This land of shimmering blue mirages envelops the weary traveller. Lulling and tranquil; warm, sensual, it lies low, just out of sight of clamorous Barcelona.
The two towns of Amposta and L’Ampolla are either side of a large Delta. The delta is formed by the constant outpouring of silt by the Ebro River. Even though we have been to both towns, I had not realised that they were differently named. I honestly thought that it was one town, Amposta, spreading along a large bay. Obviously that was wrong! It is not a scooped out bay, it is a bulging delta. And the two towns? They do not share a name and are in two different places, with the delta in-between. There; I am relieved to get that off my chest. Next time I will look at the map.
Of course, being on the Mediterranean coast, it is sure to be a winner for most people and yet, luckily for us, most people were elsewhere, leaving us virtually alone to re-explore this wonderland.
Reminiscent of the famous Carmargue area in France, although without it’s beach front hippy shacks and motor homes, this is more compact. No wild horses here; but salt pans and flamingos, sand, sea and big sky abound.
Of course it is not a herd of birds! The trouble is that where Flamingos are concerned, a ‘flock’ falls flat as a collective noun. This has to be one of nature’s overwhelming spectacles, which is why it should have a name commensurate with it’s glamour. It is also a reason why we come here.
A wetland of international importance, this delta is a Mecca for birdwatchers and botanists, which was the initial draw for us. It still has a pull for us, of course, but it is the wistful beauty of the place that has mesmerised us and it might capture you too.
The Case de Fusta is very busy first thing in the morning with the local men who pop in to eat, drink and talk remarkably loudly. Intimidating at first, they have ready smiles once they know that you are not going to make a pass at them, so take a deep breath, sit down at a table and order your breakfast. The cafe is set in a rustic complex for tourists, which is always closed when we come through in the winter and early spring. Luckily the cafe and it’s Aire is open year round.
If you are bored with Barcelona and Tarragona is a gonna for you, this might be your travel stop-over choice. Stay for a few nights and perhaps a little longer. Take in L’Ampolla too as it has a very different vibe to Amposta, despite it’s long sandy beaches, Flamingos, paddy fields.
Do you, like us, have a place that draws you back, or lingers in your soul, making you soften as you remember? Tell us about it here, at the home for the misty eyed traveller. Many thanks. The Wallys XX
Who would not want to spend time in a shimmering seascape?
Who would not want to spend time with Flamingos?
And who would not want to try cycling on sand?
It was a yes to all three questions, which is how we came to be in this wondrous bay for a few nights.
It is the place for a quiet winter stop over. A water-world that draws you in. The sheer beauty of the bay with it’s pretty and fairly sophisticated little town, long sandy beach and, just inland, lagoons is breath taking. The more we looked, the more we saw and the more we saw, the more we liked.
Sadly as we arrived the Covid19 lockdown was about to be confirmed by the president. We had one day on site, at the most; possibly, if we were lucky, two nights. As things turned out, we made the most of our one whole day by exploring the area on our mountain bikes, only to get back to the campsite to be told that we would have to leave by midday the following day.
We will definitely return to this magical bay.
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There are two types of men in the world. Oh yes, only two.
There are the ones who bang on about the fact that I ride a bike. If I am introduced to a third party by one of these chaps, my bike riding often precedes any other information about me. If I ride with anyone from this group, all I hear is how they can tell I am a woman when I ride. I wonder what they are trying to tell me? Answers on a postcard please.
The other sort of bloke, makes no comment about me being a rider; after-all, why not?
Luckily I enjoy company and these two groups of men are always good company.
Many moons ago, when I was still a teenager, I met Wally and he was instantly attractive to me, on account of his brand new Suzuki TS 125 bike in a glorious shade of 1970’s orange. Wow, I thought, I’m in LOVE; and the guy’s not bad either. Within a few short weeks I had his motorbike and him all to myself. On the down-side, I did not have a clue how to make the bike go. I was not a driver, but I had driven a tractor and was sure it must have furnished me with some transferable skills. Sadly no. Thank goodness Wally is a very patient person. In no time at all I was as good as I was ever going to be; and that is not particularly good; and I was totally hooked.
