MGOC Espana is an informal 10 day tour of Spain’s northern territories organised on behalf of the MG Owners Club by MG Travel.
Whilst there is a prescribed route with suggested stop off points of interest you are free to go as you please at your own pace between good quality pre booked hotels.
The following represents our highly personalised account of the third running of the event commencing 10 September 02.
Day 1: Aylesbury - Portsmouth
Having sorted out various MG maladies that all seemed to come at once we decided to make an early start from our base in Aylesbury for the trip to Portsmouth and the ferry to avoid all those motor woes for ever being reported during traffic announcements.
Having completed the final cockpit check that revealed we would need fuel somewhere along the first leg of our journey and that supplies of pear drops were adequate we set off around 2:45 pm in warm sunshine.
We were pleased to find only light traffic on the M25 and M3 with a steady build up of rush hour traffic on the M27 and on the approaches to Portsmouth. With just a stop for fuel and use of the servicios (Spanish toilets) we reached the ferry terminus in plenty of time to find that several others had had similar ideas about beating the traffic.
Two lanes of the embarkation parking area had been set aside for our use and by the time all 31 MGs making up the party had arrived, the two lanes had overflowed into three making quite an impressive site.
Richard Webb of MGOC Travel, Jonathan Kimber, the Club’s Technical Adviser, Julie Neville, the Club’s Events Co-ordinator and her husband Kevin who were to be our hosts for the trip were on hand to provide a warm welcome and to advise on last minute arrangements. Early arrival also gave us the chance to meet our fellow travelers.
Once the cars had been stowed aboard we made our way to the forth deck to find our allotted cabin that was to be our home for the next two nights. Whilst tiny, it had its own en-suite facilities, desk and small but comfortable single beds. Unfortunately drawing back the curtains at the head of the beds only revealed a blank wall.
Day 2: Ferry Crossing:
Day 2 dawned wet and misty with heavy swell as we left the Channel and entered the Bay of Biscay.
Having breakfasted on a Full English and found that the swimming pool on deck 2 was closed ‘because the water tight doors have to remain closed during foggy conditions’ we went aloft and ventured out on deck into extremely windy and misty conditions. There weren’t many towels on the sun loungers that morning!!
P&O sponsor whale and other wild life watchers on the Portsmouth/Bilbao crossing and those, heavily laden with all sorts of optical equipment, that were about in such inclement conditions dutifully noting anything with fins, flippers, or feathers in slightly soggy notebooks. However the weather improved pm and we actually did see a school of dolphins breaching the waves later in the afternoon.
During the evening the party met in one of the many restaurants on board for an organised dinner and first informal get together. It transpires there were 5 cars from the Burnley MGOC, 3 from Epsom MGOC, 2 from Northampton and 1, yours truly, from St Albans.
Day 3: Bilbao – Ribadesella:
Day 3 dawned with promising blue skies.
It was rise and shine at 5:00 am for a 7:00 am, 8:00 am Spanish time arrival at the dock side at Santurtiz, Bilbao. Having breakfasted on a nuked bacon, tomato and scrambled egg bap and paper cup of coffee we returned to the car for disembarkation. With minimal immigration formalities over, and a lengthy wait whilst a locomotive hauling a long line of containers trundled down the dock road, we were on our way.
Not being fans of big cities, Sharon and I had made the decision previously that we would avoid city centres and would plan our route to avoid both Bilbao and Santander.
We took the motorway out of Bilbao until the junction for Castro – Urdales and then re-joined the suggested picturesque coastal route until the outskirts of Santander where again we followed our own deviation.
We made our first stop at the ancient town of Santillana der Mar which we took to be by the sea, only it wasn’t, or at least we couldn’t find any signs of a beach despite a search. We left the car in a cobbled square amongst other MGs who had also chosen this as a place worthy of further exploration. A short walk found us in a warren of narrow streets also of cobbled construction between traditional stone and timber houses and shops now residing at jaunty angles having settled gently with age. The window cills of many of the houses were bedecked with hugh brilliantly coloured begonias.
In the centre we found a timber framed cattle trough fed by an underground stream and a little bit further on the central basilica in its own square.
Browsing through the many shops selling ‘traditional wares’ we found one selling painted wall plates and made the mistake of not buying same this early in the holiday as we were bound to find more later. We never did!!
