Western Castilla & a little bit of Portugal

It was the long bank holiday weekend in Spain, the Puente de la Constitución, and we were undecided the week before which direction to head…Carcassone?  Bordeaux?  In the end the weather decided for us to some extent, although it still wasn’t the best weather weekend in the world!  We decided to head southwest, to see if we could make it to the Portuguese border, and along the Duero river.

We started with a late after work start, aiming to get to an overnight to start the trip – in Zamora.  A perfectly doable motorway run for us, but made more interesting by the freezing fog – to the extent of the windscreen freezing up as we were actually driving, nuts!  We arrived in Zamora and headed for a car park we’d read was a good spot by the river to overnight, a little difficult to find, but once there, even being the only ones, we were happy with the spot.

Day 1

Waking up in Zamora was…cold!  In fact our overall impression of Zamora was cold.  The fog persisted throughout the morning, which gave for a very atmospheric Duero river next to us, and we enjoyed our first visit of the day to the Aceñas de Olivares, three visitable mills sticking out into the river, complete with hundreds of storks nesting along the wall of the water channel.

We then headed up into the city and stopped off at the tourist office for a map (very friendly!), before heading to the cathedral.  Some lovely painting inside here, a lovely place to sit and contemplate.  We then headed over to the castle ruins, which are free to enter interesting to wander around – plus great views back over the cathedral.  We then wandered down the main street and had a gander at the small Christmas market, before popping into the large Museo Etnográfico de Castilla y León, a huge jumble of traditional objects well laid out and presented – and lovely and warm!  Then back to Berta for some lunch riverside, before heading on through the freezing countryside.

We’ve never really seen anything like the freeze we saw in Zamora, the countryside driving out west was 100% frozen for miles and miles, until we eventually hit a little bit of sun, and the white disappeared.  Quite magical, quite surreal!

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Driving west through the freeze

We knew the direction we were heading, out west to the Parque Natural de Arribes del Duero, but hadn’t quite decided on where to overnight.  We stopped initially at the town of Fermoselle, getting some advice from the guide in the Casa del Parque visitor’s centre as to a place to overnight nearby, the guide there told us to try next to the nearby Ermita de Santa Cruz.  We drove down there, and it did indeed look like a great spot for an overnight, flat and quiet.  We parked up and went for a signposted sunset walk through the olive groves down to a viewpoint over the Duero, the Mirador de las Escaleras – lovely first view of the Duero gorges.  On our return, we decided though to press on to save ourselves an hour the next day, and so headed to the official AC Area at Aldeadávila de la Rivera.

Day 2

After a lovely night’s sleep well accompanied by around 6 other ACs, we changed waters and first doubled back on ourselves a bit to see if we could visit the waterfall of the Pozo de los Humos nearby.  This turned out to be a rather eventful excursion, firstly due to the extremely thin, walled track through the olive groves to the parking area (thankfully one way), way too thin for a Ducato!  Definitely NOT recommendable.  We ended up leaving the van half way round and walking to the start of the walk down to the waterfall, from where we could see that a) it was a very steep walk down and back up and b) it was dry!  So we gave up and went back to Berta and somehow managed to get back to the main road without a scratch!  Lesson learnt!

For a much more successful second stop, we headed back to Aldeadávila and this time follow signs along a lovely surfaced road to the Mirador del Fraile/Mirador Picón de Felipe.  The Mirador del Fraile is a steep drive down, and we decided after our earlier fail to park up at the top, in the huge picnic area (not very well signposted – follow the big blue P), and do the hour walk there and back to the Mirador Picón de Felipe.  This was a lovely walk, popular, and well worth it – make sure you get right over the rocks at the end for the full vertiginous view over the gorge and dam.  On our return to Berta we decided to have lunch and siesta in the picnic area too, enjoying the sunshine.

In the fading afternoon light we then drove on with the aim of getting into Portugal.  We knew there were more fabulous viewpoints all along the river here, but not knowing whether the roads to them were surfaced or not, we decided to head on.  A very wiggly and not particularly well surfaced road took us down to the border – the dam over the Duero at Salto de Saucelle, before continuing through the vineyards and olive groves of the Portuguese Douro, crossing it again before heading south to the hilltop medieval village of Castelo Rodrigo, one of the Aldeias Historicas de Portugal along the border here.  We managed to get here just for sunset and just in time for a quick look inside its very small castle and pick up some local organic olive oil in its little shop.

