When you last heard from us we were still at Praia da Rocha, on the south coast of the Algarve, where we had been spending time with Peter’s Dad who had come out for a week’s holiday. We stayed for another week as it provided a convenient place to work on Heidi; doing a bit of painting and cleaning. Then we headed back East in preparation for our next visitors, Elaine’s Dad and sister, who were coming to stay in an apartment in Albuferia.
‘Praia Dos Arrifes’, just west of Albufiera becomes home for a couple of days. It’s a very dramatic and picturesque coastline here and we attempt a walk along the coast path. The sandstone cliffs have been badly eroded and the path has been repeatedly washed away, diverted, or left just about hanging on, before disappearing over the edge. We catch tantalising glimpses of perfect but inaccessible beaches before circling back inland to ease Elaine’s nerves on the knife edge path.
Then we return to ‘Praia dos Tomates’, a bit further east, near Falesia. The beach here is backed by dramatic red and ochre yellow sandstone cliffs and thankfully only sparse development. We enjoy soaking up the sunshine and long walks along the beach and cliff top paths before heading back into Albufeira itself to meet the rellies.
We’d managed to scout out a suitable parking spot on a dead end road behind some apartments; a lot of which are holiday places and are still pretty quiet at this time of year. The four of us venture out in Heidi once, but she’s pretty cramped for four for very long, so we hire a car for a few days and let Heidi have a rest.
A busy week – for us. We visit more relatives who live near Aljezur on the west coast, and also the town of Alvor, just west of Portimao. We have lunch out most days, eating far too much whilst the sun shone down and the wine flowed. We spent a couple of days mooching around the old town of Albufeira which turned out to be a lot more appealing than people had told us. Admittedly it’s early in the season. I don’t think I’d fancy it much when the hoards arrive later in the year.
A highlight was Fado night (at the Atrium restaurant in old Albufiera). This time it was a male singer, as usual accompanied by one Portuguese and one classical guitar. They host different singers and we definitely struck lucky with our choice of night. It was unsurprisingly mainly a tourist audience, but “Cesar Matoso” was obviously considered good enough to attract in some local aficionados who also, with some encouragement, got up and sang a few pieces – and very good they were too. The food didn’t disappoint and the serving was well organised so as not to interfere with the performance too much. A complete contrast to our first Fado experience! You can listen to Cesar Mataso here: https://youtu.be/lAyIqzkR1kc and here: https://youtu.be/Ub2799f5YnM ,or the much more famous example of Amalia Rodrigues who popularised the genre around the world from the 1950s: https://youtu.be/ARS7Zi-Zpkw
On 11th March Colin and Clare flew back to the UK and we began to head West again. We stayed at ‘Praia de Albandeira’ for a few days; a small beach carpark above what our guide book says is “the most attractive bit of the Algarve coast”. It’s certainly spectacular, with numerous blow-holes, arches and offshore stacks. There’s a coast path both ways and although falling away in places, it’s a whole lot more usable than our last attempt on the coast path. It’s a calm, warm weekend and we spend time sunbathing and swimming. The water’s still cold, but quickly becomes bearable once you’re in. Wish we had a canoe. It would be an ideal way to explore this coast.
On to Alvor again, but the weather turns, making the coast less attractive and we head inland to ‘Barragem Da Brauvra’ for a walk through the Eucalyptus forests around the reservoir. It rains but remains warm. Peter’s new cork hat is indeed waterproof! The next day is clear and fresh and we sit out enjoying the sunshine and the view. Late in the evening a car and caravan from Czech turns up and the next day I’m surprised to be woken by a cockerel. There’s no houses nearby and we didn’t hear it yesterday… Turn’s out the Czech caravan contains 2 Adults, 2 kids (the human variety), 4 dogs!, a cat and 5 chicken’s! They wave as they collect the freshly laid eggs. Much as I kind of admire their balls to come and set up such a home in this carpark, it’s obviously not going to go down very well with some people and will undoubtedly lead to trouble for us. Sure enough a local restaurant owner soon turns up with much blaring of horn, saying they (and we) can’t stay there and the police will come and fine us. Would have liked to chat to them and find out their story, but we were thinking of moving anyway and decide to head off towards the west coast. We pass through Bensafrim, Sao Joao, Sao Miguel, Budens – a nice route along quiet roads through open rolling countryside. Seems a popular area for expat. properties and there’s plenty of land for sale – tempting. We head through Vila Do Bispo and out to a parking / picnic spot on the road to ‘Praia do Castelejo’ for the night.
We slowly head up the west coast for a bit, visiting Elaine’s rellies near Aljezur again and joining their local expat. walking group for their twice weekly walk. Now I know we’re none too fit, and Peter’s recently twisted ankle doesn’t help, but we we’re struggling to keep up with these ‘oldies’. And, we were up, breakfasted and at the meeting point for 9am; not a time that usually features in our walking schedule! Living down here with all that clean air coming off the Atlantic is obviously good for you. And there’s plenty of ‘air’. It’s a wild windy coast. Big waves crash against the shore with nothing to interrupt them between here and America making it a popular surfing destination. We carry around a couple of little body boards that don’t get used much – and I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon! The waves look scary; as do the fit! young! surfers. Maybe we’re getting old?
