Tchau Tchau Algarve

21st March 2019 to 27th March 2019

As I write this post retrospectively I still remember the moment that we decided to start heading home.  It is an important trip milestone, one that looms over the whole time you are away.  I don’t mean to sound negative, because it is not, but it is a shift in mindset and instead of bumbling around and along the coast with a carefree holiday type of attitude our minds shift to becoming slightly more time constrained where journey planning takes more of a forefront.  With a month still to go though, we did not need to panic too much, leaving us plenty of time to visit a variety of places on the way home.

Therefore on our first day north, we only got as far as Ameixial, a small village in the mountains just inside the Algarve region before you cross over to the Alentejo.  Ameixial is known for it’s walks in the surrounding hillsides and not to be put off by the heat which very recently has had a definite Portuguese spring feel to it (i.e. think the best of the UK summer!) we set off to complete a sign posted circular walk with Rita.

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Walking within the north Algarve mountains is enjoyable at this time of year.  I cannot imagine what it would be like though in the summer heat.  The walking trail outside Ameixial village.

Crossing over to the Alentejo was something I had been looking forward to as this region is also on our list for potential land opportunities.  Wanting to spend some time in the towns nearest to the Algarve to help us obtain a feel of the place meant that we visited both Almodovar and Castro Verde.  We cannot deny that the Alentejo is completely different to the Algarve as it seems to have a back in time feel where traditions are held on to contrasting greatly with the faster pasted tourist places of the Algarve.

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Almodovar had quite a slow pace to it.  We liked the painted scenes on the buildings of times gone before

We had been recommended a municipal campsite in Castro Verde and for a change we chose to spend a couple of nights there, maybe the luxury of the rental house has spoiled us as the last campsite that we have stayed on whilst touring was probably in Porto back in spring 2017.

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Casa do Alentejo restaurant was an excellent place to while away a few hours.  The food was traditional Alentejo, of course!

The weather was really fantastic during our time in Castro Verde and upon enquiring with the waitress at our lunch spot, Casa do Alentejo, we learnt that the south Alentejo on average is a couple degrees hotter in the summer and a couple of degrees colder in the winter than the neighbouring Algarve.   Before lunch we had enjoyed a stroll around the town and it’s main church, we had a little shock though when we peered over a wall to look at what the excavation site had uncovered, we were not expecting to see a part unearthed skeleton…….

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The excavationists must have downed tools to go out to lunch leaving this leg bone still in the ground……

We ended up staying three nights in all at Castro Verde and on our final day we stayed on the campsite enjoying the sunshine with our English motorhoming neighbours Steve and Suzanna, another couple similar to our age.  We have met so many more younger motorhomers on this trip than any other.  Is it because that we in fact are now getting older….????

Our final stop in the Alentejo region was at Viana do Alentejo, another countryside hub town with a castle and historic centre.  Again the town was really pleasant and the local people that I met were friendly but it did seem that there was not too much going on at the time of day that we walked around.  One thing I will remember though is that I popped into a small bar and ordered a 500ml Super Bock and was charged 1.80 euros which is refreshingly cheap even by Portugal’s standards.

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The castle at the heart of Viana do Alentejo.

With our time now finished in the Alentejo we moved across into the Lisbon region.   We were heading north west as we wanted to visit the coast line between Lisbon and Porto to see some of the places that we missed back in 2017.  For no other reason than that there was a free aire complete with services we stayed the night at a town called Abrigada which lies about 40km north of Lisbon.  It was here that I met local Norbert who, when he clapped his eyes on Rita, insisted that he showed me his dog which was a breed that had a blue tongue.  It was all a little strange really, as his dog was in his house around the corner, so following him with a certain amount of trepidation he duly fetched his dog out of the garage to show off her blue tongue.  He then proceeded to show me around his house which was coincidentally ‘for sale’.  After making all the pleasantries possible I eventually left, but still with him in tow!!!  He then showed me his local bar where I bought him a beer and then peculiarly enough he wanted to introduce me to the local fire men at the nearby fire station.  I was not aware that most fire stations have a public bar in them to help raise funds for the volunteer firemen so he then bought me a beer back.  At this point I think I could see where this was heading so I left on good terms and went back to the van with an odd story to tell Sharon…………….

