Vertically north through Portugal?

27th February to 1st March

There were some changes happening on Tuesday 27th February morning and the first and most striking was the weather, the rain had finally reached us.  The second change was our mood, not only did we have to say goodbye (again) to Rick and Mary which is always a downer but we also had to face facts that we had reached a journey milestone.  This milestone was that we would now be in the trip phase known as ‘heading home’ and even though we still have the best part of four weeks to travel back we always note a change in atmosphere as the focus changes to travelling and not passing time.  We can’t say that it is depressing or anything negative, but the ‘driving back cloud’ seems to change everything: conversation with other travellers, our diet, the places we park, our social time, our finances as suddenly diesel returns as one of the big hitters, and finally we would be doing this for the first time with a dog.

So after a wet goodbye session, I will always remember the nice Norwegian lady waving us off at the ‘Motorhome Friends’ gate, smile still beeming as she was trying not to look too put out about getting completely soaked, we orientated the cab of the van northwards and started heading up the 2/IP2.

Progress was quite slow due to the wet weather and on our first night of this leg of the journey we stayed alongside the Intermarche supermarket at Portel north of Beja.  We have stayed at Portel before in 2017, that time on the way down, and it is a nice enough town with a dominating castle that sits high above the town.  This time though I was able to do more exploring, further a field that the castle, which is a beauty of having a dog, and discovered a residential area complete with football stadium and park and an old derelict convent.

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Our view of the castle at Portel.  The weather was wet and miserable but much needed and longed for by the Portuguese.

After a quick zip around Intermarche we left Portel without a detination in mind.  Our route up Portugal would involve in the majority the IP2 (non toll) up to Castelo Branco but we had still not made a decision of where we were going to exit Portugal.

Battling against the rain and Storm Emma we decided to leave the 2 and cut the corner off and headed to Vila Velha de Rodao on the 18.  This is an excellent road for views and for people who love hair pin bends and at times it has those ‘don’t look down’ moments through the drivers side window.

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On the way to Vila Velha de Rodao we passed through Portalegre.  Whenever I see these road signs it conjures up thoughts and memories of my life in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  The cities are not connected at all, only by having slightly similar names, nevertheless “Um grande abraço a todos os meus amigos em Porto Alegre. Esperamos que no futuro a visitemos. Sempre saudades”

Vila Velha de Rodao was a good choice for a stop over.  First of all the municipal Aire is free whilst the adjacent campsite is closed for winter, but further to this it lies next to the Portas do Rodao where the river Tejo squeezes through two aggressively inclined hill sides, creating a kind of door way, hence the name.  It was the shame the weather was overcast and wet but this did not deter us making a walk around the edge of town and visiting the riverside bar, sheltering us from the rain of course.

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The view of the ‘Portas’ when we were there………

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In the sun they look like this!

We left Vila Velha again in the rain which convinced us to make the decision to abandon any hopes of climbing Portugal in a straight line upwards all the way to the north Spanish coast, a journey which would add an extra 800Kms to the more direct diagonal route.  Instead we hatched a plan to leave Portugal at Vilar Formoso, which was not too far away, meaning that by lunchtime we would be saying a final ‘Tchau’ to Portugal for this trip.

This will be a memorable Portugal episode, one where we will look back and remember picking up Rita, my Mum and Dad visiting Faro and of course the many new friends we have met on the way.  It really has been one big social event and has been thoroughly enjoyable.

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The sun did come out briefly to light up the Tejo side municipal Aire at Vila Velha de Rodao.  This would be the location of our last night’s sleep in Portugal.

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Family in Faro, friends in Centeira

13 Feb to 27 Feb.

It was a good job that we have been travelling really slowly as my parents made a last minute week trip out to Faro to escape the really cold weather in the UK so of course we planned to meet up with them in the city as we had still not travelled further west.

We staged ourselves at Santa Luzia (again) for two nights prior to Faro where we had a Praia da Barril walk scuppered by a ‘no dogs’ sign placed at the entry point of the bridge over to the island.  Oh well, this is the first time we have been ‘Rita’ restricted in over a month of having her so we were not too put out.

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Dogs aren’t allowed over to Praia da Barril island near Santa Luzia

20180228_184340We also found this sign on a restaurant’s door, it is a spitting image of Rita!!!! 

Parking was really easy in Faro as there is a dedicated motorhome space right in the centre of town by the citadel which made the family meet up stress free for us, or so we thought.

