Our First Wild Camp In Spain! Costa Del Azahar
Well, we did it. We found our first real, honest-to-goodness boondocking (or rather “wild camping” as they call it over here) spot in Europe!
It was exquisite, a true gem, exactly the kind of wild and raw place you dream about, and yet it was only a few miles from the local town. It was also not at all what we expected. I mean we’d always hoped to find a spot like this in Europe but in our heart of hearts we never really thought we would.
Europe Has More Nature Than You’d Expect
Folks who’ve never travelled this side of the pond often have this impression of Europe (and mind you it’s not completely wrong) that it’s much more crowded with far less wide open space than the USA. That’s certainly true if you stick to the larger cities or travel to the more touristy areas, but it’s not even close to the whole story.
Even my own experience of Europe’s wildest places is somewhat limited. During the time I lived here I was either going to school or working, busy with “regular life” and sticking mostly to bigger areas. I did explore a bit, but I didn’t spend early as much time in Europe’s deepest nature as I could.
In reality, in-between all the density and the areas with people there is TRUE nature in Europe, LOTS of true nature…
I see it from our home in France, in the form of the ragged peaks of the Pyrenees that run for hundreds of miles across the horizon. I see it on Google maps when I roam around (I call it “virtual dream travel”) in the form of thousands of natural parks dotted all throughout the continent. And yes we saw it on the coast of Spain, only a few hours south of Barcelona.
In fact this little stretch of coast is known as one of the wildest and untouched in the country.
We Are In The Costa Del Azahar
When folks talk about the Spanish coast they always talk about Costa so-and-so. It seems every little corner of the coast has it’s own name and when you get down here, you quickly learn that every little bit of coast has it’s own reputation too.
Some of the the spots are super well-known, and in turn highly visited. For example Costa Del Sol, near the very southern tip of the country is an extremely popular tourist destination, and generally packed with foreigners no matter what time of year. Those spots are gorgeous, and the weather is amazing (especially in winter) so it’s no surprise that they’re popular. But if you’re looking for a slice of desolate nature all to yourself they may not be the first place to go.
Other spots are far less well-known, and in turn much quieter. The Costa Del Azahar is one of those places. It’s a slice of coast in the province of Castellón, named for the flor of Alzahar, the fragrant flower of the orange blossom. It’s home to smallish beach towns, mountains and rugged coastline, including the 7,744 hectare Serra d’Irta Natural Park. This is where we decided to try our hand at wild camping in LMB for the first time.
First-Time Boondocking Is Always A Bit Nerve-Wracking
Despite all our previous boondocking experience (I mean we did it at least 3 months every year we lived in “the beast” in the USA), I have to admit that trying it in Europe for the first time in our brand new rig was rather petrifying.
First of all we had no idea what to expect. Would sites be easy to find? Would the road be OK? We weren’t towing a car so we had no way to scout it out ahead of time. Plus most folks seem to wild-camp in vans, and we were in a motorhome (a MINI motorhome, but a motorhome nonetheless) without a ton of ground clearance. Would we even be able to get into any of the spots? Lastly we didn’t really know what the rules were, or how boondockers interact with each other over here. Basically we were complete wild-camping newbies…
We Scouted Out As Much As We Could On The Internet
Thankfully the modern age has given us tools for this kind of thing, and our previous experience does help us a bit too.
The first thing we did was check Park4Night, IMO the best all-encompassing tool for finding camping spots in Europe. This app is kinda like Campendium, RVParkReviews and AllStays all wrapped into one and it contains a TON of information. Not only does it show regular campgrounds, but it also shows parking spots (both day-time and overnight), Aires (semi-developed parking areas) and wild camping locations. It offers an incredible amount of choice and has become the first place we check for anywhere we want to go.
Park4Night showed several possible choices around Peñíscola.
Our next thing was to scout out the sites & roads using Google Maps in “Satellite” mode. This was always one of the first things we did when we were trying to fing boondocking in the USA, and although it’s never a perfect science, it’s certainly helpful. You can’t really tell if the road is rutted or steep, but by zooming in you can get a pretty good idea of how wide the road is, how large(ish) the boondocking sites are and whether there are open spots where it looks like you can potentially turn around. We bookmarked several potential sites and then we went for it…..
Our first attempt was a solid fail. We started off down a dirt road that initially looked promising, but progressively became more rutted and steep to the point that we weren’t comfortable going any further. We’re still figuring out the limits of our new rig and are not quite ready to take her 4-wheeling, at least not yet. Thankfully we found a little pull-out and decided to take that opportunity to do a careful 12-point turn-around and make our way back. Back on solid ground….phew!
Our next attempt did the job. We went down another dirt road, found a pretty decent site and immediately parked. Then we walked further down the road to scout out by foot, found a few better sites and one FABULOUS site. We high-tailed it back to get the rig and parked up.
We’d done it! We’d found our first wild-camping site in Europe and honestly it was frikkin’ amazing!
What A Spot!!!
Our site was simply speaking, breathtaking.
We were parked on some rugged rock formations by the edge of the sea. We could hear the sound of waves crashing at our doorstep, and had full 180-degree water views from the rig. To the front was the gorgeous town of Peñíscola, white and glistening in the sun, to the side the wild blue ocean of the Mediterranean, and to the rear the spectacular coastal mountains of El Parque Natural De La Serra d’Irta, rolling in waves of green and hazy blue towards the horizon.
We were on a dead-end dirt road (almost zero traffic), so we could walk along the coast from our site in complete peace, exploring the nooks and crannies of small beaches and beautiful views. It was quiet and private, with only a few other rigs around, all parked respectfully at distance from each other. At sunset, the sky lit up in swirls of red and orange, and the flash of a lighthouse greeted us from the peninsula.
OMG…It was literally one of the most beautiful boondocking sites we had ever been in!
We Ease Right Into “Boondocking Mode”
It didn’t take long for us to ease into “boondocking mode”.
I don’t know exactly how to describe this thing that happens when you park a rig in nature, but it’s a kind of vibe or pace that you adopt when you’re out in the boonies. If you’re the kind of person that likes all the finer amenities of life it might feel horribly primitive and restrictive, but if you’re the boondocking type it’s like slipping into silken sheets; smooth, comfortable and incredibly luxurious.
Of course there’s the practical side of things, like conserving water (you have to adapt to taking “cat baths”, washing dishes with minimal water and only flushing the loo when you need to), minimizing trash and watching your power usage. That takes some experience, but isn’t hard to learn.
The other side of it is the spiritual side of things, the stuff that sings to your soul if you’re open enough to listen to it. It’s about the surrounding nature, the sounds and colors of the landscape, the feel of the earth and the warmth of the sun. You feel different when you immerse yourself in natural beauty like this, and if you allow yourself to give into it, you will be transformed.
The paws feel it too…
The dog immediately made herself at home on a dirt patch overlooking the ocean and fell into the kind of deep doggie-snoring sleep that only pooches can do. At times she kicked her legs, likely dreaming about chasing squirrels along the sand.
The cats also got into it. They wanted to come outside almost as soon as the rig parked, raising their head to sniff the sea air and jumping from rock to rock exploring secret scents and chasing insects only they could see. After their little outing they also fell into a a deep feline snore-sleep, cuddling together like they did as kittens, the first time they’d felt that comfortable since we started back on the road.
As the sun set I went for a solo bike-ride, losing myself deeply in the colors and curves of the coast, while Paul hung outside the rig and had a beer, enjoying the sound and rhythm of the ocean. We had a simple dinner (steak and salad), shared some wine and watched, mesmerized, as the lighthouse beam swept it’s signal across the violet-blue sea. Sheer perfection!
We Meet Other Wild-Campers
While we were in our site we also met other folks.
We chatted a few times to the guys parked closest to us. They were French tent-campers who’d been coming here for years, staying a week at a time before moving on. We exchanged camping stories, and they gave us some tips for other areas of Spain. Nice guys, and super friendly just like boondockers we’d met when we were traveling in the USA.
A few of the other rigs we waived to, but didn’t meet. Again, pretty much exactly like boondocking in the USA. Some folks wild-camp to be entirely by themselves, whereas others like to chat. Wild-camping etiquette is pretty much identical to boondocking etiquette, and it didn’t take us long at all to figure that out. We were perfectly at home.
But We Have A Small Black Tank
It also didn’t take us long to figure out that LMB is Black Tank limited.
Unlike the massive black tank we had in “the beast” (which could last us weeks in the boonies), the little cassette toilet that we have in LMB can really only last ~4 days before it needs to be emptied. It’s safe to say that in our mini-rig fresh water, grey water and electricity (we have solar & lithium batteries) are not issues, but when the poop tank is full it’s the end of the party and we’ve gotta move on and find somewhere to dump it (and yes, I know I still owe you that “spec” blog with all the cool details of LMB….it’ll come).
In truth, we didn’t stay long enough to test the limits of our wild-camping tanks this time around.
You see we had a date with Peñíscola, in another fab little Spanish campground and we were keen to check out this amazing-looking town. The days we spent there ended up being one of the highlights of our trip, and well worth the few Euros we paid to stay in comfort close-by.
That story, coming up next…SPONSORED LINK:
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