West Alentejo

(12th March to 23rd March)

Our first stop on the Alentejo coast was pretty Zambujeira do Mar which has a full time population of only 800 people and is a popular tourist haven in the summer months.  Then we detoured inland to Odemira but we decided not to stay as there did not seem that much to see. From there we retraced our steps a little to stop briefly at coastal Vila Nova de Milfontes which in a sense is a larger Zambujeira (I am sure the locals from both these places will disagree with my rushed generalisation!)

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An ideal peaceful location on the outskirts of Zambujeira

Finally we headed into Porto Covo, a sleepy sea side town near Sines.   We had travelled considerably farther then we had planned but I must admit I have being missing the driving. On our evening walk around the small port we met a couple from Wales who were on a cycling holiday whose end point was at the free dance music festival ‘Freequency’ in the Alto Alentejo.  They had also died their hair green and had it cut in a mohican style.  After a few beers they both admitted that their hair was attracting undue attention on the roads with passing cars beeping their horns or in worse cases, shouting out of the windows at them!!  We ended the night strangely by shaving both their heads with my cordless clippers into sensible crew cuts right outside of the bar (we had prior permission by the bar owner and it was also really windy leaving little trace of green hair)….  Even though we only spent 2 nights at Porto Covo, we could see it’s appeal and why many motorhomers stay there longer (hello to Paul and Yvonne, great to meet you, never guess a nationality by their number plates!!!)

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Parked at the camperstop in Porto Covo was this Polish DIY rig.  You just need a lorry, an old caravan and a couple of bolts.

Next up was Santiago do Cacem, chosen only by it’s name.  It lies slightly inland with a large Knights Templar castle sitting above the old town.  Also the locals seemed pretty friendly as being unsure whether we could get through the old town I stopped at the entrance to ask the motorist behind.  As a result of my question, him with the help of other locals ended up stopping the on coming traffic and leading me up the wrong way through the one way system ensuring we missed the worse of the twisty old town.  It was quite funny seeing the startled kerbed drivers shock as we rumbled past the wrong way.

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You could see the sea from the castle in Santiago do Cacem.

Also whilst at Santiago we took the opportunity to go for a swim at the municipal swimming baths.  It was a fantastic modern facility and the showers were ‘amazing’ (read: ‘normal’ to anyone who lives in a house!)

Comporta was our next stop for four nights.  This is a small village that lies at the foot of a thin 20km strip of land that leads up to the river Sado.  This slither of land is surrounded by the Atlantic on one side and the marshy Sado estuary on the other.  Other than Comporta at it’s base and millionaire’s playground Troia at it’s tip the strip is not inhabited by humans.  On the Friday we cycled the 40km round trip to Troia, checking out the lovely Praia da Comporta en-route.  This was to be our destination on the Saturday as the weather was boiling and both Sharon and I managed a dip in the Atlantic.  Once in the sea we met Spaniard Juan through mutual yelps “it’s cold, it’s cold” and him and his partner Anna were to be our companions at the beach side bar to watch the glorious west coast sun set.

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This mural on a wall in Comporta village summarises the feel of the place. 

On the way back, inspired by the take away ‘frango no carvao’ we had at Porto Covo we decided to sample another in Comporta village.  At the restuarante/bar two things happened 1)  they had let the coals go out as it was nearing their closing time so there were to be no barbequed chickens 2)  we met the locals!!

Settling for baked cod in cream as our take out we were guided home by Comportista Antonio who was a local farmer, rice fielder and hunter.  He wanted to give us a local bottle of white wine to go with our take out (which obviously we did not refuse).  Once in his kitchen we shared ‘one for the road’ and then he proceeded to give us more gifts:  a wild boar’s fang as Sharon had mentioned her wild boar eating world tour and set of base ball caps and T’shirts from the recent town festival.  He was an interesting and generous person.  Obrigado Antonio, ate o proximo fez!

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This cat came to visit us everyday at Comporta and was not in least bit shy.  She was from a neighbouring house, was pregnant and looked contented and well looked after.

After the relatively long stay at Comporta we continued north circling the Bahia de Setubal to Aguas de Moura to see the oldest and largest cork tree in Portugal, the castle at Sesimbra (Sharon’s favourite so far) and finally staying put at the foot of the Cabo Espichel lighthouse.

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To be honest this was a bit random, we chose to stop and see the oldest cork tree in Portugal.  It made a nice change from a church/castle…….

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Oppps, spoke too soon.  It was not long after the tree that we visited Sesimbre where there the castle has a church at the centre!!!!  Nice tiling though.

Cabo Espichel was remote and windy and compares with Cabo Sao Vicente in terms of views, however on the plus side for motorhomers is that you can stay the night.  We had an interrupted night’s sleep though as the van rocked and creaked as it was buffered by the strong winds off the coast.

