Month: January 2021

5 to 28 February 2019 – along the coast and back again

Some of Mikki’s ceramics

So there we were, back in our favourite Portuguese stopping place, remembering our friends from last year and looking forward to enjoying the same relaxed and friendly lifestyle as before. Chairs were arranged on our patch of artificial turf, out came the barbeque and we melted into the charm of the place. We booked in for chicken peri peri at the extended eating barn. It is a restaurant of course but the walls are a just a panelled framework and the floor just the flattened earth with a covering of gravel. The tables are all long communal trestles where you get to meet you fellow campers – you can see it over Neil’s shoulder in a picture I put up in the last post. It’s a good arrangement. Generally there is one thing on the menu on the same day each week and the servers just come out with laden plates and plonk

them down table by table with every eye watching and silently hoping to be the next lucky table! You can select something else if you really want but most people just sign up for the dish of the day, usually a salad type starter, dish of the day, dessert some kind of pastry or frozen confection – €10.00. The fish and chips on Sunday are fantastic,

But there were changes to the site and, to some extent, the atmosphere. Certainly the place was just as attractive and the food and dining arrangements just as appealing. Arno, the eponymous Mikki’s husband, never stops developing the place. He had levelled a large new area behind the main building and planted the pitches up with young plants. It will be great in a year or two but a bit dry and dusty at the moment. It also meant the facilities were under some pressure and did not seem to be keeping up with the demand of the number of pitches. There was no problem finding an empty shower when you wanted but the septic tank system seemed to have a problem. We both came down with a pretty grim gastro-intestinal attack which seemed to be doing the rounds. Whether it was the plumbing or the new kitchen (or something else entirely) I don’t know, but it laid us low for a day or two:-(

The weather was fine and we made good use of the bikes, pedalling the few kilometres to the beach at Armacao de Pera. The map app showed us a path that avoided the “main” road and cut across the fields. It was great even though some of the fields were already occupied! I was worried that an alarmed sheep might make a dash for it and end up tangling with my wheels – but they seemed unfazed by it! I let Neil go first nonetheless:-)

Happy to arrive sans shreds of wool adhering to the spokes we found the beach just glorious and just as busy as we remembered it.

Cycling into Armacao itself we checked out the local shops and banks and meandered the streets just loving the sun and the enjoying the buildings. I lined up an artistic shot from inside the picturesque beachside fishermens’ chapel but it was ruined by some passing tourist!

Other outings included a ride up to the little hill town of Alcantarilha with its spooky ossuary – human bones lining the walls of a small back room of the church.

Yes – that is a wall of real human bones!

Less gruesome was the old wash house ornamented with blue azuelejos panels showing how it was done.

Back in the local village, Pera, the local restaurants still offered huge lunches complete with beer or wine for a few euros. Probably should have taken the photo before consuming the fish!

We stayed about two weeks in the end. The atmosphere had subtly changed – was there some tension in the air from our hosts that had spread to the assembled campers? Maybe it was because we missed our two friends, Hannekke and Louisa, from last year and did not make new connections other than casual chats with neighbouring vans. In fact there seemed to be a bit of cliqueyness that precluded the general relaxed friendliness of before. Also some loud drinking in the bar late at night. We decided not to stay again next year (2020) but, reading more recent reviews, it seems that the atmosphere is once again buoyant and welcoming. So – who knows? It is such a wonderful place to stay it is probably worth another go.

The east end of the Algarve is popular at this time of year with many over-wintering moho owners filling the prime beachside spots for months on end. We decided on a circuit further west to see what it was like – windier for sure as you head further out into the Atlantic, but also wilder and emptier.

First stop was the little fishing village of Salema where mohos were allowed to stay in a leafy glade almost in the middle of town. Not an aire as such but there were public toilets and water could be had if needed. Plus a handy little shop.

Portia nestles

We walked to the sea front – what a captivating little town! Cats had taken over the entire place and the locals seem to cater for them. We had lost the sun and the wind was whipping the sea up a bit – is this what happens when you go west?