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Norbert’s dog that has a blue tongue.  Upon research the dog must be some sort of Chow Chow.  

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Moving the subject from mild madness back to motorhoming, at Abrigada the aire had a donation box aimed at the motorhomers staying there.  This is the first time I have seen this and we think it is a great idea.   I imagine many people leave some change and why not, especially as the aire is provided free.

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The Three Fs

9th Feb to 21st Feb 2019

Ask any Portuguese person young or old about the three Fs and they will answer you immediately with Football, Fatima and Fado.  Some even might add some context to this phrase and link it back to the period of almost half a century when Portugal was ruled by a fascist catholic dictatorship which lasted until 1974 who used the three Fs to bolster it’s power and control of the Portuguese people.

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During Salazar’s Portugal the miracle at Fatima aided the country’s sanctity, Benfica football team reigned Europe and Fado music was censored to shift it from it’s original socialist roots.

Leaving the country’s recent history aside, we have coined our own set of three Fs, Friends and Family in Faro as it seems whenever we meet up with people Faro is involved!  Last year we met my parents in the Algarve capital and on this trip, back in December, we arranged to meet Jacqui and Richard there and much more recently we have met up with motorhoming friends Rick and Mary and all of my family again.

Faro has become an ideal meeting place for visitors who fly in as the airport is really close to the old town and more importantly for us the town is motorhome friendly and offers a section of one of the principle town centre car parks for overnighting motorhomes.  Another string to the town’s bow, is that you can also park campers at nearby Praia de Faro, which despite the airport side location offers a surprisingly peaceful and relaxed stay.

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The motorhome parking is literally alongside Faro airport

Praia de Faro was to be the location of our meet up with Rick and Mary and during our couple of days there we discovered some new places.  First of all we walked across the boardwalks through the nature reserve Quinta do Lobo where we spotted all sorts of wet land birds, the pinnacle being the very elegant flamingos.   We also discovered the east side of the beach which is home to many little simple wooden houses, an area which which seems to have attracted a young ‘surfey’ crowd from central Europe as it’s winter residents.

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The east side of Praia de Faro is very similar to Ilha Culatra which also lies in the Ria Formosa national reserve.  I love sand roads.

Continuing the friends theme, we had a second motorhoming meet up organised with Mike and Mandy, this time in nearby Quarteira.  In contrast to our last visit to here we dined out on the main beach promenade at a Portuguese restaurant and not one of the English owned venues that seem popular in this seaside town.  Luckily for me the daily special was Feijoada, and this was to be my first butter bean and pork stew of the trip so far.  This traditional Portuguese fare, combined with the blazing sun and the cheap red wine made for an very enjoyable afternoon which continued into the evening……..

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We had to nurse a hang over on Saturday morning so for lunch we had take away chicken from restaurant ‘Marufo 1’.  This place is so popular that the queue goes out the door and you have to get a number similar to the post office and wait to be served.  This waiting time/people watching is made even more enjoyable with a large Super Bock from the bar.

Returning back to Faro, we met up with my family: Mum, Dad and my sister.  Last year when my parents came the sun shone all the time keeping the temperatures in the high teens.  This year it could not have been more different as it rained and was cloudy for there first few days.  We could not believe it as the weather this winter in Portugal has been amazing with only a handful of showery days since the start of November.   Not letting the weather deter us we enjoyed ambling around Faro’s cobbled streets and even managed a quick trip over to Praia de Faro, visiting again the simple back in time east side.

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A rare family photograph.  It is so great that my family make the effort to visit us and we all enjoy our time in Faro.  Restaurante ‘Dois Irmaos’.

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Sally and I walking on Faro beach.  Quarteira town is in the distance at the end of the bay.

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We could add a 4th F to Family and Friends in Faro, and that would be Frango.  ‘Crazy Chicken’ at Largo da Praca Nova is our favourite in Faro.

