Monday, 22 February 2016

Beautiful Portugal

Beautiful Portugal

Sunday 14th February 2016

Following our night tucked up on the Campismo Campsite near Praia de Luz we decided to visit the Monchique Mountains - specifically the observatory at the top.  But first we had to extricate the T4rdis from it’s very snug pitch - no problem - John just shunted a couple of times in his 6 inches of spare space, and hey presto, out we popped!  

Now, we did hesitate in our consideration of our destination today because the weather had remained wet and windy, but we'd discovered from our Aires book that there was a free Aire at the top of the mountain, and it also added that it was an easy and beautiful drive up! However, the book obviously hadn't reckoned on Mrs Snoopy (our sat nav).  All started well as we left the campsite and followed her directions, but we hadn't gone far before we found ourselves rolling along roads that had a very poor surface, then they became narrower, and then in places the tarmac disappeared altogether and the roads resembled little more than dirt tracks.  I asked John for his advise on how to describe them for this blog - he stated “as rough as f..k”! but I didn’t think I ought to put that - lets just say they were just very badly maintained!  In the end it turned out that Mrs Snoopy hadn't taken us up the recommended way - she had just gone the shortest way - I think she’d  led us up ‘the garden path’ or maybe that should be ‘the farmers track’

Oh, and did I mention the wind and rain!  As we ascended the mountain road, not only did I have to cling on to my seat because of the precipitous views, but we also had to contend with the van being jostled by the every increasing power of the wind, and by the time we got to the top it was almost impossible to get out to see the vistas due to the difficulty of standing upright.  So to fortify ourselves before leaving the T4rdis we had a quick coffee, but even that was a challenge because the van was rocking so much that waves formed on the top resulting in extreme danger of the hot liquid slopping over the sides.   In the end we did manage a quick 5 minute circuit of the summit but it was very cold and the views were somewhat obscured by light mist - we quickly decided we wouldn't be staying overnight.  

If you look very carefully you might just about make out The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve - one of
Portugal's major racing circuits

So, then it was time for the second challenge of the day - our return journey down the mountain, but we didn't follow the same route on the way down.   This resulted in Mrs Snoopy having a hissy fit because we were  ignoring her directions, but as we proceeded though the narrow streets of Monchique we knew that we'd soon be on the much better main road that would take us down into Portimao and then on to Alvor for lunch.  Here there was a small commercial Aire, that after all the rain,  resembled a quagmire, and next to it a very well presented parking area that numerous motorhomes had pitched on as their preferred option!   

By the time we'd eaten the sun was peaking out, and although the wind was still gale force, we decided we might be able to sneak a walk in and dodge the showers - wrong!  We hadn't gone far along the beach when another deluge raced in across the ocean and soaked us through - but it didn’t last long and by the time we’d walked back along a wooden walkway that runs behind the beach the wind had blown us dry.

We considered staying put for the night, but as it was still only 3 'ish, and as we'd decided we might walk a bit of The Fisherman’s Trail that starts near the Cape St. Vincent lighthouse, we decided to return to the car park that we'd stopped in on Friday night.  The 50 odd kilometres that we had to travel soon flashed by and we quickly found ourselves parked up, but the wind and rain continued  - we would  just have to keep our fingers crossed that it wouldn't scupper our planned walk tomorrow.   

Monday 15th February 2016

Well the hooley didn’t stop - I think this is possibly the worst bit of whether we've had since setting off 6 months ago!  The wind and rain had continued to slam into the T4rdis all night, but maybe we’re getting used to it, because although it had disturbed us at times, we both felt we'd slept fairly well.

Happily, by the time we got up the sun was shining, so although the wind was still gusting we decided to continue with our walk as planned.  However, we did wrap up warm with thermal trousers, fleeces, hats, coats and gloves, and it was a very good job, because once we were outside it proved to be quite cold.  We moved the T4rdis to the start of the walk and set off along the precipitous coastal path but our progress was quite slow.  This was because the path was extremely rough and rocky, (marked as difficulty ‘4 boots’) and the scenery was stunning - it would have been a huge  trip risk to marvel at the scenery as we walked, so very frequent stops were the order of the day.  And then the rain came - huge pelting drops along with marble size hail stones that stung as they struck, and we were heading straight into the wind!  The only thing we could do was stop and turn our backs on it, and luckily because it was so windy it soon passed us by and then dried us out.

