Soaking up the sun: a caravanners’ guide to navigating the roads of Spain
From the Costas to the Pyrenees, promising sunshine, delicious cuisine, historic and cultural gems, not to mention classic family beach holidays: Spain has all of this and much else besides. A staggering 12 million Brits head to Spain each year. More to the point, this country happens to be the second only to France as the destination of choice for caravanners. From finding your ideal spot in the sun through to planning the best way to get there, here are our planning tips to ensure you have the perfect Spanish caravan holiday.
What does Spain have to offer?
Offering 300 sunny days each year, the glorious Spanish weather is a huge draw in itself. For caravanners, this opens up a wealth of holidaying options all year round. Take the Costa Del Sol, for instance: while average August temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius might lie slightly outside of your comfort zone, a pleasantly balmy 16 degrees in November makes this an ideal option for a winter break.
But of course, it’s not all about the weather. A caravan holiday offers the ideal way of sampling honeypot cultural centres such as Barcelona and Seville while avoiding a steep hotel bill. And don’t forget the possibility of putting together a multi-destination holiday. As an example, in Andalucia alone, you could split your time between a beautiful Moorish city such as Granada or Cordoba, before finishing off your break in a bustling resort like Benalmadena or a quieter beach spot such as Nerja.
If it’s unspoilt wilderness you are looking for, Spain’s national parks such as the Parque Nacional de Monfrague and Sierra de Aracena are worth considering, while the Pyrenees offer the possibility of skiing in the winter and trekking in the warmer months.
Choosing your route
Logistics wise, there’s no getting over the fact that a caravan holiday to Spain goes beyond just a ‘short hop’ over the Channel. To put the size of the country in perspective, the drive from San Sebastian in the North to Malaga in the far south is longer than the journey from London to Aberdeen.
The three main options for your sea crossing are the Channel ports or else the Eurotunnel (around 90 minutes), Portsmouth or Poole to the Brittany ports (around 5 hours), or else Portsmouth or Plymouth direct to Santander or Bilbao on Spain’s north coast, in which case you are looking at a full 24 hours on the boat. Your choice is likely to depend on how far south you are heading, and how you want to split your journey between ferry and car.
Tolls are common on Spanish motorways (and indeed, French) . You can pay at the booth, although if you are planning on touring extensively during your holiday, or perhaps making multiple trips throughout the year, you might want to consider a ‘Bip&Drive’ e-reader. This automatically collects money from your credit card or bank account, potentially meaningless time spent in cash-toll queues.
Rules for driving and towing
Spanish regulations stipulate that any combination of car and caravan over 12m in length must have marker boards fitted. You can have either two small boards or one large board: they have to be plain yellow in the centre with a red outline, made of aluminium, and manufactured to the relevant EC standard. Spanish-compliant marker boards are readily available from HGV suppliers.
When driving in Spain, you must carry a spare wheel and the tools to replace it, or else a tyre repair kit. You must have a warning triangle with you, and anyone getting out of the vehicle in a roadside breakdown situation is required to wear a reflective jacket. France has similar (but not identical) rules. European motoring kits are widely available from the likes of Halfords and The AA for around £30, offering everything you need for driving on the continent in one handy bundle.
The typical speed limit in Spanish towns is 50kph. If you are towing, the limit on open single carriageways is 70kph and 80kph for motorways. Note that this is considerably lower than the requirements in France, where the limits are 90kph for single carriageways and 130kph for motorways, if your caravan is under 3500kg and 80kph and 90kph respectively if the caravan is over 3500kg. Bear in mind this difference if you are driving over the border.
Safe and comfortable camping
There are an estimated 1,000 official sites suitable for caravans in Spain. The Camping and Caravanning Club’s online brochures are a great way of exploring some of the very best of what’s available, including the beachside site at Playa Joyel within easy reach of the Bilbao ferry, Aquarius on the Costa Brava, and Vilanova Park: a handy, tranquil base for both the beaches of the Costa Dorada and for Barcelona.
Security on reputable, well-managed sites is usually very good. Although, as with anywhere, it’s advisable to practice good housekeeping by not leaving your caravan and vehicle unlocked, and securing your valuables. Spain has 240V electricity supply (the same as the UK), although drop-off to around 220V is not unknown, in which case you might find that heaters and kettles can take slightly longer to heat up.
Depending on when and where you are going, keeping cool is likely to be a top priority. If you have a choice, a shady spot is a wise option. Opening your roof light is an easy way of creating some welcome air movement, while thermal blinds can be useful for keeping the interior shielded from the daytime sun. Portable 12V fans for the bedrooms and living areas are also a good investment.
Before you head off, make sure you are covered for the trip by a reputable insurer who understands the type of protection caravanners require — both at home and abroad. Ensure that you fully read every detail of the cover you are planning on investing in, and shop around for the best European holiday cover. As a starting point, check out the award-winning 5 Star Defaqto-rated Touring Caravan Insurance from Club Care.