Our adventure through Northern Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar had been marvellous but we had a big family party to attend in England so it was time to start the long drive back to catch the ferry in Cherbourg, France.
The first part of the trip took us from La Linea in Spain, on the border with Gibraltar, following the coast southwards, and passing famous holiday resorts such as Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga.
At Malaga we turned inland and before too long we could see the glowing snow covered peaks of the Montes de Málaga in the distance.
We stopped for the night in Valdepeñas, in central Spain and the next morning drove on to El Puente de Sabiñánigo near the French border.
We enjoyed most of the drive as there was some stunning scenery along the way but around midday we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thick fog. Fortunately it didn’t last long and we had blue skies for the rest of the day.
The area of Sabiñánigo has always been strongly linked to sport and, especially, to cycling. Our stopping place for the night was next to a fine looking municipal building which had a hostel attached and a nice looking restaurant.
After a wander around the town we went into the restaurant and were told it could serve us but warned us a big group of young people would be coming later. We were in our own little section and had a delicious meal and the crowd was quiet and not at all a nuisance.
It wasn’t until the next day and we saw the bikes in the air (photo below) and the sign at the entrance, that we realised that the hostel catered for cyclists and the group at dinner was probably there to take part in a cycling event.
The area is famous for holding “The Quebrantahuesos” one of the most important amateur cyclist races in the world. The town is also a frequent start and finish point of the Vuelta a Espana.
From El Puente de Sabiñánigo we headed for the French border and within forty minutes we were crossing over into France.
Soon we were driving in the Pyrenees and had some enticing glimpses of snow covered mountains before turning west and making for the Atlantic Coast.
By the time the sun was setting we had arrived at our destination – the resort town of St Georges de Didonne. We stopped in a car park right next to the beach and the next morning we decided that a bit of exploring would be in order.
The beach just beyond our parking spot was littered with oyster shells so it was no surprise to see – in the middle of the harbour – rows and rows of buoys marking out oyster beds.
Our walk took us passed the old but still active lighthouse and port buildings – long abandoned by the looks of things.
Around the headland we strolled along the rocky shoreline where we encountered a memorial to the heroes of Operation Frankton, a daring World War II commando raid in which a small group of British Royal Marines were taken by submarine to the area and dropped off at sea near St Georges de Didonne.
The ten men then paddled (over several nights and hiding by day) five collapsible canoes (kayaks) 100 kms to the port of Bordeaux where they planted limpet mines on German cargo ships halting the distribution of goods and thereby disrupting the German war effort.
As we read the memorial dedication, Jonathan recalled a film from his boyhood that had made a great impression on him called “The Cockleshell Heroes”. This highly fictionalised account of Operation Frankton had left him with a lasting memory of this extraordinary and heroic mission.
We walked as far as the sweeping main beach which in the summer months is packed with throngs of holiday makers.
Thankful that we didn’t have to share the delightful coastal path with any of the 50,000 or so summer visitors that arrive each year, we slowly meandered our way back to our campervan to head for Cherbourg where we were catching the ferry to England.