Ten magical days in Provence


“This doesn’t feel right. Are you sure we’re at the right campsite?” I say, as we drive up to reception. It had been an interesting 24 hours. We had extended our stay at the last campsite due to 60 km/hour winds, with gusts of up to 100 km which, on the top of an exposed hill near the picturesque Luberon village of Gordes, caused a lot of rocking and rolling in the van. In the hurry to get away in the morning I’d put the co-ordinates of another campsite into the satnav and we were now just north of Orange, about 180 km North West of where we wanted to be. Never mind, as they say good travel has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. The sun is shining, and we get to drive through even more of the stunning Provence countryside. Peter Mayles had A year in Provence (I think he ended up staying much longer), but we only have 10 days to sample the exquisite delights of Provençal life.

I could live here,

I think to myself as I sip some Châteaneuf-du-Pape on a terrace overlooking another breath-taking vista, in the oh so French village of Rousellin. And it’s here that I bump into an old friend of mine – a Citroen 2CV. I had a blueberries and cream D reg rolltop in the early 90’s and never quite got over the loss when her king pin crumpled!



We start our whistle stop tour of Provence at a campsite near to Aix (pronounced Ex)-en-Provence. On our first day we take a local bus into Aix-en and

I step into the epitome of shabby chic cafe life.

Around every corner sits another little square surrounded by plain-trees casting flickering light and shade on the pavements. There are countless art galleries, lovely coffee shops and bistros and when you look up, although there is still a chill in the air, the sky is the most amazing blue colour and the air is crisp and clear. It’s no wonder many artists have been drawn to Provence and one of France’s most famous, Paul Cezanne lived and painted in Aix-en for most of his life. We visit his studio and favourite outdoor painting spot where he completed more than 80 paintings of the majestic Montagne Sainte-Victoire, his muse. Luckily for us our campsite is right on its doorstop.

                      The centre of Aix-en-Provence

We spend the next few days walking in the Sainte-Victoire natural reserve   

There are many well-marked walking routes and the scenery is breath-taking. On our second day, as we walk towards the Zola damn and lake, and we here a deafening squawk of what sounds like birds, but as we grow closer, there are no birds. It’s then that I remember I’ve heard this sound before, and I think it must be frogs. Later I learn that its male frogs calling for a mate, all croaking, whistling, chirping and ribbiting. We sit by the lake and listen and within 10 minutes the noise dissipates and then stops. Simply amazing!


Montagne Sainte-Victoire in the evening sun

Sainte-Victoire nature reserve

From Gordes, we cycle to the picture postcard villages of Luberon

– Rousellin (where ochre is mined), Lacoste and Mors. The only problem is that every one of these villages are built on top of a hill, which means that visiting them requires a slow climb to the top. I’m not good on hills, not on foot, and certainly not on a bike. So, by the time I had cycled back to the campsite, which sits 500m above the valley floor, I felt like my face was going to burst and it was the colour of a roasted lobster. The only way I managed to get up was to focus on the dashed white lines at the side of the road, no looking ahead, no thinking about my burning thighs. Next time I’m in Provence, I’m thinking a small sporty cabriolet would be a much easier way to visit these villages.

  Hilltop villages of Gordes, Rousellin and Murs

Our final stop in Provence is near the village of Moutiers-Sainte-Marie, in the Verdon Natural Regional Park. This is our chance to do some Kayaking and we cycle to

Lac de Sainte-Croix and the Gorges du Verdon

The Verdon river flows into the lake after passing through the limestone Gorge, considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. The lake is stunning, a startling turquoise-green. Water from its glacial source contains suspended rock flour minerals, which create the colour.  We paddle towards the opening of the gorge itself and this is a wow moment for me, a definite 10! The limestone rockfaces which have been sculpted by thousands of years of rushing water, the first green of Spring sprinkled across the trees clinging precariously to the rock faces, and the turquoise-green river ever flowing.

20190507_123712 The Gorges du Verdon

So, after 10 days in Provence, all I can say is I loved it for: its exquisite hilltop villages; the colours – the greens, blues and ochres; the amazing wildlife – brightly coloured butterflies, crickets, chirping frogs, amazing birds, and don’t forget the sunshine – I’m definitely coming back!





