Guincho Beach

26/11/17-27/11/17

Next we drove to Foz do Lizandro, intending to stop there for the evening. We parked up on the clifftop and walked down steps to the beach where the Rio Lizandro enters the ocean. The waves washing up the beach were coming from two directions, making interesting swirling patterns where they met. There was plenty of surf and surfers out to sea but towards the beach the waters were calmer, protected by a sandbank. We decided to go in the water, less a swim and more of a float as we allowed ourselves to be churned around in the currents created by waves washing over the sandbank.

After our swim we lazed on the beach drying out and warming up, but the sky was starting to cloud over which drove us back to Bertie. We looked at the local area and decided we might as well move on. We ended up at Praia Guincho, another surfer’s beach where campervans and motorhomes were parked up for the evening. When we got there in late afternoon the sea was still full of the black dots of surfers taking advantage of as much light as possible before they gave up for the day, it seemed fully dark to me by the time the last few were walking up the beach.

The usual Portuguese fishing spot. This isn’t Paul fishing, he prefers to get closer to the sea

Paul had been sussing out the cliffs to the north of Guincho and thought he might have some fishing spots, so we took a random walk along the coast that soon met a signposted route, so we followed it until we reached the promontory that Paul was aiming for. Here we followed fishermen’s paths down to the sea. The coast was south facing and slightly more sheltered from the ocean swells, but there were still big waves washing up and causing Paul to jump back every now and again. Paul fished (unsuccessfully) while I relaxed on the rocks reading. 

The coastline north of Guincho beach, taken from Paul’s fishing spot

Occasionally I would have a little clamber about on the rocks to see what was around. Down at the edge of the water were mussels and gooseneck barnacles. The mussels were too small to gather and I think that the gathering of gooseneck barnacles (known locally as percebes, expensive, delicious and slightly odd looking) is probably regulated, so I decided against it – that, and they were too difficult to prise from the rocks by hand.

Percebes hidden between the rocks. Called gooseneck barnacles because it was once believed that they were the larvae of the Barnacle Goose

We stayed a Guincho again that night, it had a relaxed atmosphere, but we knew that rain was due the following day and we would need to find some services too.    

Peniche

25/11/17

Peniche is a town on a small headland that sticks out from the west coast of Portugal just north of Lisbon. It’s known for it’s great surf, and because it has coast facing in many directions it’s usually possible to surf here regardless of wind direction. Not that this was why we were here, but there were plenty of surfers around and also a lot of Portuguese motorhomes here for the weekend.

We drove along the north side of the peninsular, stopping at Intermarche for a quick restock and taking note of the motorhome facilities in their car park, then taking a look at a few parking spots. The one we had liked the look of on google turned out to have no motorhome/campervan signs all over it so we drove on out to Cabo Carvoeiro lighthouse.

We decided to take a walk around the headland, following tracks around the south coast until we got to the Fortazela and harbour area where we wandered through narrow streets of tiled houses and apartments, lived in and busy. Restaurants lined the harbours edge and were full of people out for their Saturday lunch.

Peniche Fortezela – closed for lunch when we walked by

From the harbour we followed an inlet north, this cuts across the middle of the peninsular making it almost an island, the town walls hug the western edge of the water and an industrial estate is on the less picturesque east side. We crossed the main road to the northern coast where we stopped to watch surfers before following the cliffs back to Bertie. Along the way we noticed that fishing spots were marked with yellow fish symbols on white posts, these fishing spots often clung precariously to the side of the cliffs, down steps onto small platforms that looked like they might have been built by the fishermen. Some were already slipping down the cliff or undercut by the sea.

A marker post for one of the many fishing spots along the cliffs
Collapsing steps down to what was once a fishing spot

The rock of the peninsular is heavily weathered limestone forming odd and beautiful karst formations with limestone pavements, deep crevices and sea stacks.