We had known about the Volta ao Algarve before hand and in fact I had suggested that the final stage, which left from Faro at noon on Sunday, could be on the itinerary of things to do and see with my Mum and Dad.  However after enquiring with the Police and the tourist office we learned that the international cycle race would be using the municipal car park for all the support groups, media trucks and pits so consequently we then feared that our prized parking space would be in jeopardy.  Since we were right on the edge of the car park we decided to wait until the Sunday morning to see if we would be infringing on the event or not as even up until the Saturday afternoon the local policemen was not certain exactly how much space was required.  This uncertainty was answered on the Sunday morning as we woke to find the van inside the event’s cordon convincing us to move straight away on to nearby Praia do Faro.

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Early Sunday morning prior to the noon start of the Volta ao Algarve.  We were pleased with ourselves as with the use of two levelling wedges and a bit of reversing over the deep kerb behind us we managed to leave the cordon without breaking the tape.  

Upon reflection I think both of us were glad that the opportunity arrose to move to Praia do Faro as it was really unspoilt and exactly not what we were expecting from Faro’s nearest beach.  On arrival we decided to park over the bridge and on Ilha do Faro itself which made exploring the beach and traditional fishing village even easier.

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Ilha do Faro is a thin strip of land, what a fantastic place that is definitely worth visiting (obrigado ‘Volta’!)  I also managed two early morning dips in the sea.

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At one end of the island is a traditional fisherman’s village which is still full of activity and life.  All of the houses can not be accessed by cars and it had a really special feel that we absorbed as we strolled through steeling glimpses of how other people live their lives.

Praia do Faro also threw up another treasure beyond the tranquil sights and expansive sandy beaches and that was Rick and Mary who we had met in Manta Rota.  They managed to park in front of us on our second day there and that reminded us of Anne and Colin who managed to do the same parking trick three times, in three different countries over a span of 10 months, imagine the probability of that.

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Our view of the bridge that links to Ilha do Faro.  

We made one more rendezvous to Faro to meet my parents where we all (including Rita) had a another great meal out at a typical Portuguese restaurant.  Here my parents regaled their tales of their previous couple of days alone in Faro where they watched the start of the ‘Volta’ and also took a ferry over to Ilha Deserta where on the return the captain allowed Dad to navigate the ferry unaided through the Rio Formosa whilst the captain chatted to one of his friends at the rear of the vessel….

From my personal point of view I was really pleased to have been able see my parents whilst on the road as combining family and motorhome travel is not always that easy.  I am grateful that they took the effort to fly over and that their trip passed without incident as all the time they were here I felt a small, but still detectable, underlying sense of responsibility.

From a more practical view, Faro city made for a really easy place to meet up with people.  On the motorhoming front both Praia do Faro and Parking Largo S. Francisco by Faro citadel allow for very easy access to the city centre, the former parking place though requiring a bus journey in and out.  In fact if you are parked on the main land side at Praia do Faro we are sure you could even walk round to the arrivals terminal to personally meet your visitors as this parking place is literally at the side of the runway.

From the visitors perspective, the airport is really near the centre requiring just a 11 euro trip to reach a centrally based hotel or a much cheaper local bus for the more adventurous.

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Can you spot yourselves Mum and Dad?  It was great seeing you and we are really pleased that you enjoyed yourselves in Faro and thank you for the last night meal out.  We will have to do it again in the future, next time hopefully with Sally.

Whilst with Rick and Mary we combined to meet up over the weekend at ‘Motorhome Friends’ at Centeira (near Paderne) as they have an all you can eat and drink barbecue on the Saturday night.  Whilst ringing through to owner Pedro to reserve our places he told us that the barbecue was to be on the Sunday night this week as it was his colleague Alex’s birthday and therefore we twigged that we would be revisiting the site exactly one year later from our last visit.  To fill the gap between my parent’s departure and our meet up date we holed ourselves up in Quarteira enjoying the beach and the long promenade.

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Vans parked up under the pines beach side just outside Quarteira.

Motorhome friends never fails to disappoint and it was even better sharing the experience with Rick and Mary.  We all ‘pigged’ out at the birthday barbecue, which was held during the afternoon, that was made special by a whole hog roast (editors note: and a couple of litres of wine!)  Another lasting memory will be the international boules match that we played on Saturday afternoon against a resident Norwegian team and thankfully, thanks to Mary and Sharon’s efforts, the Brits won 13-12.

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Happy Birthday Alex!  His family donated Paulinha the pig.  We all agreed she was pretty tasty if not somewhat committed to the party proceedings.  

So with spending time with my parents and then Rick and Mary our trip has continued to be really social which we have to say we have really enjoyed.  This trip has definitely been more social than any of our previous. We are now feeling a little pressured as our time on tour is nearing the end as we only have just under a month left.  We don’t want to travel too fast back home bearing in mind Rita and it is probable that we will start tipping the nose of the van north really soon.  So long winter sun, so long Algarve, until the next time.