Maui by Camper Van

Last year for the first time ever we decided to do what we called a mystery trip! What that meant for us was that we got time off work approved and then waited for a cheap flight deal to determine where we were going to go. We ended up finding a really great deal to Hawaii through Scott’s Cheap Flights. We did a little research and decided on Maui! After we booked our flights we started looking for an Airbnb or boutique hotels which is what we typically do when we travel. Turns out most of the Airbnbs on Maui are not cheap! So our cheap trip was becoming more expensive. We started looking into other options and quickly came upon several camper van companies. There are a few companies you can book through on Maui, we decided to go with North Shore Vans (https://www.northshorevans.com) and we would highly recommend them! The owner (Chris) was great and super helpful!. He picked us up from the airport and dropped us back off at the airport after we returned the van.
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Here’s our van named Tall Boy!
The van is your lodging and your transportation for your trip all in one which makes seeing all of Maui really easy. We found the van to work out really well for us, it allowed us the freedom to explore the island without having to make sure we got back to one spot each night.
You will see vans pulled off to the side of the road on small beaches and other locations all over the island. Legally you are not supposed to do this, you need to book a spot at a campground with your van each night. This was a shorter trip for us, we only had about four and half days on the island so we picked a couple different campgrounds to really make sure we could see as much of the island as possible.
This is where we stayed:
Camp Olowalu: Start Here
This place can fill up fast so it is recommended that you make reservations ahead of time. We spent our first two nights here. This was definitely the nicest campground we stayed at. They have hot showers and nice bathrooms. There is also a small black sand beach on the property. Tent camping and van parking spots are available, as well as tentalows and cabins if you want to do some glamping. There are chickens all over this property, they are not shy and will walk right up to your tent or van! They did not bother us at all and would typically quickly run away if we got too close to them. There is also a large group of stray cats on this property if you walk along the path near the beach. The cost for a night here is $20 per person. We also headed back here our last evening before taking a late flight home since the last campground we stayed at didn’t have showers. To stop in here and just use their hot showers the cost is $10 a person. This campground is about 15-20 minutes from the airport which makes it a great place you start your trip. It is also a good central location if you want to go up to Lahaina or over to Kihei/Makena/lava fields!
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Camp Kaenae/YMCA: Awesome views, but bring bug spray!
Reservations are recommended here as well as it will make checking in easier, but it was almost empty while we were there. This campsite is just about to the halfway point on the road to Hana. You likely won’t have cell phone reception here so making sure you already have your spot reserved is very helpful. The cost here is $30 a person – which is honestly a more than it’s worth. They do have hot showers and bathrooms. There are spots for van camping and tent camping here. The night we were here it was very buggy which we were not prepared for. If you can handle the mosquitos, the view out to the ocean here is amazing! One final word of caution – make sure you bring food to cook on the grill/stove. We had planned to stop at a BBQ food stall on the way but that place was closed and there were no other options close by.  You are in the middle of the Road to Hana and there was literally nowhere to eat. We ended up eating pretzels and trail mix for dinner.  Also the night we were here there was only 2 other vans so for the most part we had the place to ourselves.
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Kipahulu- Haleakala National Park: This is about 10 miles past Hana. This park is where the seven sacred pools are located. The campground here has no showers, it does have vault toilets. Van and tent camping are allowed here. They do not take reservations ahead of time, but they had a lot of campsites. We arrived late in the afternoon and had no trouble finding a spot to park. It will cost $25 per vehicle to enter the park. Your park pass is valid for three days and also allows you to drive up the Haleakala volcano and even stay at the Hosmer Grove Campground within the three days. There is no additional fee for camping. The van parking spots are very close to the water. If you are tent camping you can camp even closer to the water if you like. We walked along a small path in the morning to find a quiet place to do our yoga and we passed several small tents in small openings along the path/trail with great views of the water.
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Here is a list of other campgrounds on Maui that you can legally park your van for camping:
Wainapanapa State Park
Papalaua campground
Hosmer Grove -Haleakala National Park (uses the same pass as the Kipahulu campground!)
Check out North Shore Vans Website for more information on each of these locations and links to each campsite where reservations are needed- https://www.northshorevans.com/campgrounds
Other Logistics:
We were recommended to grocery shop Mana foods in Paia which is actually a small, health food store. They have fairly good prices however they didn’t have everything we were looking for, so we ended up having to go somewhere else to get a few other random items. There is a Costco and several other big name stores near the airport. We went to Walmart since it was the first one we passed after leaving Mana foods. If you are looking for any toiletries, sunscreen, or alcohol Mana foods won’t have these items for you.
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Also something we didn’t consider is that all of these campgrounds do have grills so you can cook food. The van also had a small gas camping stove for cooking. The van does have a cooler for keeping food cold. The cooler is sitting in the hot van all day while you are out exploring so we did find we had to refill it with ice almost every day. We relied on snacks and stopping for food along the way each day since we were on a shorter trip. Camp Olowalu is within 15 minutes of several small towns so you can definitely eat at restaurants when staying here. The other places we stayed were along the road to Hana where food options are very sparse. There are restaurants in Hana, so we got take out when we were there the next afternoon and kept that in the cooler for dinner the night we stayed at Kipahulu-Haleakala National Park.
The back of the van had a bed, storage for all of our stuff and a sink. Simple dishes and silverware were provided as well as a map of the island with points of interest to help us make the most of our trip. There were also curtains to cover the windows at night when we wanted to relax in the van. There were also lights and a power inverter to charge phones/ipads, etc.
We found the camper van to be a really nice way to see the island. We would highly recommend this to anyone looking to travel cheaply! You always hear that Hawaii is not a cheap place to travel but trust us when we say this is the way to do it! It isn’t your typical Hawaiian vacation but we loved every minute of it! We haven’t visited any of the other islands yet but there are camper van rental companies on the other islands as well and we are looking forward to exploring those islands in this way as well!
For more on the Road to Hana check out our post here: Road to Hana Camper Van Adventure
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-TFWYs

