Category Archives: Uncategorized

Staying put and reminiscing

As most of our followers out there in webland know, Heidi has been resting and having some tlc this summer, whilst we try out being campsite wardens for the season.

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We’re at South Breazle, Bratton Clovelly, between Okehampton and Launceston in North Devon.

We’re slowly adding photos to a facebook album:

Summer 2017 as campsite wardens.

Posted by Peter Borthwick on Saturday, June 10, 2017

And making a combined GoogleMap of all our stops and POIs to date:

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Morocco Bound

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Heidi’s off on her travels again. This time we’re heading for Morocco and we’re trying something different; Heidi has her own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/heidihymer/
Click on ‘Follow’ (at the top, under the picture) to get regular updates of what we’re up to.

We’re also making another Google Map of our journey:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=17-PwVY-8jswSXyMgaoqmzS14Bxw&usp=sharing
This time there’ll be more pictures and a diary / blog attached to the relevant positions on the map. Just click on the markers.

Facebook is much easier to work with and is more interactive and easy to ‘chat’ etc. The Map more easily ties the photos and stories to a location and is easier for us to add to as and when we can.We’ll see how this works. Let us know your thoughts..

A brief glimpse of Northern Spain, then through France to the ferry.

 

On Monday 2nd May, we entered Spain from the North East of Portugal, via the tiny border town of Rio de Onar. We travel up and over a high area of sparse scrubland with a few forestry plantations, before descending to spend the night by the river at Puebla de Santabra, beneath the imposing medieval fortress town on the rock above. Something is very different. Everybody is ‘doing the paseo’. It’s so much more prevalent here. And just to confirm we’re in Spain now, we’re parked next to an unfinished development, complete with overgrown roads, footpaths and streetlights 🙂

In the morning we follow the A52 motorway East, and then the A66 north to big, busy, Leon for some shopping. We do love the Spanish ‘Mercadonna’ supermarket. Sooo much good stuff, Sooo cheap, and a charcuterie section to die for! Stocked up, we head east again, across flat plains, before the mountains slowly begin to rise again. We pass through Guardo, an unattractive industrial place, before joining a high route through the mountains. We skirt round the Compuerto reservoir and head higher, towards the snow-capped peak of ‘Espiguete(2450m). Over a pass at 1408m, before descending again down to the smaller Ruesga Reservoir, just before the town of Cervera de Pisuerga, for the night. A lovely quiet spot (apart from the noisy singing frogs hehe). The sky has been a stunning clear blue all day. We’re still at around 1000m. It’s going to be a cold night!

This is a beautiful area. Wish we could stay and explore longer, but the dreaded ‘schedule’ is upon us. In the morning we leave, via the CL626, heading east, and then it’s north again on the A67 motorway, down, down, down to the coast. We join the coastal motorway near Santander. It’s busy! There aren’t many options along here. The mountains seem to fall straight into the sea. We stop just before Bilbao at a recommended cliff top carpark for an afternoon sitting out in the sunshine.

In the morning we make the big mistake of trying to avoid the boring motorway and end up in traffic in central Bilbao. Not a recommended experience! We then try and take the coast road for a bit of scenery and to visit a few places along the way. Another big mistake! It turns out to be a nightmare and one of the most stressful and downright physically hard drives I’ve ever done. Up and down endlessly twisty turny roads. It’s a truly mad landscape all along this coast. Reminding us of Switzerland in places, we rarely glimpse the coast. We go over 500m passes on the closest road to the coast!  It’s very tiring, very slow progress. The towns (Bermeo, Lekeitio,..), that from a brief glance at the map, might have been attractive, are busy, tightly packed with flats, all at least 6-7 stories high, and virtually nowhere for us to stop either. We take a break just outside Lekeitio,

