The Trundler in Spain

January 9, 2014 European Travel

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How Long?

Three weeks.

This allows you plenty of time, but it’s a flexible schedule. Rail and bus services are good throughout the country, so it’s easy to cut out a section of the trip.

How Much?

£1,200 to cover bed, board and transport.

Spain is Top Trundler Territory

A legendary coastline, exceptional cities and spectacular mountains make up this vivacious, captivating country. Its size and diversity offer a world of adventure, so pack your bag and get ready to Trundle, Spanish-style.

Spain, although not cheap, is affordable. You can sleep, eat and travel for £40 a day, without compromising your comfort levels. An excellent choice of accommodation includes pensions, hostels and family-run hotels, as well as good deals in swankier places. Travel out of season to find reduced rates and plenty of sunshine. In Valencia and Andalusia provinces you can sunbathe, cycle and even swim in the winter months.

Spanish food is easily within the Trundler budget, particularly if you home in on the delicious, filling menu del dias(menu of the day) available countrywide and served in all levels of restaurant between 2pm and 4pm. Top up with amazing fruit, great baked goods from local bakeries or delicious home-cooked hot dishes, bought from family-run takeaways and you can eat well on £15 a day.

Reserve your rooms as you go. Using a booking site such as booking.com is easy and secures great rates. Or ask for the best rate at the hotel and you may get a discount or an upgrade.

Spain has a good rail network with clean, efficient high-speed trains. Rail Europe (raileurope.com) sells a one-month pass from £200 per person and you can plan your journey in advance by reserving seats. This works particularly well as a way of exploring the country’s magnificent cities.

Alternatively, travel by bus (Alsa.es) which is cheaper but still comfortable, fast and reliable. Easyjet (easyjet.com) fly into Barcelona and out of Malaga from £60. Book in advance and travel out of weekends and school holidays to ensure the best prices.

Take the Trundler Tour
On the road to Spain

On the road to Spain

Your journey begins in the fantasy city of Barcelona where Gaudi took a leap of faith with his extraordinary Modernisme architecture.

The Sagrada Famiglia, the Parc Guell and La Pedrera are three to pull at your heart strings with their vision and glory, but all of Gaudi’s work is special. It’s the city’s most important backdrop and a major lure. Barcelona’s irresistible mix of architectural splendour, stylish shops and hip bars, without forgetting its legendary football team, can make it more expensive than other Spanish cities. Keep prices down by self-catering in a rental apartment.

Meals on Wheels
Markets remain an important part of food shopping in Spain and a brilliant source of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. They’re also a visual delight as stallholders make elaborate artistic displays from their produce. La Boqueria on the Ramblas is the most famous or try Sant Antoni Market at Carrer del Comte d’Urgell in Eixample Left
Self-catering is easy with markets like this

Self-catering is easy with markets like this

Trundler Top Spot

Rent an apartment overlooking the Passeig de Gracia from apartments.apart.com for £280 a week or stay in a hostel, where a private en suite double room costs £40 a night. Hostelworld.com have a great selection. Spanish hostels are often found in lovely, old buildings, adding to the appeal of staying somewhere you’re sure to meet fellow travellers of all ages. Most have kitchens, so you can self-cater as long as you don’t mind taking your turn.

The Trundler loved the free food box, where guests leave anything they don’t use during their stay. You’ll find everything from olive oil to stock cubes and spices here. Extend the goodwill by leaving your own leftovers, rather than carting them to the next hostel, causing leaks in your Trundlebag.

Down the Costa Brava to Valencia
Avenida de la Puerta in Valencia

Avenida de la Puerta in Valencia

Valencia is Spain’s third largest city. The Trundler recently decided to make its seaside district of El Cabanyal her base,  so much does she love the home of paella and Horchata.

The train from Barcelona takes around four hours and brings you into the magnificent Estacion del Norte, a perfectly preserved Modernisme building. Embarking here makes you feel you have arrived in style.

Or take the Alsa bus, also a four hour journey, which brings you to the main bus station, right by the famous Turia gardens.

They’re named after the river which ran throughout the city until 1957, when it was diverted to prevent further flooding. Today the 9kms of tree-lined pathways stretch from the Bioparc Zoo, all the way to the famous City of Arts and Sciences.

This extraordinary complex was built to enhance Valencia’s standing in the league of great Spanish cities and it worked a treat. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the work of Valencian architect Salvador Calatrava, who together with Felix Candela, designed the buildings. A science museum in the shape of a whale skeleton and a gigantic eye containing a planeterium, laserium and cinema as well as a stunning cultural centre of El Palau de les Arts, are united by a series of pools and gleaming white walkways. Each structure is amazing and as a whole they are overwhelmingly striking. Allow a full day to visit. A combined ticket costs £29.99 pounds  (cac.es) A grand Gothic cathedral, an ornate central food market, diverse museums and galleries and a clutch of cool neighbourhoods with bars and cafes, shops and restaurants make Valencia vibrant and memorable.

