25 June 2016

A daytrip to Carboneras in Almeria

While on holiday at the HPB El Pueblito de Alfaix in Almeria we took a day trip to Carboneras which is at the gateway to the Cabo de Gata Natural Park.

Our view from lunch

We'd been told in our welcome meeting that Carboneras was a great place to experience fresh fish in the area, but that it was less touristy than other regions such as Garrucha. And, it was near some beautiful, white beaches, so we thought we'd give it a try.

From inland Alfaix, we took the coastal road via Mojacar to Carboneras. We'd been warned that the road was beautiful, but a bit white knuckle. The windy road afforded an amazing view of the coast cornered by the Sierra Cabrera Mountain Range. It was a bit squeaky bum, but nothing compared to the Amalfi Drive that we experienced on our honeymoon! 

My son's "high chair"
When we arrived at Carboneras, it was practically deserted! We decided to eat at an unassuming place called Chiringuito J. Mariano because it had a lovely position on the beach and had good reviews on Trip Advisor

The staff were super friendly and helped us to a seat with amazing views over the beach. There literally was not a single person in our eyesight. The sun was shining, the sea looked azure blue, it was absolutely blissful.

Our view from lunch
Similar to many restaurants we visited, they had no high chairs for my toddler. But they tried to accommodate him by stacking two plastic chairs! He didn't seem to mind, but I wish we'd brought our booster seat as he kept trying to escape.

They had a dish of the day,  but the waiter encouraged us to choose a selection of fresh fish and salads. To be honest, we had no idea what we were eating. But it tasted incredibly fresh (we were told it was caught that day) and great value. 

The wine we enjoyed
over lunch
All washed down with a delicious bottle (or 3 or 4) of Spanish white. Like nearly all the restaurants we went to, the wines on offer were all Spanish and without any explanation of grape, taste or dryness on the menu. So we took the recommendation from the waiter and it was very delicious. 

After lunch, we hopped in the car and drove further down the coast into the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. We happened to stop at this beautiful beach called Playa Agua Amarga

We parked up on the sand and strolled down to the sandy beach. On one side flanked a rocky cliff riddled with caves. From this cliff stretched about a mile of wide, golden beach. Again, with hardly a person on it.

My son on Playa Agua Amarga
The sea was fairly choppy with a stony bed making it somewhat tricky to go in and out! But the water was warm and even wimpy old me leaped in for a swim. 

It was June when we visited and, although the whole area gets fairly windy in the afternoons, it was still baking hot. And, we were delighted to find a little, shady bar off the beach called Los Taharis. We enjoyed a deliciously cold glass of beer and my son dripped an ice-cream all down himself.

We had a wonderful daytrip to the Carboneras region. The whole Carboneras area was very quiet and felt like it was waiting to be discovered! If you're looking for white sandy beaches, fabulous food and to feel remote and secluded, this is the region for you. However, I'm sure it will soon be discovered, so enjoy it now before the tourists descend! 

Travelling with the Mothercare XSS Pockit Stroller

We've travelled abroad with out little one four times now. And, previously, we have always taken our Bugaboo having bought a special flight bag for it. Since our boy is nearly two, when travelling to Spain this year, we thought we could probably cope with a more light-weight stroller for holiday.

Using the XSS on the beach
As I've written in a previous post, it is perfectly possible to fly with a Bugaboo. However, as you have to take the wheels off and take the seat apart in order for it to be flat and you have to carry the bag around the airport (and it's fairly cumbersome), we decided that something that folded easily flat would be more practical. 

After some deliberation, we decided upon the Mothercare XSS Pockit Stroller. The blurb about it said that it folded down "incredibly" small and that it fitted into the overhead locker of the plane. 

The XSS stroller in the
overhead locker
I could only find a couple of other buggies that folded small enough to be carried onto the plane including the Quinny Zapp and the Mountain Buggy Nano. However, at £129, the XSS Pockit Stroller was a much more affordable option.

It does fold down really small and fits into an easily portable bag. On our outward flight with Monarch from Gatwick, we effortlessly stowed the stroller on the overhead locker. And, it folds down and up incredibly simply, in one complete piece, in virtually a single movement. 

