First time unlucky…
Last time we attempted a weekend at a lake in Spain, it was essentially a non starter. I do love a lake, and Parque Ardales had seemed like a perfect option for a family camping trip. It was less than an hour and a half from our home in La Duquesa, and what would be better than drinking in the tranquility of lake edge dwelling, as our kids happily splashed around without the worry of being swept away by the waves?
Camp Ardales is the only accommodation with direct reservoir access within the locality, so seven years ago we arrived with a car full of camping toot and a heart full of expectation. Unfortunately, we left twenty minutes later with said ‘toot’ untouched and two very tetchy kids. Why? Because we were offered the last plot with electric, set on a steep hill, nestled among the washing lines and extended kitchens of the large Spanish families who had settled there for the weekend. Notwithstanding the fact that our tent would not even have fit in the plot, there was no way that I was going to be able to let my one and three year old roam around freely. And I couldn’t even have guaranteed that I, myself, would have made it to the toilet block in the night without garrotting myself on a guy rope or rolling down the hillside for an involuntary dip in the lake.
I hasten to add, that this was our fault, and not that of the park. With hindsight, I would have a) booked a plot (although many sites don’t allow pre-bookings in Spain for some reason), and b) (the more probable) b) chosen a campsite with a flatter terrain and thus more suitable for small children.
Retrying the lake in Spain. Second time luckier?
So, seven years later with a now eight and ten year old, we felt confident to retry our break at the lake in Spain at Camp Ardales once again. This time, we stayed for two nights, as opposed to twenty minutes. We booked in one of the lodges as we still need to reignite our camping vibes after last summer’s camping trip. Last year, we started out in a tent in Portugal, but crowds and snoring and flies and lack of anything to eat but pork meant that we ended up upgrading to an apartment by the time we got to Lisbon. And we haven’t slept under canvas since.
The lodges hugely exceeded our expectations; the pictures on the booking websites really didn’t do it justice. It was sparkling clean, bigger than expected and with gorgeous lake and forest views that really weren’t promoted enough in its marketing. The site was much quieter this time around (we visited May 2021), but some of the pitches were even steeper than I remembered them. There were family groups dotted around, but I would recommend the pitches on the other side of the site just beyond the RV pitches, and personally, I wouldn’t take children under six.
Accessing the lake in Spain
When we booked, the main reason was to christen our newly purchased paddleboard; to celebrate this new wholesome family hobby that we had just embarked on. The paddleboard never arrived (it genuinely disappeared into some sort of Amazon.es black hole where it is probably surrounded by spare chargers and electric toothbrush heads). Unperturbed by this minor blot in our plans, we contacted the onsite water sports company Indian Sports who was responsive to our (Google Translated) messages. The average hire rate was between ten and fifteen euros per hour and he had a good selection of SUPs, kayaks and pedal boats. The guy basically sits on his deckchair at the edge of the lake every day with a fairly decent selection of fun flotation devices; I would recommend pre-booking for larger parties and/or during busy periods.
Now, the edge of the lake is fondly called a beach by the campsite staff. A beach it is not. I was expecting gentle sandy slopes where the kids could frolic around, dipping their toes into the lake whilst I read a book reclined on my deckchair. Not so. Whilst not ridiculously steep, you do essentially have to climb down a rocky hill to access the lake. The only way to pitch up a deck chair was to either steal the only spot from Mr. Indian Sports, or to put the front legs of the chair in the lake and put recline on full to sit bolt upright.
Despite all of this ‘rockiness’ and my enforced ninety degree angle, when I did sit down, I exhaled a giant breath of relaxation as I cast my eye across this beautiful expanse of water. Rings were inflated and my kids alternated between floating around and exploring the rugged shoreline. I did however have to repeatedly point out to my son that throwing large rocks from the top of the ravine was never going to end well. And I also had to smile sweetly at them as they were bobbing around in their rings, blissfully unaware that a sea snake was meandering past us all.
We rented out an SUP and a pedal boat during our time at the lake in Spain. The SUP was excellent-particularly for beginners like us, as it was a rigid board and super sturdy (unlike the inflatable one that we learnt on that literally tested us to the core). It is an awful lot easier paddle boarding in a lake too, although several loud arguments of the paddle to the head variety led me to realise that both kids on one board was a non-starter.
The pedal boat was ok-I didn’t partake in that particular venture, although it did veer worryingly to the right (the side that my husband was sitting) and there were complaints about the excess water swooshing around at the bottom, although I feel that this probably added to the fun, as I do actually find pedal boats pretty dull if I’m honest.
Clouds and gambas
Unusually for May, the weather was quite overcast on the second day, so we ventured out to the small town of Ardales (a ten minute drive) for lunch. We ate at Bar El Mellizo, which had a tasty selection of Spanish fare for a reasonable price, plumping for gambas pil pil (garlic prawns),’ albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce) and huevos rotos (chips topped with serrano ham and a fried egg). I’m glad that we had a larger lunch than we intended, as the offerings at the camp site shop were extremely meagre, unless you’re like my husband who is like some war child throwback with his love of tinned delicacies.
Two nights was enough for us, especially without the wall to wall sunshine that we had greedily expected. I think that the non-arrival of the paddleboard was a blessing in disguise, as it was an awful lot easier to rent one than to carry it down with my wobbly rock navigating footwork. Also, my husband’s bright idea to bring the Amazon Firestick was a great idea for the evenings. Much as I like watching Spanish Scooby Doo to brush up on my linguistic skills, I did prefer making our acquaintance with the delightfully addictive Netflix series Lupin. Which in addition, had the welcome benefit of distracting me from my spam sandwich supper.
Thank you for reading my post, I would love to hear your comments, questions and feedback. Click here to read my other blog post about camping in Spain, or for a different outlook, check out this one where I reflect on the ‘fails’ behind my seemingly perfect travel photos! Take care Nuggeteers! Kathryn @tripinnuggets