Roses and Adge: not what I expected


Expectations…. where do they come from, and how do they affect our emotions? I have been looking forward to this ‘gap year’ since I first started to think about travelling in my late teens, but my life turned down another path and so, to be here on my ‘seniors gap year’, 30 years on, my expectations are high, perhaps too high. For the first 3 months we travelled in organised small group tours and once we had decided which trips to go on the rest was easy, no decisions to make, we just followed the crowd. Now as we move from our initial base in Costa Blanca, there are decisions to be made about where to go next and what we want to do when we get there. However, in the week we spend in Roses (pronounced Rusas) near the French border and Adge (like edge but with an a) I struggle with trying to make the ‘right decisions’ and this challenges what I’m expecting from the next part of my trip. As you are all aware, a lot of the time reality can be quite different from what we expect. In Roses I’d expected sunshine and blue sky, but instead we got rain, strong winds and mainly dull, even cold (11 degrees) days. I’d spent hours pondering over the lonely planet guide book, planning a boat trip from Roses to Cadaqués, a cycle along the canal du Midi in Adge and canoeing on the Gorges du Tarn. Great, that’s a plan, I’ve made a decision! I’ve always struggled making decisions, possibly because I want to make the most of every moment and don’t want to miss out on anything. However, things don’t always go to plan. Our boat trip in Roses gets cancelled because of the weather and a visit to the Gorges du Tarn is out of the question after one of the wettest Easter weekends in decades.

I have theory, a formula that seems to influence my happiness, and perhaps others too. The formula is: happiness equals experience divided by expectation. So, if I score my expectation and experience of a certain event out of 10, there’s an overall score for happiness ranging from 0-10. Let’s say my expectation of visiting Roses was 8, but my experience was 2 (cold, wet, windy and I couldn’t do anything I’d planned to do), then using the formula my happiness score is ¼ or 0.25. However, on our last day in Roses which was cold and windy, John planned a bike ride, something which wasn’t on the itinerary. My expectations were low (1) and it took a lot of coaxing to get me out of the van, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. We cycled through a nature reserve which was sheltered from the wind and watching the house martins dip and dive in front of the bikes was a real treat. I’d give the experience a 6, so my overall happiness score for the bike ride was a 6.

And so, as the week goes on and we settle into our next campsite in Adge, I try and work out how I can get the best out of my gap year. We plan another boat trip but it’s cancelled again, this time because of the strong mistral winds. We console ourselves and go out for our first proper French meal. The menu is in French of course, and the waiters speak very little English, so I keep safe and order salmon and crème caramel. John’s been practising his French and fancies some veal (expectation 9). However, when his plate arrives there is a roll of fat with something pinkish in the middle. He nudges it around his plate and disappointment was written on his face – he couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t until we translated the menu on the way out that we noticed the dish he’d ordered was Tête de Veau, a local French delicacy consisting of calf’s brain…. happiness score 0. The next day we cycle to the Cape d’Adge aquarium and spend an afternoon gazing at the tropical fish. I’d forgotten how much I love aquariums. The tropical fish gawp back, full of colour and character and I easily slip into a scene from Finding Nemo, vowing to watch the sequel, Finding Dory soon. The visit to the aquarium gets a 7 on the happiness scale, it was an unexpected enjoyable afternoon.

After the second day of strong wind (still no boats running), we make a snap decision and take the train to Montpelier. Feeling rather grumpy on this day that felt more like a cold blustery Autumn, rather than a Spring day, and not expecting much, we walked into the open square of Place de la Comédie, dominated by the opera house and was blown away by the cities 17th century architecture. We pick up a great map of the city from the tourist information centre and work out our own walking route around the cities old quarter. We walk along the plane-tree lined narrow streets past many grand hótels particuliers (private mansions in their day, but now many are hotels or museums), the neoclassical courthouse, the Cathédrale Saint- Pierre and La Faculté de Médecine, which in its  day (late 12th century) was one of the first operating medical schools in the western world. Montpelier even has an Arc de Triomphe, a copy of the gates from Paris erected in honour of Louis XIV, an Aqueduct (Saint-Clément) and many parcs, green spaces and a fabulous esplanade. And let’s not forget the artsy shops and workshops; puppet makers, old book repairers, carpet weavers and potters, and amazing cafes and restaurants. At the end of our tour of the old quarter we find a Moroccan tea house, unremarkable from the outside, but with an incredible tea menu (I’m in heaven) and delicious crepes …. I give our day out in Montpellier an 8!