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Alone at Cabo Espichel, with the lighthouse one way……

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…..and the Convent the other.

In the morning we completed the PR2 walking trial around the Cabo where we discovered dinosaur footprints in the cliff sides (they are well sign posted by the way!)

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Seriously, they are dinosaur foot prints.

For our final stop in the Alentejo we randomly chose Fonte da Telha.  Being only 20km from Lisbon we were really surprised to find out it was undeveloped, had a really low percentage of second homes with the majority of the houses being populated by local families.  The village’s roads were compacted sand and this added to the simple feel of the place.  Also we managed to park directly at the side of the beach and the view of the sea was completely uninterrupted and was truly fantastic.

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Our view of the beach at our parking place in Fonte da Telha

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Our next region will be the Extremadura and Lisbon is around the corner so we are prepping ourselves mentally after the calmness and simplicity of Fonte da Telha for our visit to the capital city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Western Algarve

(12th March)

Sagres was always a milestone on the trip for reason both geographical and psychological.  We that once we turned the corner north at Sagres our lazy travel time in the Algarve would be coming to an end and we would now begin to start moving north spanning the length of Portugal stitching between the coast and inland to places we have not visited before.

Before we found a place to park the camper overnight we took the obligatory short drive out to Cabo Sao Vicente where you can see both the south and west Algarvian coast’s cliffs petering away in the distance.  In the afternoon we walked from the Fortress car park (where we stayed the night) into Sagres itself.  The town seemd pretty much as it was nine years ago when I was last here, maybe a few more surf shops and bars have popped up but in the main the place still held it’s windy charm especially at it’s harbour.

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Taken from Cabo Sao Vicente, the Algarve west coast.

For our last night in the Algarve we choose the famous surf beach Praia Amado in Carrapateira.  The sun was high and shining as we bumped down the 2km lane which made the end destination the perfect setting.  Furthermore, it was a full moon that night and being off the beaten track made the stars and moon light even more memorable.

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Praia do Amado.

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The full moon rising over the van at Praia do Amado.

Also in the memory banks was a visit from the local GNR police.  They drove slowly around the rustic beach car park moving on any vans that had their awnings or chairs and tables out.  My personal view on this is quite positive as all motorhomers should know the rules/etiquette about ‘no camping behaviour in public places’ but people continually insist on breaking them. My worry is that this constant push on the boundaries will soon ruin it for everyone and motorhomes will be banned from public car parks and will have to remain on campsites.  Is this what we all want????????  I know I don’t………….

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The public car park at Praia do Amado.  I am sure we all would like to continue to stay the night at these type of places…

The next morning we pretty much headed off aimless, now not bound by the winter sun confines of the Algarve, the weather is getting much hotter recently.  On our drive through the remainder of the Algarvian west coast took us to Alijezur where we stopped and walked up to it’s castle. We finally crossed the Algarve/Alentejo boarder at Odeceixe leaving it’s picturesque beach for another tour, you can’t see everything……

 

 

 

Mid Algarve and little bit of the Alentejo

Staying at ;Centeira Motorhome Friends’ was certainly very social and we ended up staying five nights in all. The boules went well and I picked up a small prize as my team came 3rd (there were only four teams in total!) but unfortunately we had missed the famous barbecue so we made up for it by staying until the communal soup and sausage night. The social aspect came from tying up with three other Brit couples and every night we had a happy hour of drinks at each others vans which was entertaining.  Also credit to Pedro and team who run the site as they are trying something different – an example of this is that when I pulled up outside the gates he came running out to greet us and even used our names, previous to this first meet up I had only spoke to him briefly by phone and this is why they have some many long stayers on site.

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Happy hour at Centeira – cheers!

Centeira was also not too far away from Paderne which is a great little small village with an out lying castle. On the day after the soup night Sharon and I managed an extended walk taking in the mill, ford and castle – we also treated ourselves to a frango no charrasco in Paderne centre at local restaurant ‘Los Arcos’.

Moving south to Portimao we were unsure where to stop the night. Again we had been picking up motorhome rumours that vans had been moved away from the estuary side. We saw little evidence of this and an opportunistic drive by of Ferragudo (over the river from Portimao) produced our stop over, which ended up being three nights in total.

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Looking back over the estuary in Ferragudo.  We were worried that the campers had been moved off…….

On the first night we visited on foot the city centre of Portimao which in our opinion seemed relatively normal and light on tourism. However, by contrast, our bike ride to near by Praia do Rocha showed us that to tourist season is hotting up, in line with the weather, and many holiday makers were out in force on the beach and in the bars. On our return back to Ferregudo we spotted an English motorhome that had jammed it’s rear overhang into a parked car in one of the narrow Portimao streets. This is something I imagine every driver fears and served as a reminder to avoid old towns and to always remember your back end. The driver, who was a lone woman, was dealing relatively well with the local police however we did hang around to offer some support if some Portuguese translation was needed. Overall though we thought the Police were very helpful and they made sure she got back on to her journey to Carveiro as calmly as possible.