My total lack of ability got me into a few scrapes as I wizzed around the busy streets of Bristol. I managed a spectacular off as I skimmed through a tight bend, changing gear part way around. I was flung off at great speed, right in front of a bus queue. Worse, a bus queue I passed every day. I made eye contact with some of them as I slid past, belly down wondering where my bike had gone. I was so embarrassed and very glad of my state of the art, super modern, full face helmet, which gave me my much needed anonymity.
One morning at about 6.30, a couple of police officers stopped me for speeding through the city. Well I was the only person on the road at that time of day. Where was the danger? The first thing I was asked was, “Is this your bike?” “Yes.” I replied as I sat astride my machine in my big biker boots, the first of my many manly, greasy Belstaff jackets and my ‘integral helmet’. “You’re a woman???!!!” One of the officers simpered. Every morning for the next few days, they stopped me; only for a chat. I was flattered and promptly changed my route. After-all, up until they showed up, I had the roads to myself and could go screaming about the streets unimpeded. Oh how nice it was to get back to clearing out the pipes. I also enjoyed riding my bike.
Another time, while I was a student, the chain fell off my Yamaha RD 200 and the unexpected change in speed chucked me off. I knew the student bus was on my tail, so I grabbed my bike, stood it up, and found a gate to lean on, making sure I was staring enigmatically into the distance. Oh the shame. Some time later the same bike ‘lost’ it’s clutch cable, so I rode it around the city using racing gear changes. It is still a sound that has a certain thrill attached to it.
You can probably tell that I did develop some skills over the first year or so of riding, but not that many. What did develop was a love of riding that has stayed with me since those early days.
When I was zipping about in Bristol, I was one of only two women who rode there at the time. The other woman kept a Norton Commando and and she never waved in the usual biker style, not even when we fuelled up at the same time, in the same garage, she never acknowledged me. It was in the days of Brit bikers being angry with people who were buying Japanese bikes. She was a tough nut. Now the roads team with lady bikers and I love it. I am no longer alone. I am no longer unusual. So there is really no need to make a fuss.
Maybe I can persuade Wally to tell his biker stories soon. In the meantime, please let us know what you thought of this post by clicking ‘like’, and also, why not add a comment in the ‘reply’ section below.
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There has to be an advantage to travelling overland between the South of Spain and the UK; otherwise, why bother? Why not simply fly? If, like us, you do decide not to fly, what are your options?
Of course you can choose to take your home with you, in the form of a camper bus, a motorhome, a car, or motor bikes. There is even the sea and a perfectly formed canal system, should you want to come over all nautical. With the option of a tent or bed on board and with plenty of hotels to choose from, your choice of transport and where you lay your head, is a matter of taste and possibly purse size.
Over the years, we have found that the smaller the vehicle, the tighter the spots we get into; and a tight spot is always an exciting challenge. As we quite enjoy a challenge tinged with a bit of excitement, our vehicle choices have, on the whole, become smaller as we have become older. We now look for those little single track roads and hill top villages with a knot of narrow, dark roads and walkways that tangle their way through their precipitous communities. Our trusty KTMs are short and nimble and happily pick their way through any cosy, cobbled, cuidad, often to the ‘admiring’ gaze of the locals.
So, without further ado, here is our first small road route, it takes us from the South of Spain to the ferry ports in the North. It is suitable for any kind of bike or car and will just about be alright for small camper vans. You are welcome to reverse it, but please, if you do, use your mirrors!
CUTE ROUTE 1
Denia – Alcala De La Selva.
Sadly, this journey starts with a main road, but, boy is it exciting!
Leave the lively port city of Denia by the coast road and head north on the N332, known by anyone who knows us as PROSTITUTE ALLEY. It was on this road that I was propositioned by a very leggy, blond lady who clearly had a penchant for biker girls and was also clearly in need of glasses, as, unlike her, I’m no spring chicken. If truth be told I was immensely flattered.