Things repeating themselves continued even when we had left Faro.  Last year, coincidentally whilst my parents were visiting, we were impacted by the Volta de Algarve, Portugal’s largest cycle race, meaning we had to leave Faro and decamp to the airport for few days to allow for the race’s entourage to take over the municipal car park.  This year, as we headed north from Faro on the N2, having planned to be out of the way before the Volta turned up on Sunday, we were met by a parade of police motor bikes who made us pull off the road into a near by lay-by.  By complete chance we had managed to drive head first into the cycle race and whilst we were waiting we were treated to a ring side view of the racers speeding past.   Maybe next year we will actually plan to see the race for real as it seems like something we can’t avoid!

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In Feb 2018 we woke up to find ourselves cordoned in to the space reserved for the Volta.

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In Feb 2019 we got really close to the Volta action on the N2.  What can we expect next year?

 

 

 

 

 

Solar da Cotovia

30th January to 9th February 2019

It was Sharon’s idea initially and something we have considered before so after a last minute ‘booking.com’ internet search we ended up reserving a total of 10 days at ‘Solar da Cotovia’, a short term holiday home rental.  Wow, it has been a long time since we have wallowed around in the luxuries of living in a real house and we both had to admit we were really, really looking forward to our time there especially after the ups and downs of our property/land search.

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We had the end terrace of three and the car park was perfect for our motorhome and our neighbours Volkswagen camper.

The property was ideally located out in the countryside on the outskirts of Albufeira old town.  The surrounding road network was hard sand stone tracks where only a handful of vehicles passed by per day and these roads proved ideal to exercise Rita off the lead.  The house itself was perfect for us with satellite TV, an outside communal brick barbecue, excellent shower, open plan lounge diner and an large patio overlooking the neighbouring farm lands and all these ingredients meant that we have really enjoyed the break from van life.

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We used the barbecue as often as we could.  I always enjoy lighting some coals and taking my time over the cooking enjoying a few cold beers in the sunshine.  Who would not, right?

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Churrasco Portuguese style.  This chicken from the butchers came with it’s feet too.

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Our view from the back of the house.  Solar da Cotovia had a special way to be near everything whilst giving you the impression you were in the middle of  nowhere.  You would never guess we were only 3km from old town Albufeira.

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View from the front window

For three of the nights over the weekend we had some neighbours from Austria and this young couple became the perfect people to witness the sunset from the patio sharing of course a few glasses of red wine.  Since Rafaela and Dominic were Generation Y, as we are Generation X, it was really encouraging to me personally that their views on the environment and our current world status were very similar to my own outlook, not that I really expected for them to be dramatically different.  It was really refreshing to spend some quality time with people younger than ourselves as we don’t often get that chance.

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We visited Albufeira old town several times.  I also managed a few cycle rides down to the coast, a section of the Algarve we have not spent too much time visiting before.  

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The beaches around Albufeira are typically Algarvense with sand stone cliffs and tropical plants.

We spent our days lazing around, watching films on TV and cooking elaborate meals, ones that we would not normally do in the van such as a slow cooked lamb curry, bacalhau a bras and grilled hake and home made coleslaw.  We even treated ourselves to a home cooked English breakfast accompanied with a tin of baked beans.

We visited Albufeira old town several times going by the quiet back roads making the most of the winter prices where large beers seemed to hover around 2 Euros with the cheapest being 1.50.  In the winter Albufeira is pleasant and the old town does hold a certain charm, however we have no idea at all what it would be like in the summer time, in fact our ‘landlord’ commented that it was chaos!!!

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The roads around the house were tracks just wide enough for cars.  The back way into town was by the ‘ViaAlgarviana’ which is the 300 km track that goes all the way across the Algarve.

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We really enjoyed our stay at Solar da Cotovia, we would definitely stay here again.

So tommorrow we will be back in the van after our break in luxury.  We feel refreshed, relaxed, clean(!) and ready to get back on the road.  Our days now in the sunny Algarve are nearing an end and we hope that spring is upon us and the weather further north is now starting to heat up to the temperatures that we have been accustomed too.