In the evening we had another walk back over to Portimao as we had picked up a ‘carnival’ itinerary at the Tourist office. This listed a live parade on the waters front starting at 7pm. We have seen pictures of carnival, especially the one in Loule so we were expecting great things – music, dancing samba ladies and of course many floats. We started to feel slightly deflated as the promenade was completely lacking of people and the locals that we asked knew nothing of the parade. We killed some time on a bench watching the world go by when finally a gang of six teenagers arrived and banged a few drums for about five minutes. In the end we decided if we are down here again we will make sure we go to Loule!!!

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A Ferragudo house project anyone?

We both liked Ferregudo as it has a small village feel and a great little main square who’s perimeter is lined with restaurants, but it has the advantage of being next to the city of Portimao. It also has a great beach too and we can see why it is becoming a popular destination for overseas property buyers.

Next up was Alvor which is another popular coastal holiday destination. We only stayed one night here and managed a small walk around the pretty habour and the small church. We were quite surprised though to find a street full on both sides of ‘ex-pat’ type novelty pubs and clubs and this area seemed obviously completely at odds to the quiet harbour.

In need to see something different we decided to visit Monchique which is in the mountains directly north of Portimao. It is famous for being in the mountain range that is the highest in the Algarve and were hoped to walk to the this summit in Foia. Armed with a map from the tourist office we set off across the off road trails. Again we were walking on the Via Algarviana (300km walk from Alcoutim to Sagres) and every time we venture onto this trial we visualise what a great walking holiday it would make. Once at Foia we were a little disappointed though as we were expecting for some reason a small village at the 900m summit, what we did find was that the only inhabitants were communication masts which suppose makes complete sense!

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Early morning mist rising over Monchique on the way to the Convent that sits over town.  The convent is occupied (unfortunately the Lonely Planet uses the word ‘squatted’) by a couple of guys and they let Sharon and I look inside and around….Obrigado meus amigos.  On another day I returned to the Convent and shared a few beers with them to find out their story.

Monchique was also the place where we found ourselves celebrating our one year travel anniversary and the occasion meant a visit to a local restaurant in town. Much to Sharon’s delight the ‘prato do dia’ was javali (wild boar) which meant she could continue her wild boar eating world tour. In the main square on our return walk to the camper will finally caught some Carnival action, be it of the more traditional kind than the naked Loule ladies. We also noticed that the town were having a large food and music festival in a couple of days time so we decided to return for the weekend.

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Local people enjoying Carnival in Monchique

To pass the few days before the festival we dipped into Alentejo again to Barregem da Santa Clara. Here we parked along side the reservoir and enjoyed sitting outside of the van in the sun however this was short lived as the sun turned to torrential rain. By the second day we took the opportunity of a sunny break and made a brisk walk (5km) to Santa Clara village stopping for a rest at the local bar at the petrol station. This was an unlikely venue to meet up with an English couple and to their credit they returned to the bar as the weather had yet again changed (sleet this time!) and offered a much needed lift back to the van which we were very grateful for.

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The weather was varied at the Barregem, but this view from the van made up for it.

The festival at Monchique was a lot of fun and Sharon yet again managed a plate of wild boar just before the main act ‘Quinto do Bill’ started playing. I quite liked this Portuguese group as they played Celt Rock and I joined the throngs dancing (po-going?) to their set.

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Portuguese Celt Rock, Quinta do Bill.  Guess who they reminded me of?????

Finally the end instalment to this blog is the hedonistic party town of Lagos, the chosen venue for my 41st birthday. On our arrival at the car park of the municipal football stadium which was to be our home for the next few nights we spotted posters for an international womens football tournament and on that afternoon Sweden were playing against Holland. As the entrance was free we popped along with many of the other motorhomers that were parked up and enjoyed the game in the sun (Holland 1 – Sweden 0).

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The Swedish support was well organised and strong at the annual Algarve International Cup, 6th March 17.

My actual birthday saw us visit the old town in Lagos where we celebrated at a local restaurant at the public market. Here we ate ‘cabrito’ stew which is a local dish. There seems some confusion as to what ‘cabrito’ is at this restaurant, as the direct translation is mutton, but we were advised by a Canadian couple who live in Albafeira and travel to this restaurant every month or so that they use ‘goat’. What ever it was, it made a substantial foundation for some birthday drinks that ensued afterwards……

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Typical motorhome stop over sign.  This one in Lagos and we are quite sure the locals are getting fed up with it.

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We have almost travelled the whole of the Algarve now and ‘WASP and KAMS’ have tagged the whole region.