The old town in Montpellier

So, I’m still trying to work out how to manage my expectations on this trip and I’m confused as to which way to go. Should I expect nothing and sometimes be surprised…. “Blessed is he who expects nothing, as he shall never be disappointed” (Alexander Pope) or expect everything and often be disappointed. Perhaps there’s a middle ground and that is to accept that all experiences good, bad, happy and sad have value and are to be treasured. And as a wise old sage keeps reminding me…. “We have a choice whether to be happy or not (most of the time) in whatever we are doing. By choosing to be happy we will have more positive experiences, no matter what our expectations are” (John Renfrew).



From Alicante to Tarragona


We are on the move again and after being in the one place for just over a month, I’m looking forward to some new adventures. But before we go, I still have one city to visit close to where we are staying, Alicante. Our friends are up for a visit and we book the local bus to stop at the campsite. John, being the modern man, has decided to stay at home and catch up on the washing, although I think the threat of us ladies doing some shopping is just too much for him! It’s an early start and after rising at 6.45 to catch the bus, our first port of call in Alicante is breakfast……a good old tostada, the staple breakfast, lunch and snack in Spain, best served with tomate, queso and jamo serrano…. yum. After breakfast we visit the 16th century Castillo Santa Barbara, via the lift. You can walk, but as the castle is perched on a small mountain, the 3 Euros 20 cent for the lift is worth every penny. On the roof of the castle the sweeping views over the city, bay and coastal towns beyond are stunning and it’s worth spending time here to admire the vista.

The vista from the top of Castillo Santa Barbara, Alicante

We then wander through the streets of ‘El Barrio’ (the old town), where the quaint whitewashed houses are decorated with geranium window boxes and the pace of life is slow. We stroll along the main Esplanade across from the marina and stop at one of the cafes for their ‘Menu del Día’ (menu of the day) which usually consists of 3 courses, bread, salad and often a glass of wine. June and I share a speciality Alicante rice dish, Arroz, similar to Paella but made with a more glutenous rice. Washed down with a glass of rioja wine it is delicious. We spend a few hours window shopping and catch the bus back to the campsite. On arriving Eddie quickly realises he has left his phone and credit cards on the bus, but after phoning his phone, the bus driver answers and offers to bring it to the campsite. ‘All’s well that ends well’ and it just goes to show that most people the world over will go out of their way to help if they can.

The old town of Alicante 

It’s a 5-hour drive to our next campsite, which is on the beach, about 6km from the city of Tarragona. We share the driving and I’m gaining confidence navigating this 7m long machine on the wrong side of the road. We drive from Valencia into Catalonia and the landscape changes. Its greener here with less agriculture and tall thin cypress trees, poppies and spring flowers now line the roadside replacing the parched mountain plains of Valencia. The towns and villages seem more French, less Spanish as we drive North towards the French border. On our next day we walk into Tarragona, a city I hadn’t heard of before, but had been recommended to visit. A real treat was in store. We discover that Tarragona is a very old city and was first occupied by the Romans in 200BC when as the capital of Modern Spain, it was known as Tarraco. It was invaded in the 8th century by the Moors and rose to power again in the 11th century as a Christian settlement. Much of the original Roman remains and Medieval architecture has been well preserved.


The cloisters at Tarragona Cathedral

We visit the Amifeatre Roma, perched just back from the beach, it offers amazing views and the Pretori I Circ Romans which contains the vaults of the Roman Circus, where chariot races were a regular sight in the city. The Romans really did know how to party – who needs a night at the cinema when gladiators and wild animals are fighting to the death with a gorgeous seascape backdrop or chariots are speeding through the streets of the city at great pace? The 12th century Romanesque and Gothic cathedral and museum are also well worth a visit as is the Passeig Arqueologic, a walk around part of the old Roman perimeter walls. In the old town we wander down charming narrow, winding streets, past many picturesque little squares where Roman relics pop up unexpectedly on street corners. I loved this city and there is much more that we didn’t see on our 27,000-step day visit. If you are in the area, don’t pass it by, it’s definitely worth a visit.

The old town Tarragona, and Amifeatre Roma

The lady at the ticket office in Tarragona had smiled when John asked for a pensionista ticket (he can’t resist a bargain and after all his OAP discounts are subbing me on this gap year) and suggested ‘that he might be old on the outside, but still young on the inside’. This got me thinking that both cities we visited are very old, with centuries of history, but they have survived into the 21st century by adapting and perhaps for cities, but not humans, being ‘old on the inside, but young on the outside’ might be the best way to go!