 

Road to Hana Camper-Van Adventure

The Road to Hana is a must do for any trip to Maui. A lot of people do the road to Hana in one day which you can certainly do. If you have more time to spend in this area there is definitely a lot to see and do! We wanted to make sure we had time for as many stops as we wanted so we took more time on this side of the island during our trip. Places to stay are limited along the road to Hana, there are a few very small hotels in the town of Hana its self but that is really all we saw. We rented a camper van for our trip which worked out very well since there are a few places to sleep along the way. We stayed one night at Camp Kaenae YMCA which is just short of halfway to Hana. We then drove the rest of the road the following day and spent one night at the Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park which is past Hana (this is the park where the 7 sacred pools are located). You could also tent camp at these locations if you have camping equipment available to you. We found the camper van to be perfect since it served as our transportation and our lodging. We didn’t have to worry about setting up and taking down a tent. We could simply get up and drive off to keep exploring. We rented our van through North Shore Vans and would highly recommend them.

We have broken this post up into our “must do” stops and then at the end are some extra stops worth including if you have more time. Most of the best stops are towards the second half of the road to Hana. We actually started the road the Hana drive around 2pm since we knew we were staying at about the halfway point. The second day we had a full day to explore, and we were already pretty close to everything we really wanted to see. This worked out very well and we found we were in much less traffic since most people start early in the day at the beginning and only dedicate one day to this trip.

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Must dos:

Keanae Peninsula mile marker 16-17-  Take the turn off down to this peninsula and the little town. The views of the ocean are amazing! The town was struck by a tsunami in 1946 which destroyed everything except the church. You can still see this traditional stone church when you visit. Also while you are here we would recommend stopping at Auntie Sandy’s for some banana bread still warm from the oven!

