Coming Home and Leaving Again

We’ve now been home two months, and now we’re heading off. I’ve been offered a job that is sending me to New Zealand for a week so we’ve decided to make a trip of it and we’re all going. One week of work in Auckland and then we’re getting a camper van and touring around NZ for 10 days.

Being home has been hard. We knew it would be. The kids have settled into school now, we’ve moved into our house and we’re both working again (our empty piggy bank is oinking ‘thank you’). But have we been glad to be home? In many ways, yes. But for me, truthfully, I’ve really struggled with it.

We’ve loved having our garden back, we’ve planted a lot of fruit & veg, and we can’t wait to start eating them. We’ve been harvesting our grapes and peaches and eating them with relish. The kids have been making the best use of our spacious backyard, something they missed in the European cities. They can often be found out there playing soccer, or just walking around looking at insects or plants.

One of the most exciting things about returning was to catch up with all the amazing people we love. This has been much harder than we expected. Everyone’s lives are so busy (including our own), and finding time to catch up is not easy. This has been a stark reminder of everything we were trying to escape in the first place, that we’re so busy filling up our lives with work, school, extra curricular activities, that it’s hard to make time to spend quality time with the people in our lives. We spent so much of the last year in Spain, where a day (even a work day) is organised around coffee or lunch with friends, or a stroll with family. Real connection between people remains a high priority and people listen with their full attention. Nobody seems to be thinking of where they need to be next or their long list of tasks to complete by the end of the day. This sounds like a harsh judgement of Australia, but it is intended more as a compliment to the Spaniards, who, even in this busy, digital age, have maintained this incredible sense of interpersonal connection by valuing it as a vital part of the fabric of their lives. This is not affecting the kids so much – I believe kids are better at connecting with one another than adults – but I for one am grieving for the community and society we felt so strongly in Spain, even as unknown travellers.

We’ve made a conscious effort to not fall into old routines, and that has been refreshing. We’ve made time to enjoy our family time together at the end of every day, although we’re all missing each other a lot. After 24 hours a day together for a year, I feel like a part of me is missing when the kids are at school or I am at work.

Heading off again is exciting, and I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to do it again so soon (thank you to a very well-timed work offer). Our bank account is bottoming out – our financial advisor told us the other day that he’ll have to start guilting us out of this travel-bug soon or we’ll end up unable to support ourselves in the long run. He added that we need to be careful that we have enough money to do the things in retirement that we’ve waited our whole lives to do. At least we don’t have to worry about that part – we’re not waiting, we’re doing those things now! But his warnings need to be taken seriously, we don’t have anything to fall back on, and we need to earn some money instead of constantly travelling to afford to live, but when the opportunities come up, we feel we have to take them if we can. We know that our wanderlust will have to be reined in as the kids’ education becomes the priority, but for now, we’ll take the ebb & flow of life and squeeze every bit of juice out of life that we can.

Checking into my flight this morning without Cass and the kids felt strange and unusual. Thankfully they’re only a day behind me and I’ll see them tomorrow in Auckland. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with that life I’ve been pining for since we came back home. Spending time with each other, being curious about the world, meeting new people and experiencing everything we can about this planet is much more precious to us right now than the minutiae of life. So that’s why after such a short time after coming home, we’re leaving again (even though we probably shouldn’t).

 

 

 

Advertisements

Five great books about Spain

One of the ideal ways to learn about a place you are visiting is to read books about the region you will go. Both fiction and non-fiction can provide valuable insights into a country, and reading about it can enrich your travel experiences.

While we’ve been living and travelling in Spain, we’ve read a number of books about various topics related to the country. This list is by no means exhaustive, there are so many great books out there about Spain, but we obviously haven’t read them all so here are a couple of our favourites that we have enjoyed.

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

Written by Englishman, Giles Tremlett, who has lived in Spain for a long time, this book provides and intriguing look at the history of Spain and modern day life and how they are interconnected. After reading this book, we looked at Spain in a new light, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. However it brought understanding to a lot of aspects of Spanish living that had previously confounded us. If you want to learn about the intricacies that make Spain what it is today, this is the book for you.

Travels with My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago

A great read for the whole family. La Chica especially liked this one, and she was laughing out loud reading it on the train. The title says it all really, Tim Moore decides to walk the Camino de Santiago with a donkey and writes about his hilarious adventures, highlighting all the difficulties that come with travelling with a stubborn donkey.

Don Quixote

I need to admit here that I haven’t read this book for a few years. However the story of Don Quixote is so embedded in Spanish culture, that we are constantly reminded of it as we travel through Spain. Following the misguided Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza travelling through the countryside, this book is a classic Spanish story that cannot be ignored. It’s a book that I intend to read again very soon.

 Homage to Catalonia

Orwell famously joined the Spanish Civil War to fight the fascists. This book gives a vivid account of his time in the battles and the fear that was prevalent in Spain at the time. This is not an easy read, as Orwell refers to so many different interest groups, the majority of them just acronyms, so it is sometimes difficult to understand which group is on which side of the battle. However, it is worth a read, particularly given the current political climate in Spain.

The Tomb in Seville


If you like reading about the Spanish Civil War, this one is the most accessible one I’ve come across. Following the true story of the author, Norman Lewis, and his brother-in-law who set out on a pilgrimage to a tomb in Seville, the two men find themselves stranded amongst the Spanish Civil War. While making their way across Spain (via Portugal), they provide an intense look at what the Spanish Civil war was like for those outside the major cities.

Also…

I’m currently reading La ridicula idea de no volver a verte in Spanish by Rosa Montero and I absolutely love it. The owner of a bookshop in Oviedo recommended this book about Marie Curie and the death of her husband. I haven’t included it in the list above because it isn’t about Spain as such, but if you are looking for a great modern Spanish author, Rosa Montero is one to check out. Many of her books have been translated into English.


The links in this article are affiliate links. By clicking on them you are supporting us to continue writing the blog.

Apps to make travel easier

Not so many years ago, travellers around the globe could be observed standing on busy street corners flicking their eyes from the map to the street with a constant look of confusion on their faces. Then they could be seen making their way to the nearest phone box, tourist office – or later an internet cafe – to contact accommodation, book a show, or find out the train timetable. Thankfully those days are behind us – well, except for those older tourists who still faithfully cling to the old ways.

Smart phones have a few (only a few, in my opinion) redeeming features in modern life, and one of them is the ability to travel with greater ease, not to mention security. For Cass and I this has been the major difference in travel logistics from when we were young, solo backpacking tourists in the early 2000s. Since taking to the road back in April we have experimented with a wide range of apps to assist in almost every aspect of the travel experience – buying tickets, weather forecasting, communicating with loved ones on the other side of the globe or finding a good place to eat. The following five apps are those that have made travelling easier and have allowed us to break out of that old paper-map-wielding-tourist mould.

Galileo

Maps are vital for travel, especially if you are like us and like to travel off the beaten path. Galileo is the perfect fit. While we sometimes use Google Maps for getting easy directions to follow en route, it’s not the best app when you have no service, or when you want to find a walking trail to an intriguing lighthouse you’ve spied atop a hidden headland. Galileo is our go-to map app.

fullsizeoutput_1f71

The purple line is the Camino de Santiago de Norte

The vector maps can be used offline (you can download entire countries as you need them) and the walking trails, bike paths and small roads are usually more accurate than Google Maps (especially in less populated areas). You can save your favourite places, make bookmarks and record where you are travelling in real-time.