Bouncing around the Central/East Algarve

3rd Jan to 30th Jan 2019

Once the New Year was out of the way we continued to stay by the beach in Manta Rota until the 8th January, notching up a new record of exactly three weeks at this one location.  We ended our days here feasting several times from the local piri-piri chicken take-away place and at a few, new to us, barbecue restaurants near the N125 main road.

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Chicken from ‘Ze da Tasca’ on the N125.  The normal portion was a whole small chicken…

We had set aside January as the month we would investigate the possibility of purchasing a piece of rural land and this task took us to many different places along the East and Central Algarve region.  We saw different plots of land at the following places: Corte do Gado, Azinhal, Sapal Chao, and Fonte in the Castro Marim district, Fonte Louzeiros near Silves, several in Loule and Albufeira districts and Luz and Estorninhos in the Tavira region.  Without going into a lot detail about this property/land search the adventure took us down all sorts of tracks and dirt roads, there was even one plot where we had to cross a river which cut through the land, needless to say we left the van at the entrance track and continued on foot.

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Our month spent hunting for land took us to some interesting and beautiful places.

The search has also taken us to several public offices too for meetings with urban/rural planners including at The Commission for the Coordination and Development of the Algarve Region (CCDR) in Faro city centre and several times to the council at Castro Marim to enable us to understand more the restrictions and limitations associated to rural land.  Having to attend these meetings posed a new challenge of being on the road and that was what to wear, as I could not just rock up in my normal attire of flip flops and shorts!   Thankfully I had a pair of casual smart trousers and a box fresh set of new Vans on board, these combined with a short sleeve beach shirt smartened me up sufficiently for these more formal occasions.

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The CCDR building in Faro, venue for one of our meetings

Alongside the land search we did stay at some new places too.  In at attempt for something different from the Manta Rota coastal scenery we took a few days driving around the Serra de Castro Marim enjoying the stunning views from on top of and within the mountain range passing through numerous small and simple rural villages.  We stayed overnight at a stop over at Bentos which was very peaceful and completely pitch black at night.

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In the mountains at Bentos

All of our other stop overs depended on convenience and which estate agents we were meeting as the land search took priority over our own tourism and therefore we bounced around Vila Real, Praia de Cabecao, Castro Marim, Monte Gordo, Faro, Praia de Faro, Quarteira, Vilamoura and Barregem Arade, all places we have stopped at before and no doubt in the future will do again!

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Rita’s supermarket in Castro Marim

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There are always great sunsets when you are parked up at Sao Fransico parking in Faro.  It was here we tied up with Jacqui and Richard again for a couple of chilled out days

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Early morning on Monte Gordo beach I found this ‘marisqueira’ working away.  Early fisherman gets the clam.

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Also on Monte Gordo was this washed up starfish that confused Rita’s nose.

In summary, it was a huge learning curve and it will take considerably more time researching and working with the local authorities to find and acquire a piece of land that suits our needs without contravening the local and national laws for land development.  However, we achieved and learned much more than we originally thought possible and we are really pleased with ourselves for having stepped off the starting blocks on what could be the next chapter in our lives……

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Even though we were busy in January, we still found time for some down time………… Faro old town.

 

 

 

Monsaraz to Manta Rota, Portugal

2nd January 2019

We have now been in Portugal for one calendar month and have only travelled a few 100Kms at best and visiting very few new places.  We entered the country in the Alentejo, a region we have explored several times before, however despite this our first stop was at historic walled hilltop town Monsaraz, a place we have not been to.  Monsaraz sits high on a hillside and is known for having some amazing views of the surrounding countryside and the Barragem de Alquera (reservoir/lake).  So it was to our disappointment that on the day we arrived the place was covered with a duvet of fog!

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Walking along the walls of Monsaraz where we had to use our imagination about the views

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Inside the town walls there was a really well put together set of sculptures that represented the Nativity.

Due to the lack of visibility we decided to drive around the near by area a little, discovering two megalithic stone structures and a sunken village. The first stone structure, Cromeleque de Xerez, was a complete circle, like a mini Stone Henge but the place lacked it’s special aura once we had found out that the stone circle was moved from it’s original location due to the flooding of the reservoir.  The second stone, still in it’s intended place on the Telheiro to Outeiro road, was a phallic type stone that stood by itself and apparently had a number of carvings around it’s diametre, maybe it was the fog but we struggled to see them!