Wheeling my son
off the runway
The advantage of carrying the stroller onto the plane is that, when you disembark, you can literally pop it up and your toddler can sit straight in it on the runway. This means you don't have to worry about him wandering off or having to carry him through check in and onto baggage collection before you can collect the buggy from oversized baggage. This would be especially useful if you were only taking carry on and would enable you to bypass baggage collection altogether.

I was a bit worried that it might not be robust enough for rough terrain or the beach. But actually, it fared no worse than the Bugaboo on the sand. And, since it weighed less than 4kg, even when it faltered on sand, I could easily pick it up in one hand and carry my son in the other.
My son napping
in the stroller

The other thing I was worried about was whether the XSS Pockit Stroller would be comfortable enough for my son to sleep in. Normally he sleeps in his cot, but on holiday you have to plan to all eventualities such as delayed flights (or missing them!). And, on the last day, we had to exit our villa at 9am and weren't flying until 6pm meaning he had to have his daytime nap in the stroller. And, after some persuasion, he did have have an hour long sleep in there quite comfortably. 

There were a few downsides to the XSS Pockit Stroller. Firstly, it came with a very small sun shade which didn't provide a huge amount of coverage. And, you'll see from the photo, I had to rely on a muslin when he slept. However, because both sides of the stroller were open, even with the shade up, my son had a really great view enabling him to satisfy his nosy side.

Another downside was that the straps were really difficult to adjust. Again, you'll see from the photo that we didn't exactly succeed with the adjustment! However, he didn't seem to especially mind.

The final drawback was that the footrest was not adjustable. My son's feet were a good few inches off the footrest. Since my son is already 12kg and the stroller only goes up to 15kg, I'm not sure he is ever going to be tall enough to reach it! Again though, he didn't seem to mind his feet dangling.

Overall, we loved our XSS Pockit Stroller. It was much easier to travel with then the Bugaboo. It collapses incredibly easily, is super lightweight and perfect for taking on overseas holidays. 

One word of warning. When you check in, make sure you tell the staff that you intend to take the buggy onto the plane. On our return flight from Spain, we didn't tell Monarch and the stewardess hunted us out on the plane to find out why we hadn't handed a buggy over at the gate. They were fine with it being in the locker, but I think there is some procedure or paperwork that needs to be completed.

20 June 2016

Staying at the HPB property in Almeria

In June, I went with the family to stay at the HPB property in Almeria called El Pueblito de Alfaix.
The Sierra Cabrero mountains
I'd been warned previously that the site is pretty remote, but given that it was a family holiday and my main aim was to relax, this was perfectly fine with me. And, remote it was! Set in a tiny village called Alfaix, I've never stayed anywhere like it. 

Mainly, I choose seaside locations on a summer holiday. So just staying inland in Spain was something pretty new for me. Plus, we were in the middle of nowhere, with just the craggy Cabrera mountains as a backdrop, it felt very cut off, very exclusive and extremely relaxing.

About the property

Our private pool
There are 105 properties on the site, but it neither felt expansive and nor did it feel like you had hundreds of people on your doorstep. 

From our villa, you rarely heard anyone and felt very secluded and remote. I think the design of El Pueblito de Alfaix helped with the secluded feel. Built by a local architect to resemble a traditional Andalucian village, there's enough space between the Moorish style, white-washed properties so we didn't feel on top of each other.

We hired a five-bed villa with it's own private pool. All the bedrooms were large and nicely decorated and, as always, the property was really well equipped. 

What was nice about the layout of the outside area was that the pool was on a
Our upstairs terrace
different level from the outside veranda. This meant that the kids could go outside onto the veranda and, as the pool was gated off at a different level, we didn't have to worry about them going in without adult supervision. This was unlike our HPB villa at La Gomera, which had a pool literally just outside the villa, making it more difficult for the kids to play outside (but probably easier and more accessible for adults).

We went in June and, although it was pretty hot every day, the wind got up most days at about noon. This meant it felt quite cool in the afternoons, but wasn't great for the hair-do! One of our cocktails literally blew off the table one day! Shocker.