Apart from just enjoying being there there was not a lot to do in this tiny spot so we stayed just one night and continued a few miles west next day.

Camping Ingrina is not so much a campsite as a stretch of nature park inhabited by various people favouring an alternative, eco lifestyle. Having said that you could hunt down a 6 amp electric connection in the undergrowth and pitch up wherever you chose within the length of your cable. And there was a bar, there were toilets that had seen much better days and rather primitive showers. We did both shower nonetheless – we try to go with the flow, even when it is a very feeble flow! Neil prefers not to think about the state of the black waste service point.

In fact I loved the place. The shrubby, scrubby headland was crisscrossed with pathways and a fifteen minute walk across it brought you to Praia Ingrina – another rocky cove and beach with nothing but a largely empty car park and closed beach café.

We chatted to a fellow camper who had a remarkable coffin-like trailer that seemed to be constructed of tin foil. He slept in this to protect himself from electronic emissions from phone masts which disturbed the wiring of his brain. A quick google search shows that this is something that has been much researched and the results are inconclusive. He had selected this site as it seemed remote from any telephone masts, although I’m not sure it was. Although there was no village by the beach there were a few luxurious villas on the road down to it and I expect they all had good connectivity! This area is now a nature reserve so there should be no further building or extension to the campsite.

It was still too rough to even contemplate going in but we live in hope! The night was as dark and quiet as you would expect in a Nature Reserve.

We packed up and continued west the next day aiming for the fort at Sagres. It must be quite a popular tourist site as it has a huge car park which has designated moho spots and, at this time of year, more space than you could shake a stick at. Nonetheless, you are not officially allowed to stay the night:-( Apparently, people do in the low season and mostly they get away with it so we thought we would give it a go. It is a mere 16 kilometres from Ingrina so we got there pretty early. For us:-)

The fort is the whole of the peninsula beyond the impressive walls that can be seen straddling the neck of the peninsula. It was originally built in the early 16th century by Henry the Navigator who used it as base for his voyages of discovery. Little remains of the old buildings following an earthquake in 1755 and the subsequent tsunami which apparently swept over the 60 metre cliffs bringing near total destruction. It’s hard to imagine a tsunami that high and powerful.

The massive front walls are mostly all that remains, and even they have been restored, but the landscape beyond is worth the entry fee. This is €3 from memory and is excellent value.

The cliffs are crumbling and dangerous. Signs warn you to stay back. Does everyone take that sage advice?

The sea has eaten into the limestone and eroded many sea caves, some of which open to the surface and, mercifully, are fenced off. A anomalous flying saucer structure turns out to be a sound chamber. This consists of maze-like corridors leading to a chamber in the centre which is positioned over the fissure opening to one such cave. As the waves roll in below the noise is magnified into a thunderous roar and air is forced up the chimney of rock as a howling wind.

We walked all over the broken limestone surface in amongst the scrubby plants making a circuit of the peninsula. The view across the bay shows Cape St Vincent, usually taken to be most south-westerly point in Europe.

For all the windswept beauty of the cape we were still back at the van with many hours to spare before nightfall. Rather than stay in the rather sterile car park where we were not sure we were welcome overnight we decided to drive back inland and find a legitimate spot. The aire at Silves had been recommended, being on a nice riverside site, having all facilities and being handy for the pretty and historic town. This far west the towns are much less touristified and the traditional, unhurried way of life is very appealing to overwintering motorhomers. Rather too appealing as it happens as the aire was full to bursting:-( There was a public car park just outside where we could overnight and see if a space opened up the next day. Others were doing the same and opinion was divided as to whether it was allowed or not. The Portuguese police (GNR) are apparently quite handy with the on the spot fines when they feel so moved. Given that there was only a small chance of a free place the next day we decided to cut our losses and head back to a place we liked and were confident of finding space – the old football ground at Armacao de Pera.