A lovely cup of tea in Elche


Okay, so I have a confession, it’s a terrible vice……. I absolutely love tea. It’s my tipple of choice, morning, afternoon and evening. I have even been known to have a ‘cup of tea’ at last orders. I’m not a Tetley or Yorkshire tea girl. Tea, for me must be more subtle and I do have my favourites…Earl Grey (with milk not lemon), Darjeeling, Vanilla Rooibos, Ginger and Lemon, Peppermint and Liquorice to name but a few, but I’m always up for trying a new blend. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing better than sitting down with a nice hot cup of tea (a pot is even better). A wee square of black chocolate goes very nicely, and on special occasions a fruit scone with jam and butter makes for a perfect combination. A cup of tea signals that it’s time for a break, time to stop what I’m doing, time to switch off or sometimes it can help to keep going. It’s strange that although a traveller seeks out new and different experiences, comforting rituals, such as a nice cup of tea, have also become important. However, my quest for this simple creature comfort in the land of café con leche, has been challenging. The coffee and chocolate culture in Spain go back a long way and drinking tea here is not really considered the norm. So, this my chance to practice some of of the lingo. “Te negra con leche, por favour (black tea with milk, please)”, I smile …… a small cup of hot milk with a tea bag floating within (and no tea diffused out) arrives. Okay, so that didn’t work. I try something else “Te negra con leche fria, aparte” (black tea with separate cold milk) …… a cup of tea and a separate glass of milk is placed on the table and when I try the same on another occasion, a cup of tea and a glass with ice (not sure how that one happened) is served. I go back to my Spanish phrase book, and finally during an afternoon in Elche, in one of the city’s quaint little squares, I get it right. The waitress offers Rooibos as a choice, so I go for it “ Té Rooibois en agua caliente y un poco de leche fria en una jarra”( Rooibois tea with hot water and a small jug of cold milk) and lo and behold, a lovely cup of loose-leaf vanilla Rooibos in hot water, in a large mug (most cups of tea in Spain have been tiny) arrives with a small jug of cold milk on the side. And so already I have a soft spot for Elche where I enjoy the best cup of tea in Spain, so far!

We spend the afternoon in Elche (also known as Elx), the third biggest city in the region of Valencia. We later find out that the city has UNESCO World Heritage status for its Misteri d’Elx (an annual mystery musical play sung entirely by men, about the death, assumption and crowning of the Virgin), performed since the 15th century in the Basilica of Saint Mary of Elche. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) it is performed in August, so we don’t get the chance to experience it, but we do visit the extensive palm groves for which the city has also been awarded UNESCO status. The palms are everywhere and you might also spot a pomegranate tree or two, for which this region is also famous for.  We visit the Huerto del Cura, a beautiful garden full of date palms, cacti and other local flora. The Imperial palm tree, in the centre of the garden, is 165 years old and is quiet a spectacle with its 8 additional trunks (children) sprouting 2 meters above the ground in a tree-like candelabra. We visit the Museo del Palmarel which houses hundreds of different palm varieties and spend some time in the Museo Arqueológico y Historia de Elche, a fabulous museum, been built on The Alcazar de la Señoríasite, part of the old Islamic road in the city. The museum recounts the history of Elche, through archaeological artefacts, touchscreen information displays (all in English) and animation. Finally, we visit the Basillica de Santa Maria, where a trip up its tower provides a fabulous view of the city. On the way back to the car, we walk through the Municipal Park which is full of…. yes, you guessed it, more palm trees. A lovely city to visit if you are in this area of Spain, and although I can’t promise, it might be your best bet of finding that lovely cup of tea all you tea lovers in Spain have been looking for!


A wonderful wedding at Whittlebury


It seems like we have been following the blossom since we arrived in Spain a month ago. First there was the lovely pink and white almond tree blossom sprinkled across the plains of Rioca, followed by the gorgeous orange and lemon tree blossom wafting their scent along the Camino rural paths in Valencia and now as we arrive in the Northamptonshire countryside, we are greeted by cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Spring has followed us over this past month, and it has finally settled at Whittlebury hall, heralding a new beginning at the wedding of my stepdaughter Elspeth and her partner Martin.