We continued our walk for about an hour passing fantastic vistas, beautiful fauna and wild flowers, and an occasional pet memorial, but then because the skies looked laden we decided to turn back - but too late!  The rain lashed down, but at least this time, because it was on our backs, we could keep walking.  By the time we got back to the T4rdis we were soaked, me not so bad because I’d worn my waterproof coat, but John only had a wind proof coat on - he had to be wrung out good and proper (he even had wet pants!)

We spent the rest of the day snug and warm in the T4rdis admiring the views of the wild ocean, and later the skies started to clear - hopefully tomorrow might be a better day.

Tuesday 16th February 2016

The wind finally abated today and we were also treated to warm sunshine for our onward journey.  Today we were heading further North, specifically to the little town of Porto Covo, were we had identified an Aire so that we could perform the T4rdis’s much needed ablutions, however, on the way we made several stops.   

The first one was at Odeceixe.  We stopped  by The River Seixe for coffee and then wandered around the village where we found more information boards about long distance walks and places of interest that are available within the area.  This proved to be very useful info, because at the moment we have very little access to the internet so making sure we’re not missing anything can be difficult. The boards identified a place called Cabo Sardao - an area on the coast where storks build their nests and rear there young, so we reprogrammed Mrs Snoopy so that we could include a quick visit in our itinerary.  When we arrived it was quite obvious that the place was undergoing major refurbishment and there were several boarded walkways that took you out to view points over the cliffs, but it wasn’t quite finished, and as far as we could see there was only one pair of storks nesting.  However, we were treated to some impressive fly byes and the views of the cliffs and crags, along with the crashing waves made it all well worth a visit.

From there we continued on towards Porto Covo, and as we neared our destination Mrs Snoopy directed us to drive along  a narrow bumpy coastal road that had magnificent views over lovely  long sandy beaches with rocky crags and coves.  The ocean was breathtaking and it was obvious that the pending sunset would be a wonderful sight to see, so with this in mind we made a quick visit to the Aire to do said ablutions, but then turned tail and went back to a parking area right beside the ocean with a plan to stay overnight.  The sunset was as lovely as we'd imagined it would be, and when we woke the next morning we pulled up our blinds to find a fine mist hanging over the sea giving it quite a magical appearance.

Wednesday 17th February 2016

This morning dawned cold and misty but the sun was shining and soon burnt the mist away and warmed us up.  We’d decided to walk a bit more of the Fisherman’s Trail but it was too far to do this from our present parking spot so we moved the T4rdis to the Aire we'd visited yesterday.  However, before we could get going there was a little knock on our door.  It was the chap from the next door van - a fellow Brit who had been visiting this area for the last 13 years, and he wanted to tell John about some of the areas we shouldn't miss, so John got out his Ipad and fired up his maps - but the chap hadn't got his reading glasses so they both nipped back to his van.  Now, this was only supposed to be a quick visit - but an hour later John returned with tales concerning gadgets we should secure and places we should go - I always said man were better at nattering than women!

Anyway, following our late start we drove down the road and found a spot in the Aire before donning our walking gear and setting off on our planned outing, and what a treat that was.  The coastal scenery was spectacular with crashing roaring waves keeping us company for most of the way, and with most of the walk right on the edge precipitous cliffs or on the beach.  We were spoilt for choice when it came to choosing our dining room for our picnic!

As we walked we came across Forte da Ilha do Pessegueiro on an island, the translation for this is ‘Island of the Peachtree’ - but we didn’t spot any! It was also about here that we decided we should turn around to commence our return journey, sadly the sunshine hadn't lasted but we did make it back to the T4rdis just before the rain came again!

Thursday 18th February 2016

Today proved to be quite a lazy one - we had a little lie in, and then a slow breakfast, but the rain had stopped sometime during the middle of the night and  eventually the sunshine drew us out, and encouraged us to walk in the opposite direction to yesterday - along another section of The Fisherman’s Trail.  We only had a very short distance to go down to the coast, and then we followed a fairly newly constructed path back towards the town of Sines where there is a huge hydro-electric power station.  This does mar the view slightly but your attention is always taken by the  roaring crashing ocean so it certainly didn’t detract from our walk.  However, the message on this board did make us very wary of where we were treading, and yesterday we hd seen some fairly impressive undermining of the path!

