The adventure started at Heathrow. As previously, we stayed at the Hilton T5 and met up with my brother, this time for a fabulous meal at Mr Todiwalah’s Kitchen – the most delicious Indian food you can imagine! We’ve had the odd hassle with accessible rooms at this hotel in the past but last time and this, they’ve given us the sort of room we wanted, with a proper wet room style shower.
Some months previously, BA had contacted us to say that the flight had been put back a couple of hours, which meant that the next day we had loads of time to kill, so we had a very leisurely breakfast, packed up then did some reading until it was time to go to the airport.
A week or so earlier, we had phoned the airline, as they suggest you do, to check that there was no problem with them transporting my Powerchair (this was the first time we’d travelled with it, having previously taken my Luggie scooter with us). They assured us that this was fine, so we were slightly annoyed if not entirely surprised when we went to the Special Assistance check-in desk to find that they had no record of the details we had given over the phone and did not know much about this particular sort of battery. They even suggested we rang the manufacturers to get more details! Eventually, after two different more senior members of staff had been summoned they decided it was fine and even gave us a code to identify the battery for future journeys, which did in fact prove useful on our return. Seriously could have done without the stress though!
There was so little time between the gate being announced and boarding commencing that I didn’t get to board first, but ended up being transported past everybody who had been asked to wait. A while ago, I might have felt rather embarrassed about this; now I just tend to think that if this is how it has to be, then so be it! This was in an airport wheelchair from which I was then transferred to the on-board wheelchair which they then lift onto the aircraft, having strapped you in as if you are about to do a parachute jump! Not great, but it gets you to your seat.
Arrived at Bilbao, we then had to pick up the hire car. I have no idea why picking up a hire car has to take so long, – they were taking about 30 minutes per person so we must have waited at least an hour plus of course the time it took to deal with us. We had specifically requested an ordinary, low car and an estate because of having to lift the Powerchair in and out. Despite a member of staff when we booked saying the details of our request would be passed on, there did not appear to be any record of this but they did their best to accommodate us and at least we ended up with a low car.
Off we set, armed with our AA directions which had served us well before in Spain. However, we should have consulted a map at the same time! Lesson learned! Knowing we were fairly likely to be late, I had e-mailed the hotel, the Parador de Argómaniz, sometime before to explain and they had said to ring them if we were going to be later than 11 as that’s when the restaurant closes and they would save us some food. I rang them once we were on our way and gave them an idea of when we might arrive and they asked what food we would like them to have ready for us. This was before we went haring off on the wrong road and had to come back, eventually getting ourselves back on track and arriving at 12:20. This of course isn’t particularly late for Spain, but even so, we were quite tired by then so the omelette and huge plate of chorizo, jamón etc and of course a drink were very welcome indeed!
Our room was a decent size and comfortable, with wide doorways and a few grabrails in the bathroom, although the shower stool was just an ordinary stool and not the most supportive thing!
Breakfast was varied – eggs, cold meat, cereals, bread, fruit, yogurts, served in the restaurant on the top floor, with its amazing wooden beamed ceiling. We spent the next day mainly relaxing out on the terrace enjoying the peace and quiet and looking at the wonderful view except when it got too hot – but that’s why they invented siestas! They may be dying out but when you’re on holiday…
Dinner was also in the fabulous dining room with plenty of choices of local food and wine and pleasant staff who were quite happy to provide me with a copy of the menu to bring home to show my students!
The next day, after another great breakfast we checked out and headed for Vitoria to find a supermarket which we had previously looked up on the internet. According to Google maps it was accessed via a service road but after several fruitless steps to find this and asking directions from people who didn’t know where it was, somebody finally told us you reach it via a slip road off the main road! Then it was very easy to find, so we stocked up and headed for Getaria. This time Google maps and Streetview had been really useful as we knew exactly which road to take and which landmarks to look out for and found Epotx Etxea easily. We sat on the terrace in the shade (it was over 30°) and marvelled at the view, before the owners’ son arrived and showed us around, then it was time for a cuppa and a relax!
In the morning we were up early and there was the most stunning sunrise – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sunrise as red as a sunset! The plan was to do no driving that day so we simply revelled in the lovely surroundings, the amazing view and the sunshine. The most strenuous thing we needed to do was wave at the owners as they came and went in their car!
Andrés, the owner, who I had corresponded with over the booking, came and introduced himself and we chatted about the house and surroundings. There are vineyards all around, in fact, Mahastí is the local Basque word for vineyard and there was a home produced bottle of the local white wine, txacolí, in the fridge. In the gardens there is a lemon tree, an orange tree, (I thought it was a lime as the fruit was still green!) a fig and a grapefruit tree. Andrés said to help ourselves so dinner one night involved lemon juice with the smallest carbon footprint imaginable! Thunder and lightning heralded some cooler weather.
Andrés also recommended where to go to get postcards, so the next day we headed down to explore Getaria (spotted the restaurant featured in The Trip to Spain, I think!) and to buy postcards. Getaria is definitely a working port and, I have to say not the most beautiful place in parts although it does have an old town but I’m not sure how accessible that is and a lot of it is cobbled. It also has a small beach and even beach wheelchairs.
Then it was on to Zumaia where we parked and explored the riverside promenade, clearly a popular place for a stroll. During the afternoon, back at the house, Maikar, Andrés’ wife came and introduced herself – we couldn’t have asked for friendlier hosts – happy to chat and to advise when asked but not intrusive: just perfect!
The next morning it was raining again but it cleared up and we headed for Zarautz to see what it was like, post some cards and buy some more. At first I thought we’d go after lunch then I remembered that of course small shops in Spain don’t reopen until about half past four, so that’s when we went and, yes, they were just about reopening by then – quite reassuring to find out that some things don’t change! At one point, naughtily, we parked by a bus stop (not blocking anything, I hasten to add) while Pete ran into the tourist office and the police came over and nearly gave us a fine. Playing dumb and asking for some directions got them onside and they let us off!
The next day, Friday, was our final day and quite hazy and warm. We went back to Zarautz, parked in the car park near the front as recommended by the tourist information lady the previous day and went out onto a terrace overlooking the sea. From there we could see the long promenade or Malecón, so we headed there via a pedestrian street and realised that this area of the town at least is very wheelchair friendly.
The Malecón is very accessible, mainly smooth and with plenty of benches and cafés along its length. Apparently there is some sort of accessible wooden boardwalk – we didn’t manage to spot it, but there was plenty of promenade to explore anyway. We couldn’t resist having a pintxo of tortilla de patata and freshly squeezed orange juice at an outdoor café, looking at the sea and the ratón, the mouse-like promontory at Getaria.
That evening, Andrés and Maikar made a point of coming to say goodbye and explained that we were their first booking ever through Handiscover, a website of accessible properties that puts you in contact with the owner. It was useful for finding Mahastí, but if we were to go again, I’d book directly as it would be cheaper.
Saturday was check-out day. We hadn’t done very much on this holiday but that actually suited me fine! Last time we visited Spain, we stayed in five different places, but this time I didn’t fancy all the packing and unpacking and getting used to new places that that would involve as it is rather tiring.
I had investigated online an accessible nature reserve that wasn’t too far away which we might have done, but when it came to it, just exploring the local towns was quite enough. People often make the joke that you sometimes come back from holiday so tired you need another holiday, which was what I wanted to avoid and what with the airport hassles and getting lost it wasn’t quite as smooth as I had imagined, but of course you don’t remember those things afterwards. I’m mainly remembering the lovely view and the warm welcome from Andrés and Maikar.
Anyway, we packed up and drove to the airport with no problems. Dropped off the car and went to the Special Assistance desk where the code we had been given at Heathrow for the chair proved useful and we didn’t have too much of a wait to get checked in. On the way out, we had had to pay extra for one of the bags (we were so dismayed that we hadn’t realised you have to pay in advance – perhaps this was why they let us off paying for both bags!). This time, I had gone online and paid for the bags in advance which cost slightly less. It had somehow passed us by that this ruling had been brought in.
The return flight only required one wheelchair transfer, from mine to the in-flight chair and we were boarded first. Off last of course but this can’t really be helped. My brother picked us up from the airport and we all had a cuppa and cake at the hotel! Rather poor selection of cakes for a Hilton on a Saturday afternoon but you can’t have everything – the restaurant at this hotel seems to have gone upmarket since we last here and our evening meal was delicious.
When we checked out a week before we had mentioned that one of the folding grab rails in the bathroom didn’t stay upright when you wanted it to and of course they said they would get it seen to but when we were allocated the same room on our return, guess what? It hadn’t been fixed!
Drove home the next day: no problems, stopping just once at Donnington service station – very civilised indeed, much less crowded than a lot of service stations and it even has some outdoor seating at the back away from the carpark. On the way down we had stopped at Tibshelf and Northampton services, both of which were very good. I never used to remember which services were better or worse than any others but I do now. Whether that’s because I have an eye to reviewing things or simply because I notice things like easy entrances or user-friendliness more now that it is a bit more vital, I don’t know! Donnington had an M&S, so we even arrived home with milk for a cup of tea and something for dinner!
I suppose if you want to go somewhere on holiday that’s green you may get rain but on the whole I think it’s worth it. I would rather look at lush green countryside than parched, arid countryside which can be impressive but isn’t quite so pretty. Also, there’s something very relaxing about being at the seaside! I certainly recommend this area as a place to visit and definitely recommend Epotx Etxea for somewhere to stay and Mahastí if you need it to be accessible.