Thursday, 29 May 2014

Santa Susana to Caminha, Portugal

If we were ever going to see the interior of Portugal, then we had to leave the coast at some point. Lots of people that "don't like the Algarve" spend several months traveling around the Baragems ( reservoirs), most have wild camping spots and obviously lots of water available!
We were loured to this one with the promise of hot showers available for free, but it was a lovely spot and had great views. Though the neighbours gave a good impression of Blackpool Tower Ballroom by practicing playing his electronic keyboard organ outside for 4 hours....we went a walk, much more peaceful. Otherwise it was a delightful spot and the start of a 5 day heat wave, next time we would stay here for longer, but not for 2 or 3 months like some of the 'long termers' that inhabited the shore line here.

We drove North on the N114, a much better road than the N10 that we followed last year. We passed through moorland not dissimilar to Dartmoor and eventually crossed over the River Tejo.

We had lunch at the Aire in Vila Nova da Barquinha. It would have been fine for an overnight stop, but not to sit at all day. So we followed the Tejo upstream to the Aire at Constancia via this fantastic castle on an island at Almourol. Unfortunately it was undergoing some restoration and so we couldn't go over to it, but still an impressive sight.
We spent half the night on the Aire North of the river at Abrantes....but we didn't realise we had parked outside a disco, we thought it was a cafe! So when the music started at 11pm, we crawled out of bed and drove a couple of miles to the large car park on the south bank. We could still hear the music across the river, but at least we were able to sleep!

Then North again to Serta and up over some mountainous terrain to Lousa. The Serra da Lousa mountains were very picturesque with a new view around each twist and turn of the road. Some of this area had suffered in the fires a couple of years ago. We could see where some of the fires had reached right upto the isolated houses, but thankfully they looked to have escaped ok.
We stayed the night at a campsite at Penalva de Alva on the edge of the Serra Da Estrela. It is possible to drive, walk or cycle up the highest mountain in Portugal from here, but we chose just to chill out with a drink by the river!

We then followed the scenic N17 towards Guarda and realised we were nearly at Almeida, the fort that we had stayed at on the way south the previous month. So we turned NW and headed for Peso da Régua in the heart of the Douro Valley. Having seen hardly any cars and people for a few days, we discovered that they were all here. The river trips and Port museum, plus a mini marathon made it impossible to park. We drove downstream to a beautiful old building at Miradouro da Boa Vista, the old Ferraira Quinta. It was such a shame to see these balconies and stone carved grapes, decorated ceilings and ornate windows all in ruins with just the pigeons enjoying the elaborate surroundings.
As soon as we entered the Douro demarcated region for growing grapes that are allowed to be made into Port, the landscape changed dramatically. Every part of the steep hillsides have been terraced and planted with vines.

After buying a kilogram of cherries for €4 we continued up the valley to San João da Pesqueira for a night on a lovely cafe car park. Unfortunately the cafe was closed, but looked lovely and newly renovated. The following morning two lovely ladies helped me pick a bag full of cherries from the trees by the cafe. I've never picked cherries before and these ones were delicious.

We had been following a driving route in our guide book, so we set off around the tiny, twisting roads on the North bank, down to a station in Tua. The railway is still used to transport the barrels down river to then mature in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Portugal's landscape has changed over the years with the construction of many dams, flooding the river valleys and providing storage for water to use during the dry summer months.

We visited the palace and gardens at Mateus. The famous rosé wine used to be made in the village and permission was given to use the image of this house on the label. The family that still own the house and vineyards produce their own wine and port.... Nothing to do with Mateus Rosé, and lots more expensive, as the grapes are still carefully crushed by foot, to avoid the bitterness of the pips being crushed.

Eventually we made it back to the coast in the very top NW corner of Portugal. The sun was still hot and so we headed for a beach at Montedor and then on up to a campsite at Caminha, where we had a view across the river to Spain.

For our last meal out in Portugal, I felt I had to try the traditional Bacalhau, dried, salted fish that is then soaked and cooked. The previous ones I'd seen has looked a bit like a fish pie, but this one turned out to be fried, with chips! It was appropriate as we sat outside the restaurant, under a large umbrella as the rain had finally materialised.

Unfortunately we saw more dilapidated houses, that had obviously been luxurious in their day. Most of them occupy prime locations, but are now beyond repair.

We left Portugal with Libby's cellar full of port and wine as we are not sure when we will be back again!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lagos to Praia de Santo André

So where have we been for the past two weeks....
We went to an Aire in Lagos and paid €2 each for a shower, but it was worth it. So feeling a bit cleaner and having bumped into friends from earlier, Paul & Anita, we went and explored Lagos on our bikes and found a nice bar. The beach in Lagos was sheltered from the wind and so we went back then next day and then we decided to drive to Ingrina. Thankfully we had been forewarned that all the sand had been washed away in the storms. Now it was just a rocky cove, but at least the restaurant was still there for a birthday celebration, joined by Ian and Sue.

This is a view of Ingrina in 2013!!! The story was the same at Zavial, just over the hill where Tim had hoped to go surfing. Though it was still lovely to lay in the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet, and an ice cream.

Then it was on to Sagres, where the storms had also removed the sand and destroyed a cafe, along with the surf beach. We battled against the wind to cycle out to Cape St Vincent and then found a place out of the wind. Though the weather has been lovely and sunny for the past month, the wind has been constant.

This might not appear much....but now we can have toast in the van, thanks to our newly purchased Portuguese toaster.

The view from the overnight parking area at Sagres is stunning. The cliffs are several hundred feet high and believe it or not people fish from the tops! They must be mad. Right below our parking area is a lovely sheltered sandy beach a sanctuary out of the wind.

After being constantly battered by the wind, we decided to take a "holiday" and went to the luxury Tourismo Campsite at Espiche, just inland from Praia de Luz. Here was a lovely sandy beach and a cool pool on the site so we had the best of both worlds. The only draw back was that we had to cycle back to the campsite past a magnetic ice cream shop that kept pulling us in, how we struggled to resist it!

Then off we went in search of surf, to a beach 3 miles down a bumpy, dusty track. Thankfully the surf was good and Tim made it into the water for a good afternoon's surfing. We were also surprised to find a pig living in the white camper parked next to us, along with 3 dogs and a cat!

A quick stop back at Sagres, before moving off North. We headed to a surf beach at Arrifana for lunch, but noticed the engine management light was flashing and we'd no idea why. We took a leisurely drive to Odeceixe to use the Internet and stay the night. Unfortunately there was no wifi and the parking area was being reconstructed, so we traveled on up the coast to Porto Covo. Here we discovered our brake lights were stuck on, even with the key removed. A phone call to Riverside Garage at home came to the rescue and informed us it was a faulty break switch. To prevent the battery draining overnight they told us to remove the fuse, number 9, if you are interested!
We found a garage in Santiago do Cacém, who fixed it for us. We had to speak to the boss's daughter over the phone for her to translate, but even though the garage was closed as it was Saturday, they found the right part, €15, and fitted it for no charge. What lovely, generous people.

To chill out afterward, we headed back to the beach at Praia de St André and spent 2 days doing nothing but reading our Kindles and when that got too much for us, we made a windmill from bits found on the beach, much to our surprise, it actually worked!

Cold beers, from the fridge and off to the bar to find some wifi.......