When bowling along this fast stretch of road, the astute amongst you will have noticed solitary plastic, garden chairs, positioned at intervals on the junctions roadside farm tracks. Occupied by bored looking, but glamorous women, who spend their waiting time sometimes reading or gesturing to the passing traffic; sometimes intent on their mobiles, texting a mate, often literally. You can also buy oranges along this road, but that may not be as exciting, unless they are there as a metaphor, as ‘They’re Not The Only Fruit’. TOP TIP: keep counting the women until you get to Valencia; if you have more than 10, you have a high score. If you stopped on the way, shame on you, but at least you can say you scored.
As you zip around the outskirts of Valencia, look out for the CV35 and take it. Shock, horror!!! It starts as a six lane road! It soon becomes narrower and windier as the miles click by. Aim for Tereul, a large and reasonably interesting county town. By the time you get there, you will be tempted to turn around and do it all over again. This had turned out to be a top class, narrow, two lane, switch back road, that clings to the side of a RAVINE for mile after mile. It did not feel overly exposed due to safety rails that prevent the distracted from plunging to their certain deaths. The road surface is great, so we had no pot hole shockers, or rail roading tarmac cracks, simply blacktop perfection. Some of the little mud coloured, ramshackle, hamlets along the way appear to be melting back into the steep mountainsides. This route took us through what the Guardian would probably describe as ‘the authentic Spain’.
Once in Tereul, follow our map for the campsite. In Cedrilla, turn left immediately after the petrol station; there is an obvious sign screwed to a house wall that points to Alcala De La Selva. Between Cedrillas and Alcala De La Selva, you will pass a landfill site where the smell of burning is worrying, but thankfully short lived. Do as I did and hold your breath for a lot longer than is sensible. The smell will still be there, trapped in your helmet, but you will be so spinney headed that it wont matter, and that is the main thing. This road becomes tighter and tighter and is spectacular in places. Cedrilla is worth riding your bikes through and Alcala De La Selva is a stunning precipitous old village with a castle on the very top of a rock outcrop. This is a classic route that is popular with tourists and fast road cyclists, as well as goat herders. Some caution is required, as this bit of road is often bounded by vertiginous rock faces that closely follow the very tight and blind bends, usually with no real leeway for surprises.
Once at the town, the campsite is hard to find, ask at the local garage. Or you could also look out for the natural wooden signs with tourist destinations routed out using the thinnest blade that came to hand; small brown lettering on brown wood, at dusk; always helpful to the weary traveller. What we did not see was the internationally recognisable icon of a tent: anywhere. There are one or two other campsites in the area, but we chose this desolate excuse for hospitality, Camping Los Alamos; probably fine in high summer, or peak ski season, but between seasons? No. No english spoken, the bar/restaurant shut and no other customers on site. Mind you, the toilet blocks were very well heated, so that was something on our bitterly cold and lonely night. One thing is certain, we will never forget Los Alimos. 13Euros per night.
Alcala De La Selva – Abejar
Where yesterday was a day of narrow twisting roads, today is a day of comfortable long sweeping bends. No nasty surprises, perfect road surfaces all the way. This is sublime riding that will leave you feeling like one blissed out biker.
If, like us you stay at the Alcala De La Selva camp site, Camping Los Alamos, you will need to head back to Tereul and start day two from there. Take the A23 heading to Zaragoza and turn right onto the N234, signed to Soria (where we aim to go), and Burgos (always worth a visit, but not for this trip). Just over half way to Soria, another road to Zaragoza crosses the N234 and you have to follow it for a very short distance and then continue on the N234 again, until you reach Soria.
This may sound a rather dull route, but the reality is some of the most quintessentially Spanish towns and villages you are ever likely to find. We rode high up, but in parallel to little communities nestling deep down in the foot of the valley, a torrent of terracotta roofs tumbling alongside small rivers. Other clusters of homes, hanging onto the sheer hillsides, were as if temporarily resting before continuing their laborious climb to the summit. All of them are well worth spending time getting to know. All of them so unlike the Costas.
Zip around the outskirts of Soria, a town of which we saw nothing, thanks to it’s excellent ring road. Carry on travelling the N234 until you reach Abajar. Like all the towns along the way, this one is rural, but it has a fuel stop, and if you head up the lane to the side of the petrol station you will find a crossroads with a CASH MACHINE on your right.
