Wintering in Spain - 0

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Wintering in Spain

The following article was kindly provided by Bill Connell.
It is his experience of his many travels and winter stays in Spain.
Everyones experience will be different but it is a good introduction for those contemplating travelling to Spain for a holiday or for a longer period.

Subject: Wintering in Spain.
By :-  Bill Connell.

Before you go.
It goes without saying that your camper should be in good order before heading out , especially tyres, brake fluid  windscreen wipers etc.  
You need two triangles for breakdowns, one for behind and on narrow roads one in front to let oncoming traffic know you are broken down.  If you get out of the vehicle you must be wearing a high visibility jacket and you must have one for everyone in the camper and they should be visible.  If you happen to breakdown on a motorway you must get everyone out of the van and get them behind the crash barrier.  This is to avoid getting back ended by another vehicle.  On motorways it is the motorway operator who does the rescue. Beside the barriers you will see a small triangle pointing left or right.  This indicates the nearest emergency telephone, where you can call for help.
Speed limits are not observed very well by French or Spanish drivers but speed cops are all over the place and will impose on the spot fines on tourists.  If you see a speed limit observe it and any other traffic regulations.
One thing you must watch out for in Spain is pedestrian crossings.  Spanish people walk onto a pedestrian crossing without looking left or right.  If they have a baby in a buggy they push that out ahead of them without checking.  They have the right of way on crossings and they take it.  I think some of them are looking for insurance claims as they will literally walk out in front of traffic beware !.

Getting there.
We find the best way to Spain is on the second last sailing from Cork to Roscoff  by Brittany ferries leaving on Saturday at 16.00 hrs and arriving in Roscoff at 7.00. am.  There is a dedicated place for campers to park on the way out  of the port.  We usually park up here have breakfast and sleep for a couple of hours until it is bright.  On Monday morning a ship arrives from Plymouth or Portsmouth for a change of crew and to re provision.  It leaves again at 11.00 am and arrives in Bilbao at 7.00 am the next morning .This avoids the journey through France which can take at least three days.

We spend Sunday in Roscoff where there are dedicated stopping places for campers.  At the moment there are no campsites open.
You can also get an Hôtel at very cheap prices but make sure there is parking suitable for a camper.  You must book the two  crossings through the Cork office and book early as the ship from England books up early.  Ask them to try and get you a cabin on the sixth deck mid-ships.  We have been lucky and never had a rough crossing to Bilbao, but you don't want to be up front on deck 9 if a storm blows up.  We usually get a four berth as the small extra cost is worth the comfort.  The fares are about 300 euros for each leg of the journey.  You would easily spend that driving through France between tolls, fuel and overnight stops.  You also have to take into account that driving through France in winter is not very enjoyable.

In France toll roads charge extra for a camper and if you have double wheels more again.  In Spain a camper is charged the same as a car and the tolls are not expensive.  Spanish drivers don't like toll roads so if you want to get there quickly they are a great idea.  No lorries and very few cars.  There are lots of free motorways in Spain sometimes running beside the toll road but full of lorries up and down to France.  A free motorway is an Auto-via and a paying motorway is an Auto- pista.  Indicated by AV or AP and the sign peage or pay.

At the start of a motorway you pick up a ticket and pay at the exit sometimes with a credit card.  You will also see a manual sign sometimes and this means there is a person in the box to take payment.  Don't go into the exit marked  with a big T . This is for lorries or cars who have a decal that automatically charges the toll to their account.  Don't go in there as you will have a lot of angry Lorry drivers behind you.

If you take the ferry from Roscoff you will arrive in Bilbao at 7.00 am and it will be dark.  As you exit the port instead of turning right watch out for a left turn and you will be able to get into the car park where there will be lots of campers waiting to catch the ferry on which you arrived.  Bilbao is a big busy city and traffic is very heavy at. 7.00 to 9.00 am I would suggest you wait until after 9.00 am to start your journey.  Have your GPS programmed as getting beyond Bilbao can be a little tricky.  If you want to stay around Bilbao there are lots to do.  The Guggenheim museum alone is worthwhile staying over to visit.  You can find a campsite nearby with rail connections to the city centre.

There are a good few campsites open along the coast around Santander and nice places to visit.  Northern Spain is lovely and not spoiled like the Costa del Sol.   Unfortunately it gets almost as much rain as Ireland.  The Basque Country, Austurias and Galicia all have much to offer but not for the winter.  If you want to visit come in the Spring.