Limestone pavement, looking towards the chapel of Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
Eroded and undercut, the cliffs of the south coast

This was a nice place to spend the day and set the tone for the next few days as we followed the coast, the fishermen, and the surfers, south. 

The Obidos Lagoon

24/11/17

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.

Looking towards the village of Foz do Arelho

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. 

Collapsing bridge across one of the streams feeding the lagoon

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.  

Sunsetcolours from our parking spot

Underground, Overground

 23/11/17

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. 

Statue of King Joao I

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 Royal Cloister with attractive gothic screens

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. 

Limestone curtain formation – ‘The Organ’
Some of the many stalactites in the cave

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.          

Portugal’s Silver Coast

21/11/17 – 22/11/17

We had a moment of deja vu as we approached our next destination of Sao Pedro do Moel. This is Portugal’s Silver Coast and had some striking similarities to France’s Cote d’Argent; long sandy beaches, big waves for surfing and dunes backed by pine forest. We drove to a parking spot on the coast just north of Sao Pedro where we had a view from the cliffs with the lighthouse to the south and a long golden beach to the north.

This area had seen significant forest fires this year and we drove through large swathes of burned forest where the sand and ash and dead trees created a starkly monochrome scene of desolation.

The black and white of a burned forest

We took a walk along the cliffs and then down onto the beach, watching fishermen casting into the surf and exploring the lagoon created where the river pooled behind a sandbank. The wind was blowing strongly although the skies were blue and people were wrapped up against the chill.

Cliffs slowly slipping into the sea

The following morning we got on our bikes and followed the bike track north. The road was long and straight, passing coastal resorts that had shut down for the winter, few people seemed to live in these towns where most of the shops and cafes were boarded up waiting for next years tourist season. We sat on the beach in one location watching the sea and were alerted to a pod of dolphins by large numbers of gannets, cormorants and gulls swirling around and diving for the fish that were being driven to the surface. There was life here, but not much human activity. 

The river at Praia de Vieira

Paiva Walkways, the Ultimate in Garden Decking

19/11/17 – 20/11/17

When we moved into our house in Exmouth I remember Paul installing decking in the back garden – decking steps from the backdoor, decking over the crazy-paved patio, and more decking steps down to the lawn. A fun project for Paul. For a while it seemed as though we had the whole of the local timber yard in our garden.

These memories came back to me as we approached the Passadiços do Paiva, our next destination. This walk up the gorge of the Rio Paiva takes place mostly on timber steps and walkways that cling to the sides of the gorge allowing people to walk the length of the gorge from Areinho to Espiunca. 

The walkways are in Arouca geopark, an area of Portugal that is designated a Geopark by UNESCO who use this designation to promote the management and development of sites of geological interest. We started by visiting Arouca itself, a pleasant town inland from Porto with motorhome parking and services in the main carpark. We had a walk around the town; it was Sunday and everywhere was busy with visitors, there was a small farmers market in the park but the main attraction was the monastery (I suppose we would call it a convent as it was home to nuns rather than monks, but I think the term Mosteiro is used interchangeably) with it’s sacred art museum. We popped into the tourist office and spoke to a lovely lady who gave us lots of information about walking in the area and warned us off a couple of the paths where signposting had been damaged by forest fires. She sold us tickets for the walkways (you can also buy them online or at the start of the walk)  – at €1 each it seemed to be good value. 

We had intended to stay the night in Arouca but she suggested we could drive up to the parking for the Paiva walkways and stay there if we wanted to. She advised that with an autocaravana we should park at the Areinho end where there was a large unpaved parking area where it looked like someone had sheered off the top of a hill. There is also some parking down the track that leads to the official start of the walk but it was a narrow road and we couldn’t see how much parking there was so gave it a miss – when we walked down the next day we realised that we could have parked there easily but the track down had no passing places so not an option for a busy day.

