Walking has dominated our calendar since we left Zafra on Wednesday 12th October 2016. We drove along the picturesque EX101 south west from Zafra to stop at the little town of Cumbres Mayores. The aire there, perched on the top of a hill, gave us fantastic views towards the town and its fortifications, and over the surrounding countryside. It’s quite an isolated spot which I should imagine would be a bit grim if the weather closed in.
We had a couple of iffy days of weather with clouds overhead but it stayed dry so we had a lovely walk on the GR48 Sierra Morena path (a long distance path of 590km) across 6km of farmland to the tiny, very well kept village of Cumbres de Enmedio which only has about 65 inhabitants. I think it was one of the cleanest little villages we have been to with an orange tree lined main street.
Along the way we passed hundreds of Black Iberian Pigs which are indigenous to the Mediterranean area.
They seem to have a very nice life thank you very much roaming around grazing on the acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak trees. Unfortunately though, troughing all those acorns is their eventual downfall as they are destined for the jamón ibérico cured meat factory at nearby Jabugo. The hams are covered in either rock or sea salt to ‘sweat’ before being moved to cool cellars to mature for up to two years. At Jabugo the very best hams are graded from one to five ‘jotas’, (the letter ‘J’ for Jabugo), depending on the quality. A whole leg of ‘cinco jotas jamón’ can set you back €250-€350 and a few slices at a restaurant may cost as much as a main meal. Needless to say we haven’t tasted it! We just enjoyed watching the pigs doing what pigs do in a natural environment.
We moved further south east to Arecena, the highest town in the Sierra Morena, famous for the Grutas de las Maravilla, the largest cave in Spain. Apparently it is astonishingly beautiful, but at €8.50 each Tim said I’d have to be satisfied with looking at it on YouTube as, if it’s anything like Cheddar gorge, we’d have wasted our money!
Another walk took us out into the countryside beyond Aracena where we added bambino donkeys to our list of animals seen in the past few days. Oh, and also a black snake that slithered across the path right in front of our feet before disappearing into the undergrowth. It took a while to talk Tim down from that one as he is not a fan of snakes!
Our loose plan, after visiting the Arecena region, was to take a look at the Barragem d’Alqueva, the biggest manmade reservoir in Europe. The waters cover 250 square kilometres, 69 of them in Spain and the rest in Portugal. We had a bit of a detour getting to Luz, our destination, as the EX112 was closed for repairs and only open to residents which seemed a bit over the top as it is the main route into Portugal from Zafra. What we thought was going to turn into a nightmare drive was a drive across a really good minor road where the surrounding countryside could have been the plains of Kenya. I’ve never been to Kenya but it’s what I imagine it might look like!
The Alqueva reservoir is just huge and not without some controversy. We stopped for a few days at the aire at Luz, the village that moved. Sadly, the old village of Luz was a casualty of the planned development of the new reservoir as it sat below the proposed water-line. The government consulted with the villagers to re-locate them a few kilometres away onto higher ground by building a new village.
In 2002 the 300 villagers moved into the new Luz before the old village was razed to the ground. The Alqueva dam was then closed flooding the land behind it and submerging what remained of the old Luz.
We went to the little museum there which showed an excellent documentary filmed during the consultation and relocation process. The authorities proposed that anyone who had a house would be provided with another new one of the same size and that neighbours were relocated as close as possible to each other.
The film didn’t shy away from telling the story from the villager’s point of view clearly showing their emotions at losing their homes and land which had been in their families for hundreds of years. Even the cemetery was relocated which was clearly a traumatic process for such a tiny community. We came away from the museum feeling quite humbled and looking at the reservoir in a new light imagining how things were before it.
We’ve cycled some of the area with roads ending abruptly at the edge of the reservoir and disappearing underwater. We parked the van up at the end of one such road and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun and watching the birds.
Having spent three nights at Luz we continued a dozen or so miles on to the aire at Monsaraz which has probably the best view of any aire we have ever been to.
Monsaraz is one of the oldest settlements in Southern Portugal with hundreds of megalithic monuments in the area.
It’s a beautiful little village, with castle remains and fantastic views of the reservoir.
We did a lovely walk from there dropping down to the reservoirs edge and then up to a viewpoint for some lunch.
The aire was quite lively with a mix of mainly French, Dutch, German and English vans. We spent three nights there and gleaned some useful information on places to go from some of the people we met on the aire.
We’ve now come back to the aire at Luz as it has services for water and waste and I’ve done another load of washing (in a bucket by hand)! Our loose plans have changed again as we were going to go on to Evora but now, armed with some new information, we are thinking of following the Guadiana river south to the sea to then amble along the coast for a while. Watch this space though as we may well end up somewhere completely different!
Hasta la próxima!