We left England with
the most basic of itineraries head for Spain. If youve
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 youre
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 didnt need to plan ahead as you
dont 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 its a good idea to know
the tariff and how highly rated the facilities are, before you start
hammering tent pegs into the ground.
France was easy; the switch to the right hand side of the road wasnt
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.
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 Ive 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 Barcelonas 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 youll 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
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.
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. Its 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 whats 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. Youll 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
· 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