On Wednesday we finally headed around the coastal corner to Huelva. I can’t explain really I wanted to visit this city as it is not on anyone’s ‘must see list’. The day’s travelling started off with a shock as once we had studied the map and confirmed with the Sat Nav, Huelva city was considerably further than the 60 or Kms I had in my head. Not perturbed, we pointed the nose of the van north as you can only cross the river Guadalquivir at Seville (there are not any roads through the Donana national park), and then headed west. At Sanlucar we visited a museum which gave plenty of information about the local area, including the national park and also a place called El Rocio. Here, many years ago, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared in a tree and now it is famous for holding a huge religious pilgrim festival. On route to Huelva we saw the sign posts for El Rocio and since this story of the wooden vision of ‘Nuestra Senora’ appealed to us (reading too much Paulo Coelho?), and especially Sharon, we detoured. El Rocio is really weird as it is a complete ghost town out of the pilgrim festival time and resembles something out of a Country and Western film due it horse tie up fences and sandy roads.
Ghost Town El Rocio
A plus point of the stop was that the town is a platform for ‘Donana’ wildlife spotting tours and has several trails around the area. Here we again spotted wild flamingos in the wetlands, much to Sharon’s delight!!! We must have just missed the Iberian Linx though.
Flamingos at Donana National Park
We ended up staying the night in Matalcanas on the coast. Again, we managed to stay right by the sea for a grand total of 1 Euro, this is now becoming a habit – I have always wanted a sea view, just in this case it is one that changes. This is another base for Donana tours so we took the opportunity to complete an early morning walking trail through the morning mist. This time we only spotted hoof marks of deer that were returning from the beach, they must be early risers!
Thursday bought a bit of a marathon. Via La Rabida, we completed an extensive drive through of Huelva city centre, much to the annoyance of the local city drivers: – I still think motorhomes and busy city centres are not the best of mixes, and decided that we could probably stay at it’s neighbouring coastal play ground Punta Umbria. The information we held for a camper stop off must have been old as the (beach side, again) car park quite clearly stated that motorhomes were not allowed. So at this point we were pretty stuck as we did not really have a back up plan apart from finding something ‘off site’. We tried the two nearest towns, one being El Rompido, without luck. At El Rompido, our wildlife spotting continued as there must have been at least a million small crabs wandering the soggy beach sands, they were literally everywhere. In the end we decided that a beach side car park next to the Chirringuita Bar ‘Recife’ in between El Rompido and Punta would be suitable. We checked with (and consumed 3 beers with) the Portuguese brothers that ran the bar that overnight parking was normal. Again, it seemed we had fell on our feet.
Just before sun set a local police car turned up and seemed to be speaking with the owners of a Dutch caravan and car rig and simultaneously a Spanish driver of a nearby motorhome advised me that we can’t stay here tonight and that the police were issuing fines. He did not speak English and we were relying on my ‘Portoinol’ but we understood that we needed to follow him back to Punta Umbria where he knew of a free safe car park in the centre of the town. I suppose we have been really lucky so far not to have had these types of interactions with the local police as at times it does seem to be too good to be true that you can park for free overnight in these beautiful locations.
So, to summarise the costal region of Huelva, it is actually a really diverse and beautiful area and one worth spending time to explore. Pine tree forests and swamp lands mix with vast sandy beaches and, certainly in this season, seems really tranquil and unpopulated.