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Sharon adds scale to the tall stone.  This stone is called Menhir de Bulhoa and was placed here in the Neolithic period, circa 4500 BC.

Following these stone age wonders, we did a drive by of recently rebuilt and relocated Luz, a village that was flooded around the late 1990s, to make way for the reservoir.  We found this story intriguing and we were slightly put out when we found the museum closed for the day, especially as it was only 2 euro per person to enter.  Our place for the night turned out to be Estrela, a very small village on the foot of the Barragem de Alquera, which proved a perfect setting to our relatively busy day of sight seeing

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Parked up lake side at Estrella, Barragem de Alquera

On the next day we drove to a place called Pomerao, a location that has caught my eye now on Camper Contact for a few years.  It is located next to the river Guardiana and was once a prosperous and busy mining port.  With the mining days now gone, it seems Pomerao is surviving by gentle and discrete tourism, in the forms of motorhomers during the winter and a smattering of overseas second home residents.

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We met a stampede of sheep enroute to Pomerao

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Using the old mining dock, Pomerao is a popular stop for motorhomes (mid left of photo)

These places described above conclude the new places visited as once we had left the Alentejo after Pomerao we went to Alcoutim, Sao Bras, Cabanas de Tavira, Altura, Vila Real, Pereiro and then finally Manta Rota, places we have been to before and some more than once.

The highlights therefore of this series of repeat visits has been meeting a couple called Nick and Emma in Alcoutim and then combining to meet with them again in Pereiro for a barbeque.  Emma and Nick were travelling around in a converted ‘film location’ hire mini bus which was certainly different from all the white plastic fantastics (i.e. the type of motorhome we own!).  We had many things in common, including a love of Portugal, our ages and dare I say it red wine……………….I will leave that there!?!

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Emma and Nick’s ‘digibus’ and our white swan neck in the distance parked up at Pereiro.  “Cheers guys, we hope you continue to enjoy your travels, see you on the road”

In between Alcoutim and Pereiro we completed stays at Sao Bras, Cabanas and Vila Real de St. Antonio.  Sao Bras was a milestone visit as we were taking Rita back to the vets that originally completed all her health checks and sterilisation after she had been found and was under the care of Marie (www.2ndhand4footers.com).  We had made an appointment earlier in the week and we were relieved when we were greeted by a really friendly and gentle receptionist and vet called Carlos.  In summary for all you ‘Rita’ followers, she is well and the vet even described her as being ‘muscular’, which I have interpreted as a positive as she has put on a little weight over the last few months and visually she appears to be bigger and stronger, she is now 13.8 kgs compared to 12.2 kgs when we had her.

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Vet Torrejao near Loule provided an excellent service, contact details above

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Vila Real seemed to be quite seasonal hosting a small arts market and Christmas street lights

A while ago now we had arranged to meet up with my friends Kevin and Gio, who spend a lot of time at their at their villa in Spain, in Portugal.  We had decided upon Tavira as the location, but also a campsite as they were driving across and would be staying in a tent.  We were quite shocked then when we were turned away from the Tavira campsite as we had a dog, so quickly we formed plan B which was Cabanas de Tavira, a small fishing village 4 kms east of Tavira.  We had a great few days combining sightseeing,  including walking to Tavira, driving to Olhao and St Luzia, with eating out and in.  It is so brilliant to be able to meet up with friends and family once we are on the road and yet again, similar to earlier in the year when my parents visited Faro, with a little creativity and flexibility from both sides, it can be possible.

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As Kev was the official photographer for our mini holiday I have very few in my possession of them together and this one is blurry!  Kev and Gio in Cabanas.  Note:  we have learnt that you have to be very careful if you choose to serve Cappuccino or pizza to an Italian!!!!!

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We spent two nights at Altura where we passed an enjoyable evening with Jacqui and Richard, who were also our age.  What is happening to the winter motorhome scene?