Some people head from here into Portugal but remember it is on the Atlantic coast so expect some rain now and again.  They also have a funny system of paying for toll roads which I won't go into here.  It is cheaper than Spain which attracts a lot of people on a strict budget.  Campsites are cheaper and groceries tend to be cheaper but not as good a quality as Spain.

Having left Bilbao where do you head next ?.  We used to leave Bilbao in the morning and that evening arrive in Aranjuez beyond Madrid by evening and stay at the excellent Camping international.  Aranjuez is a lovely town and worth spending a couple of days visiting.  You can get a train from here direct into the middle of Madrid about every half hour which lets you off at the Reina Sofia art gallery.  As well as many art treasures you can see the famous Guernica painting, and if you are into art the Prado art gallery is not far away.  We took the hop on hop off bus for a tour of the city and this is highly recommended.

Getting a bit older we now go to Burgos first spend one night as it is a cold place and then Aranjuez next day.  From Aranjuez it is possible to make the Costa del Sol in one day but not a good idea.  Getting through Madrid is easier than getting around Dublin, just set the GPS for the Campsite in Aranjuez and it will lead you through Madrid.  Once you avoid peak hours you will have no problem.  We have gone from Aranjuez to the Costa del Sol in one day but now stop in Santa Elena where a campsite is open all year.  Not very good but okay for an overnight.  From there about 3 hours will bring you to the coast.

Where to stay.
Some of the experts say you must be below Benidorm to get good weather, there are about 7 campsites around Benidorm and they are all busy but having said that there are a lot of people who overwinter further up the coast.  I have met people on the campsite at Villanova outside of Barcelona who spend the whole winter there.  Villanova is a good place to stay and a lovely campsite if you want to visit Barcelona.  A bus outside the gate to the train station and a train about every 15 minutes.  A hop on hop off bus is a good idea to get to see all the sights.  Great city for pickpockets so watch out.  Also try not to drive through the city in a camper van, or stop in rest stops or garages near the city.  It is famous for people getting scammed or robbed or high jacked.  People we know were robbed by two men dressed as police this year just about 50 Kim's outside Barcelona.  She tackled  them and ended up in hospital.

We have gone to a campsite in Torre del mar since we stopped rambling a few years ago.  There are 3 campsites open  all year in Torre del Mar but we use one about 2 miles outside the town.  There is a bus stop at the top of the road but most people have bikes or walk in to town.  The two in town are very close to shops etc, good but not as secure as the one we use.

Many people from Northern Europe are coming down here for the winter.
Germans, Dutch, Belgians and some from Norway, Sweden and even Finland.
There are more from France in the last couple of years.  They used to go to Morocco which is warmer in the winter but they are afraid to go now for many reasons.  Cheaper than Spain but the poverty and begging is hard to take.

If you want to travel around in Spain you will usually find space on a campsite but it is getting harder to find a good campsite near a town for long stays.  Where  we are you book your pitch from year to year or else it is snapped up by other campers.


Expect October to be nice and warm and November can be good also.  December and January are the real winter here with temperatures on a bad day going down to 12 degree C and on a good day up to 20 degree C.  February starts to warm up again and March can be very pleasant.  Expect it to rain occasionally but you know it is going to get good again in a couple of days.


The Spanish health system is excellent.  (Much better than one we won't mention).  Bring your European health card with you and your passport and a copy of both if you can.  If you have a problem get to the nearest public hospital accident and emergency dept..  There you tell your story to reception ( voluntary interpretation is usually available ) you take a seat and are seen by a specialist in the  type of illness you have.  If you need further attention then you are admitted to a large room with beds etc and hooked up to all necessary monitoring equipment.  X Ray's will be taken, blood tests done and results ready almost immediately.  Don't worry about getting night gear.  Everything is provided and changed every day.  Shampoo etc.  If you have to be admitted then you will get a two bedded room with toilet and shower.  You will be seen by a specialist who will decide what treatment is necessary.  If it is a small hospital you may need to be transferred to a larger hospital and this will also be done all free of charge.  No Vhi , laya etc needed.  Don't look for your travel insurance.  They don't have hospitals except in the larger areas.

If you are staying long term it is a good idea to register with the local health dept.  You get a copy of your passport and health card on one page, go along to the local health centre take a number from outside a room where you see other people waiting.   Not the other one which has lots of people waiting to make appointments.  You will get health cover for three months, which you can renew after 3 months.  You can then see a doctor, get prescriptions free of charge except a small dispensing fee if you are a pensioner, and a small charge if you are younger.  Many items you can buy over the counter in a chemists shop much cheaper than at home.  If you know what you need to avoid a trip to the doctor just go to the chemist.  Show him or her the old pack and usually they will hand it out.  If they don't go to the next one and they will.  Not in France where you need a doctors perscription.

It is a good idea to have a list of your medications.  I put them under notes in my I- Ipad and bring it with me if I have to visit a doctor.
Multi trip insurance usually only covers up to 30 days on any one trip so read the small print.  It is difficult to get cover for more than three months on one trip.  Most private health insurances have cover if you are abroad but they won't tell you but will try to sell you extra cover or multi trip.  Vhi will do a six month cover but do you need it. If you have health insurance you are probably covered anyway.
If you are unfortunate to end up in hospital in Spain you will find the treatment excellent, the food excellent and a member of the family is encouraged to stay with you overnight in a recliner armchair to see to you during the night although  there are staff on call if needs be, including consultants during the night ( just like at home ) once you are registered you can ring get an appointment 24/7 -  365 days a year or you can book on line.  Here it is salud  Andalus, you put in your number which you will find on the medical card which you have obtained previously and your passport number and then you can pick the time that suits you best you can even have the form in English if you do not speak Spanish.

It is a great advantage if you can speak at least some of the language.  There are classes in Spanish and other languages going on in schools and colleges.  Get  in there and get the foundation laid.  A lot of campsites have classes in Spanish they can vary in quality but the only way to learn a language is to speak it and study.  It is tough but well worthwhile.  Most of us learned French at school but how many can speak it.  Six years wasted unless you use it.  French people will be happy that you tried to speak their language.

Coming home.
If you have spent the winter in Spain and it is coming up to Easter you will probably be like the swallows and be thinking of heading back to Ireland .
There are a few ways you can do this.  Take the long drive across Spain and up through France.  There used to be a ferry from Gijon in northern Spain to Saint Nazaire run by L and D lines it was a great service, a little basic but brought you overnight from Spain to near Nantes and a good camp site if you want to stop after the sea journey or about 3 hours from Roscoff or 5 hours from Cherbourg but unfortunately it stopped a few years ago.  At the time it was supposed to start again but never did.  They ran for a while from Rosslare to Saint Nazaire and then you could continue on to Gijon in Spain but that did not last.  You could get a ferry from Bilbao to Portsmouth or Santander to Plymouth  in both cases you then have to drive to Holyhead or Pembroke or Fishguard to cross to Ireland.

In conclusion

Over wintering in Spain is getting more popular every year.  The campsite we use has trebled in size since it opened and it is still difficult to get a good pitch for the winter period.  It is great to wake up in the morning and see the sun shining.  By ten o'clock it is usually warm enough to sit outside and you can sit out until about 4.30pm  when it starts to get a little cold.
People often ask how we live in a small space after living in a fairly big house.
Well the answer is that you don't live in a small space because you are outdoors for a great part of the day.  The other question people ask is what do you do about Christmas.  The answer can be a bit rude but in the last few years we have gone to the Sunset Beach hotel in Benalmadena.  It is owned by F B D insurances and you get an apartment with bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and kitchen with a balcony and sea view.  You can prepare some of your own meals, eat in the restaurant in the hotel or in the 100 or so restaurants within walking distance or a short bus ride.  There is entertainment every evening and Christmas is celebrated with champagne and an excellent Christmas dinner with entertainment.  There is a happy hour every evening.  So do we miss home at Christmas  ? No .

If there are any other aspects of over wintering in Spain  I will do my best to answer them .

PS. 16/01/2016
Things can change very quickly.  Brittany ferries are opening a new service at the end of April from Cork to Santander , running twice a week.  That would be fantastic. Santander is a much easier port to exit than Bilbao. It will be interesting to see what the fares are like.  It looks like a twenty four hour journey but at least only one ship.

Bill Connell <>

View from our Campsite near Gijon northern Spain
Sunset from the patio outside the restaurant on our campsite
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