For The Trundler, it’s the seaside district of El Cabanyal that is the most alluring. Here streets lined with exquisite Modernisme houses were built by fishermen in the early 20th century, their facades covered with tile mosaics whose colours reflect the colours of the sea and sky. Many travellers pass them by as they surge to the sea, but this maritime neighbourhood is a joy to explore, full of charm and crumbling beauty.IMG_1754

The beach is wonderful too – nearly three kms of crisp sand, flanked by a palm-lined promenade, and a string of seafood restaurants where you can indulge in some serious rice eating.

Paella is the traditional dish but Valencianos love to cook with rice, mixing it up with everything from snails to lobster.

The Valencian climate is blissful. Winter temperatures average 18 degrees and even in the heat of summer, there’s a pleasing breeze. The mild weather makes it a joy to cycle along the promenade (hire a bike from valenbici.com) or to head into the centre on one of the many cycle lanes. Valencia is nice and flat, so it’s an easy ride. Valencia is  also a pleasure to explore on foot, making sure you look up and admire its mix of architecture – gothic, art nouveau and 21st century. There’s a good metro system and plenty of buses. Buy a Bonometro ticket from any metro station and load it at the machine to save money on fares.

Meals on Wheels
Breakfast on tortilla, chorizo, and strong coffee in the market bar at the Mercado de Cabanyal. For lunch try the gigantic bocadillas or the freshly cooked paella at the atmospheric local haunt of La Bodegua Pascuala. Or try the diverse small dishes at L’Otra Parte, a friendly taverna with a good choice of vegetarian options. Both are on Eugenia Vines, just back from the seafront. Casa Montana on Calle Jose Benllure is an historic bodega with barrels as well as bottles of wonderful wine. A plate of Iberian ham or an order of salty anchovies help to keep things civilised, while you drink in this sophisticated friendly bar.
Trundler Top Spot

Stay at B and B Cabanyal, where bright, clean double rooms costs around £40 a night including breakfast (bbcabanyal.com). Or rent an apartment from www.holiday-lettings.com for 250 a week.

South to Alicante

Between Valencia and Alicante there’s a stream of stopovers. You’ll find good deals on booking.com if you choose to spend a night or two on the way. From the flamboyant Estacion del Norte there are frequent trains to the resort town of Gandia which has a fantastic long stretch of golden beach.

Or take a bus to Denia to explore its pretty old town and a buzzing food market, with hectic bars where you order a sizzling plate of fried squid with garlic and watch it being prepared with great gusto.

Altea, an hour further south, is a charming seaside town, easily reached by tram from its noisier neighbour of Benidorm. The seafront is fringed with palms and up the hill above the town there are dinky whitewashed houses, classy gift shops and quiet cafés from which to admire the coastal views.

You’ll never find anywhere quite like Benidorm and it’s worth inspecting this bizarre British colony for its glorious beaches. On the other side of the headland from the Playa del Brit there’s a long, sandy stretch where Spanish families have their smart holiday homes.

Finish your trawl of the Costa Blanca in Alicante, two and a half hours by train from Valencia. The Trundler was pleasantly surprised by this delightful resort with its gracious old town and long tiled paseos. It has a sedate air by day, but by night it’s a party place with late night bars buzzing with cocktail swiggers.

Meals on Wheels

In Benidorm, ignore the fish and chips and the bakery which styles itself ‘The Greggs of Benidorm’ and head for the Calle Basque, where atmospheric bars serves pinxos, like canapés but better. These tantalising mini open sandwiches are topped with fish, meat and cheese combinations and are scarily easy to eat.

In Alicante, walk beyond the old town to find seaview cafes serving fresh orange juice and bocadillas crammed with cheese and chorizo.

Trundler Top Spot

The Hostal les Monges Palace on Alicante’s Calle San Agustin has ornate double rooms for £40. It’s charming, quirky, popular and handy for the old town. Les mongespalace.es

Into Andalucia

Leave the sea behind for a while and head south west into Spain’s largest province. From Alicante it’s a seven hour journey to the Moorish city of Granada by bus.

Break your journey in low-key and lovely Murcia, which has a lavish cathedral, a good flea market and plenty of hotel bargains.

Granada is one of Spain’s most impressive cities, famous for the splendid Alhambra and the scenic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. It’s cooler amidst this hilly grandeur, making it a pleasant place to explore on foot. You’ll find smart shops and swanky restaurants, tiny winding streets and walkways and squares made up of intricate stone mosaics.

This awe-inspiring city is also famous for its gypsy population, who still inhabit the hilltop district of Sacromonte, living in cave dwellings. Some have been artfully transformed into restaurants and hotels too, but this is an authentic enclave, where flamenco is performed with great passion. Take the number 34 bus from the city centre, or walk up the steep cobbled streets, stopping to admire views of the city and the Alhambra on the way.

Ascend to the awe-inspiring Alhambra

Ascend to the awe-inspiring Alhambra

Meals on Wheels

The Trundler was delighted to discover that Granada is the home of free food. We’re not talking a mere saucer of olives or almonds here. Order a glass of wine, a beer or just a mineral water and there’s a good chance you’ll be handed a substantial plate of fried fish, chicken wings and patatas bravas, all for nada. Unless you’re greedy (and the Trundler has been known to overeat at times) you don’t need to actually order any additional dishes. Lunch for two can be yours for the price of a few drinks.

Don’t let that stop you trying the delicious seafood plates at  Los Diamantes in Calle Nave, a crowded, fun tapas bar, where it’s worth the effort needed to place your fried fish order above all the enthusiastic chatter.

Trundler Top Spot

The White Nest Hostel is a shining example of a budget option catering for travellers across the age span.  On the ground floor of this 14th century building, there’s an airy lounge, slightly psychedelic in design, but also calm and soothing with lots of cushions and wafting drapes. Upstairs, comfortable private rooms have good  showers, views of Moorish monuments and hi-speed internet. This mix of new and ancient, all for £35 a night for a double room is enhanced by a well-equipped kitchen, a good place to meet fellow travellers. Book through hostelworld.com

East to Almeria across a film set landscape

The Renfe train (renfe.es) takes you from Granada as far as the coastal town of Almeria, through a terrain famous as the set of many Spaghetti Westerns. Brown, dry and dusty it has an ugly beauty, with a mix of mountains, white painted but  scruffy villages and swathes of plastic, beneath which fruit and vegetables are cultivated and sold across the world.

In Almeria there’s a family feel, as abuelos and their grandchildren cluster in the main square, drinking coffee and scoffing pastries and churros at outdoor cafes. Almeria is a lively base from which to explore the wild and undeveloped Cabo de Gato peninsula. Winter shuts most places down here, so it’s also your last hope of finding plenty of rooms for the night. The black sand beaches lead you into a sea which is warm enough for winter swimming.

Meals on Wheels
A handful of Moroccan cafes with beautiful tiling serve mint tea and sticky cakes. Wonderful ham and cheese at La Puga on Calle Jovellanos will fuel you for a swim and sunbathe at Las Salinas beach.
 Trundler Top Spot

La Perla hotel has small clean rooms and a basic breakfast for £38 a night, fine for a budget stopover (hotellaperla.es)

Along the Costa del Sol

Much of this coast looks like an installation by the Bulgarian artist Christo – wrapped in plastic to encourage the growth of great swathes of bobby beans. It’s unattractive in places, but still has plenty of charm for the Trundler, who switched to the Alsa bus service (alsa.es) for this part of the route.

Roquetas da Mar is where fun-loving Spanish Seniors go for their November break. Eating with groups of 70 something Spaniards is great fun and a reminder that a Trundler’s world has many choices. It’s as natural to mix with gap year travellers in cool hostels or sprightly grandmas in smart hotels. There’s a long stretch of sand, perfect for a winter dip and lined with cherished individually designed holiday homes.

Meals on Wheels
Stop for lunch at Adra Tapas, which serves simple, fresh fish cooked on a hot plate, as well as calamari, fried with garlic. Buy a beer and a fresh fish tapa is free.
Trundler Top Spot

At the spacious resort of Zoraida Park, £60will buy you a seaview room that borders on luxurious as well as a filling breakfast of chorizo, cheese, fruit, orange juice and coffee (www.eveniahotels.com/zoraidapark).  Travel further west for 30 kms to Almunecar,  a highlight of the Costa Tropical with a black sand beach, backed by rich, green vegetation. It feels more Spanish than the other resorts along the coast and is certainly the most beautiful.

Meals on Wheels
A handful of Chinese restaurants in the town centre serve good three course set meals for around 9 Euros. Just the ticket if you’re weary of tapas.
Trundler Top Spot

The Hotel Playa Cotobro has smart, gleaming, modern rooms with spacious bathrooms and splendid views of the crashing waves and beach. You may see the occasional naked figure rush into the sea as this stretch of sand is designated for naturists. It’s away from the main action, a peaceful retreat, wonderfully quiet but with a few youthful seniors on winter vacation and having a whale of a time. rooms from £45 a night off-season. Hotelplayacotobro.com

Into the Light

Apart from Malaga, your final destination on this journey, you can easily skip the rest of this coast.