That takes us to Praia da Manta Rota where we have been since the 18th of December.  If you would have said to us on our first trip in 2016 that we would be spending several weeks at Manta Rota we would have been chilled to the bone.  In fact we did stay here early on in our travels spending only a few nights as we were taken back by how many motorhomes are here: 100 of them lined up head to foot using all of the nine metres allocated to each one.  Back then we were more determined to find the off the beaten track places and wanted to experience the freedom and the ‘dream’ of motohoming. Now, three years in, we have softened and can see the advantages of staying at places like this as it is safe, an authorised municipal fee paying motorhome stop over and has all the amenities on the door step and of course is right beside one of the best beaches in the East Algarve (in our opinion of course).  Upon reflection about this view point change, it could be that we are morphing away from travelling around the Algarve into something more like living here temporarily.

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Due to it’s orientation, Manta Rota gets amazing sun rises and sets.

So over the years we have been staying longer and longer at this location and currently as I write this we have been here a total of sixteen days, a stay that has included Christmas and New Year.  It has been a chance for us to relax, enjoying long walks with Rita on the beach and bike riding on the ‘blue’ route that runs parallel to the coast line. We also have tied up with Mick and Sheila (our old managers back at Normans Bay) who live near by and they even kindly chauffeured us in their Volkswagen camper over to Ayamonte (Spain) for the day to complete some last minute Christmas shopping.  So that brings us to 2019, now that all the seasonal festivities are over, which hopefully will be an exciting year for us where who knows what is around the corner……….Happy New Year everyone, we wish you all health and happiness.

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Our nod towards camper Christmas decorations was this bin bag.

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Whilst on the topic of rubbish, a group of motorhomers did a beach clean and collected all this which I was really impressed with

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Sharon walking on the beach on Christmas day, Manta Rota

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Rita also loves the beach here and most mornings we walk to the old fort at nearby Cacela Velha

 

Everywhere in Spain but the North West Coast.

14 November to 3rd December 2018

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Entering Spain via Catalonia we were greeted with hundreds, maybe thousands, of yellow ribbons.  These are signs of support for the freedom of the imprisoned pro-independence leaders.  

My preconceptions of the Costa Brava, held mostly from a teenage coach holiday to beach resort Santa Susana, were not too good in terms of memorable natural scenery.  In fact my memories conjured up black boards advertising English breakfasts and beach fronts filled with 2 for 1 bars and nightclubs. When I was seventeen this was the ‘wildlife’ I was searching for and a few smiles did return as I replayed the weeks holiday back through my mind, but now at the grand age of 42 maybe we were looking for something different, more authentic maybe.  Therefore this time we spent our Costa Brava visit slightly further north on the Park Natural del Cap de Creus which is a small nub that sticks out directly east of Figueres.  Selecting fishing village El Port de la Selva as our over night destination meant that we experienced both the inland and coastal sections of the national park.  The coastal road was especially impressive, high rocky cliffs dotted with green pine trees made for a dramatic and picturesque backdrop.  Funnily enough it was not unlike the North Spanish coast that we had forfeited earlier on in the trip.  This lesser visited part of the Costa Brava really is an area of natural beauty and definitely deserves it’s 7th position in the league table of Spanish highlights in our newly purchased Marco Polo Spain and Portugal road atlas.

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The bay at El Port de la Selva, Costa Brava.  The region made an excellent substitute for the north west Spanish coast.

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The local fisherman’s association bar had a viewing window of the fish auction hall.  We were there when the shrimp trawlers arrived back to shore.  We could not work out how the system worked but it was interesting to see the local restaurateurs haggling over the prices.  El Port de la Selva.

Keen to get past and to avoid the Barcelona road network, on the next day we swerved slightly inland and stayed at El Catllar, 70 km west of the Catalan capital.  The highlights from this fortified town were the amazing Co-Operative shop which sold almost everything from Cava to tractor engine oil.  I mention the Cava as we purchased some as this of course is Cava county and we actually intend to keep the bottle until Xmas day (editors note: well we will see how that goes!)  The other memory was keeping tabs on the local marijuana seller’s movements and activities which seemed to be focused in the area surrounding the free motorhome aire.

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El Catllar was an historic town…….

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…….even if the area where the aire was situated was a little rough and ready with some unusual, but nonthreatening, night time activities.

With Barcelona now out of the way we wandered back towards the coast staying at El Grau de Castellon, in the Valencian region, which is essentially the port area for Castellon de la Plana.  We were really pleased with this choice as it was completely different to the other coastal towns in this region that we have visited/travelled through before.  First of all, in El Grau itself, tourism certainly seems on the low side and instead the large commercial port supplies the heart beat of the town.  On a discovery town walk we found out we had just missed the weekly market, what we did see however were local people sifting through the fruit and vegetables that had been discarded by the traders on the kerb side.  We wondered if this action of discarding was on purpose, the traders knowing that perhaps the poorer ends of the local society will benefit from product that was not quite good enough to sell, who knows hey?  Another thing worth mentioning is the free aire at El Grau is absolutely fantastic, lying beach side, and even sports washing up sinks and an immaculately clean toilet.  The beach even has it’s own designated dog area, complete with doggy shower, where Rita was allowed to run completely free from her lead.  On our second day here we ventured further afield and walked the 4.5 Km to neighbouring Castellon de la Plana.  The walk was really easy as it entailed walking along the main road, which is dead straight, that links the two towns.  At Castellon we were greeted with lots of activity as it seemed the whole town was out drinking Cruzcampos in the street and on the terraces of the many small bars.  Obviously we joined them taking a few drinks plus some seafood tapas.  Again we had got our timing right which was fortunate and we later learned it was a local holiday which made sense as we thought that this could not be a normal Saturday lunch time.

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El Grau has some intriguing architecture

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The main square in ‘de la Plana’ was bustling.

Now that we had managed to join all the coastal dots that we missed off back in 2016, meaning that we have pretty much travelled all of the Spanish coast from Ayamonte (Andalucia/Portuguese border) up to top of the Costa Brava bordering France, it was time to venture inland again.  Previously we had combined a meeting point with our motorhome friends Rick and Mary at Sanlucar de Barremeda, Andulucia and therefore it seemed to make sense to drive an inland curve over to Sanlucar.  This part of the journey we covered over three nights staying at Uteil (Valencian Community), Don Quixote town Argamasilla de Alba in the La Mancha and Andulucian Pedro Abad.

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We stopped at a lake castle near Argamasilla.  Fictional Don Quixote and his side kick roved these terrains.  

By 21 November we had reached Sanlucar revisiting La Jara Motorhome Park and more importantly rendezvousing with Rick and Mary.  La Jara was chosen as there is plenty of space, BBQs are allowed, as is camping behaviour such as sitting outside.  In total we spent 9 nights there, 5 with Rick and Mary, where we chilled out, enjoyed food and drinks out and in, bike riding to Chipiona and further afield to Rota.  We had a really good time and therefore when it was time for Rick and Mary to drive on, Morocco bound, sad farewells were voiced all round.

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Manzanilla is the local tipple in Sanlucar.  This bottle we sampled in a beach bar, hence the shell table top, that stands between La Jara and Chipiona.

The slightly extended stay at La Jara was due to a loose solar panel, something that has been dogging this trip, as my temporary fixes administered in Normans Bay and several times enroute so far had not managed to sustain.  Therefore on Friday 30th November we headed for business Caravanas Sevilla for an appointment with their fitter that was made earlier in the week by phone in Spanish(!)  Therefore I was quite surprised once we arrived there that they were expecting us.   The receptionist introduced me to the workshop team where we proceeded together to agree, using a combination of hand signals and my improvised Portunhol, on a simple solution involving some special made metal brackets securing firmly the solar panel back onto the roof.  55 Euros for the 1.5 hours labour later we were back on the road heading towards hill top town Jerez de los Caballeros in the Extremadura.

