The following video explains some of the reasons we love our Spanish winter home in Denia.
You may have read some of our postings about the town and the video illustrates the essence of it’s charm.
The Mediterranean coast of Spain is a perfect place to spend time and I hope this video will encourage you to explore it. Spain isn’t only about beer and sunburn, travel a few miles away from the coast and discover much, much more.
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Windless February days along the Mediterranean coast, bring a golden dusting of pollen that rains down from the pine trees. On breezy days it billows about in great khaki coloured clouds. When the wind is up, it flies, thickly, horizontally, until it rams into the crevices in vertical surfaces. Nothing and no one is spared. It even finds it’s way into sealed containers. No part of a motorhome, camper van, awning, car, motorcycle, canoe, bicycle, or body, is spared. The dust is released so consistently, that the moment it is cleaned away, more lands. Gleaming surfaces recede into distant memory. A romantic dream of halcyon times, when the world and those who people it, were not a dusty and jaundiced yellow.
The old trope that no part of a pine tree is poisonous is no consolation for a small minority, for whom this is a tissue issue. It is boom time for the local pharmacy, as sales of antihistamines rocket. Misery ensues. Inhalers whizz.
Pollen on a puddle of water.
After a few weeks, the pollen stops falling and we all breath a sigh of relief, apart from the allergic gang who still cannot breath. By now there is a thick, puce green meets yellow, layer of pollen on every possible surface and without rain, it is whipped up into the air with every puff of wind. It is nature battling to assert itself, one pollen grain at a time, in the face of the might of millions of pounds worth of huge, shiny white, diesel guzzling, planet destroying, motorhomes hunkered here on this tiny site of 109 pitches. The final assault is the ‘attack of the maggots’. Bucket loads of small male cones, the spent remains of all that masculinity, fall, pitter-patter, onto every surface. The final fling of the campsite sentinels.
‘Maggots’ (male cones), spent of their pollen and ready to fall to the ground.
Of course this rather tatty, basic campsite could go the way of many on the Spanish Mediterranean and cut down all trees, spread tarmac, add sun screening in the form of giant, overhead, horizontal blinds and pack in almost twice the number of vehicles in neat ranks. Seasoned travellers call this type of campsite a ‘car park’, because that is how they look and feel.
In fact, our site cannot chop down it’s pines as they are protected by law. The pine here, the Stone Pine to the British, Pino Pinonero to the Spanish and Pinus pinea to the overly interested, has to stay put, or else. They are a very tall, hard wooded, but light-weight, useful tree and can totter on for about three hundred years. With their parasol shaped tops and long, shingled trunks, they are a prehistoric beauty. The site owners could quite easily get rid of them, storm by storm, tree by tree, until there was nothing left. No one would be any the wiser. Thankfully the owners love the trees as much as the regulars here: despite the pollen and the ‘worms’.
Ancient species are always food for something. The Western Conifer Seed Beetle (Leptoglossus occidentalis) an American immigrant, is a sap feeder and deprives the baby cones of nutrient, which makes them drop off. The other pest is our old chum, the Processionary Pine Moth; more about his little house of horror here.
These are the trees that give us the uber trendy, uber expensive pine nut. It has been a food source for us for about 6000 years. Around the time that some of the local, neolithic cave art was created. These inventive people were collecting the cones from high up in these trees for the little seeds inside. A very long pole with a hook in the end and, I imagine, good eyesight are the tools of the trade.
The cones are gathered whilst still immature, at about three years old, they are large, tightly closed and often still green. They are stored until they open up and release the hard shelled seed. The shells are broken open to reveal the fat and protein packed nugget within. A valuable resource to early peoples and us to us modern sophisticates alike. Some things never change.
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At the end of this piece there is a video, lasting just over 2 minutes. It showcases some of the wildlife you might come across here. Please do not expect wandering herds of Wildebeests, or a David Attenborough commentary. Do expect all participating creatures to have been filmed on, or near, the campsite and not in a zoo ….
What a luxury it is to lie in bed in the morning, cup of tea in hand and watch the wildlife parade before your bedside window. Some mornings, almost nothing happens. Other mornings,we are treated to a panoply of creatures, doing what ever it is they do, as we slurp our brew.
This winter, we have added more ‘rarities’ to our list of visitors. We have also crept about the site at night, like a couple of weirdo’s, seeking out the shy and/or nocturnal; slugs,snails, cats and geckos.
