With an approximate route, and even more approximate timings, we aimed at getting half way up the Mediterranean coast of Spain in a week or so. The plan was to tootle along the eastern Algarve coast before joining the main road that crosses the Guadiana river border and straight to Seville – time for some history! My WildCamping forum had been full of posts from fellow campers at various sites along the Algarve coast. One in particular, Manta Rota, seemed a very popular aire – right on the beach, handy bar/restaurant and quite cheap. It was pretty full though and the advice was to arrive about noon to coincide with any leavers leaving. To get the timing right we needed an interim stop and Hanneke showed us a place a couple of hours from Mikki’s in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, right on the coast/mud flats/estuary where you could get a little train across the sandbar to the sea. Pedras D’el Rei sounded interesting.
Rolling wistfully out of Mikki’s we topped up the LPG and took to the N125. Portia started first time despite having stood idle for four weeks! After a couple of hours we engaged in battle with the barrier across the entrance to the Pedras D’el Rei parking place – surprising how many different systems there are for something as simple as opening a barrier. Once in we get a lovely sea view spot – well – the sea is there beyond the estuary and the dune at the far side. Never seen such a profusion of cacti and prickly pears. They fought all attempts to pick and eat them: despite using cloths and tongs I got hair-fine prickles in my fingers. The beautiful beetroot-coloured juice they bled narrowly missed my white linen trousers – a small win against the vicissitudes of nature!
There is a bridge across the mud flats which leads to the terminus of an ancient narrow gauge railway complete with diminutive steam engines (no longer steam though). For exercise we chose to walk across through the trees and dune vegetation – a lovely walk with bird-spotting panels along the way.
As you cross the final line of dunes before the sea there is the truly remarkable Anchor Graveyard. As far as the eye can see are hundreds of anchors from the former tuna fishing fleet rusting quietly in peace embedded in alignment along the dune.
And then, as the sun sinks in the west, a sandy beach several hundred miles long…
and what appears to be a concerted effort to move the whole thing two feet to the left. Must be an EU project.We have earned a cheese toasty a la Portugaise at the converted fishermens cottages and are in time to catch the last return trip of the day back to reality. We get front row seats at the back of the train as it reverses all the way. What a great day out.This place is too good to leave after only one night. It has waste emptying facilities but no handy tap for water. For that you have to drive the couple of miles along the sea to Santa Luzia, find somewhere to buy a token, locate the modest shed-like building near the fishermens’ cottages and figure out how it works. Sorting this out is our first task when we set out for a bike ride next day. The Post Office (open) obliges with the token and eventually we find the tap. Triumph! Now just to come back tomorrow and fill the van. A mother and daughter on bikes had told us the little town of Tavira was only a short ride away and on very accessible cycle paths. Off we pedal – what a joy these bikes are. Tavira is a relatively quiet riverside town with Moorish roots followed by later Portuguese development – a charming mix beautifully placed beside the Gilão River. We look around a small church – its inside as ornate as its outside is plain.
and then find an amazing garden/cemetary – cool, ancient and green. We wander in its shade for a while taking way too many photographs
before pedalling on through old streets to the huge town square to write postcards and taking way too many more photographs.
By now it is late enough for lunch – about half past two. We had ridden past several small waterfront restaurants in Santa Luzia – being a fishing village they all promised fish lunches. Neil had sea bass and I had prawns with garlic. I’m going to miss those prawns:-(
The evening idled by in its usual leisurely fashion – still cool enough for us to be glad of the external silver screens. Next morning, next challenge – filling up with water from the shed. As it happened we had a demonstration of how it worked from several fishermen one of whom was engaged in using the water via a pressure washer to blast out the inside of his exhaust manifold, and the rest of whom were engaged in watching him. We filled and headed for the promised land of Manta Rota all of twelve miles away. Hoping for a beachside spot in a sociable setting our enthusiasm plummeted as we drove through the little village to the sea front. It was completely taken over by tourism of the kiss-me-quick kind. One stick of rock short of being Blackpool on a summer bank holiday, red faced campers sweated jovially in the midday sun outside bars promising big-screen football and late night opening. Aaaah! The lady in the booth by the aire came out to motion us away from the overfull cheek-by-jowl rows of motorhomes lining the car park. She did not need to – we were in the process of turning around anyway – not easy as other vans were arriving all the time. Nightmare!
Hoping for something quieter at Altura, the next town along, we were again disappointed. This time, not by too many vans but a complete absence of them. A beautiful and completely empty sea front car park had a big sign banning motorhomes – I guess they had seen Manta Rota and and voted with their by-laws! Just outside town though there was a piece of land where motorhomes were allowed to overnight. Not an aire as such, no facilities, just an area of rough parking by a (long!) boardwalk path to the sea. It was also pretty full but parked much more casually than the serried ranks in Manta Rota and seemingly well established and tolerated – a world food van had set up shop at one end and the bread van came hooting by in the morning. The short evening walk back into town was pleasant and we did see that one van had decided to try its luck in the car park!
That was our last night in Portugal. I had considered a little inland detour before leaving but given how crowded it was in that corner of the Portugal, Spain seemed all the more appealing. Apparently the Algarve coast gets less crowded the further west you go. This year the Beast from the East tearing through northern Europe had the knock-on effect of directing more of the Atlantic winds than usual to the south. It had been breezy! And it increases as you go west. Spain now looked a good bet.