For me, though, the most fun feature is that we can download files from websites, tracking devices and use them while travelling. Before walking the Camino de Santiago, we downloaded the Camino del Norte map onto Galileo. Whenever we couldn’t see an iconic yellow arrow or scollop shell, we could easily find the route even when we were out of service range.

WhatsApp

Not used as frequently in Australia, WhatsApp is a must-have for travelling in Europe. Everyone uses it, and everyone has it. For those that don’t know it, WhatsApp allows you to message, voice call, video call and send photos on a secure encrypted platform. It is a vital tool when contacting accommodation or people you meet. It’s also useful for contacting home, as the video call function works better than Skype. As it uses data instead of your mobile service, it saves money too.

Home Budget

I use this app for budgeting and keeping our spending in check. The best feature is that I can easily change between currencies. I can also track how much is in my bank account and it is useable offline. I’m sure there’s other great apps for this same purpose, but I have been using this one for years and it hasn’t disappointed yet, so I’m sticking with it.

There’s more about Home Budget in our article on travelling Europe for €25 per day.

Duolingo

Nothing irks me more than a tourist that doesn’t even bother learning how to say hello, goodbye or thank you in the local language. Over the years, I’ve encountered too many people shouting a slow, simplified English at locals in an attempt to communicate. In nearly all the countries I’ve been to (one major exception, but I’m not going to country-shame), if you try and speak a little of the local language, people instantly become more helpful and willing to converse with you in whatever way they can.

Cass likes to learn on the ground as he goes, (and that works for him) but I’m a planner, so I like to do it in advance. Usually a few weeks before we get to a country, I use Duolingo to learn some basics in that language. It’s been helpful in most places and I can now have a (very) basic conversation in a number of languages – a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Trip Advisor

I’m reluctantly including Trip Advisor, as it is not usually how I’d like to travel. I don’t like an algorithm or a guide book telling me the places to go or what to see and do. This is one area where I don’t like to plan. I like to arrive in a place and discover what there is to see and do by walking around and talking to people.

fullsizeoutput_1f74

But, there is a major advantage to Trip Advisor. For our first few months travelling, we found eating out very difficult. We love to cook at our accommodation, but it isn’t always practical. Our kids were fussy eaters (thankfully this is taking a turn for the better – after nine months on the road!) and to further complicate things, I don’t eat a lot of meat. Spain is a very omnivorous country, and most of the places we can afford to eat include meat in every dish.

After a few months, we started using Trip Advisor to find places with vegetarian options, as well as something that our kids would actually eat. The filters made it much easier to find nearby options and some of the best places we have eaten have come from Trip Advisor recommendations.


 

There’s a multitude of great travel-oriented apps out there, and we use a whole lot more than those listed here, but these are the core group that make our lives a little bit simpler every day so we can focus on enjoying the real adventures.

Our travelling Advent Calendar

Anyone who knows Cass knows that he’s not that into Christmas. Before we had kids, we just took it as time to spend with family and ignored the rest of it. Since the kids have been born, he’s had to relinquish some of his grinchyness, and I’ve taken it upon myself to keep some fun and magic alive for the kids at Christmas time.

While we have no religious connection to Christmas, for me it’s still a special time at the end of the year where you can take some time out from normality to enjoy the company of loved ones and reflect on what the year has meant to us. In Australia our Christmas fun usually means a tree made from the branch of a eucalypt with handmade decorations and lots of social gatherings. The kids always beg me for a chocolate advent calendar (and I always cave in).

This year we are travelling. It’s now 21 days until Christmas and we still don’t know exactly where we’ll be. (How exciting?!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate some Christmas fun into our travelling. Without descending into materialism or sugar-induced peaks and troughs, I wanted to have an advent calendar of sorts that would fit in my suitcase and wouldn’t be about more plastic crap.

Some of my friends and family over the years have created the most beautiful advent calendars, crafted with care and thought – some sewn, some painted. I love to make things as much as anyone, but I needed something compact and portable.

So this is what I’ve come up with.

The kids each have a small envelope. Each morning when they wake up, there’s a new note inside. The notes are like vouchers. They can use them whenever they are ready (even after Christmas) and they have written on them some of the things the kids love to do, but they don’t always get the chance. They are both different so they can also trade them with each other if they want to. The aim is to give them things that bring us together, don’t involve buying a toy, and aren’t all about poor-quality compound chocolate.

Some of the things that have been on the notes so far:

  • Play a game of cards – the idea is that I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to play instead of telling them I’m too busy.
  • Choose what to have for dinner tonight – this is a good one in our family as dinner is a constant source of argument.
  • The parents will cook a fancy breakfast of your choice – they haven’t cashed this one in yet – I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for French Toast.
  • Choose a movie to rent on iTunes for us all to watch together
  • Choose a treat for us all to share at a pastelería

I’m still brainstorming what to put on the rest of them, but I like thinking of the ideas as much as the kids love opening them in the morning.

Yesterday, La Chica said to me, ‘Mum, why haven’t we done this sort of Advent Calendar in Australia? It’s so much better!’

It looks like this might become a tradition that sticks.

Our Top 5 Spanish Museums

We love a good museum. It’s a chance to connect with the area you are in, to see what matters to the people who live there, to learn about history and to understand something new.

We try to go to a museum of some sort in every place we visit. Sometimes they can be highly political, sometimes they can be completely awful, and sometimes they can be about chocolate. (Honourable mention here to the Museu Xocolata in Barcelona where even your entry ticket is a piece of chocolate). We’ve seen museums that make us feel uneasy – one museum we visited was proud that it held some Indigenous Australian artefacts and even the display commented that ‘Indigenous Australians’ want these items returned, without any suggestion that a return was imminent. We’ve seen religious museums and revolutionary museums and everything in between. And recently, the Museo de la Inquisicion even made me feel physically ill.

But of all the museums in the many countries we’ve visited, Spain has a particularly high incidence of excellent examples. The Spaniards just know how to do them well. They know how to mix information with theatricality. They know how to keep the kids engaged. They know what information to include and what to leave out. So we thought we’d pay homage to our five favourite museums in Spain. For the purposes of this article, I’ve left out art galleries, they are a category all on their own. Maybe a post for another day.

1. Museo de la Evolución Humana – Burgos

This one is number one because it is the best museum. Full stop. No other museum we have ever seen, in either hemisphere, beats this one. We arrived in the last hour of the day to make use of the free entry, but wished we’d come so much earlier as one hour was really not sufficient to explore this wonderland of being human.

What is so special about it? Taking you on a journey through the evolution of humans, civilisation and evolution theory, this museum really has the x-factor when it comes to presentation. You can walk inside a human brain, step into Charles Darwin’s study and examine full-size models of our evolutionary ancestors. While this could all come off as cheesy if done the wrong way, the Museo de la Evolución Humana does it with flair. Each exhibit was stunning and engaging, both visually and experientially. The kids didn’t know where to go next. They were so excited by every display and what it was going to show us.

El_cerebro_humano.Museo_de_la_Evolución_Humana.Burgos_(4977100488)

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

2. Museo de León – Leon

This unassuming museum gets a mention in this list because it is a great example of a smaller museum that doesn’t try to do too much. It had a plenitude of information that we hadn’t previously seen elsewhere and it was very well presented.

We particularly like the rooms dedicated to the Camino de Santiago (the kids are infatuated with the Camino and this gave them a better understanding).

Another highlight here is the area that shows the history of the settlement of Leon from the times of Caesar Augustus’ Roman Legion encampment through wars, takeovers and kingdoms to today’s bustling city. After scrutinising the models and visual representations of the changes over time, you could then go to the other end of the room and see modern León through the window.

Museodeleon

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

3. Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir

When I mentioned theatricality earlier, this archeological dig in Cadiz knew how to do it the best. I’ve mentioned the Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir in another post about the Costa de la Luz, but after visiting a number of other archeological digs, this is still a stand-out. When we first entered I felt like we were stepping into a theme park amusement, like the lab scene in Jurassic Park (the original of course). A well-produced short film sets the scene and context for the archeology we were about to witness.

The dig itself was excellent, showing different areas of the Phoenician settlement that was discovered under the Tia Norica Theatre. The lighting in the dark room was perfect to highlight the most interesting parts of the ruins. There were plenty of interactive screens to give you information, but we were also very impressed at our tour-guide who tailored her guiding to our group. She guided us in Spanish, English and German and then translated her answers into each language so we could all participate.

We’ve seen quite a few archaeological digs and ruins, and this one is fantastic for the provided context of Phoenician life, being able to walk around at your own pace and interaction that was available.

IMG_0708

Yacimiento Arqueologico, Cádiz

4. Museu d’História de Catalunya – Barcelona

With the current climate in Catalunya, this museum would seem political, but it was already political when we visited before recent tensions flared. It is very pro-Catalunya, as can be expected, as it aims to tell the Catalan side of history, but it is choc-a-block with information about Catalunya and greater Spain. Although the information is sometimes a little too dense, you can pick and choose which bits to read and it can be very informative. The kids loved that many of the exhibits were life-sized. They loved walking into the trenches and many of the hands-on activities.

Unfortunately my family missed what I thought was the best floor. While they all rushed down to the ground floor to see a temporary exhibition on the Templar Knights before the museum closed, I stepped further back into history and found some excellent displays on how people lived in this fertile region over the last few hundred years. Nearly life-sized cross-sections of villages, scale models of houses and farms gave you a real sense of what life had been like in Catalunya hundreds of years ago and I felt it gave me a deeper understanding of who the Catalan people are today.

fullsizeoutput_1efb

A life-sized displays of early life in the Museu d’História de Catalunya

5. Cueva de la Pileta – Andalucia

Okay so this is not technically a museum, it’s a cave, but it still counts in my book. As much as we love to hunt down museums, we also hunt down caves as we just love them, but this one is the best so far. Our guide at the Cueva de la Pileta warned us that this cave was so good that any other cave experience would pale into insignificance. Big call. But yesterday we visited the famous Cuevas del Altamira, and he was right. The cave you can visit at Altamira is a replica to preserve the original, and the guided tour is nothing compared to what you get at the Cueva de la Pileta.

This cave is an absolute treasure. Entering through a tiny door, the cave continues deeper and deeper, even when you think it can’t go any further. It has its fair share of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, rock drawings and hidden pools, but what really makes it impressive is the context. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and passionate and told us stories of discovery and history incredibly well (while also translating into a few languages for our group).

Each equipped with a lamp, we were able to shine the light on specific areas we wanted to see, as there is no electricity inside. Our kids were a little terrified when he asked us to turn off the lamps for a moment so we could experience what it would have been like to live in that cave. It was so dark you couldn’t even make out an outline of anything, we were so far from the entrance. It really made us realise the importance of fire to the people that lived in this cave 30,000 years ago. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.


As the kids aren’t in school while we travel, museums are an important way for them to relate to history and culture. We’ve discovered that museums have a tricky balance – to be engaging while educating. And it’s not easy. Most museums achieve it quite well, but we believe that these five excel in delivering both.

Travellers’ tip – many Spanish museums are free for the last hour of the day, or on particular days of the week. This can be a good option if you are budget conscious – see our post on how to travel Europe for €25 per person per day.

Five days in Andorra – with no snow

Earlier in the year we granted La Chica’s wish to celebrate her birthday by climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So when El Chico’s seventh birthday came up in October, we gave him the chance to choose the destination.

El Chico’s main Birthday desire was to throw a snowball; neither of our kids have ever seen snow. His shortlist was down to Alps and the Pyrenees when he heard about Andorra. Being only 468 km2 and the 16th smallest country in the world appealed to his love of eccentricities, so it was decided. That’s where we would go.

As the months progressed, it became evident that we were going to be there too early for snow. We glued ourselves to weather forecasts, asked around and made a decision to hire a car so we could drive to snow wherever it may fall. When the birthday finally came around, the closest snow we could drive to was three countries and more than a day’s drive away.

So there we were in Andorra, a country that revolves around the snow season, with no snow on the horizon. The hillsides are covered in ski slopes, our apartment came with a ski storage facility and many restaurants and businesses remain shut during the non-snow season.

We weren’t sure what to expect, or what activities we would be able to do, but from the moment we arrived Andorra proved itself to be one of the highlights of our travels so far. It was cold, but the sun shone almost the whole time we were there.

So, what is it about Andorra that carved itself into our hearts, without a skerrick of snow?

Walking

Andorra’s walking trails are some of the best we’ve come across in Europe. There are long trails traversing the entire country, there are smaller trails leading up to alpine lakes and there are trails that connect the towns and villages. They are all well-marked and take you into the hidden heart of Andorra. We did a variety of walks. All of them magical in their own way. Our two favourites were:

Parc Natural de la Vall de Sorteny

This was a tip we were given by a local and it was incredible. From here you can take a number of walks. We chose the one labelled ‘Botanical Walk’. Heading up the hill beside a steady stream with a number of waterfalls, there were options to divert from the wider fire trail and head onto rocky single trails that lead you into the forest and along the streams. There are towering sculptures and panoramic views. If not for our intense hunger, we would have stayed longer. The kids played creating cairns and nature art and loved exploring the narrow trails.

fullsizeoutput_1edb

Vall d’Inces

I stumbled across this trail on my morning run and fell in love with it. So after running it in the morning, I brought the family back and we walked it with a picnic lunch. We took a different route up to the campground and the kids giggled as they hopped over the board walks crossing the streams. After our picnic at the top of the world, the kids climbed and played on the rocks while we sat on the grass and soaked up the sunshine. The air up there was clear and the sun shone brightly through it. All in all it was a perfect day out.

Rock-climbing

For a birthday present for El Chico, we booked a lesson at Bloc Cafe Indoor Rockclimbing. We had a private lesson for the four of us with an excellent instructor who gave taught us some useful techniques we wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also gave us a number of  tips for places to explore in Andorra. Although I’m definitely not a natural, both the kids took to rock climbing like ducks to water. They then attempted to climb every rock surface they could find in Andorra. They’re hooked. If we had stayed longer, we would have booked some outdoor climbing. Something for next time!

IMG_2219

Lookouts

The Mirador Roc del Quer is a spectacular lookout that is well known by travellers to Andorra. It was worth dealing with the crowds even in the off-season, as it was a mesmerising sight looking down on the valley of Canillo. The sun was at that golden angle that makes everything glow. I bet it is also a gorgeous spot at dawn, another thing for next time.

We found a number of other lookouts on our drives around Andorra. Each of them had their own beauty and woah-factor. Sometimes we even just stopped at random moments on the side of the road for a look. Andorra is a truly picturesque country from every angle.

Shopping

Andorra is a Co-Principality ruled by two princes. One Prince is the President of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. The unusual form of Government in Andorra has led to some similarly unusual tax implications. Up until 2016 there was no Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax. At this stage Andorrans are still without Value Added Tax (VAT) found in many other EU nations leading to a steady influx of people coming to Andorra for cheap alcohol and cigarettes. This has led to some very interesting shops peddling their tax-free goods.

I would never usually suggest shopping as an activity to do while travelling, it’s just not my style, but Caves Manacor is something that needs to be seen to be believed.  Categorised on Google as a supermarket, Caves Manacor is unlike any supermarket I have experienced. Three stories packed to overflowing. The first floor packed to the brim with every type of alcohol I could think of, a salami tasting wall, a cheese corner and a giant area of chocolate and lollies including chupa-chups bigger than my head. The second floor is full of copper stills and other cooking items and the third floor is reserved for tobacco products. There is not a spare space anywhere and I feel like you have to go here at least once if you are in Andorra.

IMG_2029

Eating

Many cafes and restaurants were closed until the ski season, but of the open eateries, Cafe La Neu was our favourite.

On our way back from Sorteny (see above) we had worked up an incredible appetite. We spotted Cafe La Neu as we drove down the hill and what a find! Some of the best food we ate in Andorra was at this cafe and the price was perfectly affordable. They had excellent choices for the fussy kids and vegetarians in our family. Excellent food, excellent service.

On our last day we were so sad to leave and wish we’d booked an extra few nights. Just as expected it snowed exactly one week after we had left, but we had such an amazing experience that we wouldn’t change it for anything.

Some extra travel tips for Andorra:

  • Getting there – There are no airports or trains into Andorra. You’ll need to arrive by car or bus.
  • Getting around – Hire a car. There’s a lot of buses that travel in and out of Andorra, but the best parts are best explored by car. Traffic along the main road can be a nightmare even in off-season, but car is definitely the easiest way to get around.
  • Getting off the beaten track – Try leaving the main road that heads from Spain to France. Our rock-climbing instructor told us that the true beauty of Andorra lies in the country outside of the tourist areas. It turned out he was absolutely right.

DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. None of the links on this page are affiliate links.

If I was the Airbnb host I would…

A traveller’s perspective on how to be the best host

Now that we’ve stayed in over 20 units, apartments, houses, farms, caves and shacks, we think we’ve really got the knack of how to get the best out of Airbnb (and other accommodation platforms). Now we’ve started thinking about it from the hosts perspective, ‘If I was the host I would …’

So rather than rant to each other about how we could be the best Airbnb host, we thought we’d share our experiences in the hopes that some hosts out there might read it and take note.

If I was the host I would…

… List all my facilities and amenities accurately

We use filters like they’re going out of fashion. If you don’t have wi-fi, we won’t find you. If you are out of our price range, we won’t find you.

If you want more people to find your property, make sure you have listed all the facilities you have. And the more facilities you have, the more people will find you. Wi-fi is a non-negotiable for us as we work while travelling. Please also make sure it is usable. In some cases we’ve found it actually comes from a restaurant across the road, or it needs resetting every ten minutes. This does not count as having wi-fi.

… Not worry about instant book

Some people believe that offering ‘Instant book’ is going to get more travellers applying. We don’t care either way if you offer it or not. What we do care about is that you accept/deny our booking within 24 hours so we have plenty of time to find an alternative.

(Traveller tip – Airbnb actually offers a discount on other properties if your booking gets denied. We have had some of our best accommodation this way.)

… Be the host with the most

Some hosts let you in the door, then walk away. That’s fine. No problem. But if you really want a 5 star rating every time, a few small touches can make a difference. Here’s some examples of what people have done for us to go that extra step:

  • Fresh flowers on the table on arrival
  • Providing tea and coffee
  • Leaving some milk in the fridge
  • Giving excellent recommendations of local restaurants (we always ask hosts this, but we like it when they volunteer the information)
  • Provide brochures on fun things to do in the region, or talk through some suggestions
  • Have a first aid kit
  • Leave a ‘guide to the house and region’ in a few languages
  • Send directions and other information in an email or message a day or two before arrival
  • Have a book swap
  • Fresh towels
  • Have a well equipped kitchen – more on this below
  • A bottle of local wine

… Make check in simple

We’ve been left waiting over an hour by a host. We’ve had a host give us the wrong key and then it broke when it didn’t turn and he hit it with a brick. (Actually they were both the same host). We were then locked out (with our luggage locked in) for two hours on a Sunday night while we waited for a locksmith. The moral of the story is, check in should be relatively easy.

We’ve had self-check in with automated doors, where you push a button on the message you received from your host and combination locks where the key is inside a cubby hole. Whatever the method of handing over keys, the important thing is that the host is not late to meet the guests, two sets of keys is excellent, and please be available from the time listed on your Airbnb listing. We always aim to arrive at the listed check in time, so being available at that time is important.

… Provide some simple basics

We’re surprised how many places don’t have these simple items, if you want to be a great host, make sure you have each of them:

  • Free, good quality wi-fi
  • A washing machine (especially if travelling families are coming your way)
  • At least one good sharp knife
  • A decent sized saucepan
  • A colander/strainer
  • A frypan
  • A cutting board
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Salt, pepper and oil
  • Enough plates & cutlery for the number of guests you may have
  • Working bedside lights
  • Enough pillows (a few more than the number of guests is best)
  • Towels
  • Bathmat
  • Enough toilet paper for the stay

… Be a decent human being

We’ve had some excellent relationships with our hosts. We love to chat to locals and the host is the best place to start. These conversations have led to us finding local treasures, we’ve been given local delicacies, garden produce, given discounts at a surf school and had some very rich conversations. We would never expect any of that, and it comes equally from our hosts being decent human beings, and us being interested in people’s lives.

Some hosts do not behave like decent human beings and we’ve had a handful of unfortunate experiences. Thankfully this is the exception rather than the rule.

 

But also, if I was the host, I would NOT…

… Allow anyone to enter your property while guests are staying there

We stayed at one place where the host stored the linen for his other properties. A staff member came in each morning to collect the linen. We felt like it invaded our privacy and we told our host that it did. Our host didn’t respond to our complaint.