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Tree Bears falls mile marker 19.5- This waterfall is absolutely beautiful. When the rain has been heavier and more water is rushing over the falls it appears as one waterfall. When it hasn’t been as rainy the falls are separated into three which is where the name three bears falls comes from. If you are a little bit adventurous you can wander down under the bridge and get right up close to the falls. There is not really a path, you will be walking on rocks, it can be a bit muddy but overall it isn’t too challenging. We both walked down here and there was one other couple walking around on the rocks while we were there.

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Nahiku mile marker 25- Follow the turn off down the small, windy road to the very small town of Nahiku. There isn’t much “in town” but once you are there you can park and walk down to the shore. You will get beautiful views of the ocean with large black lava rocks and huge waves crashing up on the rocks. From the main look out point to the ocean you can follow the small path on the left side (if looking at the ocean) down to a small tidal pool that is protected from the waves. It is a bit rocky so we didn’t swim here but were told by a few locals it is a good place to go for a swim.

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Black Sand Beach at Waiapanapa State Park mile marker 32- This is definitely a more popular stop so be prepared for more people. It is for good reason that everyone is stopping here! You should definitely walk to the beach and go for a swim, from there we highly recommend walking to the left (if you are looking at the ocean) and hiking along the black lava rocks. Here you will get great views and the further you walk you will get away from the crowds and have the path to yourself. Our favorite picture from our whole trip was taken along this path!

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Kaihalulu red sand beach in Hana mile marker 34- We had heard that the path to this beach can be dangerous. We even read a few blog posts that said they didn’t visit this beach because of the dangerous path. We found the path to be completely fine but that being said if it was really rainy we could see how it could be pretty sketchy. There is a fairly steep drop off down the ocean from the path and the pebble ground is likely slippery after/during a lot of rain. The walk to the beach is fairly short. The beach is beautiful once you arrive. There are several large rocks blocking the larger wave making this a nice place to swim. We have heard that this is a clothing optional beach so if that is something that bothers you do be aware of that. Parking is also pretty restricted, but it was a Sunday when we were there and parked at the preschool near the Thai food truck and walked from there (also, grab some Thai while you’re at it!)

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Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park mile marker 42:

Seven Sacred pools- We actually enjoyed the Venus pools (which are on our list of additional stops) better than these pools however if you are only dedicating one day to this than the day goes quickly so you’ll have to make some tough decisions on where to stop and what to skip. This park has the best hike on Maui (in our opinion) so overall the park is a must do! The seven sacred pools were open for swimming when we visited however in the past they have closed at times so do be aware of that. The pools are beautiful and worth seeing. They are freshwater, if you are camping in the park there are not showers so a dip in these pools is a nice way to rinse the salt water off if you have been exploring and swimming all day.

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PipiWai Trail-  This was over favorite hike on Maui! It is a 4 mile hike through bamboo forest and up to Waimoka falls which is a 400ft waterfall. The trail is easy to follow but it is uphill most of the way. As you get closer to the end where Waimoka falls is the trail can get a bit wet and muddy. Definitely wear your hiking shoes/boots for this hike. If are giving yourself more than one day on the road to Hana we would recommend getting to this trail early. We started our hike around 7:30-8AM and we didn’t see anyone else until we were on the second half of the hike back after seeing the falls.

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Additional stops worth making if you have time: 

It is worth saying that some of these stops are also really cool and we loved them! Just because they are on this part of our list shouldn’t deter you from stopping. But if you are doing this trip in one day and trying to make it back before dark then your time really will go quickly!

Venus pools mile marker 48- This was one of our favorite stops! if you have time for one of the additional stops we have listed this would be the one we suggest! The Venus pools are a short walk from the road. Finding a parking spot along the road can be challenging, and mind the sings as some people had tickets on their windshields. There are giant rocks surrounding the major pool where you will see people jumping/diving into the water from various heights. If you aren’t brave enough for that you can easily get into the water without jumping/diving. Just beware that it is a bit tricky to get out of. The pool is quite large with lush jungle on the far side giving it a perfect Hawaii feel!