The results are a host of critters, all dropping by to forage and feed, or hanging out in their favourite places, waiting for a meal to wander past.
To be honest, most of what we see will be familiar to you, so we wont bore you with long descriptions of the obvious. Instead we will add a few notes on those unusual characters that brighten our day, or force us to consult Dr Google for more information. The numbers below, should match those on the picture at the top.
1. We are very fortunate to have a Red Squirrel colony on site. Many of the squirrels can be hand fed and are very fussy eaters, refusing all offerings except nuts. Each squirrel is identifiable by it’s colouration and damage. There are no black coloured Red Squirrels here. The squirrels feature heavily in our little video.
5. Sardinian Warbler. Yes, you knew it was a bird, but not one we see much of in the UK, unless you are a bit of a twitcher. It is cute, often holding it’s tail up like a Wren. It has a bright red eye and it is very common on site. Males are black headed and grey backed and the females are ….. need we paint a picture? Generally it does not migrate, it nests in low shrubs, although here it would lose it’s young to the many cats on site. I cannot explain why I constantly call it a Siberian Warbler; old age getting the better of me?
7. Blackbirds are not a rarity, except that here, they have a gene that gives rise to some birds having white markings (leucism). Ours has an almost entirely white head and is disputing the pitch boundary with a very ordinary Blackbird. Some short footage of one of their typical battles is included on the video. At home we have a similar gene in our garden’s Blackbird population, giving us the lovely Roger Moore, he had one white ‘eyebrow’ permanently raised and was the son of whitey.
13. The snails here are a revelation. So many new ones to us. All you need do is look out for the ‘dead’ shells during the day, or head out at night with a torch. 11o’clock onwards is the best time to go hunting; what else would you be doing at that time of night? Our favourite, the Decollate snail, lovely shell.
16. Gecko’s are plentiful on the campsite. They emerge, year round on warm evenings, clinging impossibly to walls and waiting for food to pass by. Generally, they seem to be territorial; if you find one, it will be there every time you pass. They try to stay out of reach and here they keep within range of a light fitting so that they can catch and eat the insects that are drawn to them. They like to have a cable, or roof tile, or loose bark to slip behind and out of sight.The wash house has a good sized specimen where we have placed the number 16 in the picture. The most easily seen type of Gecko we have seen here (January – June) is the Moroccan or Crocodile Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). The hugely common, Mediterranean Gecko (Hemidactylis turcicus) does hang out at this campsite, but all we ever find are babies. The Mediterranean Gecko has colonised huge swathes of the world.
22. Mediterranean Pale Glow-Worms are to be found glowing, in our experience, low down in the shrubby areas beside the seafront promenade. We saw them in mid March, at about 2am as we walked back from the Fallas shenanigans. In January this year, in the middle of the day, we also picked up this beauty on the path to the lighthouse. It was crossing the gravel track. A clumsy mover, it made it’s way caterpillar style at the back end, whilst using it’s legs, all at the front end, to haul itself forward. Like the proverbial chicken, we guessed it was probably trying to get to the other side. These are unmistakeable creatures and it was great to help it cross it’s road.
23. We wandered past the biggest wasp we have ever seen, and although it was sipping nectar from a plant beside the path, outside the campsite, we have included it. It is a Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia maculata), Males have a black head and the much larger females have a yellow head. Females can be 6cm/2.4ins long. Only the females have a sting and venom, which they use to paralyse the host grub for their young. They lay an egg in the pre-paralysed grub of the Rhinoceros Beetle and the rest you are welcome to imagine.
24. Humming Bird Hawk-Moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) are common around here, once the weather warms up. One balmy evening, here on the campsite, we enjoyed watching one as we drank a beer in the bar. Despite being two a penny, they look so exotic that, whenever we see them, we get far too excited for our own good health. The very best place to see them locally, is where the sandy beach starts, just as you leave Denia. The plant borders alongside the boardwalk thrum with them when the temperature is up around the high twenties, we saw them in June. Often seen in the UK too.