After lunching on our first tortia (potato omelet) we pressed on along the Costa Verde coast road. Following further stops on the cliff tops over looking Llandres and St Vincent where we took a stroll to stretch our legs, we arrived at the Hotel del Sella Ribadassella for our first over night stop where secure parking had been arranged.
This proved to be part traditional part modern building with an open air swimming pool. In the foyer there appeared to be a rather public Jacuzzi but this turned out to be tanks for live lobsters destined for someone’s dinner. We thought of buying one just to let it go.
We found that our first floor room overlooked the bay of Santa Marina at the estuary of the Rio Sella separated from the beach only by a narrow footpath. As the swimming pool was too cold we made do with a walk ankle deep along the water’s edge to the point at the other end of the bay.
The bay was previously the domain of shipyard and whaling industries but these have long been replaced by elegant houses oriented so as to make the most of the spectacular view of the beach and to catch the last rays of sunshine. Two watchtower like mountains flanked each end of the shell shaped beach, to the west Somos topped with a light house and to the east, Corveo upon who’s summit resides the small 500 year old chapel of Guia.
We dined out in the centre of Ribadassella having re-crossed the bridge over the river. Northern Spain has not as yet been overwhelmed by English speaking tourists. Consequently the menus are without translation, so we chose a restaurant where the food selection was shown pictorially. No sooner were we seated than we were joined by three other parties from our group with the same dilemma. Unfortunately whilst the food in the pictures looked appetising it was not quite so in reality. Well at least it filled a hole.
Day 4: Ribadesella – Oviedo:
Day 4 promised to be another hot and sunny day. Today would be an easy day with a journey of only about 50 miles to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias.
After a leisurely breakfast we prepared to leave but found the car park crammed full of MGs and we were blocked in. The hotel was that comfortable people seemed reluctant to leave.
Once we had packed the car we took another walk along the promenade and a look at the new housing development at the opposite end of the bay and wondering what might be if we won the Lottery. By the time we returned we were able to take our leave. A cockpit check revealed oil, water and pear drop levels to be satisfactory, but more fuel would be required en-route.
From Ribadesella we followed the coast along tree lined twisting mountain passes before turning inland at Villaviciosa where we make a stop for fuel. Spain still sells a lead replacement 97 octane petrol but we added a dollop of octane additive for good measure.
We made our first stop in the old part of Gijon and were rather confused by the parking. Whilst the ticket machine seemed to indicate 1 Euro per hour it would only take 1 Euro and the ticket appeared to allow us something like four hours. We took the chance and hoped the car wouldn’t be towed away before we returned.
Gijon is a seafaring and industrial city. Its historic old parts, presumably where we had left the car, is centred on the fisherman’s quarters of Cimadevilla. Cimadevilla separates the city’s two sweeping beeches of San Lorenzo and Poniente.
After a short walk round, our most pressing requirement was for something to eat, as we said earlier we are not into cities. We found another restaurant with a pictorial menu but this time they also had a one in English. After the hearty breakfast we chose the fish soup that came in a help yourself tureen complete with pan (bread rolls). This proved to be very peppery and very palatable. Once again we are joined by another party from our group. They chose the equivalent of the plate of the day and found themselves wading through five courses all for the princely sum of 6 Euros per person.
Having found the car thankfully where we had left it we found an easy route out of Gijon and onto the short 18 mile motorway hop into Oviedo and to the Hotel De La Reconquista in the centre of the city. Fortunately it was well sign posted as by then the sun had reached its zenith and temperatures were reaching critical. The cooling temperature of the pre booked underground car park was very welcome.
The Hotel De La Reconquista was a magnificent 142 room traditional Spanish structure built on traces of an original XV111 century building, being the ancient Hospital and Poorhouse of the Principality of Austurias and has been given the status of a Monument of National Interest.
We collect Lladro porcelain figurines and buy a piece each year to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This year we decided we would buy the piece in Spain were it is made. So once settled in our room of opulent splendour we set out on our quest with our minds set on a specific piece. Failed, even with the help of a native who guided us personally from one shop to another over a considerable distance. Still it was one way of seeing the city. We did however find a McDonalds but refrained from entering for some ‘proper’ food.
Oviedo is a very fashionable city. We found it difficult to understand how it could support so many up market clothes shops. It was very refreshing to find a commercial centre that did not include the same chain of shops as in every other city centre back home. No Next, Gucci, Marks and Spencer, etc, etc.