… List amenities and facilities that I don’t have

We choose our places very specifically based on amenities and facilities. If you don’t have something and you say you do, we will be disappointed and more likely to give you a poor review.

… Ignore requests for things to be fixed

We had one place where the lights and the roller shutter in the bedroom didn’t work, so there was no light in that room for the entire day or night. After contacting our host, nothing was done about it and we had missed the Airbnb refund deadline. If your guest wants something fixed, fix it.

… Have appliances that don’t work

At one place, the washing machine flooded the laundry every time it was used. Our clothes came out bleached, and ruined half our wardrobe. We’ve experienced dishwashers, washing machines, coffee makers, lights and plenty more that haven’t worked. Check that all your appliances work before your guests arrive.

… Arrange deliveries to arrive while guests are staying

Ironically, as I write this, the doorbell has just rung and we have something being delivered in our apartment. Our host has arrived with the delivery to let us know, but we would have liked a bit of warning.

Ultimately we’ve mostly had wonderful hosts, but we are very picky about where we choose to stay. I’m sure hosts have just as much to say about travellers as we have to say about hosts.

If you’ve had any experiences as a host or a guest, we’d love you to share them in the comments section below.

 

Cycling Towards the Horizon

Traversing mountains, swimming in oceans, and getting lost in forests has increased our deep commitment to travel with  minimal impact. In an attempt to take it to the next level, our new favourite method of transport is cycling. We now travel with some cycling gear and hire bikes in every town possible.

It all began when we were given the opportunity to housesit on a farm in England, we decided not to hire a car. This was a major decision because our farm was four kilometres from the nearest village and 24 kilometres from the closest town, Taunton. It was a chance to stretch our pedalling legs, so without thinking it through, we made the decision to cycle there from Taunton and use bikes as our primary transport for the next four weeks.

Cass did a lot of research and found a bike shop, On Your Bike in Taunton, who fix up old bikes and sell them for charity. They also train and employ disadvantaged people (people with disabilities, ex-services personnel and homeless) to be bike mechanics. We loved their values, and they agreed to hire bikes for us and the kids.

There were a number of obstacles we needed to overcome. The biggest was working out how to carry our luggage. We travel light (see What’s in our luggage?) with approximately 40kg between four of us, but our bags are not pannier bags and it was too much to ask the kids to ride that far with extra weight. Cass and I would need to carry it all.

On Your Bike had a trailer for hire, but it wouldn’t fit everything, so we decided to buy an additional new trailer to put the rest of the luggage in. After researching all of our options, we decided to buy a 2-Child Steel Bicycle Trailer for our luggage (we successfully sold it afterwards on Gumtree).

We arrived in Taunton the day before our ride, so we could prepare the bikes, buy helmets and some lights and just get organised. We are so glad we did, because it took us the whole day to get everything together and go for a little test ride.

On the morning of our ride, we had a tight schedule. The people we were housesitting for had to leave in the middle of the day, and we needed enough time to learn about looking after their animals. We really needed to arrive by 11:30 am so we got up at 5:30 ate a buffet breakfast, and headed off.

There was a misty rain as we set off but it kept us cool as we rode. Cass had one trailer with half our luggage, and I had the new trailer with the other half, and a bag with all our snacks on my back. The trailer was hard to pull. Hills I could usually ride up with ease were very difficult, and I had to walk up many more than I would have liked.

The first half went well, we rode at a good pace and were enjoying ourselves. Cass and I were nervous about the ride and whether the kids would make it, but being in the open air and seeing the English countryside was a good antidote.

12 kms in and feeling hungry (but good)

After a snack break at the halfway point, the rain set in. The temperature dropped dramatically, and our raincoats were only keeping our top half dry. The hills started increasing (as we expected from our meticulous route planning) and the kids were tiring. We started questioning ourselves. Had we made a terrible mistake?

After a lot of hard pushing, under the dark clouds and heavy rain, we finally reached the last kilometre. We knew this was a continuous uphill climb to our housesit, and we very slowly trudged up feeling tired, uncomfortable and not really enjoying it anymore. We had no choice but to keep going, and much to our incredulity, we finally made it. The kids were amazing, remained positive and were so relieved when we arrived. They nicknamed the last hill ‘Giant’s Hill’ and called it that every time we saw it after that. I told them they were my heroes.

For the time we were away, we only took the kids to the nearest town once as their faith in riding was a bit diminished by the ride up Giant’s Hill in the rain. Cass and I did the trips over the hill to the closest supermarket. With the kids we did small rides down to the creek, or to the nature reserve for a bushwalk, but kept the rides small so they could renew their love of riding.

img_1416

You can find secret swings when riding a bike.

When we returned to Taunton it was all downhill without any rain and the kids absolutely loved the ride. We stopped to pick blackberries, look at horses and eat our snacks with beautiful vistas.

When we returned the bikes, the kids were sad to see them go. They lamented it for the next few days. We kept our helmets and other paraphernalia and then hired some more bikes in Cambridge.

We were treated to some lovely weather in Cambridge and cycling was the perfect way to get around (no hills either!). We saw so much more of Cambridge than we would have otherwise, and we were able to ride to the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester, where we drank tea under the apple trees.

A few of my favourite things – tea, apple orchards, sunshine – after a beautiful bike ride.

Now the kids want to ride everywhere, and we hire bikes often. It can be difficult navigating the traffic, and making it all work, so here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • A strong peloton goes a long way – We ride in single file with one adult up front and one at the back. There’s a number of reasons this works; we are more visible to drivers, the kids feel safe sandwiched between us and we can adjust our speed based on how the kids are going. The one at the front has to navigate and watch for traffic for themselves and the first child, while the one at the back can stay in pace with the slower ones.
  • Teach the kids the road rules while on the road – This seems obvious, but our kids knew the rules in theory before we started. We constantly go over them before we set out, but it is a different thing when they are on the road thinking about steering, pedalling, changing gears and dealing with traffic. It is like everything they know goes out the window. El Chico constantly heads straight into a roundabout without looking for cars, or sometimes even noticing that it is a roundabout. We stop at every corner and wait for everyone to catch up, talk about what we need to do at the corner, then go across in pairs so that we aren’t holding up traffic.
  • It isn’t a money saving venture – For four bikes it sometimes costs more than hiring a car. We don’t have to pay for petrol so it probably comes out even. The benefits outweigh the costs though, as it’s a beautiful way to travel. You are out in the world on a bike, rather than being removed from it inside a car. And your impact on the places you are visiting is diminished.
  • Check your maps – A lot of places have dedicated bike lanes and paths. These are invaluable with the kids because you don’t have to worry about the traffic, you can stop and smell the flowers and go your own pace. Galileo Maps are very accurate when it comes to cycle paths and footpaths, (and can be used offline) and Google Maps has a function where you can show a layer of the dedicated cycle lanes and paths.
  • Gears are best – The kids always find it easier when they have gears. They don’t always use them, and we find it frustrating, but when they have fixies they struggle up the hills.
  • Think about your equipment – Some bike hire shops provide you with lights and locks, but not all of them, so we now travel with lights, locks, helmets and some occy straps.
  • Fuel up – Riding makes the kids hungry (this is good for us because our kids are usually fussy eaters), so we need to have a big stash of healthy snacks in our backpack
  • Bikes + trains = more fun – In our experience, you can take bikes on trains in both England and Spain at no extra cost. This means you can go more places and take your bike with you to ride around at the other end. Many of the Spanish trains have a carriage where you can chain your bike to a dedicated rail. Although a word of caution, we did get in trouble once for trying to take bikes on a long distance train (we were only going to the next stop and didn’t realise it was any different).
  • Water is your elixir – Don’t underestimate how much water you need, especially in hot climates. A good rule of thumb is to have one litre per person per hour of riding.
  • Enjoy it – Riding is such fun so relax, enjoy and explore!
DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free bikes, tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. 

