Gosh it’s been so long since I last updated the blog that I’m not sure I can remember what we’ve done! Suffice to say we have slowed down quite a bit since crossing Spain and arriving in Portugal. We have no real need to cover great distances and we’re finding we do like to stay two to three nights wherever we find ourselves. We can then explore the area by bike and on foot.
Following leaving Luz on, um, when was it, um, Friday 21st October 2016 we turned south towards the coast. (I had to look that up in my diary!) We couldn’t leave the Alqueva reservoir, though, without having a look at the dam holding it all in.
Being of an engineering mind, Tim was mightily impressed with it pointing out some of the probably quite mindblowing engineering feats whilst I pointed out the huge fish just below the surface of the water! It is hard to believe, though, that it is holding back approximately 250 square kilometres of water. Even I can appreciate that!
The forecast had been for rain and we weren’t to be disappointed as we arrived at the small market town of Serpa in a downpour. We decided to splash the cash (€ 7.94 per night!) and checked in at the municipal campsite there which had free, but flaky, wifi and was only a short walk from the walled centre of the town.
We took two sojourns out on the Saturday to have a poke about the town to get totally soaked on both occasions before getting back to the van. We liked Serpa though as the 14th century castle grounds were free to wander around and you can clearly see, whilst standing on the battlements, how all the old town is enclosed within the walls.
The old town was practically deserted but enjoyable for a wander around even in the rain.
After two nights at Serpa we were due to make our way to the old mining village of São Domingos but we firstly made a 60km detour to Beja to fill up our gas tanks with LPG. Garages that sell LPG are few and far between in this area of Portugal and this was the nearest one before we hit the coast of the Algarve. So, having made the 30km trip to said garage we arrived to find that they had sold out! Meh! It wasn’t the end of the world though as we have two tanks, an 11kg and a 6kg one, and we’d only just started using the smaller one. The 11kg tank had lasted us three weeks so we weren’t going to have to start having cold showers just yet.
São Domingos had been recommended to us by Terry and Carole from Cornwall, who we had met at Monsaraz, as an interesting place to visit which has a good aire set beside a recreational lake.
The area surrounding São Domingos is in the Iberian Pyrite Belt and the dominating feature of the small village is the remains of the copper and pyrite mines which closed in 1965.
A British company, Mason and Barry, owned and ran the mine from 1859 to 1965 employing Portuguese workers. During the 108 years that the mine was open over 25 million tons of ore mainly, copper, zinc, lead and sulphur were extracted.
The village housing was built around the socio economic status of the workers with the miners being housed in often one roomed practically windowless dwellings with communal latrines and bread ovens whilst the English management workers were housed in another area with communal gardens, bandstand and tennis courts!
There still exists an English only cemetery which is now largely neglected.
We did the 14km ‘Mining Route’ walk which took us along the old railroad, past the crumbling sulphur factories and out to the small village of Santana de Cambas.
The route returned via the old contraband tracks where coffee, sugar and flour, amongst other things, were traded.
We stayed three nights at São Domingos so walked another 12km waymarked circular route from the village which took us over typical Alentejo countryside passing remote farms along the way.
We were lucky enough to bump into Terry and Carole again at São Domingos. Terry is a year round surfer and enjoys a swim so I was pleased to have a swimming buddy to encourage me into the lake. I don’t think I’d have gone in if I’d been on my own!
Having seen all there was to see at São Domingos we followed the Rio Guadiana south to stop on the quayside at Mértola for the night.
Set on a steep hillside, Mértola’s history goes as far back as Phoenician times where it was an important river port.
The Romans and Moors expanded and fortified it before Dom Sancho II took it in 1238 as part of the Christian Reconquest. It’s crammed with history in every building and well worth a look round.
One night here was enough though and with a pressing need to fill up with LPG we decided that it was wise to make our way to the Algarve and come back to the area at a later date. There is definitely more that we want to see in this area with a couple more places to visit that have been recommended to us.
The nearest LPG station on our map was at Ayamonte just over the border into Spain so we nipped across the bridge to fill up with LPG, diesel and do a weeks shop at the Mercadona supermarket there. Feeling happier with full tanks and our cupboards, once again, bursting with food, we went back over the Rio Guadiana to stop at the aire at Castro Marim in Portugal.
The aire at Castro Marim is on a main road so was noisy and, after having spent the last week or so on quiet aires, it was a bit of a comedown to say the least. Still, it served a purpose for a nights stop and it was free so we mustn’t grumble!
Fed up with noisy traffic and the need to find a laundrette we trundled on a few miles to Vila Real de Santo António, the last town along the Rio Guadiana, before it spills out into the sea.
We stayed at the aire there on the quayside just outside the town.
Fortunately, there was a laundrette a few minutes walk away from the aire and we were able to get our mountain of washing done. Hooray, no beating it over a stone down by the river for me this time! We made sure we parked up next to a handy lamppost to rig up a washing line thus enabling us to dry said washing in a couple of hours.
It didn’t look too pretty but no-one really bats an eyelid and needs must and all that. We don’t really like using the tumble dryers at the laundrettes after an unfortunate incident in Wales years ago where two loads of washing came out of the dryer, which, unbeknown to us, had been way too hot and practically melted all our lightweight outdoor clothing. There was so much static in it which didn’t really ever seem to go away causing every item of clothing to cling and feel uncomfortable. Tim threw all his T-shirts out and bought new it was that bad! Anyway, why spend wonga on a dryer when the sun and wind will do the job for free!
Our plans are to explore the whole coast east of Faro over the next two weeks before I fly back to the UK for a few days on 14th November 2016. The beaches are looooong and we are spending 2-3 hours per day just beach walking and mooching about the little towns.
This part of the coast doesn’t seem to be too built up at all and we’re really enjoying it. We are making the most of the nine hours of sunshine every day so have no need to worry about our vitamin D levels which are being topped up nicely thank you very much. We have also been in the sea every day to partake in a bit of bodysurfing.
In more mundane news our boiler which heats our water has developed a leak which needs attention so we’ve booked ‘Ollie’ in at Camperserv to have it looked at next week. Tim has done another running repair on the cracked shower tray which seems to be holding it’s own but we’ll get that looked at too whilst the ‘Ollie’ is under the knife so to speak.
We are just outside Manta Rota now and will move a few miles west tomorrow.
Tenha um bom dia!