Later we dined out successfully at yet another restaurant with a pictorial menu.
Day 5: Oviedo – Paradora Fuenta De:
Two things overheard at breakfast. A member of our fellow travellers had cured their overheating problem by placing their hat over their car’s temperature gauge so they couldn’t see it! Out of sight out of mind?. Friends on our table said they had conquered the Spanish language, just say everything with a lisp. Grathius? Hmm.
Today we would travel into the Picos De Europa mountains. Our daily cockpit check indicated that oil and water levels were ok and pear drop levels whilst depleted were not seriously low just yet. We would also take on fuel as petrol stations are few and far in between in this part of Spain. We left Oviedo in mist that quickly dispersed into brilliant sunshine as we left the plains and commenced our climb into the mountains.
The first climb took us to 1490m (4,900 ft) at Pto De Tarna in second and third gear along twisting wooded roads. Just for good measure there were loose cattle free to roam the roads and verges and a mule. We had to stop twice once for a cow that would only move in its own time and for the mule that just cast a bemused backward glance over its shoulder at our approach. Still we were luckier than some who met cattle that had taken shelter from the mid day sun in one of the many tunnels en - route. Or the ones that met the juggernaut coming in the opposite direction.
There were several MGs parked in the car park of the café at the head of the climb where both cars and drivers were seen taking on liquid refreshment.
We found Riano to be a rather strange place. It is situated on the banks of a very large barren but almost empty reservoir devoid of trees. The is a mariner but not many boats. Its buildings all seem to be fairly new. It gives the impression that either it is the home recreational area that did not quite take off or maybe a dormitory town for people that work the hydro electrical plant associated with the reservoir. Having gone so far in the wrong direction as I will explain next, we were probably the only ones to have crossed the dam at the extreme end of the lake.
On leaving Riano we took the right road but unfortunately in the wrong direction. We travelled some 20 miles before we passed through a town big enough to attract Mr Michelin’s attention. Still we did see a bit more of the mountain scenery. We were not the only ones to make a similar mistake.
Once travelling in the right direction we commenced our second but easier climb of the day that took us to 1609m (5,280 ft) at Llanaves Riena. At the crest we took an unsurfaced track that climbed a further 200m to a photo point that provided an unsurpassed vista of the Pica De Europa range. And at the top, we found group members Han, Liz and their MGB GT. Whilst we were taking in the view we got into conversation with others who had also made the climb and were asked in halting English whether we were on some kind of rally as he had seen so many MGs during the day. When we answered in the affirmative our companion replied ‘Then we must be MG romantics’. I suppose that’s one way of putting it.
After a photo session we took our leave and started the 28k descent into Portes. The hairpins and steepness of the descent were such that many had to be taken in first gear. And just think we have to climb the descent in the opposite direction tomorrow. Having reached Portes we climbed to 1926 m (6,300 ft) to our hotel, the Parador Fuente De.
The Parador Fuente De proved to be a modern structure furnished and decorated in traditional heavy timber. Our room was very comfortable and the bathroom had one of those magnificent power showers that with a little bit of imagination you could soak the whole room. The view of the surrounding mountains from our bedroom window was nothing less than spectacular.
Steep hills watched over the natural splendour of panoramic views that extended from the heights towards green meadows. The colours fused together in harmony forming a palette which, went from green to blue with the clean grey of the rocks – or so the guide books would lead you to believe.
After settling in for our two night stay we met up with Richard and Jonathan for at trip on the cable car who’s lower station was just across the road from the hotel. Before leaving there was some discussion on the subject of the availability of petrol the following day being a Sunday. We were assured by reception that petrol would be available and we left it at that. No petrol, no run tomorrow!
At the top we climbed the track to its summit to find a lake that Richard assured us would be visible from this vantage point. It wasn’t. However the views from this vantage point were spectacular and well worth the effort.
The day’s activities were recounted during the evening meal at the hotel. Apparently there were several cases of overheating during the day, one resulting in a burst radiator hose. However, there were many helping hands and offers of spare parts available to get the car moving again. However there was some doubt with regard to the origin of the replacement cooling liquid if you know what I mean. Anyhow, all 31 cars made it under their own steam (!) to our current location.
Day 6: Clockwise Tour of the Picos De Europa:
According to our 10 weather forecast we down loaded from the internet before leaving home, today was supposed to be cloudy with thundery showers. But blue skies suggested otherwise and promised another hot and sunny day.