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The team from ‘Caravanas Sevilla’ start to attack the Suntor 

Jerez de la Caballeros was a great find as not only did it have a aire with free electricity but also an interesting historical town which had spectacular views from the south east side of town across the vast Extremadura countryside.  It was on this edge of town where we choose to have lunch outside a popular restaurant situated in a small park on top of the town’s walls.  The views were stunning as was the food.  It was not the plan to have lunch but the enthusiastic owner/waiting kept coming over to us and describing the house specialities for the day and we finally settled on a cod, egg and potato dish and a plate of pork fillet and serrano ham served with bread, fried potato slices topped off with fried eggs: after all this is pig county and on the drive over to here we passed many free grazing black pigs and of course the accompanying abattoirs and meat factories.  During our extended lunch, the activity in the restaurant was steadily increasing, as it turned out the local foraging group had met up for one of it’s social events and they were cooking a massive communal risotto made from foraged mushrooms.  It was a shame then that we were completely stuffed as they came round to every table and deposited a plate of the risotto for the customers to try, needles to say we rammed it down aided by a bottle of local red wine.

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Sharon and Rita wandering the old town, Jerez de la Caballeros

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The pork medallions on top of the bread were the best tasting we have had.  Cafe Florida, Jerez de la Caballeros.  The views were ‘on top of the world’ too.

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Dessert was foraged mushroom risotto.

In all we stayed three nights in Jerez de la Caballeros stalling our inevitable entry into Portugal until the 3rd of December.  The ongoing theme of our most recent spell in Spain has been the tapas.  In the past we have not really had good experiences with tapas and that has arisen by not really knowing what to order and ending up with safe ‘albondigas’ or on the other hand been given a free tapa of something that we would not normally enjoy eating (pigs ear in Palencia, cold blood and fat soft sausage in Jerez and room temperature sea snails in the Basque).  This time we just ordered some things hoping that we had translated correctly and with this our confidence grew stumbling on tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritter), chocos (fried cuttlefish) and bacalao pil pil (baked cod with chilli) meaning that on several occasions we lunched out inexpensively on a couple of tapas and associated drinks, an experience that hopefully we will continue next time we visit.

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We persevered more with tapas, with some success.  The white dish that looks like a dessert was actually cod, cream and balsamic dressing.

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We did’nt always know what we eating though.  We guessed this was a ‘seaweed mixed with some other unknown ocean quantity’ deep fried ball.

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Whilst we were experimenting with tapas, Rita became curious about cats.  In La Jara, these three rubbed along together quite well.

The Motorhome World is a Small One

Vila Nova de Cacela, Portugal 19-02-18.

A chain of events happened today which gave me the opportunity to see something that has made me smile.  So when I should actually be writing about our journey through Spain and our last couple of weeks in Portugal instead and I am going to jot down this memory.  The normal trip web waffle will be updated later on!

This morning I cycled into the nearest town, Vila Nova de Cacela so that I could print out some documents.  I chose to lock my bike to the railing inside the porch of the local internet centre (Punto de Internet).  Once my printing was done I decided to leave my bike there whilst I ran a few errands in the town, principally going to the pharmacy.  Upon my return to the Punto de Internet my bike had been locked inside the porch by a metal gate as the place had closed for it’s lunch time meaning I could not access my bike to go home.  Therefore I killed some time walking around the town.  Just after 2pm my bike was released once the employees returned and from there I cycled to a large general store that sells everything from small tractors to wine.  It was here that I wanted to purchase some new bike tyres but by the time I had arrived it too had closed for lunch meaning at that moment I entered the N125 main road to go home.  It was at this instance a beige Unimog camper on Dutch plates rumbled past in the opposite direction and sure enough Dave and Mathilda were in the cab.  We met this young Dutch couple back in March 2016 at Valdequeros just outside Tarifa.  In fact it was one of those nights that ended up in the Suntor drinking together with another Dutch Astrid and Burt.  Furthermore it was Astrid that informed us that in motorhoming you always see people twice.  So there you are, petite monde!

Dave and Mathilda

Back in March 2016, parked up with Dave and Mathilda at Valdequeros beach.  They were embarking on a four year around the world tour.  They are still on the road as I saw them again in December 2018.  “Good luck guys, travel safe”