We then headed on to our overnight stop – Almieda.  This fortified town is really best appreciated from the air in Google Maps satellite view!  It has the most wonderful fortifications.  And also a great, flat, well lit AC Area right next to them. We parked up and decided to have a wander around town before heading back to Berta for dinner.  Now, we know the Portuguese, aside from being an hour behind Spain, also eat earlier – more British than Spanish.  However, we were shocked to find absolutely everywhere in the old town shut at 8pm.  Nothing was open.  It was a bit weird, and the American Christmas music being blared through the streets added to this weirdness considerably!  We had a nice wander round, but left rather flummoxed to go back to Berta for dinner.

Day 3

The next morning was no better!  We walked back into the old town in the hope of finding a morning coffee, no luck, everything shut again.  We gave up at this point, and decided to head on back over to Spain to see if we had more luck!  We had a little more Portuguese weirdness first though, on stopping briefly to change waters in the very clean and organized AC Area in Vilar Formoso on the border, deserted again, except for the marching band which randomly marched past us down the high street.  ?!  Then we headed back over the border into Spain again, to where it appeared everyone was having coffee in the bars just over the border – result!

Our next stop for the day was to the city of Ciudad Rodrigo.  We’d heard great things about this walled city – and we weren’t disappointed.  Easy (hilly) parking on the main road, we spent a lovely morning wandering round.  The cathedral is beautiful, lovely carvings and cloister, and the whole town itself is full of beautiful buildings to gawk at.  I’d also heard there was a curious museum here…the Urinal Museum.  And it was really fun!  Yes, lots of urinals, mostly British, a huge collection (over 1,300), and much more interesting than it sounds – very recommendable!  We topped off Cuidad Rodrigo by heading to the Parador, located in the castle, for a stroll around its little but lovely garden below the ramparts, and some picky food in its posh drawing room area.  You can also go up the tower here for the views, but we chose not to on this occasion.

Back at Berta, we headed on to our intended overnight, and a bucket list village for me – La Alberca.  Another of the Pueblos Más Bonitos de España, and deservedly so, this mountain town is a maze of streets and perfectly preserved medieval buildings.  It’s reasonably big too, not just a little village, and has the bonus of a great AC Area right next to the centre.  We parked up and made a quick visit to the Casa del Parque (visitor’s centre) of the Parque Natural Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia before it closed.  We then had a good wander around the town, in our favourite conditions for a medieval village – in the rain and in the evening, light shining off all the stones of the streets and houses, and very few screaming tourists.

Day 4

After a good night’s sleep in plenty of company in the AC Area – there were about 30 other motorhomes there, we made the most of what looked like sunshine, got up early and went for a walk around the outskirts of the town, wandering down paths and using Google Maps to make a kinda circular route – we even got a rainbow!

We then headed off to visit a couple of other Pueblos Más Bonitos de España nearby, firstly Mogarraz, which is small, but definitely worth a stop (although parking here is tricky for ACs), and then Miranda de Castelar, a walled village dominated by its castle – easier parking.  We grabbed a little bit of tapas in Miranda, before heading back north to find somewhere for a little more Berta lunch and siesta.  After a lot of searching, we ended up off a road somewhere north of Salamanca amongst pinetrees – a decent spot.

It was then time to start heading homeward…and we decided to slip in a random visit…to IKEA in Valladolid!  Heads up, not the place to try and park a van on a Saturday before Christmas…but we did it and felt smug!

After that, we had a decision to make, head back home nice and calmly, or string out the trip to one further night on the way…and encounter Storm Ana coming in that evening.  We decided to risk it, and went on to the village of Ampudia and the AC Area there.  It was indeed a windy drive, but we managed to park between two other larger ACs in the area, and survived the night.

Day 5

Waking up in a gale the next morning, we had a quick walk around town before heading to our reason for coming to Ampudia, its castle.  We’ve been before, but it’s always been shut, but this time we were there for the midday guided tour.  The castle itself is impressive, and still used as a summer residence by the family that owns it, it’s small, and houses a collection of random historical objects – interesting (and since visiting we’ve been to several places where “the so-and-so is in the castle at Ampudia”).

So there ended a good long weekend away, lots of kilometres covered, not the best weather, but lots seen and enjoyed!