This is a large open area just beside the beach and behind the old fishermen’s huts in Armacao. This hard packed sandy expanse is not itself beautiful. It is a prime position for spending time on the beach though, and in the little town with its beach bars and cafes but one minute’s walk away around the boat on the roundabout.

The rules are strict, NO CAMPING. This means you can put nothing but four wheels on the ground: no chairs, no awnings, no barbeques etc. Apparently its use as a moho parking is not liked by the campsite owners a mere ten minutes walk away and they ensure the rules are adhered to courtesy of the GNR and, more scarily, the old lady at the gate. I think she fears for her licence if people take advantage. Her little hut has grey and black disposal points at the back and a hose for fresh water. What more do you need when the sun is shining on the solar panel and charging the batteries for free! For €4 a night you cannot really complain.

We parked up and treated ourselves to a meal in one of the beachfront cafes as the sun went down. The sun rose full and warm again the next day and, after considering the temperature over breakfast at a beach bar, Neil went in for a dip! I would have too but I like to rinse the salt and sand off after a sea swim and didn’t want to disturb the rather fully stuffed shower cubicle. Or something like that:-)

By now it was getting on towards the end of February and we wanted to be back in France by mid-March. Before then we really wanted to spend some time in our favourite campsite at Denia on the mediterranean coast half way up Spain. So it was time to be making tracks out of Portugal:-( Reluctant as ever to leave the coast I book a campsite just over the Rio Guadiana on the Spanish coast. Camping Playa Taray nestles in the trees just over the road, through the trees and across the dune from another fabulous beach.

We stayed two nights to enjoy the sun and sea and the walk under the trees.

Then it was a cut across inland to bypass the pointy bit of southern Spain that culminates in Gibralter to reach the sea again but on the Mediterranean side. Once past Seville we looked for a place to stay for a quick overnight before dropping back down to the coast. The stop itself was uninspiring, a supermarket car park, but they provided a full service point for motorhomes and let you sleep the night undisturbed! Thank you! It had quite a view as well. The town was Osuna and was an entrancing old town once you walked past the modern outskirts. Most attractive was the 16th century University perched on the top of the hill. Austere on the outside, a grand entrance way leads to a beautiful, cool tiled and arcaded courtyard inside.

And the little cafe in the corner was happy to offer cups of tea and coffee to passing travellers. We did our usual wander around the ancient streets admiring the nooks and crannies. I always wish I knew more about these places as we whisk through but I guess that would be a different kind of holiday.

Having enjoyed our visit to Seville so much last year I had half a plan to visit Granada this year. Searching Park4Night did not show up any overnight places both convenient and salubrious. Car park around the back of the station with discarded mattresses anyone? No thanks. Since the nearest campsite was a bus ride away and tickets for the Alhambra needed advance booking we felt a bit squeezed in terms of timings. As it was now the last day of February we decided to just drop down to a seaside campsite and plough on to Denia without a seriously cultural break.

This led us to the little town of Motril and Camping Poniente, a campsite we were told was very ‘Spanish’. Apparently this means ‘packed in cheek by jowl’. Which it was – no six metre apart rule here! I can see that when it is full of families in the school holidays it would feel a trifle overcrowded. It was only a short walk under the palms and cross the grey sand into the sea though. So, no real complaints:-)

It looks as if I went in for a swim but I cannot remember if I actually did. A couple more nights inland and we would be at the rocky beach where we do swim though.

25 January to 5 February 2019 – road trip time!

It is November 2020 as I write and I know, from looking at old emails, that our departure for Portugal was delayed. Why? I cannot remember – probably a dentist appointment for me – but we did not get away until 25 January 2019.

Stratton Arms

The route this year was Portsmouth to Santander – only one night on the ferry but a late-ish arrival to Spain the next day. We can’t happily make it to Portsmouth from York the same day so had another night in the car park of the Stratton Arms just north or Oxford (free if you eat there – so we did:-) and reached Portsmouth in a leisurely fashion the next day. Yet another storm was due in from the Atlantic so we had fingers crossed to reach Santander before it hit:-(

We did – but only just – the return sailing of the ferry we arrived in was cancelled! We hurried straight for the Aire in Santander with hearts in mouths that there would be a space. It is situated on a one way street which we only discovered as we tried to steer into the oncoming traffic – someone had forgotten to mention it Stella – so, with even higher anxiety we had to manually negotiate a long way around a park in the rush hour traffic. There was plenty of space when we got there but we did not choose our spot well. The storm hit us hard and battered us most of the night – amazingly noisy in a moho when it the wind hurls the rain at you. A lesson for next time – we should tuck in on the other side of a big van for shelter.

The next day, bleary-eyed with lack of sleep, we headed for the hills to get across to Leon for the next night. Leon is a city that likes bold architecture – some of it more pleasing to the eye than the rest.

But it offers a large flat motorhome aire, that we had used before actually, handy for a supermarket and a gentle stroll into town. So we managed to get organised and catch up on the sleep we had been deprived of the night before.

We had a plan. Knowing the Atlantic coast is not such a welcoming place in January we had decided to cut our losses and travel south on the inland route the N2. Since the development of newer straighter motorways to the west, this road has been left straggling down the rugged centre of Portugal, wending through historic villages and wild mountains. Hmm – sounds about right for a stately, full bodied motorhome.

The N2 – Portugal’s Route 66

The N2 is now being touted as Portugal’s Route 66 for tourist purposes – the ultimate road trip. Its claim to fame and its similarity to the US version is that it is one of only three roads in the world that cross the entire country to which they belong.

And it had been forgotten by time until the marketeers made a thing of it – as demonstrated by the evolution of the mile zero marker in Chaves!

We crossed the plain in Spain to reach Chaves, just inside the Portuguese border, early enough to park up and have a walk around the old town. The parking spot (which offers electricity) is near the river and a hop and a skip takes you into the centre over some iffy-looking stepping stones. Well, it would have, but I chickened out and took the modern footbridge a bit further up!

The walk turned out to be quite energetic as the old town spreads up the hill and is crowned with the remains of a castle in the shape of the keep tower. I think it was only one euro to climb – with the promise of a magnificent panorama at the top – so it had to be done. And there was a good display of historic militaria on each of the five floors on the way up. Good value!

The next day dawned a bit grey and become even greyer and a bit drizzly as we headed south into the mountains. This meant there was wonderful scenery of terraced slopes and deep valleys but also meant Neil had his work cut out wrangling the steering wheel most of the day! Our destination is the spiritual home of Port Wine – the third oldest official appellation in the world (1756) – and actual the home of Sandeman Port – Pesua da Regua.

Regua sits on the banks of the Douro River and ships the fortified wine downstream to Porto and the world. The aire is right beside the river – immaculately laid out for motorhomes and only €3 euros the night – with electricity.

The Aire at Regua

We had the obligatory walk around town and found the off-licences were open and, after a bit of a tasting, bagged a dark and sweet bottle of port to see us through the winter nights:-) I case you were unaware of the importance of port to the town it is celebrated in tiled panels on the walk up from the river.

We leave Regua in the morning of 30 January and reappear in Tomar, some way south on 1st February. What we did in between is lost in the mists of time! If you don’t take a picture or make a note time will steal your memories:-( Scouring the map I can see where we must have gone, but neither of us can summon up a memory of where we spent that night. We both remember some dramatic landscapes, winding roads, pot holes, tiny old villages with tiny old corners to navigate. Maybe it is trauma that has wiped our memories! We do both remember thinking the rain and the mist was making the effort of the driving rather pointless and we were regularly taunted by the nearby motorway that we crossed and recrossed as it bounded effortlessly over the valleys that we contoured. At some point we may have sneaked a couple of hours of easy riding.

Anyway, Tomar is a true delight – a historic jewel no less, showing its evolution from Roman town via the Moors and Knights Templar to modern town. The photos do not do it justice. Winding old streets, magnificent squares, a crowning castle and many many restaurants awaiting passers by.

And just across the river the former municipal campsite has been turned into a motorhome aire. Some towns and villages are doing this now, saving costs by letting motorhomes do their own thing for free. Just what we like to see! It looked a bit drab and soggy in this grey weather but was spot on for what we wanted. Water, toilets and waste disposal are available but there is no hook up and the showers are cold. Apparently.

This would be a place to linger if the weather were nice. Our minds were definitely turning sun and beach-wards though so more in-depth exploration took a back seat to moving on south.

Next stop was an even more historic jewel of a town – you can’t move for towns and villages dating back twenty centuries or more hereabouts. Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage site and really deserves more than a one night stop and certainly deserves better photographs than we managed:-( Our overnight spot was a nicely terraced purpose built aire. Go through the gate in the medieval walls, follow the narrow streets uphill, cross the picturesque square and you find the the town’s most conspicuous monument – the roman temple.

The magnificent university was founded in the sixteenth century by Jesuits and although closed 200 years later has been reopened and is used by students again. What a joy to study in one of the rooms off this intricately tiled arcade.

There was so much more we could have looked at but we could always come back next year, or the one after that…… 😦

The eponymous Sky

Heading ever southwards I had identified a small aire, Sky’s Place, in the countryside, not far from the sea, that sounded perfect for a couple of days acclimation to the warm south. Just south of Almancil it was a work in progress being undertaken by a young couple. It was still a little rough around the edges but very acceptable nonetheless with pitches arranged around a large central, shady tree. Imaginative use had been made of old shipping containers to provide a structure that would in future accommodate a variety of utilities. The young couple envisaged it as being a sociable place so maybe a container bar would materialise as well. At the time the place looked a bit like a, very laid back, building site.

The stacked containers provided shelter for the toilets and showers which nestled between and behind. I would have preferred a door on the shower, as on the two toilets, instead of the flimsy white curtain provided which was susceptible to the breeze. You can just about see it right at the back in the left-hand picture. Plenty of hot water though and easy enough to see if it was occupied!

We settled lazily into our sunny spot only once disturbed by a proccessionary caterpillar plopping from an overhanging branch onto my lap! Toxic things these caterpillars – the hairs provoke a nasty reaction. There were only one or two nests in evidence here. Sky beware! Bad for dogs:-(

This marked the end of our N2 road trip. We had actually diverged from it earlier but I cannot now remember where exactly – Evora is not on it. We may have rejoined it for the last leg but it was not the easiest road to follow, often being the almost unmarked one at a junction with well marked others heading the same way that looked rather more manageable. It had certainly been scenic with its wild mountains and historic towns but maybe it should be tackled when the weather is better and the travellers are not so eager for the sun and warmth of the Algarve!

After a few days at Sky’s we were pining for the sea and atmosphere of Mikkis Place. There had been a communal barbeque here at Sky’s which we joined in with but this aire has some way to go to match the easy sociability we had found at Mikki’s Place last year. It is only a few kilometres east, closer to the sea, with a bizarre onsite bar and restaurant and a bohemian vibe, not fully subscribed to by the attitudes of some of the fellow campers, but nonetheless a totally relaxed place to stay. So, noting Sky’s as a place to revisit as it evolves, we got a friendly push up the slope out of the gravel we had sunk into and headed east.

Being now familiar with the area we filled up with LPG at the handy garage (without turning left on a no left-turn road) in anticipation of a lengthy stay and crossed our fingers that Mikki’ would have a free spot. It did! A choice pitch nestled behind the embankment adjacent to the swimming pond, surrounded by the vegetation lovingly planted by Mikki and Arno.

The view from our pitch at sunset

The bar is as quirky as before and a purpose built restaurant has been added at the back. The building is basic but the menu has expanded, not much and, thank goodness, they still have peri peri chicken and chips!

I can’t insert enough pictures to do justice to the charm of this place but will add a few more….

The aviary