28. This campsite has no problem with the infamous Pine Processionary Moth, because it has a regime of spraying in place in order to prevent infestation. Despite this, we have one colony on site, next to us, which will be ‘dealt with’ very soon (now gone). The colony I am shaking up in the movie was off site, but nearby. The life cycle is straight forward; eggs laid in pine trees in the summer by the parent moth that has one day to complete the task before dying. The hatchlings emerge in the Autumn, and feed on pine needles. In January the caterpillars get together and form the distinctive nest which becomes home for the winter. They sleep by day in their nest and forage in their pine tree for needles to eat by night. In the spring, they leave their nest and their host tree to find somewhere suitable to pupate, often, but not always soil. This is when they can be seen processing along the ground, nose to tail.
Why the concern over a moth? It is all because when the caterpillars come out of their spidery nursery cocoon, high in trees, to wriggle along the ground, in single file, they look very sweet. Pets and young children are fascinated by them and love to investigate anything new. However, if the caterpillars are touched, their hairs can cause an allergic reaction, fatal in some cases.
27. The Black Redstart is a nice enough looking bird until it flies off. Then you get a flash of it’s red tail; all very flamenco.
Whilst here on site, we have seen or heard everything, from the tiny and yet complex Ant up to the top predator, the Tawny Owl. All this in an area no bigger than our courtyard garden at home. It is remarkable what is out there waiting to be admired.
We hope the little movie was to your liking. Let us know if there are other must see creatures here on the Costa Blanca and what you think of this article, by clicking on the reply box below and leaving a message. If you would like an automatic email whenever we post articles, click the ‘follow’ box below on the right.
For your delight and entertainment we have added a two minute video about Storm Gloria. It is at the end of this article.
What we said to our friends was, “You’ll love it here. The weather’s like a mild summer’s day in the UK. Above us, the heavens are usually crystal clear and brilliantly blue, with just enough clouds to make an artists sky. The sea is every shade of green and blue and so gin clear that, when standing on the rocky shore, fish can be seen swimming in it’s depths. Add to this the tropical palms and banana trees and the oranges dripping from their branches and you have a place that you must visit. Especially as we’re here and we miss you.We will welcome you with open arms. Take care.“
Thus it was that our friends organised themselves to visit. We booked them into a local hotel for a couple of days, followed by a week in a nearby apartment. It was going to be perfect. We could not wait for them to arrive and to welcome them with open arms.
With our guests due on Thursday, we began to plan our itinerary for the week. The weather was about to break, which meant the Monday reconnoitre became a mega ride out on our KTM’s. We were on a mission, checking access, views, restaurants and anything else we could think of that would keep an 87 year old and his 60 year young buddy amused. We got back after dark, packed away anything that was not nailed down, and hunkered down in readiness for the storm that was about to hit us. Apparently, it was going to be a corker. They were flying high and it had been what felt like a long long time since we had seen them.
As we were skimming about the mountain tracks on our motorbikes, the campsite staff were asking some clients to move onto pitches that were clear of trees that might fall during the coming high winds. With everyone on the campsite safe and sound in their caravans and motorhomes, the wind strengthened, the clouds gathered and the night became coal black. We snuggled up under our duvet as the storm tried to pound it’s way into our coziness. We went to sleep; in fact we slept like logs.
What a difference a night makes. We awoke to Armageddon. Trees uprooted, an awning blown down and one campervan brushed by a large branch as it fell. We had to take care as we struggled to walk side by side to the seafront. We were still in a howling gale. Then we were assailed by a vicious downpour. The water poured down our jeans and into our shoes. We sheltered behind a sturdy wall. The sea was angry, in filthy shades of grey and raging against the shore. Stones, rocks and boulders had been hurled across the promenade, during the night, with the ferocity of Finn McColl in full battle cry. The angry sea had slammed into concrete benches and litter bins, picking them up and strewing them along the promenade. A slight lull in the rain allowed us to squelch our way further along the blasted seafront. Demolished walls, banks of pebbles and access decking were all strewn asunder. Only the brave or foolhardy ventured out, I think we fell into the second category!
A member of the campsite decided to hold a movie afternoon, to calm the nerves and help keep up moral. Four of us headed out to find a restaurant that would offer us a lunch. Most places were shut; lack of utilities, storm damage, closed roads: all good reasons to not open up. We trawled the streets in the rain and eventually we found an eatery. They fed us in high style as we watched their TV with it’s wall to wall coverage of the torrential rain, strong winds, high seas and driving snow. The campsite had been lucky, it had come away with little damage, apart from jangling the nerves of some campers.
By the next day, Wednesday, the rain had stopped, the wind and sea had dropped to a mere ‘Strong Force 9‘. It is hard to gauge what it had been 30 hours before.