The information boards also informed us that this part of the coast is the best preserved coastal area in Southern Europe, and all in all, there are 110 kms of wild coastline and 75 thousand hectares of protected land that form The Alentejo and Vicentina Coast National Park - we feel very privileged to have found it, and would have no hesitation in recommending it to others - we are almost certain we will be revisiting sometime in the near future.

Friday 19th February 2016

This morning we tore ourselves away from the lovely coastline and headed for a bit of Portugal’s interior - Specifically Monsaraz, a majestic castle fortress with miles of resevoir below it.   Our journey was about 170 kms, but as usual, we made several stops along the way, the first being at Aldi to restock our supplies.  Here I brought beefburgers and what I thought were cheese topped buns which we planned to have for lunch.   However, when I got the buns out of the cupboard and nibbled a corner I discovered they were sweet and coconut topped!  - not the sort of thing you could put a beefburger in - so we had jam instead.

We continued on our way though lush green countryside - spring had definitely arrived here - there was blossom on the trees and, along with numerous cattle, sheep and goats grazing in the fields, there were lots of lambikins and goatikins in evidence.


There were also many miles of vines and the
roads and fields were lined with cork trees - apparently, the cork is harvested every few years leaving the bottom half of the tree bare until it eventually regenerates.

After several hours of travelling we arrived at the free Aire at Monsaraz that is described in the book as having ‘the best view of any Aire in Portugal’.   We certainly wouldn't disagree with that, the T4rdis is now sitting on a terrace just below the castle and is overlooking ‘The Albufeira de Alqueva’.    The view over the resevoir from our windscreen is magnificent, and as there is only a very big drop in front of us, we will be able to open our screens early in the morning and admire it while we sip our early morning cup of tea (probably around 8ish!).

After a little rest we walked up into the fortress town who’s rough cobbled narrow streets housed a few restaurants, a few interesting shops and the usual tourist information office.   

We were tempted to enter one of the shops and found some beautiful pottery, but living the way we do we didn’t consider it to be a very sensible purchase, so instead, we brought one of their other major lines - a very lovely bottle of Monsaraz wine!  And it was when we later visited The Tourist Info Office that we discovered just how important wine is in this region - although we should have identified the clue when we had driven through the vineyards earlier.

When we entered the office we asked about walking routes, but we were informed that there aren't any official ones yet, however there are numerous tracks so it's possible to make one up as you go along!  We were given a map, that amongst other things, informed us about the 150 megalithic monuments, about the pottery culture of the area, and about the more than 4000 hectares of vineyards that produce 20.5 million litres of wine a year.  The wines of the Alentejo Region can trace there history back over many centuries, but today they are produced under under a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ and ‘The Comissao Vitivinicola Regional Alentejana’ controls their quality.  The one we sampled (along with our steak dinner) was lovely - very rich, fruity and aromatic - but we were sad to read it isn't available back in the UK.  Of what is produced in this area most is kept for Portugal’s own market, and what is exported mainly goes to Angola, Brazil, USA, China and Canada.

Saturday 20th February 2016.

Well today we planned to do 'our make it up as you go along' walk! When we lived in a house like 'normal people' we often used to go places like Carsington Reservoir or Ladybower and walk around the complete circumference, but that wasn’t going to be possible here - the waters spread over 250 square kilometres and the shore line extends to about 1200 kms!

A Monolith Standing Tall, Proud and Erect!

We set off just after 10am and pottered along the very quiet minor road for a couple of miles until we came to a huge board that said ‘DARK SKIES’  Here we found one of the 150 monuments - a circle of small stones with a big one in the middle.  John managed to take a photo of it with a glow around the top - you’ll have to use your own imagination to analyse that!

Following this we soon picked up one of the tracks that had us trekking up hill and down dale - but the effort of the ups was well worth it because when we reached the tops we were greeted with fantastic vistas over the waters that form this huge resevoir.  We also found ourselves walking amidst millions of ‘day roses’ that were just coming into flower and  that seemed to be growing wild in every direction that we looked.  Later we found some bee hives so maybe that explained their purpose.