We have been looking forward to this day since the soon to be bride and groom announced their engagement 18 months ago. There have been months of planning by the happy couple, but all we had to do was to get ourselves here on time. A flight from Alicante and a car hire from the airport and it was looking good. Now there was just the small detail of our outfits. Johns kilt had been deposited with his daughter many months ago and my daughter who was flying from Edinburgh was bringing all my regalia in her hand luggage. Luckily all goes to plan, and we potter away the morning of the wedding, lazing over breakfast, chatting to family and friends and watching children’s TV with John’s grandson Joe. Before we know it, we are suited (kilted) and booted and making our way to ‘The Orangery’ where the bride and groom are to be married. Elspeth was simple stunning as she descended the stairs with John and the pianist kept us entertained with a real mix of ‘nontraditional’ tunes, including a few of Elspeth’s Disney favourites. There was a tear in my eye as the couple said their vows and a duet from the couples musical theatre friends kept us mesmerised while the new Mr and Mrs Duffy signed the registry. The day was a fun fusion of Scottish and English traditions with disposable cameras and cuddly highland cows on each of the tables for the children to play with (and take home), a guestbook and fingerprint tree, a ceilidh band (with a caller), and a fully stocked sweet shop!  A great idea to keep the children amused…. well that’s what we thought until an overexcited grandson gorged himself on sweets and after jigging The Eightsome Reel he managed to empty the full contents of his stomach over his dad and grandpa (John). Nothing that a few paper towels, a change of clothes (for Joe) and a good dry clean will sort!



Ours is a blended family, which we think is a lovely way to describe the fusion of both families that our marriage brought together. We both count ourselves very lucky to be part of one big family and this day at Whittlebury, with the wonderful wedding of Elspeth and Martin, we have witnessed the blossoming of another branch of our family which we’ll take great pleasure in being part of in the future. And so, as we arrive back at our campsite late on Sunday evening, for the first time on our adventures I feel unsettled. I guess it’s because having been with family, it doesn’t feel like ‘Cassey’ is home. They say ‘Home is where the heart is’ and just for a little while my heart is still at Whittlebury where most of our family were with us, smiling, laughing and dancing the night away.

Van life at Marjal


We have arrived at Marjal Costa Brava, a 5-star campsite inland from Alicante where we will be staying for a month until after my step daughter’s wedding. Its hot when we arrive and by Sunday the temperature soars to 30 degrees. We are here for a few reasons; one, its close to Alicante airport so it makes it easy to fly back for the wedding; two, our friends have recommended the campsite as a great place to be if the weather isn’t good (which is entirely possible in March despite the current temperatures) and; three, John, is testing the water for a life of ‘over wintering ‘ in Spain for when I retire (his previous multiple recordings and secret viewings of ‘Winter Homes in the Sun’ have not been in vain!). Staying in one campsite for this long is not really ‘my cup of tea’, but it makes sense until the weather gets warmer in Northern Europe and we can start to travel, the real purpose of my ‘seniors gap year’.

I must admit, it is nice to finally be in one place with no particular plans, although the ‘no particular plans’ bit does make me nervous as I’m a girl who likes to be ‘doing’. I know that part of the journey for me on this trip is to learn to ‘go with the flow’ and to be happy just ‘being’, rather than needing to do all the time. We soon settle into van life, although there are challenges living in such a small (7.3m x2.1m) space. Everything we need has been packed into the van and it takes time to get to know where we have put it all. Jobs seem to naturally divide – I like to cook (it’s like cooking in a toy kitchen… perhaps a flashback from childhood!) and John likes to do the washing up, which seems to be a social event for the gents of an evening. Our idiosyncrasies become exaggerated – John’s need to do things in a certain way and my messiness when I cook are just a few. It’s easy to become irritated when there’s nowhere to escape to, so we try hard to and nip any niggles in the bud, after all we have another 7 months of living together in this small space!

Our first few days are busy. The site is huge (1200 pitches and hundreds of holiday chalets) and there are 3 swimming pools (one indoor), a spa, gym, supermarket, hairdressers, mini golf, tennis and péntanque pitches. There’s a Camping and Caravanning rally on (which is a kind of get together for members) and between the activities organised by the campsite and the rally there is something to do every morning, afternoon and evening if you want…..great if you are a do..er  We join in happy hour followed by entertainment (on a school night!) and go on a group cycle and walk. There’s a Saturday night quiz and sausage sizzle, a Sunday afternoon BBQ with Pims, and there’s plenty of opportunities to go for a ‘sundowner’ at the poolside bar.