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Twin falls mile marker 2- these falls are smaller than some of the others we stopped at. But they are still beautiful and you can swim in them. There are two separate waterfalls here. you will see a fairly large parking lot at this stop with a fruit stand. From there you follow the path along to the falls. Both waterfalls are just a short walk from the parking lot.

Waikamoi Ridge Trail mile marker 9.5- This trail is 1.1 miles. It is near the beginning of the road to Hana. It is a nice trail and if you really want to get out and explore it is a good option for a short hike but we don’t feel it is a “must do”.

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Hanamanu Bay mile marker 14- This is a smaller black sand beach than the park we listed above.  We have heard there is a narrow road you can turn off on if you want to actually get down to the beach but we did not do that this trip. You will get amazing views of the beach along the drive and there is a look out point on the drive back from Hana so you can stop and get a great picture of this beautiful bay!

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Keanae Arboretum mile marker 16- This place is where you can walk right up and see a patch of rainbow bamboo trees. These trees are beautiful to see up close. The arboretum is also full of other beautiful plats and flowers. It is a fairly short walk through the main part of the arboretum so this stop won’t take you too long. It would be easy to add on if you have extra time.

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Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside mile marker 22- This stop is a pretty popular one so be prepared for it to be more crowded. There are bathrooms here so it’s a good place to stop. There is also a small waterfall you can swim in here.

Wailua Falls mile marker 45- Another beautiful waterfall. You can get views of it from the car as you drive by. If you have extra time you can park nearby and explore for even better views.

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There are a few good look out spots along the way with views of the ocean and the volcano, if you have the GyPSy Guide app for Hana which we recommend (more details on that at the end of this post) the audio guide will point out these spots for you.

Food Recommendations:

If you are camping along the way do take into consideration that there aren’t a ton of places to stop for food/groceries. We recommend packing snacks and stopping for food when you pass an opportunity! There is a small grocery/convivence store in Hana to stock up on things as needed but don’t expect them to have everything a larger grocery store would have.

Ka Haku Smoke shack mile marker 10.2- This place does close fairly early in the afternoon so do be aware of that. The first day when we drove by at about 3-4pm it was closed. We stopped here on our way back from Hana closer to 11:30-noon and it was open. The chicken and ribs are both really good! This is a simple place, just a parking lot with some picnic tables and two guys working the grill. Doesn’t look like much but it is worth a stop!

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Halfway to Hana Stand mile marker 17- This small stand has coffee, water, juice, snacks and great banana bread! This was our breakfast after staying at the YMCA.

Nahiku Marketplace/food trucks mile marker 29- There are multiple options for food here, we arrived around 11 AM when everything was just opening up. We had some great BBQ. There is also a small gift shop here if you would like to pick something up to take home with you. If you can plan to be here later in the afternoon then all the options would be open for you.

Thai food by Pranee in Hana mile marker 34- This place is amazing! It is right in Hana. We got food to go from here for dinner the night we were camping in the Kipahulu Distric of Haleakala National Park. We would highly recommend eating here!

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A few other random tips:

Bring bug spray!

Bring snacks because as we said, depending on what time of day you drive by these places food stands and shops may or may not be open.

Be aware that you will lose cell phone service shortly into the drive so download any maps or information you think you may need before you start the drive.

One last recommendation we have is to download the GyPSy Guide app for Hana. It costs $5-6 but is totally worth it. Open the app and once you start driving the guide will begin talking. You will get some history and general information about the area as you drive. The guide will also point out each stop for you with a bit of information to help you decide if you want to stop or not. All the stops along the road are not super well marked so it would be very easy to miss things without the guide telling you when to stop.  Also of note, we have listed the closest mile marker for each stop but some of these stops are not right at the mile marker. You will have to keep your eyes open for where each stop is truly located.

