Pizza on the Cobb

Preparation is the key to success with a pizza and it’s best to choose to make one when you’re on a stop over for a couple of days and the weather is at least dry and preferably warm. For this I use 2 new gadgets, a fry pan plate for the Cob and a small manual grinder from Lakeland. Around midday I prepare the pizza dough, my recipe is still being tried and tested but I pack ready weighed flour mixes with me and add the yeast and water when ready to make up. Leave the dough somewhere warm to rise for the afternoon. I whizz up a fresh tomato sauce using my manual grinder (clever little gadget!), slice red pepper, onion, a little chopped chilli, grate cheese of choice and put them all in the fridge along with some black olives and chorizo slices. These really are our favourite toppings but we’re planning to experiment next time.

When ready for dinner we light the cob and let the coals get really hot then place the fry pan on it to warm.

Divide the pizza dough into two pieces and shape one to fit the size of the fry pan. Line up the tomato sauce, peppers chilli and onions, grated cheese, olives and chorizo slices.

When the fry pan is hot lift it off the Cobb and spray with a little oil, place the pizza base inside and add the toppings in which ever order you prefer. The key here is not to overload the pizza. Put the frypan back on the Cobb, cover with the lid and cook for 10-15 mins until the base is crisp and the toppings are cooked. Remove from pan and keep warm while preparing the second pizza, cook this one while you enjoy the first.

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In our world there’s nothing better than sitting outside of an evening with a glass of wine and slices of fresh pizza.

Bay of Biscay : Laredo and Basque Country

Laredo, and not the Texas Rangers TV variety but a tourist resort between Santander and Bilboa, is strange town. It is on a long sand spit with an ocean beach to the east and an estuary beach to the west. It looks like it was laid out in a grid pattern in the ’60s  and consists largely of high rise apartment blocks with a few new and more exclusive low rise developments. It is strange because for all the thousands of properties the town was almost deserted in mid September and there is no centre like a high street.

After the Picos de Europa we were looking for somwhere dry with a sunny forecast and good facilities for a few days domestic stopover. Playa de Regaton campsite got terrific review in ACSI especially for its facilities so that is where we headed and in that respect we weren’t disappointed. Even though we thought a couple of previous sites were good, and they were, this site has to have the best facilities end of. There were also several lime trees with wonderful fruit conveniently placed by the door. One reviewer commented that dog owners are relegated to a small corner and yes we were but there is nothing wrong with it and it has the best view out over the water. The beach nearby however is less than the best and at the time had a lot of unpleasant waste along the high water line.

The site is on the west side of the sand spit overlooking a huge tidal estuary / bay  that only accesses the sea by a narrow channel at the tip of the spit. The beach is vey shallow so the tide exposes a huge area of sand that turns to mud flat and marsh at the southern end. The whole is just part of a large Nature Reseve and hosts many species of wading birds in particular so as the tide rises and pushes them up the beach you get to see Wimbrel, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Green Shank, Egrets, Terns and many more I am sure.

We had already planned to stay here for a few days and do laundry. Our first day was damp but the following couple of days were dry and sunny so we made the most of the opportunity. One benefit of our pitch and the weather was the spectacular sunsets we could watch after dinner. Indeed most of the campsite and a lot of locals came to enjoy them too.

We set off after a last visit to the local branch of our favourite supmarket chain, Mercadaro. Spanish supermarkets seem to suffer from limited choice but at least this chain offered quality. One of the best surprises shopping in Spain was just how cheap local wines were so of course we stocked up to last a couple of weeks. We also paid a visit to the car wash and gave the van a treat, not only is it more pleasant travelling in a clean van but it also saves us getting dirty if we rub against it when we are parked up.

After yet more scenic Spanish motorway we skirted round, through, across Bilbao and its environs, most of it looked like yet another grubby industrial city, and back toward the scenic Basque hills and coast line. The domestic architecture of the region is a pleasant mix of Alpine and Spanish. From where we sat too the region appears a little more affluent than some other parapets of the north coast but maybe that was just the Bilbao influence. That night we made the mistake of taking the ACSI guide for granted and what had been reviewed by others as a nice site turned out to be a bit of a dump. Suffice to say it is the first night we have decided against showering on the expectation of coming out dirtier than when we went in. I see subsequently that the site has been dropped from the guide.

We left the following morning heading to the French border along a spectacular coast road with lots of small holiday or retirement towns as far as Zarautz after which it became less attractive. One thing that has surprised us all the way along the north coast is how industry suddenly appears in picturesque seemingly out of the way places. When we reached Donestela – San Sebastián we had fully intended a look at the town but yet again confusing Spanish road layouts and awful signage defeated us and we hopped on to the peage to France.

Bay of Biscay : Picos de Europa

We drove the motorway from Playas de Barreiros to Avin at the west end of the Picos scenic route. The E70 motorway is another spectacular piece of Spanish road building winding around the coastal ranges and over long and high viaducts but always offering glimpses of the coast and the ocean. Another thing it has in common with other Spanish motorways is a serious lack of rest stops!

By mid afternoon we arrived at the Picos de Europa Camp that was spoken well of in the ACSI guide. The weather had been very wet so we found a pitch on a high terrace that seemed to be quite firm and set up camp. We took a short walk to the nearby village to stretch our legs and peer at the old regional properties and steal a fig or two off their trees. That evening it rained a lot and rather than drain down the hill our pitch just got soggier. In order to dispel our gloom Sue embarked upon yet another culinary masterpiece – paella. That night it just stayed soggy and got very cold so in the morning we decided to move on. As is often the way with these things that turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

We set out East along the road to Panes and were soon rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains. The Picos seem to us to rise more rapidly than other ranges that tended give them a pointier appearance with high obviously rocky peaks. They also seem greener and more lush than other ranges which is hardly surprising given the amount of rain the north coast of Spain gets.

After our drive through the Picos we headed back to the coast motorway and past Santander to Larado. A seaside resort where hopefully the weather might be kinder and the pitch drier.

Wallas Diesel Hob

Back in 2016 when we first looked at the internal layout for our new van installing a diesel hob was not high on my list. I understood the benefits of not carrying gas on board, giving me more cupboard space and not having to worry about running out while travelling, but I couldn’t really find any information on how to use one. A couple of visits to the Wallas stand at BusFest and seeing the hob work gave us the confidence to go ahead and buy a Wallas hob/heater combination. 

 I’m pleased to say it was a good decision and I hope the following points will be helpful to anyone considering installing one:-

It does take about 10-15 minutes to reach full heat but you don’t have to wait just put the kettle or a pan on the left side as soon as you fire it up and they will start to heat up too.

The hob has no temperature control, it’s hotter on the left side so use this for bringing pans up to boil then move to the right side to keep contents cooking slowly, however it’s important not to leave the left side without a pan on it for too long (15 minutes maximum).

It’s a very different way of cooking. Took me a few goes to get used to it but I learnt very quickly to switch pans from side to side to balance the heat in the pans so nothing overcooks or burns. It seems to cook quicker than gas rings but you can’t simmer easily so you have to keep stirring which means you can’t leave it unattended. I also have a toast grid for it but haven’t yet mastered making toast.

When you’ve finished cooking and switch off the hob it will cool down reasonably quickly but you must wait for all the lights to go off before you can turn it back on so think ahead, if you want coffee after dinner boil the kettle before switching off.

Occasionally you may get the odd whiff of diesel when you first fire it up especially if you have a window open. I confess to being very concerned the first time it happened but once we worked out why I stopped worrying about it. Although the unit uses very little diesel Depending on how high in your diesel tank the pick up is you need to be sure that there is enough in the tank for the burner to work. Likewise the unit uses very little electricity except for an initial surge on start up so you will also need sufficient battery power. If there isn’t then it simply won’t switch on.

Food Thoughts

Holidaying for 6 weeks in the van is a big challenge on the food front. I want us to continue with the healthy diet we follow at home but also allow for treats and of course the extra glass of wine when relaxing at the end of the day. So far I think we’ve eaten well.

Our staple breakfast is porridge, I weighed and bagged each days amount before we left home and I make it using powdered milk and water. I’ve tried various ways of making toast on our Wallas diesel hob none have been very successful so if we want a change from porridge we have crusty bread with honey, jam or marmalade.

Lunch is usually a sandwich or bread and pate, always with a salad and followed by fruit and our trusty Activia yogurts, just to help keep our digestion healthy. Finding seeded brown bread in France and Spain has been a real bonus and we can even buy granary baguettes in France, something that was impossible to find a few years ago when we had our holiday house there.

Mid morning coffee and our afternoon cuppa usually mean a digestive biscuit or two, maybe a cake treat and one day we found pastries filled with gooey dark chocolate, yummy.

Evening meals really depend on weather conditions, if it’s nice and we have time then we’ll get the Cobb fired up otherwise it’s cook on the hob. Using the hob I’ve cooked various pasta sauces, seafood risotto, spicy chicken, fish, spicy Spanish white beans, omelettes and even managed to warmed up bread. Cobb cooking is simply grilling sausages, burgers, chops, steak or fish until yesterday when I finally had a go at cooking pizzas from scratch, something we’ve talked about doing for a while now.  Our evening meals are eaten with bread or potatoes, vegetables or salads, followed with cheese and fruit or a pot of something luscious we’ve found in the supermarket.

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I’m really enjoying cooking with our diesel hob and learning how to adjust cooking times to allow for the heat settings as hot and warm are the only options!

Bay of Biscay : Playas de Barreiros

It was misty and damp again when we left Muros. Fred had a last run on the beach there and we got a pleasant surprise at the check out – only 17€ a day! There was no point in driving round the coast, we had already done some of it the day before visiting Cabo Finisterre, so we decided to head to Ferrol just north of La Caruna and then do the windy and coast road from there to our next campsite destination, Giavota on the beautiful Playas de Barreiros east of Foz.

There is not much here except 3 km of clean white sandy beach and some big waves. It has to be said that Camping Giavota is one of the nicest we have stayed on ample with very clean facilities and at this time of the year very quiet.

Fred of course loved the beach and dragged us up and down it several times. We stopped for 3 nights and got one glorious sunny day and one that was supposed to be a showery read a book day but turned out nice in the end. However the real highlight of the stay was Sue’s excellent campervan Pizzas cooked on the Cob.

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Had it been forecast to be sunny we might have stayed longer but decided to move on to the Picos de Europa.

Bay of Biscay : Camino de Santiago

We drove along the Camino de Santiago from Jaca by Pamplona to Estella, a road we would generally follow until we got to Galicia and the Atlantic coast. The scenery is to say the least dull and uninteresting perhaps because at this time of year the harvest is in and the fields ploughed once more making everywhere look arid and desert like. Time was passing us by and finding anywhere to stop proving difficult especially on the new motorway that had no rest or service stops. Eventually we dropped into Pamplona thinking we would be able to drive through the city and find a motorhome parking place – well fat chance. The city is very poorly sign posted that we couldn’t find anything. By this time we were fed up and Fred needed a rest stop and his lunch so car park on the edge of the city centre had to make do after which we decided to cut and run to Estella where we knew there was camping.

There are a couple of camp sites in Estella but Camping Lizzaro is just off the motorway. It is a tightly packed holiday camp but with touring pitches and decent facilities. We booked in and the headed to town to stock up on essentials and dinner. So having never been to mainland Spain before and speaking no Spanish we were in at the deep end.

The following morning we hit the road intending to get to Logrono quickly and visit a big supermarket, Carefour, and then meander the Rioja Route to Haro, the capital of Rioja. Finding the out of town Carefour was a mission itself but trying to negotiate the different style of shopping ate up time. We headed out toward Haro thinking we would find a nice place to stop for lunch but yet again there was no chance and we ended up in dusty dirty truck pull in with no services. We couldn’t help reflect how sad it is that with so much rich heritage and potentially attractive scenery in this area the local community and wealthy bodegas don’t do more to accommodate tourists.

Predictably the Rioja Route didn’t amount to anything so we ended up in Haro with time on our hands. Camping Haro is a nice site, well organised with good facilities and just 10 minutes walk from the town centre so in 25+C heat off we trotted. Well we didn’t know it but this being both Friday afternoon and a holiday weekend the town centre, a sight in itself, was thronging with people dressed in their Sunday best doing the Tapas bars, pubs and restaurants. Well of course we had to join in for a drink at least until everyone dissapeared later in the afternoon. The town square was being made ready for a band that evening so clearly the town was ready to party. Back at the camp site that was filling up around us we decided that after the mornings travel experience we would start early the next day and hit it hard using motorway to Santiago and the coast beyond. We picked out a camp site from our ACSI app and guide on the coast at Muros prepared everything for a quick pack and turned in early. Well no sooner had we three got to sleep that the fireworks started and filled the sky with thunder and lightning for 20 minutes. Suffice it to say that Fred was not at all amused And we spent the whole time comforting him.

The next morning were up at 05:00 in the dark packing and breakfasting to get on our way still in the dark at 07:30. It has never ceased to amaze me that Spain uses Central European Time and not GMT like Portugal. Most of the country is so far west of the meridian that it doesn’t get light until very late (on the NW coast until 08:30 in September) but then stays light equally late. We soon got on to motorway and set the cruise control for the speed limit +5mph. Sometimes aires and service stations were plentiful but of course when you really need one they aren’t. The van was doing about 30mpg sitting at 80mph and when we did fill up diesel was slightly less than the UK and France. The first few hours were through the same boring arid countryside with a leaden grey sky. Eventually we got back into mountains with changeable weather and a cold wind. Here the motorway is somewhat of a spectacular drive winding round and up and down mountains with viaducts and carriageways on different levels and several tunnels. I realised later that at the same time Chris Froome et al had been cycling up those mountains in the Vuelta de Espana.

After we passed Santiago de Compostela the motorway changed into ordinary road, we got to the coast and caught site of the Ocean. Finally we arrived at A’Vuego Camping a pleasant laid back site on a long white sand beach and it was hot. So before did anything more than find a pitch the three of us ran down to the beach for a paddle in the sea and let Fred blow some steam off. And that is where we stayed for 4 nights. Sue caught up with the laundry, I managed to submit a planning application for Bug Blanc’s new garage and Fred was persuaded with some slight reluctance to actually swim in the sea. It also seemed that the town across the bay was having their Fiesta des Sardines which meant more fireworks during the day on Monday and at midnight just as we had got to sleep. Needless to say again Fred was not happy and after a round of barking tried to snuggle in with us – that only lasted as long as the fireworks.

The next day dawned wet cold and miserable so we were a bit down in the mouth. This kind of damp clingy weather is not unusual in the region and has a strange beauty but just for a moment or two.

However we eventually decided to unhitch from the camp site and do what we had always intended – go to Cabo Finisterre. Indeed we were lucky because the weather cleared for just an hour or for our visit but socked in again as we left. The Romans called it “Finis Terre” (just like they did in France) the “End of the World”. Don’t tell the Romans but it is actually a few kilometres short of being the farthest west. Here in Spain it also happens to be the very end of the Camino de Santiago, even though it is 20 miles past Santiago, with many back packers on the last leg of their journey across northern Spain hiking to the light house to have their picture taken with the cross at the end of their journey – and then walk back? There is also a small boutique hotel at the light house and the visitor parking area is the Plaza Stephen Hawking in memory of his visit in 2008.

So it is here that the purpose of our journey began. We were at the North West Point of Spain, the South West end of the Bay of Biscay, and in a few weeks time we will be at the Point du Raz in Finisterre, Brittany, the opposite North West end of the Bay of Biscay.