The local area

The property was really remote. So, if you're looking for lots of bars and restaurants within walking distance, this isn't the place for you. I'd recommend HPB Santa Rosa in Lanzarote or the Turkey property, HPB Physkos. There was only one restaurant in walking distance called La Venta de Alfaix where we had a pretty reasonably Paella meal with good service one night. And one small, fairly scantily stocked shop.

One of the local beaches
So, really you need a car if you stay here if you like bars and restaurants and want to explore nearby. 

We took a day trip to Garrucha which is about 25 minutes drive away. It's famous for its fresh fish and has beautiful, sandy beaches. One day we went to a slightly less touristy fishing village called Carboneras where we had an amazing meal overlooking a completely deserted beach. We also drove to a beautiful beach in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park called Agua Amarga Beach which was about a 45 minute's drive away. 

Fresh fish in Garrucha
Overall, all the meals we had while out and about were pretty good. We were told in most places that the catch was fresh that day and there was a really extensive range. The local speciality were red prawns or "Garrucha Red Prawns" which were only fished in the area. I'm allergic so didn't partake, plus they were pretty pricey! 

The wine was more touch and go. 99% of the wines on offer were Spanish and none of the restaurants provided an explanation of the wine type or style. So, being ill-informed we ended up guessing and relying on recommendations. We especially enjoyed the dry, white Verdejos from the Rueda region. We also saw some "Blue Wines" on sale, but sadly we never tried them but would be interested to hear from anyone who has.

If you want to stock up for supplies, the town of Turre is about 15 minute's drive away and there is a much better stocked supermarket and a few restaurants too. 

HPB Facilities

Of course, the property had a number of facilities if you don't want to explore. There were three shared pools to choose from, a children's play parks, tennis courts, petanque courts, a sauna, jacuzzi and even an outdoor gym! 
The shared family pool

There was a large restaurant where we ate a couple of times. We had the Tapas lunch which I think was 15 Euro per person which was a bit disappointing. As it was just a buffet type affair and, for me, tapas should be served at the table in little portion sized brown, ceramic bowls. We also had the Andalucian lunch which was 10 Euro per person which was much better value. Although it said it came with dessert. And slices of pineapple and melon does not maketh a dessert.

The bar area was very well air conditioned and a well-needed escape from the heat. We had (far too) many cocktails in there, served by very friendly waiters.

The view from the Club House
However, the jewel in the crown of El Pueblito de Alfaix was the stunning, natural location. The Sierra Cabrera mountains really did provide a unique setting. If you went up to the terrace outside the clubhouse within the property, you'd get the best all-round vista of these deserted and imposing mountains. If you truly wanted to chill out, then a cocktail at sundown watching the amazing light making the mountains ripple. 

Apparently many films (and some episodes of Game of Thrones) have been filmed in the area due to the amazing light. And, I could see why as it was very unspoilt, rural and remote.

Getting there

We flew to Almeria with Monarch (who were useless as always. My brother left his wallet on the plane, but the aeroplane staff didn't find it. Hmmmm). It's about a 50 minute drive from the airport to the site at Alfaix. You can also fly to Murcia (although it is slightly further) and Alicante which is further still.

Take note though, neither our sat nav nor google maps could find the location by its address. So make sure you print off the directions from the HPB site.

I've written about staying at HPB sites a number of times. If you want to find out more about how the scheme works, you can read my previous article here.

17 June 2016

A day trip to Garrucha

While on holiday at one of the HPB Spanish properties, El Pueblito de Alfaix, we took a day trip to Garrucha. The grandparents were babysitting that day, so we were officially footloose and fancy free!! 

White, sandy & remote beaches
It's a 20 minute drive from the HPB property through beautiful mountain ranges and well worth the journey (in my humble). We'd heard that Garrucha was a big fishing port and worth a trip to try the local fresh red prawns, although we were warned it was "very touristy".