 

Take your time and enjoy the drive!
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– TFWY’s

Galicia and Rias Baixas

Galicia is the far northwest corner of Spain, above Portugal. It is full of small fishing villages, rugged and beautiful coastlines and not a lot of tourists. This part of Spain is also home to the Rias Baixas wine region where the Albarino grape is grown. Galicia is quite large, you could easily spend a week or two exploring this area. There are lots of great options for where to base yourself. We decided on Pontevedra as a home base since it is near the coast and fairly centrally located. The one complaint we had was the tolls around Pontevedra are pretty brutal. We have also heard great things about A Coruna which is in the northern corner of Galicia although we didn’t make it there.

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Pontevedra is a very nice little town situated along the river. We stayed right in the center of town in a lovely apartment we found on Air B and B. It was pretty overcast every day we were here and we did have one very rainy day but don’t let that deter you, the city is still beautiful! It is full of cobblestone streets and a lot of old architecture. We spent most of our time in the old part of the city just wandering around. There is no driving in the old part of the town, so you have to park then walk in. There was free parking available here:

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We would recommend these two restaurants in Pontevedra specifically:

King Omar Doner Kebab: This place is super small, they have take out or you can eat there. The kebabs are absolutely amazing! By this point in our trip we were looking for different types of food and we just wanted a quick and inexpensive dinner. This place was perfect!

IceWolf: This restaurant has international food. They have dishes from all over the world prepared with fresh ingredients from the area. We really enjoyed the scallops and the pad thai.

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The rest of our time here we ate mostly pintxos or grocery shopped and cooked in our Air B and B apartment but there are plenty of other great restaurants in the city.

We had read about and really wanted to go to the Cies Islands off the coast. There are two companies that run ferries to and from the islands. You do need to get authorization to visit the islands. They only let so many people visit each day. The dates that we were in Galicia at the end of September they were not allowing visitors so we were unable to go. If you do get a chance these islands look amazing! To obtain authorization, you need to visit this website.

Since we couldn’t visit the islands we decided to drive to the peninsula just south of Pontevedra and see what we could find. It looked like there were several beaches there so we just went for it. We ended up spending most of the afternoon out there. We happened to find a few look out points with great views of the islands called Faro de Punta Robaleira. We then kept driving and found a hiking trail. We followed that down and found a lighthouse as well as a few small, secluded beaches. We got great views of the islands and the coastline from up by the lighthouse.  From there we drove to Praia de Vino. This was one of three beaches all in a row, separated by large boulders along the coast. Every beach in this area that we stopped at we either had it to ourselves or there were only a couple other people there. Be aware, nudism seemed to be common on these beaches. If that offends you, you may want to go to the first of the three beaches (Praia de Nerga) which is closer to the town. We would recommend packing a lunch and planning to give yourself plenty of time to explore if you do head to this area!

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The next day was pretty rainy. We decided to drive to Isla de Arosa, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. There is a park on the south side of the island with hiking trails that follow the coast. As you walk you will come upon lots of small, secluded beaches. It was extremely rainy and windy while we were there but the hike was still beautiful. On a Sunny day this would be a great place to hang out on one of the beaches. After our hike we drove around the island and found a little café to stop in for lunch. We ended up having some of the best octopus we had during our entire Spain trip in this small restaurant. We also had razor clams which were delicious.

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While we were in Galicia we of course had to do some wine tasting. We have done a lot of wine tours in the past so we stuck with just two wineries this time. We chose to do the tour and tasting at Pazo Senorans. They have a traditional manor house on the property which they host weddings and other events at. We got a full tour of the house and the surrounding grounds before heading into the winery for our tasting. We really enjoyed this tour, the house is beautiful and full of history. We learned a lot about Galician traditions that we wouldn’t have learned at a more standard winery tour. We tasted their standard albarino and an aged albarino wine. They do not blend their wines with any other grapes or age their wine on oak. They focus on showing off what the albarino grape can be on it’s own using different methods during the wine making process.

We also learned here that most wineries in Galicia also make a distilled spirit called Orujo. This is distilled from the wine pomace (fermented grape skins and seeds). At Pazo Senorans we got to taste the standard spirit and one that is flavored with a blend of herbs and spices. We really enjoyed both. This is something that is unique to Galicia and definitely worth a try while you are here.