Europe for €25 per person per day

Now we’ve been away for five months, and our savings are looking slim, I thought I’d have a look at what we’ve been spending and how it compared to our original budget, and it turns out we’ve been comfortably sticking to €25 per person per day. We’ve stayed in 26 towns, cities and villages. We’ve visited the coast, the mountains and the forests. We’ve ridden bikes, trains, buses and driven cars. We’ve been to three countries. We’ve slept in castles, farms, beach houses and a cave. All for €25 per person per day.

Here we’ll share our budget and give you some tips that we’ve picked up on the way.

As a self confessed ‘compulsive organsier’, I keep a daily tally of where we’re spending our money. For the last four years, I have been using the Home Budget app. Over that time it has accumulated a lot of statistical data on our spending and, nerd that I am, I find data incredibly useful. The app has continued to be useful while travelling as it allows me to use multiple currencies.

So looking at the app today, as a family of four, we’ve so far spent just under €100 per day (or €25 per person). Sure, if we were a couple with no kids, the figure would be different, similarly for solo travellers. Actually I believe it could be cheaper without kids. We spend way too much money on bouncy castles at fiestas and ice creams after a hard travel day. Maybe we should have a ‘morale booster’ line in our budget, vermouth included!

Towards the Horizon - €25 per day (pp)

Our original budget has been edited here to reflect our actual spending over the last five months. Available for download at the bottom of the article.

So here’s a rough breakdown of what we spend (per month):

Home/Accommodation

Maintaining our home in Australia – €155

We are renting our house in Australia. This spending includes rates, maintenance on the property and other fees and levies that we have to pay.

Accommodation – €880

When travelling this is always the biggest expense. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to stay in my sister-in-law’s house when in the south of Spain. When we initially set out, we were planning for it to be our main base. However on the road we discovered that we prefer moving around and seeing new places so we’ve only stayed there a few times. We have found some very cheap accommodation solutions that we have used regularly.


Ways to make it cheaper:
House-sitting

We have house-sat the equivalent of 2 of our 5 months. Some of this has been through previous connections, but some has been using house-sitting websites. Our two preferred sites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. Both cost money to sign up, but the €30 or so is worth it when you get a few free weeks of accommodation. There are obvious other benefits too, such as getting to know a new place like a local, or spending some time on a farm. The kids especially enjoy having time with animals.

Share economy

Airbnb is a great way to stay somewhere comfortable and cheap. If you’re happy staying in some out-of-the-way places, you can get some apartments really cheaply. Our two favourites were in small towns, Porrua and Lleida, where we stayed for only €19 per night for all four of us. Being flexible with your destinations is key to getting these amazing deals.

Workaway is another good option, we’ve only done it once so far, but for working approximately 5 hours per day, you are provided with food and board. It is a lot of fun on a farm, which is what we did, but some people want help with child care, or with teaching their kids English.

Loyalty programs

Hotels.com, Booking.com and hotel groups have loyalty programs that offer major discounts. Booking.com give you 10% off all bookings after you’ve booked with them five times. This can save you more than €80 in a month.


Utilities

Phone and Internet – €65

When doing our research when we arrived, it quickly became clear that our cheapest and easiest way to access the Internet when wifi was unavailable was to use the hotspot on our phone. We both work online so Internet is vital to our income. We bought a pre-paid SIM with 3GB included per month. Over summer there has been a deal where they give you 3GB extra per month for free, so that has worked well. Sometimes we have to spend some extra money for data if there are a few video conferences chewing it up.

Our Spanish SIM is fine for France, as it costs us €1 per day for each day that we use roaming, but we tend to keep it off most days and use wifi where we possible. In England we bought another new pre-paid SIM.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Filter accommodation choices by availability of wifi, and only use your phone when required. Cass and I bought the same brand of SIM card so we can call and message each other for free.

Use Whatsapp. Not as common in Australia, but very common in Europe. You can message, call and video call using data instead of your phone credit. This has saved us a lot of money. Almost everyone in Europe has it, so it is good for contacting accommodation hosts or people you have been put in touch with.


Food

This is one place where my budget really didn’t match what we have ended up spending. Eating out is so cheap in Europe and we don’t have to do the dishes, so we do it way more than we would in Australia. Culturally, people always meet out of their home too, so it is easier to catch up with people. On the flip side we’ve spent much less on groceries than we expected so they have cancelled each other out.

Groceries – €340

We try to shop at markets, fruiterias and panederias wherever possible. Partly because it keeps the cost down, but also because it is fresh and delicious.

img_0889

Markets have the freshest and the cheapest food.

Eating out – €495

This also includes breakfast but it is rare for us to buy it out. We tend to eat breakfast at home most days.

Other (coffee, ice cream, beer etc) – €205

An important part of any budget.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Eat like a local

Get off the tourist route and find a restaurant or bar two streets back from the places touting menus in English. They are usually a couple of euros cheaper for the same plate of food.

Menu del dia

Most restaurants offer a menu of the day for a very cheap price. In smaller towns you can get a three course meal with drink included for €8. In more touristy areas they can be up to €15. We love eating this way as we try traditional local dishes and the choices are limited, which is easier than staring at a menu. Most places can accommodate someone who doesn’t each a lot of meat, but you have to ask.

Tapas

In many parts of Spain, particularly the north and in rural areas, tapas come free when you order a drink. In some places this can be enough food for a meal. Ask around for a good tapas bar in your area.

Pack your lunch

A no-brainer really, but when we pack our lunch (in Spain bocadillos of course), it costs us €5 for a meal.


Goods

Clothing – €30

Kids grow, so this is a necessary part of our budget. Thankfully clothes are much cheaper in Europe than Australia so we don’t spend a lot. Also, our limited luggage space means we can’t buy anything unnecessary.

Books – €10

We don’t want the kids’ education to suffer so occasionally we buy books. Cass and I both love to read too, so we are often on the lookout for second hand bookstores. The deal is that we each only carry one at a time, so for every one we buy, we have to donate or swap our old one.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Book swaps are excellent and can be found at most major cities in small cafes. We are starting to branch out into Spanish-language books now so it’s getting easier to find free or very cheap books.


Work items – €5

Sometimes it costs a little to maintain our work. It could be an app subscription or some printing. It doesn’t add up to much.

Entertainment

Movies, shows, museums, galleries, bouncy castles etc – €70

We usually prefer the free or low cost museums the most, so they don’t add up to much. We splashed out in London and went to see Matilda the Musical and we’ve been to the movies a few times (good Spanish language practice). Wednesday is cheap-day at the movies here and it costs €16 for all four of us.

fullsizeoutput_1e62

Dodgem Cars at the Fería.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Seek the cheaper places, they’re usually better anyway. While everyone else is going to the castle with guided headphones, choose the more run-down one that has a lower entrance fee.

Note: don’t skimp too much on this budget. This is one of the fun parts of travelling. When I travelled around Europe in my 20s, I missed a lot of fun things because I was so concerned about paying for them.


Transport

Flights – €60

This doesn’t include our original flight to get here, but we’ve spent some on flying to England from Spain so this stays in our budget. If you want to include your original flight, your budget will be much higher than €25 per day.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Try comparison websites such as Skyscanner. If you are flexible on dates you can get some very cheap deals. Make sure you pay for your luggage at time of booking though, as it is much more expensive to have to pay for it at the check-in counter.


Trains, buses, cars and bikes- €500

Depending on how you travel and how often, this can blow out. We have rented a couple of cars, but we’re trying to limit our impact on the environment so prefer trains buses and bikes.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Rail passes

Eurail passes can save hundreds of euros in your first trip and Children Travel Free.

In England our friend suggested that we buy a Family Railcard, where we received 30% off when travelling during off-peak periods (after 10am). It cost £30 and we saved that on our first trip. It lasts for 12 months so it’s definitely a good investment. We saved hundreds of pounds over our two months in England. Train companies don’t advertise these deals well so it is worth asking and doing your research.

Travel slowly

Travelling slowly and less often is the key. We try to stay a week or more in one place to reduce our transport costs.

Relocation deals

Many car and campervan hire companies have cheaper hire to relocate the vehicle to where they need it to be. We’ve done this a few times. Hunt them down, they’re very cheap.


Travel Insurance plus other medical expenses – €205

This is one area you don’t want to take the cheapest option, but you can do your research and find a great deal. We opted for travel insurance that was linked to our credit card (note: we don’t use this credit card for anything other than car hire and accommodation deposits, that way we don’t pay any interest or fees. We don’t believe in funding travel using a credit card). You can decide how much cover you feel comfortable with, but with kids we opted for one with excellent coverage so we don’t ever have to worry about it.

This line also includes the insurance on our house in Australia.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Do your research.

Take the time to really understand what you are getting and for what price. Compare the deals without the help of a meerkat tool, use your own brain. You need to keep in mind that the comparison websites get paid to promote certain products.

Know how much excess you are willing to pay. This will help inform what product to choose, and make sure you have the equivalent of your excess saved up somewhere safe at all times. The higher the excess you can afford, the cheaper your cover.

Know your policy.

When in the middle of a crazy situation (you travellers know what I’m talking about) it’s nice to know how your policy works. It brings a sense of calm to a potentially difficult situation. Also, knowing that you’re travel insurance covers certain vehicle hire insurances means that you don’t have to opt for the more expensive option at the car hire desk.


Miscellaneous – €25

This is where we put odd expenses, like a donation to charity, paying a busker, a birthday present, or the cost of sending postcards home. It’s good for random things that come up.

The budget listed above is based on what we are actually spending each month. Sure, some months we spend more than others but this is a total of all our expenditure for the five months divided by five (to arrive at our monthly figure). It is possible to travel Europe for €25 per day per person. We’ve been doing it for five months now. We’d love to hear more of how you save money on your trips, please make a comment below.

If you want more help creating a budget for you and your travels, you can purchase one of our budget products below. (We’ll be adding a customised version soon).

Get your copy of our budget here

We'll send you an excel document you can customise to your own budget.

A$5.00

Treasures of the Costa de la Luz

The beauty of the coast and hinterland along the Costa de la Luz is rugged and harsh, but not without its treasures. The passing of time is evident – the ruins of ancient aqueducts sit alongside modern wind turbines and solar farms. People have inhabited this part of the Spanish coastline for over 3000 years. This lesser known costa of Spain has been our home-base for some months, and has started to reveal itself in ways that weren’t immediately apparent.

The Costa de la Luz – coast of light – refers to the clear blue skies reflected in the turquoise oceans of the region that stretches between Cádiz and Tarifa. It is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean to the west, so is less popular with tourists who prefer Spain’s more sheltered Mediterranean coasts.

This stretch is full of Parques Naturales, incredible bird life, long sandy beaches and visible history that dates back to 1100 BC. We have loved exploring this region, so here are some of our favourites treasures in a region abundant with surprises.

Cádiz

Known as the ‘oldest town in Spain’, Cádiz was settled by the Phoenicians, who used it as a trading port called ‘Gadir’ from around 1100 BC. Since then it has been occupied by Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and modern Spaniards. It was one of the few places to hold against Napoleon and is the where the first Spanish Constitution was declared in 1812. This long history is evident everywhere in Cádiz.

Entering the old part of town, you pass through the 18th century walls. Following the western coast, you can visit the Teatro Romano, a large Roman amphitheatre open to the sky, and hidden under the Tia Norica theatre  you can visit Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir, an excellent presentation of an archeological discovery of Phoenician and Roman times in Cádiz. From the top of the Torre Tavira you can see this history written in the city’s various buildings dating from 17th century settlement to now.

The colour of the ocean in Cádiz is an iridescent turquoise that is matched by the clear blue sky. While summer here can be oppressively hot, now it is September the weather is just perfect. Sitting on one of Cádiz’s many beaches with the cool breeze blowing amongst the coloured umbrellas, looking up towards the shiny dome of the cathedral, is a magical experience.

San Fernando

Rarely visited by tourists from outside of Spain, San Fernando seemed at first not to have much to offer. However the longer we stayed here, the more we found.

San Fernando, also known as La Isla de Leon, is most famous as the birthplace of Camarón de la Isla, arguably one of the most popular Flamenco singers of the 20th Century. In English his stage name, bestowed on him by his uncle, translates literally to ‘Shrimp of the Island’. He popularised recorded Flamenco and brought together new styles and interpretations, collaborating with Blues artists and adding electric bass to some of his recordings (see video of his work here).

The Venta de Vargas, a restaurant where he found the beginnings of fame, is a monument to Camarón, with a museum for those wanting to pay homage to the singer. Many people still pay respects at his grave in San Fernando. We were in town for the 25th anniversary of his death and there were a large number of events held throughout the town to celebrate his life, including fiestas, competitions and flamenco in the bustling thoroughfare Calle Real.

IMG_1622

Venta de Vargas, San Fernando

Writer Giles Tremlett described San Fernando in his book, Ghosts of Spain thus: ‘[it] overlooks the salt flats, muddy wetlands and still waters on the Bay of Cádiz.’ These marismas – marshes – have winding tracks open to the public that were once the paths used by las saliñeras – salt farmers – who formed narrow canals separated by small wooden locks and farmed salt on these lands for hundreds of years. Over the centuries these canals have created a symbiotic relationship between nature and humans, and have become the home and breeding grounds of an incredible array of bird life and shellfish.

Flamingoes can often be seen here at morning or evening during the summer months, visiting to feed from their breeding ground near Malaga, 160km to the east (as the flamingo flies). A number of times on an early morning run I was able to see them in large flocks with their legs in the water, or flying overhead with their pink feathers glowing in the dawn light.