Back to that petrol station. Once past the petrol station on your right, and still on the N234, look out for signs on the right to Molins de Duero and to Venuesa, turn right here. You will almost certainly have seen quite a few huge green and fancy roadside hoardings advertising a campsite. This is not the campsite we chose, but follow the signs anyway, and then drive on past this campsite and turn right at the more subtle sign for Camping Urbion. A lakeside idyll, fully open, warm and welcoming, where, if you sit at the bar, the barman will give you a tapas with every drink you order. Result!!
We stayed here for a couple of nights and saw a great range of wildlife.
It costs more here for two motorbikes than it does for a motorhome of any size: 31.50Euros per night.
Abejar – Fuenmayor
OK, this is really day 4, as we spent an extra night at Camping Urbion, but we did that so that you would not have to. Did I say that the Urbion Campsite was fully open? Well, not on a Sunday night, or a Monday morning. So, we have to modify our recommendation, as there is no discount on the daily rate, despite there being no services, apart from the loos and nowhere to get food basics near-bye. Perhaps a set of opening hours on each concession might be a help. All I know is that we were planning to eat our Sunday evening meal in the bar and buy Monday breakfast in the shop and neither option was available to us. Guess who left the site short of two meals, hungry and angry?
TOP TIPS, especially if you arrive on a SUNDAY or MONDAY. If you are a planning to sleep in a tent, try the other campsite, if you are in a camper bus, or something fancier, drive past the sign that directs you into the Urbion access road and take the next right turn. They have masses of lakeside parking here and signs welcoming camper vans. In early May (when we were there) the lakeside services and cafe were closed, however you would have the place to yourselves. No tents allowed here.
And so, ravenously, with no emergency supplies, we left this beautiful, but high priced, low hospitality site and made for the nearest town. We turned right out of the campsite access road and headed towards Molines De Duero, a solid little town, with every building in perfect condition. This is a prosperous town with a tiny bakers. Once again I was in bread heaven. We left the town with nothing more than a handcrafted baguette. We managed to grab some cheese a little later and suddenly all was well in our world.
What a superb days riding lay ahead. Tightly twisting, unpredictable roads wriggling on for miles. These slim, two lane tracks, as smooth and curvaceous as a baby’s bottom, have the most perfect tarmac. We went for miles through the bottom of a rocky and wild gorge with vultures, eagles and kites all looking for a meal. Apart from three British registered super cars, we saw no other vehicle or person until just after the Rioja regional border.
As we crossed the line from Arragon into Rioja, this halcyon lane changed. The vegetation, that before was clipped tight back to the verges, now encroached onto the road surface, which changed from the smartest, blackest piste to a patchwork of potholes and repairs in a Harlequin of colours.
There is nothing too complicated about this route, the road takes you past a lake, Emboise De Masilla, and a full range of farm animals. So, not only do you have to skim around tight bends, avoid the occasional pothole and rocks that have dropped from the sides of the gorge onto your ‘racing’ line, you will now have to slalom around donkeys, heavy horses, ponies, sheep, cattle, including a huge, though thankfully chilled, bull who lounged right on the outside edge of a hairpin bend, and the odd chicken. It was all great fun and probably unique.
We finally stopped for a cuppa at Viniegra de Abajo, at what felt just like an English country pub. At this point the road is signed as a motorcycle route. Here you will find a small fuel station too. It works on the assumption that if you park your vehicle next to the pumps and wander off, it must need re-fuelling. Eventually someone will leave the bar opposite and saunter over and fill the tank. While we were there, the attendant took about half an hour to perform. All very laid back. All very Spanish.
We finally popped out of the wilds of Rioja near Fuenmayor where we were hoping to camp.
The campsite was open; just. No bar, restaurant, or shop, but at least we were told this as we booked in, this meant heading into Fuenmayort for our evening meal and, of course, ordering a locally produced bottle of Rioja wine. Perfection. 18Euros per night
DAY 4 – 5
136K if you don’t get lost!