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The second winery we visited was Mar de Frades. This winery is close to the sea. You can actually see the ocean from their vineyards. Here we did your standard vineyard and winery tour which ended with a tasting. The thing that was different here was that we got to try the juice of the grapes since they had just recently finished the harvest. We also got to taste the juice about halfway through fermentation to see how it changed. We ended with a tasting out on the patio next to the vineyard. Here we tasted their standard albarino, an oaked albarino and a sparkling albarino. Our tasting was accompanied by a light snack of sardines and crackers to pair with the wine. We also were given extra wine and then given time to finish our snack and our wine out on the patio.

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Galicia has so much to offer! We only saw a small portion of it but that just gives us an excuse to go back and explore some more!

-TFWYs

 

 

 

3 Days on the Camino del Norte

We decided to do a few days on the Camino del Norte path as part of a larger northern Spain road trip. We didn’t have enough time this trip to allocate to the entire Camino, which takes about a month. We chose the del Norte path since we were already planning to travel along the northern coast and this path follows right along where we had already planned to go. We really like the ocean and so we chose a few days on the trial which follow the sea fairly closely. There are also parts of this trail that are more inland. The days on the Camino del Norte are broken up in 12-18 mile days or 20-30 km on average. We planned on doing 4 days but ended up only doing 3. Mainly because we packed way too much and after 3 days of carrying our heavy packs we were ready for a change of pace.  Here are our recommendations if you are planning on doing all or part of the path and some lessons we learned.

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  1. Pack light, you need way less than you think you do. People always say that but it is so, so true. We knew we were packing pretty heavy but we hadn’t ever done something like this and just weren’t sure what our weight limit would be. We had 65 L packs and while they weren’t completely full of stuff they were much too heavy. What feels okay when you briefly put your pack on at home and walk around will start feeling very heavy after a few miles of walking. Most people we saw had under 40 L packs.
  2. Bring snacks- lots of snacks. Siesta is no joke. If you walk all day and arrive at your destination late afternoon/evening you may not be able to find a meal for several hours. While restaurants may be open, often the kitchen won’t be open for dinner until 8 or 9pm. There may be a grocery store in the town you are staying at but sometimes they close for siesta as well. We would recommend carrying some type of snack with you each day. If you don’t have anything when you start the day we would recommend stopping when you do pass a town with a restaurant or store that is open in the afternoon. Even if you aren’t hungry right then or even if you want to just push through and finish your day we would recommend grabbing at least a small snack to tide you over until dinner time.

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  1. Take a break during the day and take your boots off! The first few days we took a few short breaks but were worried that if we took our boots off we wouldn’t want to put them back on, or it would somehow feel worse putting them back on after a break. The third day we walked we came to a large beach during the second half of our day and decided to take a bit of a longer break to sit on the beach. We took the advice of a fellow pilgrim we had talked to and took our boots off. Our feet felt so much better the rest of the walk that day having had that break out of the boots. We saw lots of people who were doing the entire Camino who had hiking boots or shoes and more of a hiking sandal that was open toed. We didn’t have that option since we only did a few days but it definitely seems like a good idea if you are going to be walking for many days in a row.
  2. Bring clothes that dry quickly. Your clothes don’t have a ton of time to dry if you are washing them when you are done walking for the day and then you head out to start walking again in the morning. Even if it isn’t raining it may be humid or cloudy which won’t help things dry. Many of the albergues along the way don’t have laundry so you will be hand washing, ringing your clothes out and then hanging them outside.

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  1. Hiking poles are SUPER helpful. This path follows the coast and has a lot of hills. Hiking poles are very helpful at taking some of the weight off your feet and giving you more stamina to get up all those hills.
  2. Take time to talk with other pilgrims on the trail or people you meet along the way. Some of our best memories from this trip are thinking back on the people we met and talked to. Even though it may have been a brief conversation over lunch it’s just nice to be with other travelers and people of like minds.

