Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Altura to Vilamoura

Before we hit the coast we drove down the side of the Guadiana River, the Portuguese - Spanish boarder and looked at all the allotments that had flooded, loads of destruction all the way to the coast at Villa Real de St Antonio. The small village of Alamo was set back from the river and their sign had been beautifully "Yarn Bombed".....lovely crochet, wouldn't it be nice if every village signpost was like this?
We stayed a while in Altura, enjoying being by a beach and the sea at last. Fantastic long, golden sand dunes, however still a little chilly. Amazed to see the locals collecting shellfish in a wire basket and net contraption, while waist deep in water, walking backwards.
A little bit of luxury as we stayed on a campsite at Cabanos, near to Tavira. We cycled through the salt pans, similar to the Isle d'Re, with loads of wading birds, including Black Winged Stilts, with amazingly long legs and we saw our first bee eater, stunning colours but my camera isn't good enough to capture them.
Tavira, which is set on both sides of the river is a very quaint old town with many tiled houses and narrow cobbled streets.

On our travels we have met many lovely people who have recommended places to stay and Pedras d'el Rei was one such place. We loved it here so much that we stayed a week. There is a small train that used to transport tuna fish from the island beach, but it now transports visitors. The tuna have all moved on and the anchors from the boats are arranged in a cemetery, this is all that is left of the fishing fleet here.
Unfortunately the beach had a red flag flying as there were little blue jelly fish around as a result of the fresh water flooding down from the dams. We had a paddle but didn't want to risk a swim even though the weather has just turned out HOT!

We then moved on to Olhao, a town that still has a fishing fleet and two great markets, one for fish and the other fruit and veg with butchers around the perimeter.

We took the local ferry to the island of Culatra, half an hour trip for €3.80 return, very good value! After a lovely lunch we walked along the beach to Farol, which means lighthouse, though the town was deserted as that end of the island is just full of holiday homes.
After catching the ferry back we were in need of a drink and so went to an old traditional bar, the Sete-Estrelas. This is one of only three places in Portugal where you can buy wine from the barrel....so we bought 5 litres and very nice it was too! We were told also that it opens at 5 in the morning for the local fishermen to have a drink before putting to sea....not that we were there at that time! The fishermen used to leave their bicycles here, hung on the wall inside....now they leave their car keys! How times have changed.

This is Libby on a campsite with bunting and lanterns from generous friends.

Then we stayed in Quarteira and cycled into Vilamoura for the day. The marina here is very different to the rest of Portugal we have seen so far. A tourist destination with shops and restaurants beyond our pockets.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Monsaraz to Altura, Algarve

We stayed for Easter Weekend at Montseraz and the sun shone bright and warm for a day. This picturesque fortified village overlooks Europe's biggest reservoir and Spain is just over the other side. Bull fights take place in this ancient arena, but they do kill the bulls.

Driving south we went through mile after mile of olive groves and cork oak trees. It was a wine making monk, Dom Perigon, who in the 17th century revived the use of cork as an odourless, tasteless seal for wine. Portugal produces over over 30 million corks per day. After 20 years the cork trees can produce its first harvest of bark and then be stripped of their bark every 10 years. The numbers painted on their trunks are the years that the tree was last harvested.
Then we passed through Serpa, which is just 22 miles from the Spanish border. This town like many around here has been fought over from the Moors and the Spanish and still there remains this beautiful arched aqueduct.

We stayed a night at a lovely location by a reservoir at Minas S.D. which has a car park, but they don't seem to mind campers staying here. However the town is very poor as it used to be a thriving copper mining town, until the mid 60's. In its heyday it was one of the biggest producers of copper and the company was owned by the British. Though unfortunately the British managers didn't treat their workers very fairly, low wages and poor housing, a story that is sadly repeated at many places around the world. At its height of operation there was a population of 6000 and today that has reduced to around 800.

Then we went to Alcoutim, which is on the Guadiana River across from Sanlucar in Spain. You can usually cross the river for a Euro, but not today.