We spend a few days at a clifftop carpark at Odeceixe and walk part of the long distance coastal path; the Rota Vicentina. Apparently you can follow a marked coastal route all the way from Cape St. Vincent in the far south west to Scandinavia! There’s certainly some spectacular views along this section. It’s Easter weekend and festivities include a ‘Folar’ festival in town so we go to check it out. Folar is a sort of Easter bread / brioche sort of thing. It seemed very popular, but it didn’t really do it for us. A big marquee had been set up with a variety of local food too; cheeses and cured ‘chorizo’-like sausages. Verdict (so far): expensive and not nearly as good as the Spanish equivalents. Oh well, one must try these things.
On the 26th March we head inland, finally leaving the Algarve region in favour of the Alentejo. The coastal sandy scrubland gives way to richer more fertile soils, planted with wheat or grazed by cattle. The rolling hills are dotted with cork oaks and look weirdly like landscaped parkland. We spot the region’s famous black pigs too. Some of the fields we pass by are fantastically yellow; covered in Lupins. They’re grown here for food. We’ve tried what we thought were pickled broad beans, found in the shops next to jars of olives and pickled gherkins. On closer inspection, having found a jar with English labelling, we find they are Lupin seeds. They weren’t nice; or perhaps that was just the salty brine they were in? Google reckons they’re used for cattle feed in the UK. A more appropriate use I would think! As we head east, more and more olives and grape vines begin to appear. There are hundreds of relatively small vineyards here and the shops have extensive selections all labelled according to the local region. And it goes without saying that the prices are good too; 3 or 4 euros will procure a pretty decent bottle.
Alentejo has numerous reservoirs to cope with the hot, dry summers here, often with ideal Heidi parking spots next to them. We spend several days exploring around the Alqueva Reservoir, the largest in Europe, that temporarily restrains the Guadiana River on the Spanish border, along with several others. Not for the first time, I yearn for a boat.
There’s plenty of, generally well-marked, walking routes too, often leaving from the tourist info. in the towns and then heading out into the countryside. We manage to get quite a bit of route info. online too. www.herancasalentejo.net
Most of the smaller places here are pretty quiet, but not dead, and the bigger towns seem more ‘manageable’. We’re not ‘city people’ and suits us well.
There’s lots of history here too, with seemingly endless Medieval fortress towns perched on all the high points. Some are so small and spectacularly situated (read high, cold and a bit isolated if you’re not actually needing to defend yourself anymore) that they’ve become not much more than tourist attractions. However the majority remain real, lived in, communities and are all the more attractive for it. We never cease to be amazed where people manage to get cars in these places – definitely not Heidi friendly! We spend a couple of days exploring Evora, the busiest and most extensive Medieval town in these parts. Incredibly more than 2/3rds of the population still live within it’s largely intact 14th century walls. We enjoy wandering around the narrow cobbled lanes, visiting the cathedral and other impressive churches and trying out the local cuisine in the cafes and restaurants. There’s an ancient aqueduct which sadly no longer brings the water into the centre of town, there’s Moorish architecture, and the remains of a Roman temple all squished together to make what is a very interesting place. We could have easily spent longer here – and there’s a vast, free parking area just outside the walls, making ideal motorhome parking.
To add to our delicious experience of the local faire; pork cheeks, roasted lamb – both cooked long and slow; fall-off-the-bone, yum, served at the Dom Joaquim Restaurant in Evora, we were also accosted with some of the local hospitality from neighbouring Portuguese ‘vanners. We went to visit the tiny hilltop castle town of Monsaraz and before we’d even got out of the van, they insisted that we join them at their bbq. “Come on, come on, bring your chairs, we have plenty”. Delicious pork chops and grilled octopus with plenty of oil and fresh herbs followed. And wine. And some sort of Easter cake. And chocolate covered almonds. And port. And no, we couldn’t contribute anything! They did let us pay for our own ice-cream when we walked up to the castle later. An enjoyable afternoon in glorious sunshine with far reaching views over the reservoir below. Normal Portuguese hospitality they assured us. There’s considerably less of us ‘vanners around here than further south in the Algarve, and we’ve not seen that many locals; maybe we should seek them out 😉 Oh, and thinking of food, we mustn’t forget the ‘soup fest’; the ‘Congresso Das Acordas’ in the small town of Portal. We’d seen it advertised on posters around the place. Not mentioned in any tourist info. It was definitely going to be a proper local experience. We discover a big marquee complete with rows and rows of tables all set out for the many willing tasters. For €11 we get a ticket to try up to 4 different ones. Elaine manages 2 and Peter 3, and no more eating was done that day. They were very filling. “Acorda” seems to have developed from what must have been a traditional staple around here in times gone by. First fill your bowl with plenty of small chunks of bread, then pour over some rather thin and watery stock (many different types to choose from) and then add whatever bits of protein you can muster; a poached egg, some salt cod or various bits of traditional chorizo sausage or some crispy pork scratchings. In our case, this was all served for us by waiters surrounding ‘the table of choices’ and had as much ‘bits of protein’ as we requested. Well, rude not to try it all. I suspect in the past, it was more a way of making the, often very heavy and perhaps stale, local bread palatable and filling you up. Can’t say we were overly impressed, but the place was packed and it was obviously a big deal for the locals. The festival lasted all weekend, with official judges for the best recipe, ‘show cooking’ and talks on ingredients. Over lunch we were serenaded from the stage by the local Alentejo Singers. A traditional male voice choir, reminding Elaine of her Welsh roots. Is there a celtic connection here? There was to be ‘Fado’ in the evening too but by mid-afternoon with very full tummys we thought we’d had enough local experience for one day.
Heading north now, into Alto Alentejo ..see you soon.
And lastly, very corny, but it does give a good overview of the delights of the Alentejo countryside: