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Happy Camping On The Road To FC Barcelona
Jim Johnson



We left England with the most basic of itineraries – head for Spain. If you’ve ever wanted a European holiday that provides the maximum amount of freedom and flexibility but have only a limited budget, then this could be the solution - as long as you don't mind sleeping in a tent. Simply take your car; fill it with a few like-minded friends and some camping equipment. Grab some maps and travel guides, book a channel crossing and you’re ready to go.

This was how three friends and I began our last summer holiday. By choosing to camp rather than stay in hotels, we could afford to spend a longer time away. It also meant that we didn’t need to plan ahead as you don’t need to book at most campsites. Campsites in Europe are generally well equipped and often set in spectacular surroundings. One essential requirement, apart from the camping gear, is a guidebook that lists campsites in the country or countries you intend to visit. They are not always straightforward to find and it’s a good idea to know the tariff and how highly rated the facilities are, before you start hammering tent pegs into the ground.

Driving through France was easy; the switch to the right hand side of the road wasn’t as tricky as we had first feared. We headed south through the spectacular scenery of the Loire Valley, eventually arriving in Bordeaux. From here we followed the coastal route down through Biarritz, across the Spanish border and into the small fishing port of Hondarribia. Here we spent our first night in Spain, at Camping Jaizkibel.

Hondarribia is a traditional Basque settlement with streets of wood-beamed houses within the walled old town. It is situated between lush, thickly wooded hills on one side and almost deserted sandy beaches on the other. It remains the only place where I have ever been woken by the sound of gunfire. Thankfully, as we soon discovered there was no need to panic. The shots marked the beginnings of a day long festival, celebrating the Virgin of Guadeloupe.

The next day we moved on to San Sebastian and spent a couple of days in this beautiful resort. One evening we sat at a waterside restaurant in the old quarter of the town, finishing off a meal of fat tuna steaks and a bowl full of clams. It was a warm summer evening, darkness had fallen over the bay and we could now only just make out the Isla de Santa Clara, a small island a short distance from the shore. The conversation turned to where we should go next on our European vacation. “Well I’ve always fancied going to Barcelona,” I said, thinking about the prospect of watching top level European football. This notion was met with unanimous approval, although I kept quiet about the football, knowing the females in our party would not be so keen. The next morning we headed east.

It was a long drive from the Basque country to the Costa Brava, which necessitated an overnight stop along the way. We selected a campsite in Lleida known as Les Basse, which happened to have a Catalan restaurant attached. The waiter was a strange chap who had a habit of breaking off from whatever he was doing to stand rigid and stare blankly into space for a few moments. He was quite grumpy about our ignorance of the Catalan language and our efforts at Spanish were poorly received. Despite this the meal was excellent and the waiter eventually seemed pleased by our obvious enjoyment of the food.

We left Lleida the following day without stopping to see the city itself, I had just discovered that by an amazing co-incidence there was indeed a football match that very evening at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium. With this in mind I was keen to move on.

The road eventually brought us to the Costa Brava, the Mediterranean coastline on which Barcelona is situated. Ignoring the occasional cluster of hotels, this is a beautiful stretch of land. Its name summing up exactly what you’ll discover - a ‘Rugged Coast’ of rocky inlets and high cliffs. South of the city there extends a long line of campsites, all handily situated next to the beach. There is a regular bus linking them to the city. We opted for Albatros about 7km away and here I set about persuading the others to accompany me to the match. I managed to convince them that it would be an unforgettable experience, an authentic slice of Catalan culture. As it turned out, it proved to be both.

The stadium seemed full to its120,000 capacity but despite the size of the crowd there was none of the aggression that usually accompanies English football fixtures. The ticket prices started at approximately £8 which is staggeringly cheap considering the display of international talent on offer that evening – stars like Enrique, Cocu, Figo, Rivaldo and Kluivert. Back home it costs more than that to go and see Cambridge United play in the second Division.

The score….Barca 1, Extremadura 0; Figo scoring in the 23rd minute. The crowd went wild and then went home happy; so did we.
The next day we toured the sites of the Catalan capital. It’s an exciting and vibrant city, the kind of place where you could stay for weeks and not get bored. The unique architecture of Antoni Gaudi; superb museums and galleries; legendary nightlife and some excellent restaurants are just a tiny fraction of what’s on offer.

Our journey resumed after two days in Barcelona, we drove high up into the Pyrenees to go trekking in some of the national parks that lie between France and Spain. After this we ventured home.

The best thing about a holiday like this is that you can tailor it to suit your requirements day by day. You’ll find places like Hondarribia, that hardly get a mention in travel guides, but are well worth a look if you are passing through. So why not get over there and start discovering for yourself. Not forgetting to brush the mildew from your tent before you set off.

· For booking Eurotunnel or ferry channel crossings try www.bestferryfares.com

· Lonely Planet guides provide excellent information on camping sites including prices and a description of facilities. All those mentioned in the article can be found in their guide to Spain. www.lonelyplanet.com·

The official website for Barcelona football club is at www.fcbarcelona.com


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