Off we toddled, mild sat nav frustration this time as the sat nav didn’t want to allow us to leave Arouca by the main route, there is a 3.5 tonne limit on some roads which was the cause of confusion to the poor thing. We ignored it’s instructions for long enough to get out of town and then found our way easily to the car park where a couple of campervans were already in situ. We watched people returning to their cars at the end of the day, many returning in taxis from the other end of the walk.

Looking down on the Areinho road bridge across the Paiva river.

The next morning it was 5ºC in the van. Much warmer in the snug of our bedroom, but the coldest morning we had experienced so far and only our bladders provided motivation to get out of bed. We slowly warmed up as we prepared a lunch and flasks for our walk. From the car park it was a steady downhill to the official start of the walkway before heading across the main road and straight away tackling the hardest part of the walk – a series of staircases leading up to the top of the gorge. We wondered how people didn’t just avoid purchasing tickets as there are no barriers to stop anyone from accessing the paths, but at the top of the walkway they had cunningly placed the first ticket inspection point. There was another inspection point at the far end of the walk and also a park warden wandering about at the mid-point so you weren’t going to get away with it.  

The stairs wind up the side of the gorge giving plenty of opportunities for photos (and catching your breath)

The sun was shining and the initial climb up all those steps was very warm, but straight away we were going down an equal number of steps into the gorge and there the low November sun was often obscured by the cliffs, providing welcome shade with a bit too much contrast for good photos. We wound our way along the paths through a landscape that switched many times between dry rocky slopes and shaded forest that looked very British with autumn colours, ferns and mosses. Birds and butterflies flitted over the water, we saw plenty of yellow wagtails and a dipper playing in the water, easy to spot with it’s distinctive wide white bib. At one point we saw a European mantis sitting on a step, as cool – and as green – as a cucumber.

European Mantis watching us from the walkway

The Paiva gorge is well known for it’s white water but this year has been so dry that the river’s flow was placid and the rocks that would normally create the rapids were exposed and dry. Boards along the walk pointed out geological features which were easy to see with the river so low. 

Roughly half way the walkways are crossed by a couple of other trails, here there is a suspension bridge; an opportunity to look down on the river from a bouncing and swaying vantage point (not a compulsory part of the walkway). There were also toilets half way, a welcome opportunity as leaving the path for a wee was going to be a bit tricky. 

Suspension bridge, enjoyably springy

Along the way Paul enjoyed pointing out the way that the walkways had been constructed, the clever bolts that were used to anchor the timbers to the rock and the bits of joinery that had been well put together to cope with odd angles. Not just any old garden decking!

We got to the Espiunca end, 8km later, in just over two hours, taxis were waiting for the weary but we turned around and made our way back, taking a bit more time to stop and look around. Despite it being a Monday in November there were a good number of other people on the walkways, I can imagine that in the height of summer it could get quite frustrating and feel like a conveyor belt (I assume they limit the numbers through the ticketing system), but also you could take time to stop by the river and have a paddle or a swim; the November water was far too cold for us. In all it took us 5 hours with plenty of rest stops and photo opportunities. The trudge back up the dusty tracks to the carpark was probably the hardest part of the day.  

We could see why the walk had won tourism awards, it was well maintained with information boards, toilets and cafes but most importantly it was in a beautiful and interesting location. If you’re a decking fan then that would be the icing on the cake!

 

Port, Porto, Portugal!

 

17/11/17 – 18/11/17

On the morning of the 17th we woke up in the aire at Esposende, looked around and decided that we would move on. Sometimes we just don’t feel enthused by somewhere and, possibly because the aire was at the back of the town behind the bus station, or possibly because we’d just got back from somewhere we’d found really inspiring, Esposende just wasn’t doing it for us. How ungrateful do we feel given that the community have provided free facilities for us motorhomers!

After assuaging our guilt by doing some local food shopping we moved on to our next stop – Porto, or actually a campsite outside of Porto in Canidelo. We had decided against staying at one of the motorhome parking areas in Porto due to reports of thievery, although it’s often difficult to determine what is scaremongering. Anyway the campsite gave us an opportunity to do some washing although it’s showers were lukewarm at best which was a disappointment.    

