SEE SPAIN IN AN RV

Keep crowds and high prices in the rear-view mir­ror and ex­plore sea­side towns, an­cient ru­ins and sprawl­ing bad­lands

The Hamilton Spectator - - CAREERS - NI­COLE EVATT

BARCELONA, SPAIN — Va­ca­tion­ing dur­ing Spain’s touristy sum­mer sea­son doesn’t have to mean over­crowded at­trac­tions or pricey ho­tels.

Keep the crowds and high prices in the rear-view mir­ror by rent­ing a mo­torhome or RV (usu­ally called camper vans or car­a­vans in Europe) and ex­pe­ri­ence Spain’s scenic Mediter­ranean coast through sea­side towns, an­cient ru­ins, bu­colic or­chards and sprawl­ing bad­lands.

Camper van 101

Be­fore em­brac­ing your in­ner Ker­ouac, if you’re Amer­i­can you’ll need to get an In­ter­na­tional Driv­ing Per­mit from AAA, or the Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile Tour­ing Al­liance (AATA). It’s is­sued in per­son or by mail and is valid for a year.

For coastal routes, you can choose au­topis­tas, toll roads de­noted with the let­ters AP, or free mo­tor­ways, gen­er­ally called au­tovias, marked with the let­ter A. You can pay tolls by credit card or cash, but be warned that they add up.

Not your par­ents’ recre­ational ve­hi­cle

You may have mem­o­ries of the fam­ily’s vin­tage be­he­moth van, but to­day’s savvy road trip­pers know that mod­ern mo­torhomes come in smaller, sleeker pack­ages with nearly ev­ery amenity imag­in­able.

Us­ing the van’s var­i­ous fea­tures is sur­pris­ingly un­com­pli­cated, but you do need to know how to drive with a man­ual trans­mis­sion.

Do not drive into city cen­tres, which typ­i­cally have nar­row, wind­ing streets, or you could get stuck. Park far­ther out and take tran­sit in.

Barcelona’s Or­son Rent of­fers air­port pickup and dropoff, plus campers that sleep two to five peo­ple, with bath­rooms, show­ers, re­frig­er­a­tors, freez­ers, stove tops, two dou­ble beds and op­tional add-ons like bikes or bar­be­cue grills.

Rentals run 175 eu­ros daily for sum­mer high sea­son, 130 for Septem­ber and 110 other times. Bud­get an­other 35 to 50 eu­ros nightly for camp­sites in peak sea­son. Ameni­ties like Wi-Fi and elec­tric­ity are ex­tra. In some places, vans may park overnight in pub­lic spots, but towns are less tol­er­ant of this dur­ing crowded sum­mer months.

Know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a car­a­van — with the liv­ing unit trailer towed be­hind the car — and an au­to­car­a­van, where the liv­ing unit is at­tached to the driver’s cab.

Plan your pit stops

BARCELONA What to do: Head to the rooftop ter­race at the Ho­tel Barcelo Raval for stun­ning (and free!) 360-de­gree views.

Sam­ple lo­cal cui­sine and cava (Cat­alo­nia’s sparkling wine) while ex­plor­ing Barcelona on a side­car tapas tour (bright­side­tours.com).

Don’t miss An­toni Gaudi’s iconic works, in­clud­ing Casa Batllo, Park Guell and La Sagrada Fa­milia. Beat the lines at the breath­tak­ing basil­ica by pur­chas­ing tick­ets in ad­vance.

Where to camp: Ci­tyS­top. It’s all about lo­ca­tion at this bare-bones park­ing lot squeezed be­tween high­rise build­ings. The overnight camp­site is a quick walk to the L2 and L4 metro lines and of­fers bath­rooms, show­ers and Wi-Fi.

An­other op­tion, about 135 kilo­me­tres south, is the fam­ily-run Camp-

ing Cala d’Oques. Fall asleep to the sounds of waves crash­ing at this small camp­site on the beach in Tar­rag­ona. PENISCOLA What to do: Skip the busy beach in this tourist hot spot and head to the Knights Tem­plar cas­tle and for­mer pa­pal res­i­dence, which juts into the clear blue wa­ters.

Where to stay: The ocean­front Camp­ing Playa Trop­i­cana, in the vil­lage of Al­cosse­bre. This up­scale camp­site of­fers in­door and out­door pools and Jacuzzis, laun­dry room, su­per­mar­ket, restau­rant, beauty sa­lon, car wash and play­ground. It’s also steps from a quiet beach and the Michelin-starred restau­rant, Can Roig. VA­LEN­CIA What to do: Chow down on meat-based Va­len­cian paella in the birth­place of the clas­sic rice dish. Learn about Va­len­cian his­tory and cul­ture through its thriv­ing street art scene on a graf­fiti tour of old town (va­len­ci­au­r­banad­ven­tures.com). Snack like a lo­cal at Hor­cha­te­ria El Col­lado with sweet pas­tries called far­tons dunked in hor­chata de chufa, a sug­ary drink.

Wan­der the fu­tur­is­tic glass and con­crete com­plex known as The City of Arts and Sciences, home to Va­len­cia’s im­pres­sive Principe Felipe Sci­ence Mu­seum, and Spain’s largest aquar­ium, Oceanogràfic. CARTAGENA What to do: This pic­turesque port city is home to his­toric sites in­clud­ing a Ro­man theatre and mil­i­tary fortress, Ba­te­ria de Castil­li­tos, which of­fers panoramic views of Cartagena Bay.

Where to stay: Camp­ing Lo Monte, north of Cartagena, near the beach in Ali­cante. Its well-man­i­cured grounds of­fer swim­ming pools, a gym, restau­rant, spa and group ac­tiv­i­ties. MO­JACAR What to do: Ex­plore shops and cafés in the wind­ing streets of charm­ing old town Mo­jacar, a hill­side vil­lage dot­ted with white build­ings. Or grab a drink and watch the sun­set over the Mediter­ranean in Mo­jacar Playa, the trendy beach­front part of town. GRANADA What to do: It’s all about the Al­ham­bra.

The im­mac­u­lately re­stored ninth cen­tury com­plex is a UNESCO World Her­itage site and one of Spain’s most-vis­ited at­trac­tions.

You could lose an en­tire day ex­plor­ing the or­nate, tiled palaces, gor­geous gar­dens and mil­i­tary fortresses with sweep­ing city views. Buy tick­ets on­line as they can sell out weeks in ad­vance.

Re­group af­ter a long day with a mas­sage and Ara­bian bath ex­pe­ri­ence at the tran­quil Ham­mam Al An­dalus.

Where to stay: Camp­ing Las Lo­mas, a wooded moun­tain re­treat east of Granada.

Campers will find breath­tak­ing views of the val­ley and Canales Reser­voir, as well as mini golf, ta­ble ten­nis, a swim­ming pool, sauna, restau­rant and su­per­mar­ket.

Avoid the nar­row, wind­ing streets of city cen­tres: you could get stuck. Take tran­sit into town.

Mo­jacar Playa on the An­dalu­sian coast in south­ern Spain. It’s an ideal place to grab a drink and watch the sun­set.

Above: A view of Granada from the Al­ham­bra.

Right: The clas­sic Span­ish dish, chur­ros and choco­late, at Granja Dul­cinea in Barcelona.

NI­COLE EVATT PHO­TOS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

View of Granada, from the van­tage point of the Al­ham­bra.

Left: Casa Mila, an An­toni Gaudi build­ing in Barcelona.

Above: Boats for rent near L’Hem­is­feric in Va­len­cia.

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