Summary of trip and tips learned
28 November – 16 January – 49 days.
Trip distance: 4327 miles (excluding Home to/from Dover)
Average: 33 mpg
Trip cost: €2400 (c. £2280) – €48.97 or £46.52 per day
|Entertainment/Goodies (incl. motorbiking; snowboarding)
|Essentials (laundry, household)
|Aires (or equiv)
|Camping Cheque Site
|Other sites (incl B&B)
This trip was planned around an already organised motorbike trail riding trip I had in the south of Spain, so we simply just extended the stay to incorporate a tour of Spain and Portugal. As this covers the Christmas and New Year periods we thought it would be a popular run for all the winter sun chasers.
Spain proved to be a huge disappointment. We’ve both visited bits briefly for holidays, but fortunately none of our parents are Costa-Del-Veterans – and for that we now thank them! The country had some stunning gems and places that really had the wow factor, but these were too few and far between. Most of the place was run-down, dirty, desolate, and almost third-world in places. The Spanish camp sites were the lowest quality we’ve seen in any country so far (with a couple of notable exceptions). Far too many semi-dilapidated concrete rendered buildings for our liking, and even the main tourist traps looked awful, roads unfinished, and everything lacked quality. We can see the attraction of a week doing nothing in the sun, but apart from the climate we do not know why people over-winter here when there are so many other options.
That said, some villages were sweet, some of the national parks and mountains in Andalusia and Pyrenees are stunning, and we had an excellent time in the mountains walking, motorbike riding and snowboarding!
Portugal though was a huge surprise for us. Our expectations were not high expecting it to be similar to Spain, but our findings were more of what we expected Spain to be like. It was much cleaner; finished to a higher quality; a lot of the smaller towns were stunning; and the whole atmosphere was more positive and people seemed to care about how things were. The larger cities weren’t really to our taste, and there were some quite poor areas but none as tatty as Spain. The tourist destinations were reasonably tasteful, of high quality, and not over done.
We would happily visit Portugal again, and even have a package-holiday week to laze in the Algarve sun – but we can’t see us coming back to Spain unless there is something specific needing us to be there.
Overall though we really enjoyed the trip – we pushed the van a bit more, wild camped in some unbeatable places, and had some most excellent adventures on the beach, in the mountains, and in the snow. Just a shame we didn’t fall in love with Spain….
After our last trip, we knew the van is perfectly capable of long trips. This time, the test was more down to wild camping and use in the snow. The subtle changes we made in this area seem to have helped out no end. The van is warmer, and when wild camping we had plenty of electricity (200AH) which we didn’t get close to using – and that includes charging phones; laptop etc as well as running the heating (gas powered blown air). Though we were careful we always washed; washed up and showered we didn’t run out of water. The Gaslow refillable gas was superb meaning even with only 6kg of LPG we never ran short. So the van is now really very capable of wild camping.
We winterised as much as possible, with insulated tanks, fresh tank antifreeze heater, extra insulation, insulating external pipes, and also sealing around the windows to prevent water getting trapped and freezing and potentially breaking seals. It has to be said the van wasn’t designed for full winter use, and we found a fair few “cold air inlets” and areas where insulation was nonexistent which we rectified as much as possible (without compromising propane drop-hole safety). We are also concerned about the bathroom as we can’t get to the pipe-work and as the bathroom is generally colder than the rest of the van we presume it isn’t well insulated between the bathroom and the body – so pipes freezing here was a worry.
However, the execution of camping at in the snow and up to 7,800ft in the winter was absolutely fine and flawless. The van encountered no problems and was as snug as if it were on the beach! The coldest night was (according to forecast only) probably between -6 & -10’C and it could probably do slightly colder. Obviously heating is more powerful on electric hookup, but we also camped in the freezing cold (the pond next to us froze overnight) with just the gas heating without problem. However if it is very cold AND very windy the gas heating isn’t up to the job (until I find and block all the holes!)
We encountered one fault – one of the mains electrical breakers failed and refused to latch “on”. This was away from power and with all devices isolated so a simple failure. Fortunately this happened late on the trip and did not cause any issues. After a cleanup the van still looks pretty much unmarked and as new, nothing damaged, squeaking or marked, testimony to how strong the conversion was made.
Incredibly, despite the exchange rate being pants, and a couple of snowboarding breaks and a motorbike weekend, we still came in under budget!