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  1. Don’t be afraid to take a detour off the path. We took a few detours during our days on the Camino, all of which were to see some of the great beaches we had read about prior to our trip. Detours will make your day of walking longer but they can be worth it! There are footpaths along the coast that are easy to follow. These trails meet back up with the official Camino trail at some point so you can get back on track
  2. Know that there are buses that travel throughout the trail as well as train stops along the way. This is good to know in case you need/want to skip a day of walking or if you need an out like we did. We are not the type of people to say we are going to do something and then not do it to the fullest. We planned to do 4 days of walking but after 3 we just needed to stop. We will need to try the camino again some day, with much, much less stuff in our packs! Know that it is okay to be honest with yourself and that doing what you need is okay.

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  1. Do train ahead of time. We did not do much training and definitely didn’t do any training with our packs. We are fairly active people and we figured since we only planned on walking a few days on the Camino we would be okay. We are pretty busy at home, especially in the summer and we took this trip in September. So getting out for longer walks consistently just didn’t happen. We learned the hard way that being active and in shape is different than being prepared to walk all day with a heavy backpack on.
  2. Slow down your travel! This is probably the most important tip or lesson for us. This is actually a big part of what drew us to include a few days of walking the Camino in our trip. We tend to cram a lot into our trips because we want to see and do so much. We only have so much time in a given place and we don’t want to waste it. Walking forces you to slow down since there is literally nothing else to do except walk and take in your surroundings. You are walking to pretty small towns each day so when you reach your destination each evening there isn’t a list of things you must see and do in that town. The thing to do is to relax and take in the feel of the place you are in, to just enjoy it. We put our few days of walking towards the beginning of our trip to help get us into the slower pace and we do feel like it helped. The rest of our trip we did see and do a lot but we also took time to just be in whatever city or town we were in.

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  1. You will learn more about yourself and what is important to you. Another thing you hear a lot with the Camino but it is true! You have nothing but time when you are walking. Time to think, to dream, to plan, time to be with yourself or in our case with each other. We could tell how much this trip really changed us when we got home. We purged our entire house of things we didn’t need. We downsized our hobbies and other things in our life to allow us to focus on the things that are most important to us. Travel should challenge you and change you, on both of those fronts the camino certainly delivers!

If you chose to do the entire Camino or just a few days like we did hopefully these tips/lessons will help you. We would love to go back and try it again, packing much lighter so we can make it more than 3 days! Even though we didn’t do as well with the Camino as we had hoped it was still a good experience for us.

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Buen Camino to anyone heading out!

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-TFWYs

Visiting Haro: Rioja’s Wine Capital

We clearly love wine so of course our northern Spain trip would have to include a stop in Rioja to do some wine tasting. We based ourselves in Haro since it is surrounded by many of the wineries.
We have done many wine and winery tours so this time we were looking for something different. We only booked one tour ahead of time; Bodegas Conde de los Andes. We chose this winery because the tour went through their wine caves. The rest of our time we planned to just find one or two more wineries where we could just taste or have a glass of wine and relax.
The tour at Bodegas Conde de los Andes was very different than most wine tours we have been on. Typically you go through the vineyard and the winery and are educated on the wine making process, then you end with your tasting. At Bodegas Conde de los Andes you immediately go down into their wine caves and actually spend most of your tour in the caves. You are given education about the history of the caves and the wine in them as well as some education about their more modern day wines. We were super excited that about half way through the tour we stopped at a beautiful cave and actually got to taste a bottle of their 2005 vintage that had been aging. Our small group was just us and one other couple along with our guide. The five of use shared this entire bottle and then the tour continued through the caves. We thought that was the tasting and we were really happy with the wine. But then the tour continued on through the caves and concluded in the modern part of their winery with a tasting of two newer bottles. This tasting was accompanied by snacks  (almonds, iberico ham, chocolate) to pair with the wines. Our guide explained a little about each wine we were tasting and then gave us time to enjoy the wine and the food on our own. We would highly recommend this tour to winos or anyone else visiting the area. The caves are a bit chilly so we would recommend bringing a light jacket or sweatshirt with you. If you don’t have a jacket or sweater the staff will offer you a vest to help you stay warm in the caves. There are some narrow hallways were only one person can walk through at a time but other than that none of the caves are super small or claustrophobic.