As I’ve said before, we’re not the biggest fans of cities and in Portugal we had decided that, of the two biggest cities, we would visit Porto rather than Lisbon because I’d been to Lisbon before (and loved it by the way – definitely worth visiting). Porto also gave us the opportunity to drink an alcoholic beverage we agree on – Port. Usually we have opposed tastes in drinks, Paul likes cider – I think it tastes of bile (I’m sure you can imagine the teenage activities that led to this view) – I like wine, Paul thinks it tastes of vinegar. I drink beer, Paul doesn’t. I drink gin, Paul drinks vodka. Anyway, we both agree on port, although we don’t usually drink it except at Christmas.

We booked ourselves into Calem – one of the many port wine cellars in Porto – to do a tasting. It was €10 to taste two ports and €15 to taste 3 different ports, so we paid €25 to taste 5 between us. We visited their small museum, which was quite interesting especially the bit where you get to try to identify different component scents of port and wine, then we were taken through a short tour of the wine cellars with some background info about the port making process before the tasting. Unfortunately they did mess up in their organisation a little, so it took some effort to actually get to taste the ports we had paid for. I think some people who hadn’t paid for the three port option just plonked themselves down in front of them and started drinking! But as our guide just disappeared and left us to it when we got to the tasting we had to hunt someone down and explain. Despite this the glasses of port were generous and slipped down our throats with sweet viscosity, leaving me feeling a little squiffy.

We had booked our port tasting for mid afternoon, knowing that we might not feel like doing much afterwards. So our morning had been taken up with our bus journey into Porto and wandering around the streets looking at various historic buildings. Paul doesn’t like aimless wandering so I always try to be prepared with a few things to aim for. The streets of Porto had a lived in and slightly down at heel feeling, with high end shops selling designer goods cheek by jowl with shops selling cheap clothes and groceries, alongside empty buildings. It must reflect the economics of property ownership in the capital, apparently the more wealthy citizens of Porto have moved out into the suburbs leaving the property market in the centre of the city depressed and many property owners without the incentive to renovate or restore.

The whole of the city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and the reason for this was particularly obvious in the wide squares flanked by historic monuments and when walking along the Ribeira – the waterfront on the Douro river with it’s attractive buildings housing (mostly) cafes and restaurants. We had our lunch at a restaurant on Ribeira’s quay side, sitting in the sun, soaking up the atmosphere and watching street musicians arguing over their turf and the throngs of tourists passing by. 

After lunch, full of food and unwilling to walk up the steps, we caught the funicular to the top of the Ponte Dom Luis I, a bridge designed by Eiffel which has a pedestrian crossing on lower and higher levels. The lower bridge is shared with cars and buses, the higher bridge shared with trams. From the top of the bridge we could see the city of Porto arrayed along the steep northern bank of the river. On the south bank we could see the logos of many well known port brands, Cockburns, Sandemans and Taylors amongst others. The south bank is the town (now a suburb of Porto) of Vila Nova de Gaia and after our port tasting we walked several miles along this bank of the river back to our campsite at Canidelo where the Douro meets the sea. On the way we wondered at the number of buildings which were decrepit and abandoned in what seemed like prime riverside locations, one with goats roaming in and out of the empty doorways.

We got back to our campsite ready for a good night’s sleep before we moved on again.  

Peneda-Gerês, Perfect

15/11/17-16/11/17

The national park of Peneda-Gerês was a place we fell in love with during our short visit. The first place since we crossed the channel that makes it into our ‘visit again’ list (as opposed to our ‘must visit next time’ list for the sights and places we have passed by).  

