin was a relaxing place to watch the horizon shift from English Channel grey to Bay of Biscay blue either side of a sound sleep. The next day we watched excitedly as the Spanish coast came closer. Disembarkation was as easy as boarding – then we were on the excellent Spanish roads.
Stunning “Green Spain” soon gave way to a more familiar Spain of spectacular mountainous landscapes and sun-kissed vineyards. We drove a couple of hours to Haro where our first campsite experience was fantastic: so beautifully kept, as they all were. We’d been longing for tortilla and found a tapas bar where Debs proved her Spanish was in fact well oiled.
From Haro it was another pleasurable drive on the deserted autopista to Zaragoza. We stopped for tapas whenever we fancied at lay-bys with picnic tables and climbing frames for children (and maybe drivers to stretch their arms…).
By this second night our sleeping pattern had formed. Daniel clambered on the bed above the cab, of course, so I climbed up too. It was so comfortable I stayed. Debs and Darley took the double converted from the lounge seats. Every night we slept wonderfully, and I had special moments with Daniel as we gazed through our “secret” window at the stars.
We grew increasingly attached to our motorhome. Made by Yorkshire-based Swift that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it looked after us so impeccably – whether eating, relaxing, sleeping or driving – that we vowed to buy one. We roamed onwards in it past Spain’s rusty art sculptures, wind turbines and alluring almond blossoms, all under mountainous backdrops.
Although always booked on campsites just a few hours on, it allowed for plenty of skedaddling. We loved this freedom, the warm breeze drifting through open windows, and we ate meals with one incredible view after another. At the campsites, Daniel loved meeting new neighbours every time we arrived – our next near Barcelona, then Alcossebre followed by Oliva.
But we couldn’t resist Valencia en route. So we parked up near its Bioparc zoo where the boys thrilled seeing the elephants, giraffes and gorillas in this stunningly imaginitave 10-hectare park. From the primates we headed to La Pepica, lured by its reputation of the finest paella in Spain. We weren’t disappointed as we ate at this historical restaurant, a favourite of Hemingway, poised beautifully by La Malvarrosa beach.
We soon discovered we were only steps from another stunning sandy beach once we arrived at Oliva’s Kiko Park campsite, our favourite stay of all. Even though we weren’t jaded it was welcoming to settle for a few nights after 1,000 miles in a week. As was the campsite model, Kiko had restaurant, shop and swimming pool. We spent days on the beach and strolling along it for café bombóns at alfresco cafes. In the evenings after eating while watching the sunset we relaxed in the motorhome’s lounge, listening to the waves.
One day we finally made it to Jávea’s crescent beach and Debs’ childhood home, nestled under Montgó, the 2,470ft mountain that looks like a slumbering elephant. We headed down winding roads to the stunning Cumbre del Sol beach, where 20 years ago Debs had played.
The trip wasn’t without my own step back in time: from our next campsite down the coast near Albir we headed for Mundomar to see the amazing dolphins, then past Alicante where a childhood best friend lived. I’d not seen Adge for a decade, so we reminisced in our motorhome until the moon reflected on the sea.
Next day, we started our journey home and discovered Aranjuez near Madrid. It reminded of us Hampton Court, no coincidence for here too 16th Century royalty created a palace from where they could sail to their capital.
On the next stretch we drove through the dramatic snow-capped Sierra de Guadarrama range. We’d planned on reaching Santander, but spent too long lunching in sight of more snow-topped mountains – Picos de Europa – so now ready to wild camp, we settled in what we made out in the dark was a village.
In the morning we discovered we were 1,000 metres up in pretty Montorio village. After breakfast we motored on to reach Santander several hours before embarkation. We spent those hours eating tapas by a glistening blue sea and playing on the beach. It somehow beat waiting at an airport.
Getting on and off the magnificent Pont-Aven – “a bit like a ship” offered Darley or “the biggest ship in the world” according to Daniel – went as smoothly as the outward journey. A day later we were back on drenched dry land in Plymouth.
On the final leg of our 2,000-mile motor-roaming trip, we agreed it felt more like travelling than a holiday: as if we’d been away for months not weeks. It was perfect family-together time and had left us feeling totally connected with a country. I’ve spent about a year of my life in Spain and Debs several times that, yet both agreed we’d never experienced Spain as we just had.
In fact, it was a bit like Spain…
Swift’s Escape motorhome range starts at £35,730: swiftgroup.co.uk/motorhomes
Chief’s motorhome hire starts from £110/day or £450/week. 01803 520494; chiefmotorhomehire.com
Brittany Ferries has up to six sailings a week from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Bilbao and Santander. Fares start from £152pp each way (based on two taking their car and sharing a two-berth en suite cabin). 0871 244 1400; brittanyferries.com
A 14-night holiday in Spain with The Camping & Caravanning Club including ferry and campsites for two adults and two children costs from £260 (winter) and £575 (summer). 0845 130 7701; campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk