Within minutes of leaving the motorway, the peace and tranquillity of the semi-arid landscape embraced me. I pulled over by an historic, restored windmill, its simple white structure, with dark conical wooden roof and fragile looking sails provided some shade from the warmth of the Andalusian sun.
East meets West
I’d been on the road for a few hours, having left the scented pine forests of Malaga province, passed through the citrus and exotic fruit groves of the Costa Tropical, before reaching one of the driest areas of Spain, the eastern province of Almeria. Home to Europe’s only desert, Tabernas, the striking panoramas of this region have been backdrops to some of the most iconic Western films of all time, including ‘A Fist Full of Dollars’, ‘The Good, Bad and the Ugly’ and 'Once Upon a Time in the West’. Almeria had been a favourite location for Sergio Leone’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ and remains a popular place for publicity shoots and movie making.
I was with ‘Pepa’, with whom I was to share an intimate few days, an adventure on the open road.
I had been introduced to Pepa only that morning, in the cavernous warehouse of Flamenco Campers, a small family run operation based a few minutes from Malaga’s International Airport. Created by Gonzalo and Carolina, whose passion for the great outdoors has taken them across Europe and North Africa in campervans, Flamenco Campers now offers stylish nomads the chance to indulge their own adventurous spirit, exploring and discovering Andalucia.
Eager and excited to hit the highway and start my own adventure, I arrived early to be greeted by Gonzalo and Carolina’s small fleet of immaculate, personalised campervans, imaginatively presented and named.
Pepa is a Ford Transit Nugget TDI, but not just any Transit. She has been fully kitted out by Westfalia, making innovative use of every square centimetre. There were two fold out (and very comfortable) double beds; a small kitchen with gas stove and fridge; a compact wardrobe, lots of storage lockers; and an al fresco shower. There was plenty of attention to detail too, from flexible LED reading lights by the bed, a sound system that allowed me to plug in my iPhone, to useful and thoughtful items in the cupboards. In short Pepa was a fully equipped home-from-home. I had also opted for a few items from the choice of rentable extras that allow you to personalise your experience. I took a folding table and chairs for sitting outside and linen for the beds. So if you arrive at the airport, you can travel light, no need to bring bulky items for your Glamping trip across Andalucia; everything is available from Flamenco Camper’s warehouse – in fact Gonzalo told me they even offer a free airport pick up service.
A first sight, with her blue and white polka dot design, Pepa looked like a big girl, but she drove and performed much like a car and within moments of heading off, despite being a complete novice to camper vans, I was feeling confident.
The allure of the open road is compelling for me, and the joy of traveling in a campervan offers an even greater feeling of freedom.
My options of where to go were pretty broad. Let’s face it, Andalucia is huge. Covering almost 90,000 square kilometres, it is Spain’s second largest autonomous region, and equivalent in size to neighbouring Portugal. Yet with a small population, it’s easy to find your very own quiet corner of southern Spain, where you can chill out and relax. For lovers of the open road, Andalucia is a joy to explore, with a modern network of motorways and highways that are uncrowded, together with a wealth of back roads to explore and discover.
For me though, Andalucia is about nature, the forests, mountains and wild spaces, where the feeling of space, light and tranquillity are unforgettable. In fact southern Spain has more than its fair share of Europe’s most protected natural areas, including one of Iberia’s biggest wildernesses, in eastern province of Jaen, as well as the broad expenses of virgin beaches bordering the UNESCO listed, Doñana National Park wetlands on the Atlantic west coast.
Cabo de Gata
Yet for this Glamping on wheels experience, I was heading to the UNESCO Geopark of Cabo de Gata on Andalucía’s ruggedly beautiful eastern shores. This natural park embraces some of Europe’s most striking scenery, of volcanic mountains, countryside punctuated by towering agave, and undoubtedly some of the best beaches.
After my short pause, in the shade of the windmill, I got back into the camper and headed to the beach near the former gold-mining town of Rodalquilar. Off-season the local authorities often tolerate campers to stay overnight by some of the more remote beaches (but it’s important to check first) giving you an unforgettable experience. However there are also plenty of rural campsites providing legitimate and environmentally sound places to stay the night, and inside the glove box of the camper is a detailed guide to Andalucía’s best sites as well as a discount card for overnight stays.
Once at the beach, I unfolded the chairs, set the table lunch and looked out across the Mediterranean. I truly felt my holiday had begun.
Travel addict, writer and editor