In the last few weeks I have been finalizing our next summer trip to Portugal at the end of August and whilst I plan it I am immediately taken back every single time to our amazing holidays in Spain last year as the setup will be very similar this year too.
First of all I should say that our trip to the Mediterranean coast was a very special one as it was my dearest aunt who gave me the touristic guide to go and visit that part of Europe: that is the last thing she gave me the last time we met. She had bought it to go and travel there when she would be retired. However her life had planned otherwise: only a few months after she stopped working she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given a life expectation of 4 to 5 years only. She gave me her guide book in February 2015 as she knew she only had a few months left to live at that point so she would not realise that dream, as many others. She passed away in August 2015 and a few week later I booked our summer holidays for 2016 to go and visit those places on her behalf, holding her in my heart and seeing everything through her eyes too. Our holidays there were such an unforgettably beautiful time of our lives that we felt as if she had managed to make us one last gift even if she was not alive anymore: she inspired us for such an amazing trip that would bring us joys for the years to come every time we would remember it…
The set up to Portugal this year is very similar as we booked again a boat trip with Brittany Ferries to sail from Portsmouth (only 90 minutes drive from London) to Santander on the north coast of Spain. The journey takes nearly 24 hours but being on the boat itself it’s the beginning of the treat! Apart from standard amenities such as cafe, self service and restaurant, boutiques and loungers on the decks, (depending on the boat you will sail on) you also have a small soft play area, cinema and swimming pool! The kids absolutely love it, they associate the cabin to a hotel where they sleep very well (probably the gentle rocking on the water helps too) and during the day we rest from driving and enjoy walking around.
If booked a year in advance, with as little as £35 deposit, you can secure a traveling rate for 4 with your car and a cabin each way for about £1000. If you think of it, you can spend much more than that for 2 nights accommodation, a car rental and a flight fee. In fact we decided to go to Portugal the same way this year precisely because flight prices were prohibitive in the period that followed Brexit as many costs that air companies have were associated with Euro expenses and the Sterling was less strong at the time. So just a flight to Greece, Croatia, Italy or Portugal (even Albania!) would have costed us at least £1250. Add car rental and 2 more nights and you can see for yourself how much you can save by boat instead. Being Brittany ferries a French company which I assume operates in Euros, their rates were the same between 2015 when I reserved for summer 2016 and 2016 when I booked for summer 2017.
Once you arrive on the Spanish coast, there is a minimum of 7.5 hours drive between Santander and the Mediterranean coast. Having two little ones in the car with us we decided it was reasonable to stop one night half way through. That is how we happened to discover the absolute beauty that Zaragoza is!!!
We staid at Hotel Sauce both on our way to the coast and our return back to the boat as we were very happy with the service provided by this family business.
Then we drove up to Torredembarra where we had reserved on Airbnb a lovely flat for 4 for a week. On both our Airbnb bookings we noticed places were very clean and Spanish owners are extremely welcoming and friendly! We have always had very positive experiences so far with this accommodation website: it’s easy to use as you can search properties on a map and select the price range and the amenities you need (such as WiFi, air conditioning, pool, parking, kitchen, family friendly). I was a bit hesitant to use it whilst traveling with the kids because I was concerned if they cancelled on us last minute or the place really did not match our expectations in terms of safety, comfort and cleanness, we would have struggled to find a safe and convenient place at such short notice during the high season. But luckily all went well and our holiday was not ruined by a negative experience! And booking on Airbnb is definitively worth the value for money.
The area around Tarragona (30 minutes south of Barcelona) is called Costa Dorada for the golden color of its beaches and is a true must visit! Our top beaches were:
Tamarit, Altafulla, Creixell, Salou Plaja Larga, La Mora, Arrabassada and Cambrils Platja de Vilafortuny (Pictures below are in the same order).
All beaches were very clean, most had lovely cafes to find refreshment and a quick tasty bite for lunch, they usually have open showers every 100m on the edge of the parking spaces to get rid of the sand before you get back in the car, the sea water is clear and warm, there are recycling bins everywhere… Basically a true paradise!
In the evening we also visited Calafell, Sitges and Tarragona itself, whilst Barcellona was only half an hour drive.
After an ‘exhausting’ week on the seaside (to the beach twice a day, running in the sand and swimming in the sea!) we did 3 relaxing nights at the lake as we booked a lovely place with pool in Cornelia del Terri which is very close to Banyoles. Whilst staying there one evening we literally fell in love with Gerona, the most charming town I ever visited! We did not know that they call that whole area the Spanish Tuscany (we are both from Siena) but it really deserve this nickname as it was as beautiful as our home land if not even more! Bezalu was very charming as well and reminded us of Monteriggioni, both medieval fortified small towns preserved in their original structure.
One our way back our boat was living Santander only from 8pm so we decided to get early and discover teh beautiful beach which we had seen from the boat whilst arriving in Spaine, El Puntal.
At this point of the post you will have understood already that ours was an incredible journey we will never forget. The taste of Spain comes back to me nearly every day: I have an image of its beautiful nature at the back of my mind for a fracture of second, a smell of the sea or its typical food comes to my nostrils by surprise, the taste of friendliness of the locals or the true happiness we felt there fills me with joy every time I need it to. Even my son will remember a bit of those memorable holidays despite he was only 5 when we went where he learned to swim with joy and not to be scared of the sea!
PS All pictures in this post were taken by myself in July/August 2016.