 

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We also stopped at Bodegas Muga which has a modern tasting room where you can taste their wines without having to do an entire tour. The tasting room was full of tourists from all over while we were there. Here they had a set flight so you tasted four of their reds and your fifth wine you could chose from two of their roses or a white. We really enjoyed all of the wines we tasted here.  Our last stop was CVNE, here we chose to taste two different reds which again we really enjoyed both.  They have multiple tasting options if you wanted to taste more than we did. For a quick lunch near the wineries we would recommend Asador Cerveceria Tirondoa. This place is nothing fancy but they had great fried chicken!
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Haro is a small city that is very walkable. There is a central square where you will find lots of places to sit and enjoy a glass of wine and a tapa or small snack. There are also several wine shops in the city where you can find a great variety of Spanish wines. Our last night in the city we had dinner at Restaurante Arrope and would highly recommend it.

 

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There are plenty of other wineries in Rioja to explore as well. We spent our time in Haro but have heard that Logrono is also a great place to base yourself for exploring Rioa. Either way you are sure to have some really wonderful wines!

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-TFWYs

Visiting San Juan de Gatzelugatxe

San Juan de Gatzelugatxe for anyone who doesn’t know, is an island off of Spain’s northern coast. It’s in Basque country near Bilbao and San Sebastian. The island is connected to the mainland by a manmade bridge. On top of the island is a small church dedicated to John the Baptist.

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When we first saw pictures of San Juan de Gatzelugatxe we knew we had to visit while we were in Northern Spain! The place just looks incredible.  We later learned this place was also featured on Game of Thrones so it recently has been getting more tourists for that reason. We didn’t watch the show but we can certainly say that this place is beautiful! As long as you are up for a hike it is definitely worth a visit! We visited as a day trip from San Sebastian which was very doable. It was a little over an hour drive from the city. It is much closer to Bilbao so if you are planning to visit both of those cities it would be easier to get to San Juan de Gatzelugatxe from Bilbao.

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A more recent change to this place is that you now need a ticket to enter. The tickets were free of cost when we visited. You can book online ahead of time and then just scan your pass to enter. If you don’t book ahead of time you can get your tickets when you arrive but there will likely be a line you need to wait in to register for your tickets. We arrived just before 10 AM and then line was pretty small but having booked online we got to skip right through. Online it says this place opens to visitors at 10AM however there were people already at the top when we started our walk so they had to have let people in early. We would highly recommend getting there right when it opens so that you can be there before the crowds. Get your tickets here: http://web.bizkaia.eus/es/gaztelugatxe

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You will get great views of the church and the island as you walk the path down from the parking area to the start of the stairs. Then the real climb begins as you walk up the 231 steps up to the church. The staircase is pretty steep for much of the climb and fairly narrow. You will pretty much be walking single file. There are handrails the entire way but we would not recommend doing this walk if you do have mobility difficulties. The steps are cobblestone and uneven at times making it a bit challenging to navigate, wear good shoes for sure! The views of the surrounding coastline as you walk up are incredible, you will want to stop for pictures along the way! Once you are at the top you can see the church and if you would like ring the bell three times and make a wish. Total time it took us to walk from the entrance all the way up to the church and back down was about an hour and a half. We did see a small café and there was an ice cream truck setting up by the parking lot when we got back to our car. We didn’t eat at the café so cannot comment on the food or pricing but know that it is an option for after you hike.

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For more recommendations on what to do in the surrounding cities of San Sebastian and Bilbo check out our other blog posts here:

San Sebastian

Bilbao

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-TFWYs