We were staying at a large paid aire at Foz do Arelho. This area of parking nestled between the coast and the Óbidos lagoon and was very busy with motorhomes. Because we didn’t want electricity we managed to nab a spot on the front looking out over the lagoon, an unforeseen advantage of solar panels.
After all the rain the previous day the weather had improved and we decided to go on a bike ride. We thought we would try to cycle around the lagoon. We knew we couldn’t make it a circular route as the lagoon is not completely separated from the ocean, but we could do a horseshoe there and back again. There are cycle routes down each side of the lagoon and it didn’t seem like it would be too difficult to join them together.
Joining them together was a bit of an adventure as we tried to head down tracks rather than roads. We didn’t manage it on the way out but on the way back we found it easier to track the edge of the lagoon most of the way, including one narrow path that we followed along the lagoon shore. At one point we encountered a herd of goats and sheep; the herder whistled and they moved aside and let us through – very well trained!
The lagoon was very attractive, we saw loads of wetland birds as we cycled around including pale pink flamingos sitting on a sand bar. Having to join the different cycle routes together meant we cycled through a village, crossed farmlands and navigated through a vineyard giving us a bit of variety of terrain. The previous day’s rain left us mud spattered with the claggy white clay of the tracks.
We liked our outlook enough to cough up for another night at this aire before moving on. We spent the late afternoon watching the goings on on the lagoon. As well as the usual fishermen on the shore or out on boats there were a number of people who were snorkelling. We didn’t know what they were collecting but they towed buckets buoyed up by rubber rings and obviously were collecting something edible. One of them swam up to the shore in front of us with his haul but we couldn’t work out what it was.
We spent the night of 22nd parked at Batalha in preparation for a visit to Batalha Monastery. We wanted to visit one monastery while we were in Portugal and it was a pretty random decision that bought us here of all the monasteries we had flagged as possibilities.
Batalha means ‘Battle’; the monastery was built by King João I to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for victory in battle over the Castilians in 1385. For many this was the deciding point in establishing Portugal as a country, distinct from Spain, and so the monastery has a special place in the Portuguese people’s regard.
The church is free to visit but some of the other buildings require a ticket, after a bit of a search we found the tickets being sold at the back of the church and started our exploration. The building is beautiful with highly ornate stonework in parts, although the church interior was surprisingly stark. The contrast in styles apparently being due to King João’s wife – Philippa of Lancaster – inviting British architects to contribute to the design. We liked the chapterhouse with it’s vaulted ceiling which houses the Portuguese tomb of the unknown soldier, attended at all times by military personnel, the two cloisters, very different in style and the unfinished chapels with their ornate stonework left open to the sky and pigeons.
The ornate stonework of the unfinished chapels
After exploring the monastery we ventured further inland to Mira de Aire. This town is in a Natural Park area of limestone rocks, gorges and caves. We found our parking spot up near the sports complex at the top of the town after another sat nav disagreement (this time it tried to take us straight up a cobbled alley to the top of the town when there was a perfectly sensible road that cut uphill on a more gentle gradient) and wandered down into the town to visit the Grutas Mira de Aire, one of a few tourist cave systems in the area. We bought our tickets and waited for the tour with a handful of people only for a large school party to arrive. The sound of 40 eleven year olds having a good time was an assault to our ears. We crossed our fingers that they would be giving the kids a different tour but it was not to be. With apologies they lumped us in with half of the class. We watched a documentary about the geology of the area (they obviously didn’t believe in dumbing down) which was interesting when we could read the subtitles, but guesswork when showing white subtitles on a limestone background. Then we went down to view the caves, the guide providing commentary in both English and Portuguese. The part of the cave system on display was vertical, so we descended lots of steps (there was a lift at the end to take us back to the surface) it was well decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, curtains and flowstone. Despite the fact that this is a tourist attraction, has some fairly garish lighting, and water is pumped through during dry periods we still enjoyed viewing the impressive natural decorations.
We left the caves, walking back uphill to Bertie. The skies were dark with cloud and the first spots of rain started to fall. It quickly got heavier and Paul decided that he wanted to escape the rain rather than stay for the night. We drove back down to the coast in heavier and heavier rain with occasional flashes of lightening. As we approached the coast we got stuck behind a car doing about 15mph, not sure whether he was scared of the dark, worried about the rain or just drunk, we kept our distance until they slowed to a complete stop halfway round a roundabout. We gingerly edged past them and down to our parking spot.