Being the more sociable of the two, John is in his element……. but on Monday as the weather cools, time starts to shift, and this is what I have been waiting for. There is no rush to do anything and I can take time to ‘just be’ …. I read, I learn a bit of Spanish (duolingo – https://www.duolingo.com/), something I have been meaning to do for a long time, I go to the gym and Pilates and I try a painting workshop. I am no longer Linda the physiotherapist, Linda the mother or Linda the daughter…. I get time to just be me. So, although on the face of it Marjal isn’t really my thing, I know that having this time will help me to reset my clock, reflect and to think about how I want to live the next chapter of my life.

There are so many different nationalities at the site; German, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Belgian, Swiss and Swedish etc, etc. There are some permanent residents and at £5,000 a year for a pitch, and 1 euro for a coffee, it’s certainly cheaper than the UK. Some stay for the winter, some for a few weeks or months and some are just passing through. Some caravans and motorhomes are huge, 5th wheelers, and many have extended their living space by erecting awnings and creating mini outdoor gardens and patios. Most here are retired, and in their 60s, 70s or 80s, but at the weekends Spanish families arrive and the atmosphere changes. Everyone is active, most have bikes (although some have electric) and everybody walks and uses the gym regularly…. it’s a different way of life and the sunshine certainly helps.

I have met some inspiring people. There’s Betty, who’s in her mid-70s and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and drove her motorhome singlehanded all the way from Merseyside to spend the Winter at the campsite. She joins us on a Sunday morning group walk in her rambling buggy. A regular rambler, she tells us of a time when she was half way up Snowdonia and the buggy started to slide down the scree path… but still made it to the top. We meet another couple in their 80’s, walking hand in hand. They have their own homes in the UK but spend every winter together at the campsite…. “I live every day like my last”, Dave beams. Another couple, in their 70’s, are on their way back from spending the winter in Morocco. Taking early retirement in their late 50s they gave up ‘conventional living’ many years ago, living on a barge first in middle England and then on the Canal de Midi in France. They settled in France, but soon became restless, bought a motorhome and have travelled around Europe ever since.

The people I meet remind me that life is too short to have all your hopes and dreams in the future.  We can all find reasons and excuses (time, money, guilt, fear) which stop us from doing what we want to do now. Meeting some of the people I have at Marjal has reinforced to me that if you really want to do something, for most of us, there is usually a way to make it happen, although often you have to be brave and step out of your comfort zone.  So, in the words of a well-known sports brand, if you really want to do something, ‘just do it!’ The only person that’s really stopping you is you!


Oranges, Las Fallas and Paella in Valencia


We have travelled to the Valencia region of Spain…. pronounced ‘Balenthia’, which will be our home until mid-April. The sun has come out and it’s about 22 degrees; very pleasant for March. I here storm Gareth has been causing havoc in the UK and I’m feeling rather guilty that we are bathed in spring sunshine ( but not a lot!). First, we stay in a campsite North East of Valencia for a few days and enjoy a wonderful cycle along the Via Ojos Negros Greenway, a 160 km walking/cycle track which runs from Ojos Negros in Aaragon (wasn’t he a hero from The Lord of the Rings?) to Valencia. We travel south of the city of Valencia to our next campsite which is near the coastal town of Oliva and the next day we cycle along an old railway route to Gandia. As we cycle past the orange groves, there is blue sky for miles and the trees are bursting with fruit. The smell of orange blossom wafts across the path and stirs the senses. I hope to rekindle this memory on those dark January days in Scotland.

