Of all the road trips I have taken with my family, this was the craziest yet. It was also the most unusual, given that we were crossing a Europe emerging from an unprecedented lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 crisis. It was by turns exhilarating, exhausting and fascinating. Today I bring you the first instalment from this 3-day Trans-European odyssey.
29/05/20, 6am, Costa del Sol
The car was (rather tightly) packed and it was time to go. We left as early as we could without having to sacrifice too much sleep, in order to reach our first stopping point, Tortosa, by early evening. We drove the first stretch via Granada and enjoyed the sunrise over the Olive groves of Antequerra. The children were still sleepy and didn’t complain at all. We wouldn’t have attempted the journey in this way if we didn’t already know they were good travellers!
We passed beneath the Castillo de Lorca, skirted Murcia and made our first rest stop somewhere close to Benidorm, with the mountain Puigcampana forming a stunning backdrop. At this point, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and exhausted, with much ground still to cover. After 5 hours’ driving we had only just left Andalucía, which made me realise what a vast region it is.
Communitat Valenciana and Catalunya
On this first leg of the journey, we were in fact making the reverse of a journey we had taken 15 months earlier when we’d relocated from Catalunya to Malaga. As the roadsigns changed from Castilian to Catalan, and the dry desert mountain ranges of the South gave way to green pine forests and colourful rhododendron bushes, it felt like a kind of homecoming to me. My youngest son was born in Barcelona. He’d taken his first steps in L’Ametlla del Valles. It reminded me of what a wrench it had been leaving, and that I’d never really taken the South of Spain to heart in the same way.
We’d chosen Tortosa as the first stop as this was around 8 hours’ drive from our starting point, and about the limit for the kids to travel comfortably in one day. They’d been absolutely wonderful on the journey, hardly complaining at all so long as a steady supply of sweets and chocolate was passed back from the cockpit to the child seats. We are lucky to be raising born adventurers!
Tortosa and the Hotel Corona
Given the current circumstances, the name might have been off-putting for some, but the Hotel SB Corona was actually very pleasant; spacious and welcoming after the long journey. The children were over the moon to get out and run around a little. In terms of the quarantine conditions, Tortosa Province had already moved into ‘Phase 2’ of the Spanish de-escalation measures, meaning children were allowed out at any time of day, rather than just the hottest part of the day, as had been the case in Malaga.
Though exhausted from the journey, we couldn’t resist a peek at the historic centre of Tortosa in the evening, and it was certainly worth the effort: the skyline is dominated by Suda Castle which is perched atop a hill overlooking the river Ebro and dates back to the Caliphate of Abd-al-Rahman III. There are also some delightful examples of early 20th-century Modernista Architecture and interesting modern buildings such as the regional headquarters of the Catalan government.
When heading out, we took the recommended precautions of wearing masks in public areas, regular hand-sanitising and keeping at least 2m distance from other people. The lockdown was less in evidence here than in Malaga province, which remains in Phase 1 at the time of writing. Face masks are now becoming fashion items, with trendy boutiques stocking custom-made examples.
As for the following day, I was still apprehensive about crossing the border into France, which was reportedly imposing a two-week quarantine on new arrivals to the country, unless they could show they were in transit to an onward destination. But that excitement would have to wait until the next day, as it was now time for some much-needed rest.
I posted some of the highlights of the journey on Instagram, so if you want to see more of the images from the trip, you can find these @Experimentsinfiction.