Fuenmayor – Bilbao
We set off relatively early today and rode straight past the road sign for the A124. It was an omen. I saw the sign, Wally, leading the way, missed it. Some miles further on, we had another chance to get onto the A124, and we were off on a pleasant, well maintained road. Unfortunately, the further north we travelled, the harder we found it to navigate. Let me state right now, that Spanish and, to some extent (thanks to one of the things the Romans did for us), English, are derived from latin. We understand each other. I cannot even begin to imagine where the Basque language originated, although rumour has it that it is basically WELSH. How were two geriatric bikers supposed to cope with such an inscrutable language and with the ever increasing spaghetti that is the main road system around here?
Like true Brits abroad, we stumbled about, covering almost every permutation of bye road possible. We headed in every direction the compass has to offer, unable to read the impenetrable Basque town names as they zipped past us. All I kept seeing was Xalxpmitm, or something similar. We were disoriented, in a land of strange names, with towering motorways criss-crossing high above us. I was like some confused British drunkard in a strange land. Luckily for the locals we passed, I was still wearing my clothes.
Yes we could have used a sat-nav, we could have gone old school and taped written directions on to the fuel tank, but where is the fun in that? We just enjoyed the experience of being lost. You could do the same, though maybe not for 5 hours like us!
The back roads in this area are stunning. Even the ones we covered repeatedly did not become a bore. The road surface is good, the bends range from sweeping to pinching in at the end; ideal for keeping the lost and confused alert. The scenery is lush and rolling. I would enjoy setting aside some time to puddle about in this strip of a route. The chance to be swallowed up by the tiny, ancient hamlets, with their imposing fortified entrances, and higgledy piggledy houses that huddle tightly together, deep in these valleys, would be a joy. We never found the fabled town of Durango, the town that marked the end of our small roads journey north. Perhaps it has a local name full of x’s and t’s, perhaps it does not exist; perhaps, at the end of a very long and lovely day, it simply does not matter. The final few miles followed a winding river which spat us out onto the rugged Atlantic coast road at Deba. From there we followed the signs to Camping Itxaspe. Yes that is Itxaspe, with an X and a T.
At last we had found camping Nirvana. The place was fully open, with a shop, a bar with food and sea views and friendly staff. It was also quite busy. How strange it was to be amongst other people. To hear them chatting, laughing and generally making a noise. I realised we had been in a silent world, with only the drone of our bikes penetrating our cumbersome skid lids. Better get used to it I thought, because in a couple of days we will be back in the racket that is the UK. 20.20Euros per night.
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Like the Snowbirds in the USA we decided to fly south for the winter to avoid the worst of a British winter. As part of the plan we wanted a pair of lightweight motorcycles to allow us to explore our winter habitat.
After much deliberation and head scratching we settled on the 2018 version of KTM,s 390 Duke for our winter sabbatical. We intended to spend a few weeks in Morocco as well as overwintering in Spain. Our final destination was Morzine in France for a week of snowboarding in mid April.
We trailered the two bikes to Spain, towed behind our VW T4 Westfalia camper. Our intention was to use the bikes for local transportation, in and around Denia, on the Costa Blanca, and a camping trip to Morocco. There was also the possibility of a small amount of off-road riding on unpaved trails.
Why the 390 Duke?
We needed bikes light enough to be towed in an un-braked 7.5 tonne trailer.
Bikes with a low seat height.
Decent power delivery.
Other bikes considered:
Honda CRF 250 – too tall.
BMW 310GS – too heavy, lack of power, expensive.
Kawasaki Versys 300 – too tall, expensive.
First impressions of the Duke were favourable, aesthetically, a good looking bike with character.
A short test ride confirmed our pre-conceived ideas of what this bike would be like. Light, eager with a reasonable turn of speed.
Back in the dealership we chose 2 Dukes, one orange with around 600 miles and the other white, pre-registered with delivery mileage. We specified engine guards, and rear rack on both and hand-guards on Jen’s as an extra precaution. The white one was fitted with Oxford bar heaters.