The park is largely forested but above the tree line you’re in a landscape of granite tors and lumpy bumpy ridges. We were lucky with the weather for our visit, at this time of year we should have expected significant rainfall and low cloud, but northern Portugal was getting unusually clear and dry weather for the time of year. Not great for the farmers, especially after the hot summer and awful forest fires, but fantastic for us visitors.

Views of granite ridges across a landscape subjected to forest fires in the national park

We had chosen to base ourselves in the main village, known as Vila do Geres or Caldas do Geres or just Geres, a spa ‘town’ with a string of small hotels and an outdoor pool complex. While we were there most of the hotels were shut and the pools were empty. A few cafes and shops were open but it was very quiet. Our parking place was also the bus stop and the school bus came through a few times each day dropping off a scant handful of children, this area is not heavily populated anyway and according to the internet the population tends to be female and elderly rather than families. To our surprise we weren’t the only motorhome in the car park, another motorhome was already there when we arrived and one British van turned up while we were on our walk, so obviously a few people were thinking the same way as us and enjoying the good weather while it lasted.

With clear days came cool nights and we were in double duvet territory (we have a 4.5 tog and a 7 tog duvet, plus blankets and brushed cotton (ok, flannelette) bedding for a bit of extra comfort – if it gets really cold we might wear pyjamas but generally we prefer to sleep in the buff) but the heating didn’t need to come on yet.

For our first day in the mountains we followed one of the marked paths on the east side of the village, we picked it up by walking up the first switchback on the road above the car park until we found the red and yellow markers which led us steeply up a track through the forest – our legs complained at this unusual activity, we haven’t done any serious mountain walking since Scotland. Eventually the forest started to clear and we found ourselves in a mountain meadow where people had created many stacks of balanced rocks on top of the granite. From here the path followed the contours of the ridge heading south. We looked at the ridges above us and hankered to climb them, but without maps we didn’t want to head off the route.

Mountain meadow of stones

As we started to descend we found the source of the horse droppings we’d encountered on the trail, a few of the semi-wild Garrano horses in the park were munching on the autumn bracken. They weren’t disposed to pay us any attention or pose for photos. The path headed past an area that was fenced off (we don’t know why) and another mystery area with a cistern of water and large bare patches – we wondered if it was in some way linked to fire fighting.

Pine Processionary nest – the caterpillars of this moth have fine hairs which cause allergic reactions 

Further downhill at the Miradouro Pedra Bela we surprised a herd of goats off the viewpoints and sent them leaping with bells clanging further down into the valley. There were roads up to the Miradouro but, just like the rest of the walk, we didn’t see anyone as we followed the path, crisscrossing the road heading downhill.

Horse grazing above the tree line

The path bought us steeply down to the bottom end of the village and then through the cobbled back street past homes and smallholdings and yapping dogs until it dropped us back down to the car park.

On the way we had talked about our plans and decided we should stay another day and make the most of the beautiful scenery and ideal outdoor activity climate – clear and sunny but not too warm – so we had a quick walk down to the bakery to pick up some rolls for the next day’s packed lunch.

The following day we got our bikes out to cycle up the other side of the valley – this was the route that the sat nav had tried to bring us down and we were intrigued to find out whether we had made the right decision to turn around. It was a steady climb up the road past the football pitch, we put our bikes into a low gear and chugged along, sometimes it’s easier to keep climbing steadily than it is to cycle through undulating territory where the uphill stretches take your legs by surprise.

Smoke from chimneys hanging in the valley after a cold night

After 500m and 7 km (I am trying to retrain my brain to using the decimal system only) we had reached the highest point of the road, past a couple of picnic spots and viewpoints. We had seen the first evidence of Portugal’s forest fires as well as a herd of attractive cattle with very sharp horns.

Portuguese highland cattle with their sharp horns

The road was actually in good condition and would have been ok to drive in Bertie so long as we hadn’t encountered something coming in the other direction. It wasn’t empty, a dozen or so cars and small vans drove past us as we cycled. Driving in Scotland has spoiled us, we are used to well signposted passing places on single track roads and here the opportunities to avoid oncoming vehicles were few, we were still happy that we’d turned around.

