Next stop was another random pick that stood out because it is a natural wild life area, Parc Natural Delta de I’Ebre in Catalonia. In complete contrast to the holiday destinations we have spent the last few days at, this was in the middle of nowhere. The Camperstop Europe book lists this as in the town of Amposta, but we can confirm that it is not, in fact we had to rattle down 11 Kms of bumpy gravel tracks away from the town towards the coast, much to my frustration as I hate when the van and all our possessions vibrate continuously. The positive though, was the end destination, which was quite remote and in the middle of what we would describe as the Spanish equivalent of the Fens in east England, but before it was dried out!!! Due it being still wetlands the whole area is taken over by both birds and rice fields, it really is an interesting place to visit.
Rice fields at the delta
Keen to see the delta in all its ‘land of the big skies’ wonder we took the bikes around the local area and one surprise of this was to stumble upon the expansive Platja de Eucalyptas which was completely deserted and a perfect place to take my morning bath in the sea.
Where is everyone? Platja de Eucalyptas
On the wildlife front, I think we are going to need a bird spotting book to name all the species, but to generalise, we saw a least 10 different types of water birds, the largest being something that looked like a large purple/grey heron and the smallest being a species similar to a Kingfisher but with white and black feathers – answers on a post card please. We also saw a snake crossing the track as we cycled by, much to Sharon’s delight. On the food front, we have bought some of the local grown rice, which I will add to a homemade paella once I have assembled all the ingredients!
Rice grown in the delta, this brand chosen due the 10% free, obviously.
Heading out of Amposta, we took the D12 road north into the interior of Spain. The D12 follows the magically powerful green River I’Ebre and is truly spectacular and dramatic, as is twists and turns up the mountains towards Lleida.
The D12 up through the mountains
We stayed a night at Asco (free carpark), which similar to the other towns on this route, is made from a kind of reddish stone and therefore finally different from the pastel/white washed concrete that dominates the coast.
Typical Catalan town, alongside the D12
Perched on the hillside along the river, it’s old town encaptured (Matt word!) us with it’s very narrow streets with 3 or 4 storey houses on either side winding up to a castle. Another great thing about Asco is that it is not heavily visited and is truly full only of local people. There are a few bars, a local supermarket and a bread shop, but we did not even see a restaurant, which is very rare. One point to make though, Spain is putting Asco on the visitors map (by the way, I am aware that we are visitors/tourists) as it’s old town is undergoing an extensive restoration via a European grant, which I am sure will bring many different opportunities for the local people. We are just pleased we saw the town in its original state, just normal life and normal people getting on with their lives.
View of the I’Ebre from Asco
Continuing up the D12 and straight through Lleida city centre we left Catalonia and entered Aragon province. From Lleida onwards (N240) the climb stops and gives way to pastures and farmland in the high lands. It seems most of the Spanish pork comes from this region as every farm had vast pig sheds. As a nod towards the pigs, we lunched on ham and cheese baguettes on a Dia Maxi (supermarket, our favourite in Spain) car park in a town called Binefar. Enroute to Ainsa, in North Aragon, we travelled up the D138 which follows the Rio Cinca, and is yet another great driving journey.
Driving shot from the D138
The river becomes more vividly light blue as you approach the snow capped mountains of the Pyrenees. We both have not really seen anything like it, the water seems like something from the Bahamas. Ainsa, unlike Asco, has well and truly being put on the map and the old historic town is absolutely picture perfect and almost 100% restored. Even so, you can not deny it’s charm, as it stands over the lake (Embase de Mediano) and next to the Rio Cinca.
Blue lagoon, Embase de Mediano
After a quick paddle in the river, which up close is crystal clear and obviously not blue, we enjoyed a bottle of the local red wine, a variety called Somontano, in the Plaza Mayor. We then cooked our last meal in Spain, pork steaks with garlic and mushrooms (thanks again pigs), and reflected on our time and tour so far. This took most of the night to conclude, but we both agree that Spain is amazing and we have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Our last night in Spain for a while. The Ainsa stopover (free) with snow capped mountains in the distance.