We have an opportunity to visit the city of Valencia and join a bus trip organised from the campsite. We have struck it lucky, Las Fallas de San José (torches) festival, a traditional celebration, held in commemoration of Saint Joseph (the patron saint of a happy death) is on while we are here. We take a ‘free’ walking tour (https://mentavalencia.com/) which are a great way to find your way about a city and learn about local history and culture. Usually the guides are well informed, enthusiastic young locals and the idea is that there is no set fee, but that you tip the guide with what you feel reflects the value tour of your tour. Our guide, Natalie, has impeccable English and is beaming with pride for her home city. She tells us that the Fallas festival was originally celebrated to mark the arrival of Spring. Old wood left over from the Winter months was brought into the city and burnt on pyres, clearing the way for the new season. In modern times the wooden bonfires have been replaced by Fallas or ‘ninots’ (puppets) which are set alight on the final night (known as La Cremà -the Burning) of the two-week-long festival. Behind the scenes crews of artists, sculptors and craftsmen have spent months producing up to 350 elaborate constructions of paper, wax and wood brightly coloured displays of caricature figures towering in the many plazas of the city. Each is produced by one neighbourhood who raise large sums of money to attract the best artists to create the best Fallas and every year one Fallas is saved by popular vote and earns a place in the Arts and Science museum. In the Plaça de l’Ajuntament, a huge statue the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Forsaken is covered in flowers and is the last to be set alight. During the festival each neighbourhood also has a ‘reinas falleras’ (queen of the festival), who parades around the city in her casal faller (traditional Valencian) costume. Local traditional bands accompany the queens as they make their way through the city. We are visiting early in the festival but catch a glimpse of some of the Fallas still under construction and pass a table full of reinas falleras who are sharing a drink and having a natter.

As Natalie, guides us through the streets of Valencia, we pass many stunning buildings. Valencia is very old, originally a Roman colony which was first established in 138 BC and some of the original roman roads are still visible. It is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona and is a leading economic centre. Natalie proudly tells us that it has the best climate of Spain…. 300 days of sunshine, with a minimum daytime temperature of 16 degrees. It could be a twin of my home town Troon in South west Scotland which has 300 days of rain and maximum daytime temperature of 16! She tells us that Valencia has the narrowest house, the biggest market for fresh produce (central market) and the largest urban park (which is the old river bed of the river Turia) in Europe. It has its own language, is the home to the Holy Grail, the crucifixion cross of Jesus (not sure about that one though!) and is where Spain’s national dish, Paella was created.

On our day trip to the city, these were just some of the highlights:

Serrano Towers

Originally built in the 14th century Torres de Serranos is one of 2 remaining towers which were part of the old city wall, which has sadly now been demolished. It was used as a prison for noblemen for nearly 300 years and provides a good view of the old city from the top.

Plaza de la Virgin and Valencia Cathedral

The cathedral, which houses the Holy Chalice (Grail) is a must-see destination in the city and sits in the Plaza de la Virgin, one of the oldest plazas in Valencia. The plaza is surrounded by the cathedral, the Tribunal del las Aquas, or water court, the Turia Fountain and Palau de la Generalitat (Valencia’s seat of the government). It has plenty of bars and cafes, providing a little oasis of open space and is a meeting point for many guided tours. The magnificent bell tower of the cathedral is well worth a visit. The spiral staircase (there are no lifts) leads up to a lovely terrace from which you can see the city all the way to the coast.

The Silk Market

The Silk Market, ‘La Lonja de la Seda’ was built in the 15th Century, when Valencia was at its peak of silk trading and is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the city. The Contracts Hall where the silk merchants brought their samples to trade is striking, with its spiral columns reaching up to a domed roof. In its day, the roof was painted blue and was spangled with stars. The sandstone columns were painted brown to represent the trunks and branches of trees reaching up to the sky. You can imagine what a buzz there would have been here. It’s well worth a visit and entry was free as part of the menta walking tour.

The Church of San St Nicolás de Bari

Also known as the Sistine Chapel of Valencia, this inconspicuous church is tucked behind the city’s narrow streets. Behind its doors there is an extraordinary fresco, depicting the life of St Nicolas (from whom the figure of Santa Clause is thought to have been based). The ceilings have recently been restored and this is a little jewel which is well worth a visit for the wow factor.

The City of Arts and Sciences  

At the end of the Turia River Gardens sits the City of Arts and Science park, a sci fi complex which hosts an array of attractions. There’s an opera house (the tallest in the world), a science museum, an oceanographic aquarium (the largest in Europe), IMAX cinema, laserium, an outdoor garden and sculpture park known as the Umbracle and a concert hall. It is worth a visit, even if you don’t visit any of the attractions. The architecture is very other worldly and wouldn’t look out of place in the set for a sci fi movie.

And at the end of our day we had a lovely Valencian paella (made with chicken (or/and rabbit), lima and green beans and plenty of saffron and a glass of Sangria. Delicious and a great way to finish off a fabulous day in the wonderful city of Valencia.