Well, we went in June and the place was very remote, very quiet and an absolute idyll. The fairly large town has a lovely, long promenade lined with palm trees and dotted with interesting bars and restaurants. And, there was hardly a person on the beach and only a handful of people in the port.

At one end is the port and the other the beach.

The working port of attractive
but not pretty
The port is reasonably attractive, although clearly a working port rather than a pretty marina. And, most of the bars and restaurants seem to be overlooking the port.

However, towards the beautiful beach is where Garrucha truly comes into its own. The long, wide, sandy beach is located on the harbour and the water is very calm due to the break water. We'd been to Playa Agua de Amarga the previous day, which was very beautiful but the water was quite choppy.

My view from lunch. Not
a person in sight!
And the best bit? The beach was practically deserted. 2km of promenade and golden, sandy beach with barely a sole on it. Apparently it is the only beach in Europe with a blue flag in town beach. The water is azure blue and the sand seems to stretch on forever. 

There was a huge amount of choice of bars and restaurants. We chose to stop in one at the end of the port, over looking the beach. When we sat down, we were the only people in the place. Touristy? I don't think so.

Our De Alberto white wine
with a very intriguing cork!
The restaurant, Chiringuito El Jardin de la Paella had a few plastic chairs outside and, although pretty, was certainly not chic dining. However, the service was prompt and friendly and we had a delicious meal of "raciones" which is sort of like a large serving of Tapas. We had a large plate of calamaris, some mussels in tomato sauce and some garlicky swordfish. 

To round it off, the waiter recommended a bottle of white wine that was very scrummy. Interestingly, nearly all the restaurants we visited in the area only offered Spanish Wines. Can you imagine a restaurant in England only offering English wines? The Guti Verdejo from de Alberto wines that he recommended was crisp and dry and went perfectly with our seafood platter. It also had a white, plastic cork which I found very delightful.

Overall, we had a lovely day trip to Garrucha. It wasn't over crowded and had a natural and remote feel to it, but with a great mix of bars and restaurants. We found during our stay to Almeria that the wind picks up as the day goes on and, certainly in Garrucha we noticed that after lunch it got very blowy. And, further down the beach it appeared that the sand was being blown up the beach a little. So perhaps more suitable to the mornings. 

16 June 2016

Using gNappies on holiday with a toddler

Last year, I wrote a blog post about using gNappies on holiday with a baby. We recently went to Spain, and since our little one is nearly 2, I thought I would write an update on how I found using gNappies abroad with a toddler.

We still use cloth nappies at home. But we would find it very difficult to use them on holiday due to the amount of space they would take up in the luggage, as well as storing wet nappies and washing them. So for us, gNappies are the next best thing. 
My gNappies drying in the sunshine!

Although they are not completely reusable, the outer "pant" part of the nappy is made from cotton and washable, so softer and more natural against his skin. And the disposable insert is 100% biodegradable and apparently decomposes within 50-100 days. Plus they look super cute :) 

I was concerned that we might have issues with leakage as my son drinks a lot of water and, well, it has to come out somewhere! However, we did not have a problem at all. He was pretty much dry the whole week and didn't have any issues with nappy rash or soreness.

Another great thing with gNappies is that they do up at the back (unless your husband puts them on an forgets, frequently). This means that, if you have a toddler who is prone to taking off their own nappy it's much more difficult for them to undo the Velcro tabs because they are round the back. So, in hot weather, you can have them running around in just their nappy without having to worry about it flying off.

gNappies are perfect for
toddlers that undo nappies-
fastening at the back!
We had three of the gNappies nappy covers (Good Fortune Red, Guppy Green and Gigabyte Blue) with us and a 32 pack of the disposable inserts. This easily lasted us the week with us doing a wash every other day (which we would have done anyway with our messy toddler!).

All in all, I'm a big fan of gNappies. They look really cute and, although not completely reusable, I think they are a good eco alternative for holidays. Especially if you consider that disposable nappies take 500 years to degrade in landfill and we'd have probably used 30 of them in a week which is a horrid thought.

Ps I wrote this on 16th June and they have a special offer on gNappies until 20th June, with 20% off all purchases. Use the code SUNNYSUMMER apparently.