The great thing about vanlife is that if you arrive somewhere and don’t feel the love for it you can just move on. Equally, if you do feel the love for somewhere you can stay longer than you’d originally intended. Marvão, a few kilometres over the border into Portugal was one of those places that waylaid us. By a week. We’d intended staying a night or two but……..well…….we couldn’t tear ourselves away. If we hadn’t needed to be further south by the end of October we would probably have stretched our stay into two weeks. Or three. Admittedly we had a spell of warm sunny weather so that always makes a difference. Pitched up at Asseiceira camping we relaxed into rural life in Portugal.
The hilltop town of Marvão probably is the main attraction for visitors to this area of the Alentejo region of Portugal.
And it is spectacular perched on top of a high peak, but for me it was the rolling, granite bouldered landscape with miles and miles of traffic free lanes to explore on the bike that captured my attention.
I’d been sadly disillusioned exploring Cornwall by bike whilst we were working on a campsite during the summer by the amount of traffic I had to contend with even on the minor roads. Everywhere seemed to be rat run to get from one place to another. In contrast the bike riding around Marvão was completely stress free and practically car free.
According to Wikipedia the Alentejo region of Portugal covers over 27,000 square kilometres with a population density averaging less than twenty people per square kilometre. Cornwall on the other hand covers 3,500 square kilometres and during the summer months has a population density of over 12000 people per square kilometre. Quite a difference then. Sheesh, no wonder it felt soooo busy in Cornwall. Anyway, hopefully I’ve got the maths right there as it has never been one of my strengths.
So the Alentejo then is a vast area covering a chunk of Portugal which stretches from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Spanish border in the east and the Algarve in the South. We’d explored some of the south eastern area around Monsaraz in 2016 and really loved it and we weren’t disappointed with the north eastern part either.
You really can’t beat a hilltop town for a good old exploration on foot. Marvão at over eight hundred metres is the highest village in the Alentejo. It is enclosed by 13th Century walls, has a castle at the top where you can walk the walls if you’ve a head for heights, some formal gardens and narrow medieval winding streets lined by white washed houses. On a good day the panoramic views all around are worth the climb up.
The campsite we stayed on is just outside the workaday little town of Santo António das Areias and just under five kilometres from Marvão.
After a walk or a cycle we enjoyed popping into the mini market everyday for a coffee and a pastel de nata to observe village life in action. There’s a little cafe inside the mini market with a couple of tables and it seemed to be the hub of the town.
A steady stream of people would come in, order a coffee, have a chitty chat with whoever happened to be in there at the time, buy a few groceries and then go again. Everyone seemed to know everyone and happily spent a few minutes chewing the fat. Barely a mobile phone in sight. You do have to have a bit of patience or time on your hands when buying your groceries in rural towns and villages in Portugal as no one appears to be in a hurry. News is swapped and children are cooed over. We are so used to standing in a queue at a check-out, being served briskly with no one exchanging a word because everyone is in a hurry. It’s quite the mind set change but a refreshing change at that.
It felt good to be back in Portugal but time was pressing on so after a week we reluctantly moved on. Having been brought up by the sea and then spending over twenty years being a two hour drive away from the sea we’re still always drawn to it. We do like a good coastal walk so after an overnight stop in Évora we spent a few of nights on the Atlantic coast before arriving just over the border into the Algarve for an extended stop.
As regular readers of the blog will know we are swapping van life for bricks and mortar life this winter.
It will be a chance to take an extended break from travelling and van dwelling to relax, recharge, regroup, reset, reflect and reboot.
Well that’s the theory anyway.
We moved out of the van yesterday.
Time will tell to see how it all pans out and how we get on.