Back on tour….

Arriving at the coastal town of Armacao de Pera seemed a great relief as we felt relieved to be back on tour.  At an arranged meet up we blew off some steam with new friends Wendy and Rob who were nearing the end their 3 month tour of Portugal.  Armacao I was a pretty holiday town and our parking spot on the old football ground gave us front line seats to watch the water birds feeding in the small estuary.  The troop of spoon bills were our favourite.

After Pera we moved aimlessly west down the coast staying at Farol de Carvoeira.  Here we had a stunning free parking spot for three nights, next to the light house on top of the classic Algarve coast line.  This coast line was the main feature of the Seven Valleys walk that we completed on one of the days.

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On top of the cliffs at Carvoeira

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Views on the Seven Valley’s coastal walk

On a personal note I have been feeling a little strange, it is as if I can’t get into this trip and it feels different to before.  After some deliberation I think it is the absence of an overall plan – before we have always had a top level view where we were heading even if just directionally.  At Carvoieira we spent some time looking over the maps and the camperstop Europe book and drafted out a rough route which will take in the majority of the Algarve during the remainder of Jan and all of Feb, leaving March and some of April to crawl back up the west side of the country taking in Lisbon and Porto.

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Hill top track outside Silves, part of the Via Algarviana walking trail.

With this new plan being used as a guide, we stopped two nights at inland castle town Silves and a further 2 nights at the near by Barrargem do Arade.  At the Silves we completed a rugged walk through nearby hills and at the Barrargem I managed at lake side mountain bike ride.  We are determined to keep what is left of our Camino fitness.  Next was the town Sao Bartolmenu des Messines where we stocked up on food using the large Intermarche.   Annoyingly, as we later toured the town on foot, we found that there were a number of smaller independent supermarkets, some with their own butchers even.  This reminded us that we should be using these in an attempt to keep them in business so as a consolation purchase we used the bakers in the market on the following morning for our daily bread purchase.

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Barrargem do Arade.  It was frosty up there in the mornings.

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Campers parked up at the Barrargem

The tour is now taking an eastern direction as we head towards the Portuguese/Spanish border where we will stay at some favourites from our short 2016 Portuguese taster, Mertola, Alcoutim and Castro  Marim.

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Exodus south again!

So after almost 4 weeks without the van we are heading off to Portugal tomorrow.  We have chosen to go via Calais and therefore have a 2500km plus drive ahead of us – we can’t wait.

Before I forget, thanks go out to Ropers Leisure at Catterick Bridge who took the camper back off us to fix a number of issues that had arisen over the last 9 months travelling.  They also upheld their warranty and completed the works FOC which we really appreciate.  Well done to Steve and the team at Ropers who in our experience stand by their word and really deliver customer service.

 

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Exodus South Continued (26-01-17)

 

Similar to last March we embarked on the long distance journey south, this time the destination being the Algarve and not Andalucía.

On the first day we arrived at Calais via the ferry at around 7pm and we were happily parked up at Wissant some 30 or so minutes later.  One thing that has struck us is how different this trip down feels when compared to last year.  Last March, for our first night, we nervously choose Le Croytoy as it’s aire has many spaces and full services and we could arrive importantly by day light.  I remember distinctly walking over to the aluminium service point box and wondering to myself ‘how does this work then’ having only seen pictures of them in the Vicarous Books series.  This year, more confident with our knowledge meant we could take on a by dark arrival without services and felt able to think out a plan B if the aire was closed or full.

We wanted to reach the warmer climes as fast as we could there the intitial plan was to use the toll roads.  We slid through the first booth with a grimace as we parted with several Euros, however at the second the tariff table showed that for a class B motorhome ticket would cost 44 Euros.  Needless to say, we promptly turned off at the next available exit and resumed our more normal meandering A and B road route.   The upside of this is obviously that we can sight see on the way down, the negative being the amount of traffic round abouts – it always amazes me how many there are on the French roads.

Even taking this slower route we managed to cover 500kms per day, driving at first light until dusk.  We stayed at some great free stop overs too, choosing first St. Maure de Tueraine (south of Tours).  Here we shook off the driving stiffness by completing an evening walk around the town picking up a baguette and a couple of 1664s from the town’s square.  We also noticed that the town had an old Albergue that in history was used by pilgrim enroute to Santiago.   Since walking the Camino we seem spot these references to the European wide  pilgrimage – it must be our selective vision.

Our third night brought a motorhome scare.  The original plan was to reach somewhere near Biarritz but we passed this city easily mid afternoon enabling us to sail by the aire at St Jean de Luz (where we stayed last year) whilst still light.  We chuckled to ourselves as we were hopefully going to avoid the 6 euro fee to stay at St. Jean as we had found a free aire round the corner in Spain.  The light was quickly turning from dusk to dark as we endlessly followed the Sat Nav to this location, now seeming to be in the hills outside San Sebastian.  We ended this goose chase in the pitch black with the van’s front wheels spinning as it was now unable to pull us up any further up the wet single carriage farmers track – queue mild panic.  At this point we were thinking that we should of taken the easy route and stayed comfortably at St Jean, after all it is a lovely town!  In the end we stayed at a small community car park somewhere in the rural hills outside San Sebastian and near Errenterria.  Without doubt the amount of clutch slipping and trye wear that was required to get us off the hill side will amount to more than 6 euros!!!!

Our last stop over in Spain was the city of Salamanca.  We cut the driving short that day and arrived at the free aire at around 2pm giving us time to walk the historic centre.  Salamanca is definitely worth a visit however we could not find the frog on the University’s carved stone walls leaving us both pleased that we have finished already our formal education.

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Salamanca’s main plaza

Using the extra hour as we crossed the Portuguese border meant we could get past the city of Evora and stay at Portel, Alentejo.   Portel is a small town with a castle on the hill which provided our evenings walking itinery.   We are virtually at the ‘Algarve’ border and tomorrow before lunch we aim to be by the coast.  It has been a thoroughly enjoyable journey down and we are both pleased not to have taken the ferry to Bilbao.

We have often wondered about the cost difference between driving from Calais or from Bilbao.   In this case, we were able to arrive at the Algarve for less than the ferry ticket to Bilbao alone would have cost us, be it at a relatively short notice and more expensive purchase price.  However obviously driving down takes much longer and ‘wears’ the van more so it really is horses for courses I suppose.