The tracks that we followed wern’t marked on our maps, but they just looped and meandered around the hills, so it really was just a case of ensuring we were walking in the the right direction - but as a guide,  we could mostly see the pinnacle on which the village of Monsaraz is perched so we weren't ever really at any risk of loosing our way.  

We picnicked by the side of the water and lazed for a while in the hot sunshine and then continued with the large loop that would take us home - however, on the way we stopped off at another monument - The Ermida de Santa Catarina - a 17th century chapel that was built by monks and has a hexagonal tower.  Then it was uphill back to the T4rdis for a very well earned cup of tea, and later a fish supper.

Sunday 21st February 2016

Once again the T4rdis was in need of ablutions, so with this in mind we left our lofty perch at Monsaraz and headed for an Aire at Luz to complete said tasks.  Today we'd decided that besides our ‘housework’ we would go on a bit of a tour of the area, specifically to investigate the New and Old towns of Luz, and to see The Bardagem de Alqueva - the huge Dam and Hydroelectricity plant.  

The New Village of Luz was built prior to the Old one being submerged on 8th February 2002 when the floodgates of the Alqueva Dam  were closed and the area was flooded. The old village had been demolished just before the flooding, and today all that is left to mark the location is an islet of pine trees.  The village relocation involved the construction of 212 homes and resettling the 363 population into them, and along with this, the Church of Our Lady of Luz was also rebuilt to replicate as near as possible the old one.  Additionally, a museum designed to commemorate the village was opened in 2003, and it was here, on an audio visual recording that we heard some of the very sad feelings of the people who lost their homes.

The museum also stretches out into the immediate surrounding landscape - we walked down to the waters edge where the road just disappears beneath the gently lapping waves, and then along a walkway that stretches for about half a mile from the museum and eventually takes you to a small deserted marina.  
Us at Luz
Following our little walk we recommenced our journey onwards towards the dam.  This took us through several  villages - many with cobbled streets, the sides of which were littered with cafes where elderly men sat outside smoking, gossiping and sipping drinks.  John commented ‘I don’t think many motorhomes get down here’ and this was supported by our audience  craning there necks to get a look at us as the T4rdis Bounced By on the very rough cobbles.

We eventually reached The Bardagem de Alqueva, and although it must be a magnificent feat of engineering, it didn’t really hold our interest for long.  

So quite quickly we were back in the van and setting Mrs Snoopy for our return journey - she wanted to send us back the way we had come and she said it would be 68 kilometres.  ‘Oh no' said John - 'we’re not doing that!’ (I missed the swear words out!), and then he aimed the T4rdis in the opposite direction so that we could see the other side of the resevoir.  And guess what?  We hadn't gone far when Mrs Snoopy changed her mind and told us it would only be 48 kms now!

We had wondered if we'd find another place to camp for the night during our little outing, but nothing better than our perch up at Monsaraz presented itself so that was where we were heading back too.   However, on the way we did find another Bull Ring near the village of Amieira with this fierce statue outside - we thought it was worth a picture so John went round the roundabout twice for me to get one so now I have to put it in!

After that we were soon back overlooking the amazing resevoir, and as the evening fell the mist came down - not to obscure the view, just to enhance it.

Monday 22nd February 2016.

The only down side we've found to this lovely spot has been the church bells that sometimes wake us up in the night!  In the book it says they are switched off at 11pm and don’t ring again until 7 - that’s a lie - the bloody things ring all night, and to add insult to injury their clock isn't even right!  This morning John commented on the 10 to 8 bells! (they also went at 8.50, 9.50, 10.50 ……)

Today we're going to move onto a campsite at Evora as we need to do some washing, but as most sites don’t like you to get there to early we had another lazy get up, and then spent most of the morning gazing out at our lovely view, sorting out the van insurance (ouch),  and tidying up this blog ready to post tonight.

We arrived at said campsite at about 2ish and our laundry task was quickly completed, so after that we lazed in the very hot sunshine. And happily, although wifi is only supposed to be available in their 'hotspot' we've been able to pick up a weak signal in the van!

Anyway, for the next week or so we're quite likely to be off grid for most of the time, so sorry, but the next instalment is quite likely to be another long one!

Bye for now and take care x

Click here to see our Portuguese camping spots