Invigorated by our uphill ride we then decided to go further up and take the off road track to the Miradouro da Boneca.  This was a different experience as we slogged – generally uphill but with many ups and downs along the way – over rutted tracks to the viewpoint. At the end we had a spectacular view down into the valley and Bertie’s car park, and had the company of other people! We were a stone’s throw from our starting point and had nearly closed the circle, but I knew there was no way I would cycle the steep path straight down – it would have been suicidal.

The view down the valley to Bertie’s parking spot

We retraced our uphill bike ride, this time downhill and freewheeling most of the way, the switchbacks were particularly thrilling as we cycled downhill towards what looked like a sheer drop off before turning onto the next downhill.

Long mountain roads, perfect for cycling

When we got back we were exhausted but the adrenaline was pumping and so we used the energy to set off away from the hills and back down to the coast. I’m still regretting leaving, when will we ever get such a good period of weather for exploring such a wonderful place? We’ll be back one day for at least a couple of weeks to give us plenty of time to explore and enjoy.

Rio Lima

14/11/17

Portugal has a number of national bike routes – Ecovias, Ecopistas and Ciclovias. Ponte de Lima was on the route of one of them and we followed it upstream and along it’s south bank to Ponte de Barca where there was another bridge over the river.

The morning view of the Ponte de Lima, a medieval bridge built on Roman foundations
The Ecovia signposts.

We found the route markers by cycling under the bridge, but almost immediately had to deviate from the pedestrian route because it had steps down to the river bank. Our deviation took us along tracks through allotments and small vineyards before we rejoined the river.

Cycling through an avenue of vines

Disused mills and empty millstreams dotted the sides of the wide and placid river and at one point the main road bridged the valley high above us.

Vineyards overlooked by the modern bridge of the main road

We enjoyed the blue skies, bird song and clear reflections of autumn colours in the calm waters.

Ruins of mill buildings

At Ponte de Barca we considered crossing the river and trying to find a route back along the other side, but it seemed to mean a deviation away from the river along roads before it rejoined the river bank, and as the river bank was the main feature of this ride it looked more enjoyable to just retrace our route back to Bertie.

The Ponte de Barca

It had only been a relatively easy 20 mile ride, leaving us plenty of time to move on to our next destination, which was lucky for us as we had a trip into the mountains of the Parque Nacional Peneda-Geres, Portugal’s only National Park.

We followed roads up into the hills, winding higher and higher up switchback roads as we approached the village of Vila do Geres. The roads were in good condition with no single track lanes so everyone was happy until we realised that the sat nav was not taking us the direct route that we’d looked at on the map. For some reason it wanted to take us to Campo do Geres and then across the hills on a windy single track road, I think because the sat nav was set to fastest route and this was the way with least speed restrictions. We started gamely up the single track road until we got an odd look from a shepherd, at that point Paul decided that we should stop and check out our alternatives. In the end we turned round and went back down to the large lake created by the hydro dam on the Cavado river where we could take the direct route to the village, although the sat nav insisted all the way that we should turn around. Turning around on the single track mountain road was interesting, especially as Bertie doesn’t have a big nose – the view from the cab at the edge of the road was buttock clenching.

Finally we made it to the village where we parked up in a good sized parking area and were able to indulge in a stiff drink. The sun was just starting to set and we were glad we hadn’t been forced to make any of our navigation decisions in the dark, although it may have made turning round less nerve-wracking.       

Toll Roads and Ponte de Lima

13/11/17

Through France and Spain we had avoided toll roads. When we reflected back we decided that it hadn’t necessarily been the most sensible decision; it had been fine to avoid tolls when bumbling slowly through an area, but when we wanted to travel long distances we ended up travelling inefficiently. In Portugal we decided that we would consider toll roads if they made our journey easier or more efficient, we would still avoid them for shorter distances but if we found ourselves in a situation, for example, where we wanted to travel south quickly to avoid bad weather then we would consider them.