As we were due to leave the UK within 2 weeks of purchase, the white one needed to have 600 miles put on it in order that the 1stservice could be done before departure. This job fell to me, as Jen had had an operation on her thumb and was forbidden to ride for 6 weeks.
It wasn’t much fun riding the Duke sympathetically, the fancy colour display is set up to glow red as you approach the rev limit, which is prescribed by the factory, during the running in period. This is adjusted during the fist service and can be tailored by the rider thereafter. Whilst on the subject of the display, though thoroughly modern, it is a little disappointing. Much of the information is difficult to read if you have normal eyesight and not that of a teenager (Jen did not agree and found the display ok to read). It has a fuel-gauge with a clear warning when the tank is getting low. The gear indicator is a plus but the difference between 5th and 6th not easy to see. Although I had no problems with reflections, Jen found that the display was unreadable at times, especially with the sun behind her. The display has night and day display modes which it automatically switches between depending on light levels. The bike has bluetooth pairing for compatible devices.
After 600 miles of cold wet weather riding, the bike was ready for it’s service. During that time I had discovered that the seat was comfortable over fairly long rides, 250 miles one day. The heated grips were great. Wet weather handling was perfectly acceptable and the vibrations, though evident, were not overly intrusive and didn’t blur the mirrors at any rpm. The mirrors did have a habit of loosening off from time to time; quite annoying. The side stand is a little too long and unless on flat ground the bike, when parked, felt unstable at times. The rear hugger is completely useless, the rucksack I was using, not to mention my backside, were soaked in road grime within a few miles of starting out.
Initial impressions were that the bike was going to suit our purpose in most departments. Plenty of power given the small power unit with just about enough space to carry camping gear. Comfortable, especially given that we were not expecting to be riding in wet conditions thus making the hugger less of an issue. We doubted that we would be doing much off-roading though due to the unsuitability of the tyres and, probably, the suspension.
At this point the bikes were loaded into the trailer and we headed for sunny Spain.
On arrival in Spain we decanted the bikes and discovered, on the floor of the trailer, a 3 inch, 6mm bolt. It soon became clear that it didn’t belong to the trailer. To our horror we discovered the bolt was the top bolt from the rear suspension unit on Jen’s bike. It had vibrated out on the journey between Spain and the UK! Read more here.
We spent several months acclimatising to the new bikes ahead of our planned trip to Morocco. The seat remained comfortable and the riding position was ok, no aches or pains after several hours in the saddle. The brakes were adequate but provoking the rear ABS was quite easy and noticeable. I later found out that the ABS, when really pressed, was literally a life saver! I almost rearranged the back end of a classic Merc convertible, a ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ moment; he didn’t apologise.
The roads in the mountains around Denia are superb, long sweepers, tight S bendy climbs and descents, and so little traffic. The area is used by many international cycle teams for training so some caution was needed. These roads could have been especially designed for the bike. The rear of the Duke seemed a bit loose and I experienced the back end sliding out on many occasions. This may be due in part to the Spanish roads, often dusty and seemingly polished with constant changes in surface and holding the damp where the road was shaded. The standard Metzelers seemed to respond badly to transitional changes in the road surface, giving a little shift sideways as power was demanded. We had a tyre-wall failure after a particularly big pothole hit in Morocco and a nail puncture in the other bike.
During or trip to Algeciras and subsequently in Morocco we had to deal with some heavy winds. We both felt the bikes felt unstable in a cross wind but gusts were up-to 40k and the bikes are very light. Fuel consumption was pretty much what you might expect, refilling after 200k would take about 10 litres, less if we had been taking it easy. Fuel warnings were good leaving a useful range after the first yellow warning on the display.
In conclusion I rather liked my Duke and I think Jen did too. It’s a fun bike when pushed, that works as mini tourer too. Comfortable and light with useable power and great value for money.
In Morocco we were carrying camping gear plus clothing. We travel fairly light and the additional weight did not upset the handling. Apart from the tyre failure, the bikes stood up well to the indifferent Moroccan roads. An occasional spanner check did not reveal any loose fittings. The bikes attracted a lot of admiring interest in Morocco, especially with the kids.