We have spent the last week meandering our way along the southern coast of Portugal and after a long dry patch, making good use of the bikes to visit some of the smaller coastal villages and more remote countryside.
The distances are small and there is very little green space in between the towns as where one set of empty apartment blocks finishes another is quick to start. Some of the towns are a bit concrete and ghost-like for the winter months, others are actually fairly normal and quite pretty, having a Portuguese community who live in them all year round, only supplemented by the northern European invasion during the summer months…. either way, you can’t take it away from the Algarve – it has some fantastic beaches and even at this time of the year, the weather isn’t too bad.
Our first stop after Alvor was Silves, a pretty little town slightly inland with a castle sitting up on the hill looking down on it. The town center itself is fairly small with part contained within a wall, and the rest mainly consisting of winding cobbled streets around a little market. We parked up in a car park which has been converted (by the majority vote rather than town planning) into a motorhome site for the winter, where 100+ motorhomes from a mixture of northern European countries were parked up uniformly, each with two chairs facing into the sun, some with a dog, some towing a car, but most here for a couple of months at least. Our two immediate neighbours were both English, one set (who actually live in Northern France) had been there since November and the others were newcomers, having arrived just before Christmas. Everyone knew each other and some had been coming to the same car park for several years … just a bit of an odd concept for us, but I guess somehow they have converted the car park into a community – it was clean, tidy, quiet, very welcoming and most of them put money back into the local economy by buying local produce, so can’t be much wrong with it really if you don’t mind living in a carpark 🙂
Moving on from Silves we put a pin in the map and decided to opt for Albufeira, mainly because it was half way between a few places that we fancied visiting and we thought we could cycle to them, but also because it sounded like it was a little more than just a beach. The Aire itself is located near the football stadium and bus terminal. It is quiet and clean, with everything that you would normally get on a campsite for 8 euros including very friendly people who run it…. not bad. Albufeira on the other hand is a concrete resort with nice beaches. The town itself, to put it politely, is not very attractive – I would describe it as having drunk and smoked a little too much for a few too many years and it is now looking slightly overweight and could do with a good long session in rehab. I am sure that during the summer months the streets lined with closed bars and discos are vibrant but despite the sunshine, it just looks a bit run down and tired in January …… ouch, I am showing my age :).
As we had decided to stay two nights, we took the bikes along the coast the following day stopping at the far end of Praia de Falesia to eat our lunch whilst admiring the long sandy beach, before working our way back along the coast dropping off down to each beach village to see what they were like, evidently we had just chosen the wrong town to stop in as the others seemed to be far nicer – possibly because they were also much smaller…. He ho, just because it doesn’t suit us doesn’t mean it won’t suit the next person. We did make up for the poor choice of location by having a delicious bar b q in the evening, having bought far too much meat from the butchers for two people 🙂
Leaving Albufeira we decided to stop in Faro to have a look around the beautiful (but small) old walled town, stock up the fridge and do the washing. We parked up in a large car park near the old town and battened down the hatches as it started to rain and blow a gale. Thankfully, although the rain was torrential and the wind got up to 25mph, by the morning we were once again looking out at beautiful blue skies (although a little fresher).
Wanting to get one more beach in before we leave the Algarve we headed towards Tavira, looking to stay in a small beach village called Manta Rota for a couple of nights. Generally we have been avoiding the motorways, happy to travel on the smaller, quieter roads as they lead you through more interesting places – however we have now mistakenly introduced Mika into some off-roading. We turned off of the main road and saw signs highlighting that there were road works but as they didn’t say that the road was closed, or suggest an alternative route, we continued on past the digger, onto the red clay (which was quite wet due to the recent heavy rainfall), continuing on through a few puddles and some rather narrow spots for 1.5km, where we arrived at the Aire. As we were driving through the Aire to find a suitable place to park we were wondering why everyone was looking at us weirdly until we got out and had a proper look – Mika was caked in thick red clay mud … apparently the road was closed for roadworks and there was a pretty good tarmac version that led straight out through the center of the village ….. needless to say that we took the tarmac option on the way out 🙂
The Aire (4.50 a night or 7 euros inc Elec) was quiet, located just next to the beach and the village itself, despite being touristy, was ‘cosy’ with a really good butchers, a handful of restaurants/cafes and a nice little supermarket that was cheap and even sold marmite (no – we didn’t buy any…. mainly because we have a jar on route to Seville next week) :). After a brief walk around on Friday afternoon, we decided to take the bikes into Tavira on Saturday for a look around. Tavira has a lovely old town with a castle and it sits on the mouth of a river – one of the more normal that we have come across on the southern coast.
After a good days cycling and walking Keith braved the cold and only just beat the rain to cook a nice chicken roti wrapped with bacon and stuffed with sausage and faranata on the Bar B Q….can you tell we are liking the fact we can cook outdoors a little 🙂 Later in the evening the skies opened and the rain continued to fall all night….
Having finally managed to get to sleep, we woke to be an island in the middle of a lake – our neighbouring motorhomes having abandoned their pitches. This photo was taken about 6 hours after the rain had stopped and the water had receded …. alot
Thankfully no harm done and despite losing our matt downstream (we spotted it right in the middle of the deepest bit of water), we found it the next day as one of the neighbours had retrieved it after the water had gone down and it was hanging on their line.
Dried out, we headed inland hugging the border a little, stopping overnight in Mertola and then on to a mining town called Minas de Sao Domingos.
Mina de Sao Domingo is situated between two reservoirs and our parking spot was idyllic (despite the grey clouds and rain) … the photo didn’t do it justice, so I am afraid I left it out.
The mines were one of the largest in Portugal, dating back to Roman times when they mined for gold and silver, but more recently owned by an English family who mined copper for 110 years, finally closing in 1967. The town is dusty and the kind of place where you expect to see horses coming over the horizon any minute, instead, you can walk for miles through the red landscape (and we did …a nice circular walk of 18km) with the odd abandoned mine shaft or building popping up sporadically …..
very beautiful in an odd sort of a way….