It’s worth striking out for Cadiz however, taking a five hour bus journey to Seville, then the train down to the Costa de la Luz (one and a half hours.) This ornate, majestic coastal city has grand squares and lofty buildings, gorgeous gaudy churches and plenty of splendour, both faded and shiny.  It’s a truly lovely place, very Spanish, very special, mixing the pace of a real city with the laid-back atmosphere of a lively holiday hot spot. Its beaches are clean and sandy with small, pretty fishing boats bobbing out to sea. You’ll find plenty of fantastic fresh fish here, both in the market and the restaurants.

Young families mingle with older couples, swimming, basking in the sun and eating those enviable picnic lunches that the Spanish do so well. The long sea wall with its  dramatic, romantic buildings has a feel of Havana. Within the city however, the scene is far from Cuban. Fancy shops sell expensive baby clothes and there are branches of Zara and Mango jumbled up with small bars and cafes.

Trundler Top Spot

The Trundler chose to self-cater here, shopping in the wonderful market for fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Holiday-lettings.com has a good range of accommodation for around £250 a week.

Meals on Wheels
Marisquerias offer marvellous hake and prawn dishes and corners bars serve strong coffee and early morning wine and beer, to get the day off to a buzzing start.

Onto Seville

From Cadiz it’s an easy one and a half hour train ride to Seville, the richly painted capital of Andalucia. You can’t move for gorgeous historic buildings here, beautifully laid out along the river Guadalquivir and you need a few days here to take in all the sights. The Alcazar Palace is entrancing and the 16th century Cathedral is the largest in the world. Grandeur is the word in this vibrant city which is the scene of so much Spanish history that it’s worth taking a guided tour to get an overview before you hit the action of the bars and cafes.

Trundler Top Spot

The Samoy Sevilla Hostal is a 15 minute walk from the station in the Barrio de Santa Cruz. This spacious old building houses dormitories as well as brightly painted en suite rooms. A communal kitchen offers leftover staples, such as olive oil, spices and a dribble of wine.  Special events including a paella night help guests mingle. There are excellent free tours of the city, which are really worth taking. Double/twin rooms for £35 (Hostelworld.com).

Meals on Wheels
Tapas and cakes will keep you going during the day, but by night squid and salad, prepared in the Samoy Sevilla Hostal kitchen and eaten on the rooftop in the mild night air is a good bet for Trundlers  especially if you’re keen to make new friends.
Picasso’s Birthplace

From Seville the train takes two hours to Malaga, a beautiful and authentic city often dismissed as the gateway to  a million package holidays, but a strong highlight of the tour. Forget all your prejudices and enjoy your time in this grand, elegant centre of art and culture.

Picasso was born here and his life and work are honoured in a birthplace museum and gallery. As well as a majestic Cathedral and Roman amphitheatre, there are many good cafes, bars, shops, impressive squares and pedestrianised streets. It’s a brilliant spot for winter sun with a long beach and recently developed port area.

Malaga has a wonderful market at its heart selling oranges, tomatoes, grapes and aubergines, goats cheese and fish, dried fruit and nuts and heaps and heaps of olives. All are displayed in that loving way that show the kind of respect for the produce that top chefs like to eulogise about.

The centre of Malaga hums and buzzes, but for a invigorating seaside walk, follow the harbour past its snazzy shops and cafes. Apart from a few minutes when the path leads you inland, you can walk by the sea the whole way to the Pelgrado Maritimo. Here, an alluring stretch of seafood restaurants have outside seating and boat-shaped barbeques on the sand. Order an Espada, a skewer of sardines or a platter of fried fish, Even the longest lunch won’t cost more than 15 Euros. Follow the example of Spanish families, who congregate for hours, eating, drinking and talking in the sunshine. Or hop from one restaurant to the next, prolonging the day into night, taking a swim, enjoying the glorious weather. This is Spanish life at its best. Sunny, friendly, relaxed and unassuming. No frills, no fuss, loads of fun.

Trundler Top Spot

The clean, comfortable, friendly Hotel Trebol is another great budget choice at £40 a night for a double ensuite room (Hoteltrebol.com)

Meals on Wheels

Try the divine chocolate y churros in Café Ananda.  Its army of waiters spin long strips of churros, squeeze oranges, smear tomato puree onto tostadas and bang coffee cups onto the long shiny counter, ready to be filled. Foodie theatre at its finest.

Or for lunch, try the Casa de Botes on the harbour-front where for 20 Euros you can feast on fish soup, baked hake, flan, coffee and invigorating Vichy Catalan. This yacht club equivalent is popular with ladies who lunch as well as hungry workmen.

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