Portugal has two toll systems. The first is the usual ticket booth system where you collect a ticket when you enter the main road and then hand in the ticket and payment to a machine or person as you exit the road. There is an automated solution for these toll roads (called Via Verde) but we didn’t investigate it as we didn’t think we’d use them enough to warrant it. The second set of toll roads levy charges through automatic number plate recognition (known as EASYTOLL) and you need to be registered. Having read numerous forum posts on the subject we knew that many people didn’t bother to register, and that the Portuguese authorities didn’t tend to follow up or fine them, but we didn’t want to be a potential example case so we wanted to either register or to avoid those roads. As luck would have it we were close to one of the four on-road registration areas (you can find them here) , so we were able to drive up to an automated machine, get our number plate read and register a credit card for payment. Now we know we are legal for the next 30 days and have the receipt to prove it.

We drove to Viana do Castelo and parked up at an official motorhome parking behind the beach. Unexpectedly there was a motorhome service point here, not that we needed it having just left a campsite. We went for a walk along the boardwalks through the dunes and sat and watched surfers playing in the waves. It was a pleasant enough place but we weren’t in the mood for roaming through the town and decided that we should head inland that evening rather than wait till the following morning.

Glorious sunshine on the beach at Viana do Castelo

So we took off for Ponte de Lima. This town is known for it’s bridge over the river Lima and an apocryphal story about Roman legions crossing the river; apparently the foot soldiers were superstitious about crossing the river as they thought it was the river Lethe and they would lose their memories, so the officer crossed the river first (on horseback of course) and then called each soldier over by name in order to prove that he still remembered them, I think the soldiers just didn’t want to slog through a wet and muddy river on foot and the officer called their bluff rather expertly). The town was very attractive with cobbled streets in the centre, medieval towers and views of the bridge and riverbanks. When we arrived on the Monday it happened to be having it’s fortnightly market in the large parking area by the river, so we had to find somewhere else to park until the market had packed up. It wasn’t too difficult to find some on-road parking slightly out of town and we were able to wander around for a couple of hours as darkness fell and the market stalls were dismantled.

The medieval bridge at Ponte de Lima lit up at night

Finally we were able to drive along the cobbled street along the riverside and descend the ramp onto the rough ground of the parking area where we could settle down for the evening. We took another turn around town, this time crossing the bridge amongst the evening joggers and getting a closer look at the chapel on the other side of the river.

Lazy Days on Portugal’s Border

11/11/17 – 12/11/17

Every now and again there comes a time when we need a break. Although constant travelling can seem like a stream of new and exciting experiences, just like anything else it has it’s own routine; a cycle of getting up, making breakfast, packing a lunch, going out and doing stuff, returning to the van, moving on, deciding what to do on the following day, cleaning (us and the van), making and eating dinner, blogging. It’s not a difficult life and is very rewarding and fun but sometimes it’s nice and necessary to step out of the routine for a while.

We realised we’d got to that point when we crossed the border into Portugal. We found a campsite at Caminha and suddenly found we didn’t have the motivation to do anything but sit by the van and chill. Of course we did end up doing some bits and pieces, but we didn’t leave the campsite for 48 hours. The chairs went outside and we sat in the sun, we did laundry, we called Aaron to wish him happy birthday, facetimed friends, downloaded TV and had a little holiday from our travels. Paul felt so lazy that he couldn’t even be bothered to go and buy tobacco, so 48 hours without smoking, we’ll see how long that lasts but fingers crossed.

What else did we do in our down-time? We made mint sauce. Paul is using our whizzy gadget, a manual food processor, to chop some mint we gathered which was added to a hot mixture of vinegar and sugar before decanting into a sterilised jar. The mint sauce seems to pass inspection.