The river rose over 3 metres in just a few hours and while we were having lunch in The Riverside restaurant we saw several boats going backwards down the river, dragging their anchors, with nobody onboard.
This life sized statue quickly ended up under water. The reason was that it has rained so much that the dams has to be opened to let some of the water out of the reservoirs before they overflowed. Why they didn't do it gradually, I'm not sure. Thankfully we were parked up the hill away from the river for the night.

Then it was off to The Hunting Lodge, a private Aire that had been recommended to us. Here we could get some washing done, recharge everything and also wifi was available. Again we parked on top of a blustery hill and the rain eased off long enough for us to go a walk through some flower meadows in full bloom.

Eventually we arrived at the beach on the Algarve, but had a quick trip over the bridge into Spain to exchange a gas bottle. Altura was our chosen spot on an international car park/waste land taken over by large campers here for around 3 months of the year.
Both very happy to be by the sea again.

Friday, 5 April 2013


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Gijon to Benquerenca

With rain forecast for the next 5 days we decided to leave the North Spanish coast and head South. If it was going to rain, then it might as well be warm rain. First we stopped on the Aire in Leon (you can see us just to the right of the sign). This was outside a good supermarket and a C&A! But it rained....

.... So we headed into Portugal, over the mountains covered in snow!

Eventually we arrived in Braganca....creatively described in the guide book as a 'walled citadel on its isolated hilltop'. The castle was quite impressive and the Aire in a beautiful location, but the other side of town was a sprawling modern city.

In the guide book was a Border Castles Tour and as Tim is reading all of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels then we went and took a look at some of the locations important in defending the Portuguese border throughout history, including the Peninsular Wars. First to the two towers of Pinhel, a region now noted for its wine.

Then to the Aire at the well preserved Vauban fort at Almeida. A lovely overnight spot, protected within the fort walls. The dark photo shows some of the horses that were allowed to roam free in the fort.

Compared to our France Aires book, there appear to be very few Aires in Portugal but the one at Bequerenca is noted for being in a particularly beautiful spot. When we arrived we parked by this weir and walked over a footbridge and around the village, where we saw a lady doing her washing in a stream. On our return the river had risen and the old man gathered in his goats and left.....so we moved the van and a good move it was as the following morning the river had broken its banks and flooded the car park...... And still the rain continued!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Asturcamper at Vidiago

We drove off a slip road to a small beach at Vidiago where there is a ASCI campsite, La Paz, it looked closed and we weren't sure how to get back to the main road as the slip road appeared to be one way. So we ventured into the campsite to ask the way to Llanes.
Amazingly there were 4 VW campervans on site and with Carlos translating, we discovered that about 100 vans were due to arrive later in the afternoon and that we were welcome to join their group.
We chose a pitch and watched as everyone arrived. Later we headed to the bar for drinks and the Spanish Omelette tasting competition. We tasted quite a few!!! yummy.

The group was well organised with several talks and activities. We watched the photos of 'Light Painting'. This was about enhancing photos by using torchlight and other props. Take a look in the Flickr group here - www.childrenofdarklight.com
The next day we went on a walk in the afternoon to some caves, and made more new friends. Thanks to Oscar and his family for guiding us thought the caves and later providing delicious ham and Sangria with rum. We had a fantastic evening learning to pour cider the local way and tasting plum liqueur.

I was very lucky in the raffle and won a torch and 2 free nights camping at La Paz, so we will be back around the 8th June.

The group is also campaigning to get Free Camping accepted in the area. In the UK we call it Wild Camping and there are not many places in the South of England, but it is more acceptable in Scotland.

Thanks to everyone for making us feel so welcome, it was a great introduction to our first few days in Spain and we hope to see you all again somewhere, sometime soon.
Finally some fossils pictures for Andrew. There are massive boulders full of these on the beach here, Crinoidal Limestone possibly???

Santander to San Vincente

We found a lovely beach for lunch and to stay by during the day.....but all the NO CAMPER signs put us off staying the night. We were just off to look for an overnight stop when we spotted several vans parked alongside the river.....so we joined them. San Vincente is an old town with lots to look at, but an awful electronic chiming clock that sounds like a doorbell, we could put up with that and so we stayed here 2 nights.

We were very surprised to see snow on the mountains when we arrived. The sun was out it was hot and so we moved along the coast to Vidiago.