Today we would be returning to the Parador so there was no need to repack the car. So with just a brief check of the MG’s vital fluids we set off on a clockwise tour of the mountains that commenced with a return to Portes.
Relief, we found the garage open. It was a one pump affair with only 95 octane lead free petrol on sale. However with another good dollop of lead additive and octane boost the MG seemed ok.
The first leg of our circuit was the 28k climb out of Portes to 1609m in second and third gear with much use of first gear out of hair pin bends back to the head of the pass at Llanaves. As we climbed the engine and its oil became very hot and we watched the oil pressure with increasing interest but once we were over the summit everything quickly returned to normal.
Having returned to Riano we turned right and the scenery seemed more gentle but without warning we reached Puerto del Punto at an elevation of 1290m (4,230 ft) and started a 13k roller coaster ride down tree lined twisting roads and through rocky tunnels to the head of the Desfiladero los Beyos gorge at Oseja de Sajamdre. During the decent we stopped to take more photographs.
The road shares the gorge with the river Sella and at times was so narrow that there was just room for them both. The walls were so high each side that the sky could not be seen through the wind screen of the MG.
There were lots of signs warning of falling rocks and lots of rocks in the road. Made note to suggest the Club add hard hats for roadster drivers to wear to their list of accessories.
Eventually there was one rock too many and one, larger than the rest, struck the sub frame of the car. When we stopped to investigate Jonathan and Richard pulled up within minutes to assist. Fortunately the MG is as tough as old boots and there was no damage.
We dined on a cheese and ham roll washed down with a Coke at one of those road side tourist traps that sells souvenirs just outside Cangas de Onis and managed to find two wall plates we should have bought on the first day of the tour.
Before visiting the Basilica at Covadonga famous for a vision of the Virgin Mary we headed for the lakes Lago de Enol and Lago de Ercina. This involved another 11k grinding climb along twisting narrow roads with few barriers and lots of free roaming cattle. Unfortunately the lakes were partially shrouded in mist we were so high, but the climb was still worth it.
On the way down we caught up with Julie and Kevin in the Owner Club’s MGF used in the series of servicing articles in Enjoying MGs. There was a long hold up whist a dozen or so cattle were cleared from the road and by the time we returned to Covadonga the brakes of both cars were very hot and those of our MGB were actually smoking.
After a visit to the Basilica we returned to the cars and in convoy to the Parador Fuente de via Panes.
Day 7: Fuento De To Burgos:
The weather by now was reflecting the forecast, albeit 24 hours late. We even had thunder overnight.
We packed the car dodging the showers. A cockpit check revealed that oil and water were adequate but that supplies of pear drops were becoming critical. Also we would need to fill up with petrol again.
On our way to the petrol station we spotted one of our group, Brian, in a garage with the bonnet up and a bemused mechanic in attendance. Having filled up we stopped to give assistance and were soon joined by other members, Han and Liz. Brian’s car had had a serious loss of power, in fact sounded like a bag of old nails at that moment. Closed up points were diagnosed. Once we reset these, refitted the advance and retard tube and fitted the right ignition leads to the right spark plugs the car ran and purred like a kitten. By this time the mechanic had beat a retreat. I expect it’s a long time since he had worked on a car with such ignition.
Once on our way again and heading in the direction of Burgos we met three MGBs, the leading car being a blue rubber bumper roadster, coming in the opposite direction. First thought was that we were going in the wrong direction again but as we got closer it became apparent that they were from a different group. Lots of arm waving and headlamp flashing ensued as we passed.
We continued on another twisting climb through the mountains topping out at 1000m (3,280 ft) at Cervera de Pisuerga where we stopped to take more photographs. Unfortunately the magnificent views were partially obscured by mist and low cloud. However mist and cloud trapped in pockets below us gave the vista a somewhat surreal atmosphere.
By the time we had passed through Cervera de Pisuerga and Aguilar de Campoo we had left the mountains behind us and were on one of Spain’s internal plains.
We pressed on to Burgos.
The guide book states that Burgos is situated on meseta or plateau at an altitude of between 800 and 900m (2,624 and 2,953 ft), its climate predominantly Mediterranean influenced by its altitude that make for cold winters and short mild summers.