IMG_1015

Cantina del TiTi, San Fernando

On the northern end of San Fernando sits a fish-lover’s delight. At the Cantina del TiTi we were served some of the freshest and most delicious fish I have eaten in years. My fisherman Grandfather would have raved about this place and he had higher standards than anyone I’ve ever met when it came to seafood. While eating our fish at an outdoor table, the tide lapped in around our toes and the kids played in the sand. I recommend booking to get a table here. It’s very busy and only open for lunch.

If you love beaches, San Fernando’s Camposoto beach is one to check out. A long expanse of sand forming part of the nature reserve, it is remarkably less busy than we expected (except during the school vacation months, when it is just as busy as the rest of Spain’s beaches). If it gets too hot, you can have a beer or ice cream (or even an excellent cheap meal) at one of the four chiringuitos – beach bars – where sandy feet and swimsuit are standard attire. Surfing is also popular here at the far end of the beach, where there are a number of surf schools and local grommets enjoying the waves.

San Fernando also has its fair share of notable historical facts. It holds Spain’s atomic clock, where Spain’s time is kept precise, and it was once the point from which the whole world’s time was measured (it has since been replaced by Greenwich in England). San Fernando and Cádiz successfully resisted Napoleon’s 19th Century invasion, and it is where the Spanish Constitutional Court first took their oaths in 1810. It is worth a visit if you like to find unusual places when travelling.

Chiclana de la Frontera

We go to a lot of museums. The kids love them and it is a great way to learn about the region we’re visiting. One of the better ones on the Costa de la Luz is the Museo Chiclana. For a small museum, it contained a surprising amount of interesting information about the region and its history, with excellent displays. Our kids were completely engaged throughout our visit. The displays about modern artists and writers from the region are very informative and contained information that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

fullsizeoutput_1cdf

Getting the best view of the ceiling exhibit at the Museo Chiclana

If you are game for an uphill walk, the Ermita de Santa Ana is worth the climb. The small chapel on top of the hill is very pretty and once at the top there are spectacular views of the Costa de la Luz, and of the mountains further inland.

Conil de la Frontera

Conil is one of the many ‘de la frontera’ towns that formed King Ferdinand’s front against the Moors during the 13th century . It gets a mention here, not for it’s history or landmarks, but for the beaches. Here you will find a number of stunning playas with long stretches of sand. We particularly enjoyed a day at El Roqueo, where the cliffs give way to a beach and rocky outcrops good for the kids to rock hop. The locals here can often be seen covering themselves head to toe in a grey mud, formed by pulverising lumps of this rock. It is used as a beauty treatment for the skin. Watching people pass us by walking along the beach covered in the drying mud was too much for the kids to resist, so they stockpiled their own patch of this mud, guarded it with their lives, and proceeded to paint themselves all over.

Vejer de la Frontera

Vejer de la Frontera is a ‘must-see’ for  those visiting the region. It sits atop a hill along the coastline south of Conil, with views in all directions from its high promenades. The views are amazing, both day and night, and on a clear day you can see Africa. It follows the tradition of the other Pueblos Blancos – white villages – in the mountains to the north-east, with its white walls shining in the afternoon sun. We followed the narrow streets up and down the hill to find different views.

IMG_5574

Vejer de la Frontera at sunset

Our meandering took us to the Castillo de Vejer where we were taken on a guided tour by a young Scout (she was perhaps 9 or 10 years old). The tour was in Spanish, but we were able to understand enough of what she told us. It wasn’t the best tour in the world, but it was fun to walk around the castle. We enjoyed watching the group in front of us, whose Scout guide was only about 6 years old. He was very entertaining and full of energy. Great to see these kids engaging with their local history.

Also a city steeped in visible history, the Puerta Cerrada – the closed gate – still stands, separating the Jewish quarter from the area around the castle. It was always closed to keep out pirates that may have climbed up the gully of the river Barbate. Many of the ancient structures have fallen to ruin, or been damaged by earthquake and invasions. However, the keen eye can still find many ancient treasures, particularly in the old walled part of the town.

The restaurants surrounding the Plaza España and its picturesque fountain are all excellent, although getting a table can require a combination of patience, hustling and good timing. Many serve the local tuna that have been traditionally caught here using a 2000 year old net and boat system unique to the region. We also had an excellent ice-cream at the Heladeria Artesanal Italiana. The kids are always on the hunt for good ice-cream.

Tarifa

Self-proclaimed as the ‘Adventure Capital of Europe’, our first sight of Tarifa was the kites of the kite-surfers along the beach. Hundreds of them, of all different colours, lined the coast. As the southern-most point of Spain at the narrowest point of the Strait of Gibraltar, the wind here is remarkable and apparently makes for great kite-surfing.

I came here to see Africa, and saw it we did. It stands only 16 kilometres away and the mountains look beautiful looming on the horizon, growing out of the sea mist. Africa is on my bucket list and, for now, this is the closest I’m going to get.

The Castillo de Guzman Bueno provides a great view of Africa, and for a very modest entry fee (kids under 12 free) we were able to spend a good hour walking along the top of the ramparts and investigating the different sections of the castle. The story of Guzman is an interesting one, and his tale traverses a large part of the Costa de la Luz. He is famous for throwing his dagger down from the castle to the Moors who held his son, sacrificing his offspring to stop the invaders taking the town. However, his complicated backstory is just as interesting and the castle’s displays give a good account.

fullsizeoutput_1e10

Castillo de Guzman Bueno

The Costa de la Luz has many hidden treasures, but the dark history of war and invasions is always present. It is a harsh landscape reaching down to beautiful beaches and incredible views. If you have some time in Spain, it is well worth a look and I assure you it won’t disappoint.

How to get around:

Cádiz is easily reached by train from Jerez or Sevilla (both with airports) and is serviced by many bus lines. I wouldn’t suggest having a car in Cádiz, as it is easily walkable, and well serviced by public transport. Towards the end of our stay in the region we hired bikes from Las Bicis Naranjas. They were a great way to get around, see the sights and explore the region. They can be taken on the trains, which extends the reach of your travels if you don’t have a car.

San Fernando is also easily accessible by train, bus and bike. A car or bike is a good idea here if you want to visit Camposoto. Avis usually have some good deals in Spain. A tramline is currently being built between Chiclana, San Fernando and Cádiz, but will not be in operation for a few years yet.

Chiclana is well serviced by Comes and ALSA buses. We find ALSA much more comfortable and easier to book, so we usually go with those. Comes buses are difficult to book using international credit cards.

Conil is also accessible by bus, but if you want to head to the beaches, I would suggest a car is your best option.

Vejer de la Frontera is well serviced by Comes buses, but you’ll have to walk up the hill from the bus stop.

Tarifa is well serviced by a number of bus lines including Comes and ALSA buses.

DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. The links to Amazon, Avis and advertisements are affiliate links as per our Affiliates page. 

Spain travel guide, 11th Edition Nov 2016 by Lonely Planet

Spain travel guide, 11th Edition Nov 2016 by Lonely Planet