but when the tide is in, the waves echo annoyingly, all around. Maybe it’s the frayed nerves from the driving, but we don’t fancy being woken by it in the early hours of the morning when the tide comes in again, and so move on again. There are very few options without a BIG detour and we continue along the nightmare coast road trying to take it steady and not use the brakes too much – they’re now grinding badly at every turn, which is constantly, whether we’re using them in earnest or not. Not good! To end this drive from hell, we stop at an official spot  in what turns out to be an industrial estate, next to a 24hr engineering workshop with continuous lathe and grinding noise – Nice! Almost anywhere would be better. We’re at Zumaia, a biggish port with more ugly flats. Don’t bother! Infact, i’d think twice about stopping anywhere along this bit of coast in the future. On a mission to extricate ourselves from this mess, we manage to find a much needed garage on the outskirts of San Sebastian. They were very busy, but managed to fit us in, order new brake pads (the old ones had crumpled to dust but luckily the discs had survived), replace them and have us on our way again within 3hrs. (Euromaster – there’s one in most major places in Europe and we’ve found them good and efficient). Instructed to use the brakes sparingly for a bit, we took the mechanic at his word and didn’t touch them much for the next couple of hundred miles. We made tracks, gladly paying the €11.35 charges on the motorway to be out of the mess that id Northern Spain (come off at ‘Labenne’, France. Jct. 7 or 8? to avoid further charges). We didn’t stop until we were north of Bordeaux, France, where we pulled off the N10, and spend the night at the quiet little village of Laruscade. It’s good to be in rural France. All we can hear now is the birds tweeting – what a contrast to yesterday!

Next it’s back to the free, and motorway standard, N10, taking us quickly past Angouleme, towards Poitiers. Bored and as usual seeing nothing of the areas we’re rushing through, we turn off and head for Candes-St-Martin, between Angers and Tours, on the Loire river. Candes-St-Martin is supposed to be “one of the prettiest villages on the Loire”. It’s certainly an attractive little place, built out of the very white limestone of the area. It’s very busy, perhaps because there’s some sort of fete going on, but perhaps everybody else has read that it’s the prettiest village too? True to form, we come in the ‘back way’ following the Sat Nav, and end up in the narrow “camping-car interdit!” section in the centre 🙂 Well, there were no signs the way we came in! The following day we manage to loop back round the town. Avoiding the centre, to Monontsoreau and continue along the river to Saumur. It’s a nice stretch of river with several small villages famous for their wines. The wine is, or at least was, stored in limestone caves cut out of the rock that forms the edge of the river valley, often with 3 sides of a house built in front. We park by the river at Saumur and enjoy a good lunch at the ‘Cristal Hotel’ before a walk up to the castle/chateaux. For €6 each including a personal guide in English, we are bombarded with more information than my poor historical knowledge could cope with.

Having been educated a bit in Saumur, we continue north looking for a suitable ‘quiet little French village’. Mouliherne does the job perfectly, with an attractive parking spot, next to a picnic site and stream and motorhome services a short distance away. The French are so good at this! (probably said that many times before?) There’s also, as we’ve seen elsewhere, signposted walking routes making a loop from the centre of town and back.

Another couple of driving days follow. We try to find a good route, avoiding the motorways. We skirt past the edge of Le Mans, through Saint-Martin-Du-Vieux-Bellame, through the national park area of ‘Parc Naturel Regional Du Perche’ (looked like a nice area; lakes, walks, picnic sites, monasteries – another area on the list for future investigations when we have more time), stop at Les Aspres for lunch, before continuing to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, on the River Seine. It’s an insignificant little place, but it provides a good Aire, right on the grassy banks of the river. It’s supposedly €5/night but the guy never came and asked for it, even though he was there apparently asking others.  Bargain 🙂

A shortish hop, and we’re back on the coast at Dieppe, waiting for the ferry. The end of another good trip! Until the next one….

Don’t forget a map of our complete route can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ymzS6pFRHp4LYX2NeuDVuhMzaVY&usp=sharing  GPS locations, photos and extra infos by clicking the pins

Into Alentejo

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: