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.
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 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.
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…… 😦
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 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….