It claims to be the home of Europe’s oldest known human remains found at the Atapuerca archaeological site, is part of Spain traversed by the Pilgrim’s way to Santiago de Compstela and positively abounds in historic sites. Enough to say that Burgos abounds with magnificent old buildings, squares and tree lined avenues.
Our hotel in the centre Burgos for a two night stay was the hotel Admirante Bonifaz supposedly signposted from the centre of the city only it wasn’t but we found it eventually anyway.
The hotel brochure states that it benefits from ‘Totalmente reformando, dispone de 79 habitaciones eqipadas con TV colour, antenna parabolica, telefono directo, connexion PC, mini bar, etc ,etc’. Unfortunately there was no English translation so I can only guess at what facilities were at our disposal.
Enough to say it provided modern and very comfortable accommodation complete with a huge marble tiled bathroom devoid of a bath. It did however have a state of the art shower cubicle that had far too many combinations of spray arrangements to try in such a short stay. Unfortunately the vista from the bedroom window only provided an intimate view of the roof mounted air conditioning plant. Oh how we have been spoilt up to now.
Once we had freshened up we returned to our quest to find said piece of Lladro. We had set our heart on finding a piece depicting a Spanish dancer. Despite finding quite a few outlets we didn’t succeed. Something like coals to Newcastle now springs to mind. Still we did see a lot of the old quarters of the town and found lots of interesting alley ways, etc. to explore.
We finished the day in the hotel’s bar and restaurant and I expect some may remember more than others of the evening. Oh the size of those gin and tonics!!!!
Day 8: Free Day in Burgos:
Most of the party chose to take the optional trip some 85k out of Burgos to the Bodegos Ismael Arroyo at Sotillo de Ribera.
A cockpit check revealed fluid and fuel levels to be in order but that unless we made the remaining pear drops last at least 10 kilometres they would not last the day!
The object of our visit acts as a co-operative producer for wine growers of the surrounding area. Our hosts took us round the wine making facilities and then into caves hewn by hand into the hill side where the finished wine was stored to mature.
After spending an hour or so in the winery and walking through the caves lined with hundreds of barrels and bottles of wine, the opportunity to sample the finished product accompanied with a tapas meal was very welcome.
On the basis of the tasting we bought three bottles of their 1997 vintage. At about this time one should be reminded not mention to Julie’s Kevin the association of keys, boot, the Firm’s MGF and rear light lens.
After our return to the hotel, a siesta and another walk around Burgos we shook the creases out of our glad rags ready for the five course gala dinner at the nearby Casa Ojeda restaurant. After dinner, glasses were raised in celebration of a fiftieth and a fifty seventh birthday, the Spanish people we had met for their hospitality, Richard Webb for all the effort MGOC Travel had put into the arrangements for the tour, and to Julie, Kevin and Jonathan for their support.
Day 9: Burgos – Haro (pronounced Aro):
We left Burgos in clearing skys with the promise of another gorgeous day. A cockpit check revealed oil and water levels to be ok, we would need more petrol and that pear drops supplies had been exhausted. We would have to resort to lemon sherbets and made a note to warn others we were not pulling faces at them, it was just the sourness of the sweets causing the facial contortions.
The run to Haro was just a straightforward two hour run across the meseta with a stop for petrol.
We found Hero to be a traditional Spanish town with magnificent but tired ancient architecture with many pedestrianized squares and alleyways.
Haro is within the centre of the Rioja wine producing area. Our first quest was therefore to visit the wineries to stock up the old wine rack. We managed to find an outlet on our second attempt and after tasting came away with twelve bottles of Rioja Blanc. Having staggered back to the car with our booty we returned to track down some red vino. With lots of sign language and the help of a passing Antipodean we successfully completed the second part of our quest.
After a siesta, we could get used to these, we returned to the central square to a tapas bar for something to eat and a pint or two and ended the day in the hotel’s restaurant.
Day 10: Haro – Bilbao and the Homeward Bound Ferry:
After an early breakfast the first task of the day was to extract the cars from the underground car park where they had been tightly stowed the night before. After some shuffling about akin to playing giant solitaire we managed to park outside the hotel, pack the car and take our leave.
It was only an hour and half’s trip on the motorway with the weather improving dramatically once we had passed through the mountain range that separates Haro from the coastal regions.
At the ferry the MGs were lined up line astern for boarding purposes. Once the cars were safely aboard that was in practice the end of our 1060 mile Spanish adventure.
Sharon & Alan Cumming