The statistics of this particular storm event makes for salutary reading:
Winds gusting up to 70MPH
20000 homes without electricity
Waves up to 27ft
Air pressure at 1049.6 millibars, highest reading recorded in 300 years.
Our visiting friends made contact with us, having seen a travel warning issued by the Foreign Office. We told them it was fine, assuring them that a little storm like that was no barrier to a nice holiday. And so it was that they arrived the following day, Thursday.
In one week our friends had experienced the aftermath of a freak storm; leaden skies, rough seas, challenging temperatures, followed by glorious sunshine and the heat of Spanish winter sun.
A week later, despite feeling, as our friend put it, that, “I may never pass this way again,” he was also insisting he might visit for a month next year.
From the first hello to the last goodbye, we had a ball; but that is a different story.
Please feel free to let us know what you think of Storm Gloria by popping your comment in the reply box below. You may have also noticed a few musical references; no reason, simply a bit of fun. The Wallys xx
L’Albarda Garden, Pedreguer, Spain
Pure paradise with some very special twists.
In contrast to the English National Trust’s overstocked, over co-ordinated and over primped gardens for the over wealthy, L’Albarda is a garden on a human scale. Intimate, balmy, exotic; inspirational. In fact only a year ago, it seemed to be all a garden should and could be, but, as it turned out, there were secrets hidden within it’s walls. Following this first visit, we determined that we would be back.
One year after our first look around this slice of heaven, an opportunity came for our second visit, which would be guided by a local professor of botany. Immediately, we said yes. And that is how we found ourselves heading out, in the warm winter sunshine, with a group of cyclists. We had all skimmed through the Spanish countryside on our bicycles, many of which were electric. Us two fools were on ancient, borrowed, bikes that were somebody’s cast offs. One had an ridiculously inadequate, back pedal brake and both were woefully shy of gears. From the East of Denia we cycled towards a place called Pedreguer.
It was to be a day of surprises.
What was surprising?
You are right to ask.
The first thing is that we made it there at all. Having avoided cycling for about 10 years, we were truly chuffed to find we were able to force our arcane steeds to their limits. In turn they certainly pushed us to our limits. At our age exercise is important, but the only very steep climb of the day, to the garden gate, felt like a killer; though, here I am, alive and well to tell the tale.
Another surprise? This garden is more than gorgeous, it turns out that it hosts a nationally important collection of native plants. It is a wildflower haven maintained using organic methods. We had noticed that the place had weedy areas here and there; and in a way it does.
Top off the first two surprises with a sleek, low, ground hugging auditorium, that is being constructed especially for operatic performances and this becomes the garden that keeps giving. Imagine on a warm summers evening being immersed in green lushness, with glimpses of sweeping, crystal clear, mountains soaring beyond the garden walls, the setting sun showering the firmament with the glowing embers of the day. All this before being called to step inside with your glass of Champagne in hand and with your charming escort accompanying you to your seat where you will be consumed by a whirlwind, goose bump raising, performance.
Our Professor walked us through the grounds, chatting along the way about the things we were seeing: Wormwood, used to make the drink Absinthe and another plant very similar to Thyme that is added to alcohol to enrich the flavour. We could all see where this was going.
Usually we know what we have seen. Our eyes take in everything and our brains grapple to make an accurate interpretation, which we accept as fact. Surprisingly little input is needed for our view of the world to change. In a couple of hours, this chap had caused a paradigm shift in the way we perceived the garden. Yes, it is an absolutely gorgeous spot, any fool can see that, reason enough for dawdling through it’s leafy calm. And yet, it is so much more than the sum of it’s parts, because of the owner’s higher aims to preserve and understand native plant life and to encourage others to embrace the importance of caring for our biosphere.
The guided tour ended. We thanked our guide and said our goodbyes. All that was left for our merry band of cyclists to do, was to head home. We pushed our bikes to the garden gates, mounted up and hurtled straight downhill. With one of us having to pedal backwards in a vain attempt to moderate the speed of the bike, and the other with no back brake, we gave up trying to slow our bikes. Instead we hung on like devils on horseback all the way to the bottom, where we were greeted by the safety of a level cycle way.
Oh how sweet the ride home, with memories of L’Arbada Garden lingering in our minds.
If you would like to leave a comment or question for either of us, please write it in the ‘reply’ box below. Thank you. Wally and Jen