Cádiz Province Tour, Easter Holiday, April 2021

Nine days away, whole family and dog, on the road. Confined by COVID-19 to Cádiz province, our neighbours across the border from home in Gibraltar, we decided to – as much as possible – “north, east, south, west” the province.

First stop: El Bosque, on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema. A picturesque town, with a nice spacious feel as you enter around the bridge at the bottom of the hill it is built on, we found a rather dilapidated campsite close to the middle on a wooded hill, and got ourselves a pitch late on our first night.

Next morning all the kids wanted to do was ride their bikes, as Maya has never had chance to learn, and Dylan has missed it, what with the dearth of places for young kids to cycle in Gibraltar. Maya took to it almost immediately, and despite the inevitable cuts, scrapes and tears, they were both bombing around the small, gravelly track that looped the site together in no time.

With the weather changeable, we then headed to Olvera, in the far north-east of the province, finding a site at the top of a hill, this time much bigger and more organised. Picking a pitch in a deserted quadrant of the site with expansive views all around, we soon figured out why nobody else was nearby – the wind was howling around us pretty alarmingly. We crawled off to the leeward and less picturesque side, pitching with a few other families, and spent the next couple of days chilling and exercising. (My run via a cycle lane to a “Via Verde” – Spanish ex-railway converted into a cycle track – turned out to contain the steepest, longest hill I’ve ever run up!)

Now getting the hang of sleeping and feeding four of us in a camper van, we headed to our next destination. On the way we went to the reservoir at Zahara de la Sierra, where Faye bravely attempted an Ironman training swim, but declared that even in her wetsuit, as soon as the water hit her head it felt “like an ice cream headache all over”. She didn’t last too long.

After lunch at a lovely but windy restaurant in the village, we followed the sat nav back towards El Bosque, and inadvertently stumbled over what must be one of the most iconic drives in Spain, the mountain pass between Zahara and Grazalema villages. The sense of scale and perspective as the road wound up and up away from the village and reservoir was only matched by the unforgettable scenery – amazing to think this is all an hour or so from home and we’d never experienced it before, and this time, only by accident!

Dropping down the other side we arrived at a small campsite just above the village of Grazalema, the most beautiful campsite of the whole trip. Breakfast with the sun coming up over the village below us as we looked down from the hillside through the pines was magical. Not so magical was my attempt to do an “easy” 10K run. Due to the fact that the Spanish tend to build their villages on hills, the first 5K downwards set me up for the inevitable constant uphill of the second half of the run. Still, it was nothing compared to the “cycle” route from Olvera.

Next day we decamped to Rota, near the US Navy base in the south-west corner of the province.The site was right on the beach, but the area had a run-down feeling, with painted bedsheets pinned to road junctions complaining that the nearby neighbourhood had had no power for four months. The site mainly seemed to consist of long-term use caravans populated by Spanish people, giving it a trailer park feel.

Still, we had a shaded, private pitch, and again the kids had a network of traffic-free tracks to practise their cycling skills on. Meanwhile Faye practised the real thing on her bike, training for her forthcoming Ironman.

Our final stop was kitesurfing capital of Europe, Tarifa, reached via a chilled Sunday lunch sat at a cafe in a pine forest in Rota. When we got to Tarifa we opted for a site built on a hill, so we could get an iconic view across the beach to the town to have as the backdrop for my Balcony Beats First Anniversary Livestream. I was nervous about upsetting people especially in light of the “no music” policy, but the few neighbours we had seemed ambivalent to the DJ gear, camera, lighting and tiny loudspeaker, and it all went really well.

So apart from the roof slowly letting itself down, and the charging USBs failing, the camper van was awesome all trip and we really took to the life. With those niggles fixed we’ll definitely now start looking forward to a whole summer away this year – as always, COVID-19 permitting…