Adios Portugal, Hola España – 27/4/16

Leaving the Douro behind us we continued the windy road to Chaves – a pretty little medieval town situated on a river roughly ten kilometres from the border with Spain. We parked up in the old town, by the side of the river (Parking only GPS n41 43’9 w7 29’55) and went for a meander through the ghostly quiet streets.

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We had a good wander through the old town and along the river, finding a little lady selling local bread-type goods – a round loaf containing a meaty substance and two different cakes, one was scone-like with a hint of lemon, the other with filo pastry wrapped around a condensed milk type substance….. we tried the scone-like one which was pleasant enough 🙂 We also found a supermarket to stock up on some more Portuguese wine before we head over the border and obviously food and drink aside, had a good look around the Castle – or perhaps better described as Tower.

The evening was spent with our new family friend ‘Mr Nierpoort’ – Aka 10 yr Tawny, doing a bit of route planning, changing our minds again about heading back to the Northern Spanish coast and instead deciding to stay in land -bring on those chilly mornings – for a while.

We moved to our last stop in Portugal this time round – Braganca, with Keith deciding to take a road that if the map was correct, shouldn’t have been a pre-pay toll road however, upon entering, definitely appeared to be one. As we hadn’t pre-paid we assumed the worst but it appears that the 80km we travelled on wasn’t toll …. or if it was I am sure that we will get a nice letter from the Portuguese Autopista demanding some money in a few weeks time 😦

Toll roads aside, Braganca is a small but beautiful walled fortress town looking out into the vineyard cladded valleys. The Aire (GPS n 41 48’14 w6 44’45) is situated just below the old town nestled amongst the stunning tranquil surroundings…..apart from the water purifying plant that is…. Ahem – to be fair you couldn’t see, hear or smell it from the Aire, it was only when we got up to the historic part of the town and looked down we realised it was there.

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The morning run was a little hillier than I have been used to even in the last couple of weeks, but it was tranquil and mostly alongside a fast running river. Monday was Independence Day in Portugal which meant that it was unusually quiet in the morning at least, even more so than Sunday’s …. Although I am sure that there would have been fireworks and celebrations later on in the day!

As we traversed the mountains crossing between Portugal and Spain the snow topped Cordillera mountain range came into view in the distance …. thankfully, we were only at 1000m, they were a few – hundred – meters higher 🙂

We stopped at Leon for the night (Aire with water and waste GPS n42 36’16 w5 35’3) to see if anything had changed and buy some of the lovely cured meat (Chorizo, ham, sausages, etc) that the region is famous for and as the sun was shining I even managed to get some nicer photos than our last visit :).

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Leon is as beautiful as ever and we would both happily stop here any time we pass by, especially when the sun is shining however, we were keen to see new places so only stayed one night, moving down to the Aire in Palencia (GPS n42 0’14 w 4 32’4).

Thankfully we arrived early, or we possibly wouldn’t have found a spot as there appear to be a huge amount of motorhomes travelling through this area at the moment, mainly French, although in Leon we were surprised to see 10 Spanish vans travelling together parked up in the Aire …. how they managed to get all the spaces I don’t know, but thankfully we fitted in a parking spot and only had to pay 2.80 euros for 24 hours.

Back in Palencia, after a quick trip to see the very friendly lady in the tourist office we set off to explore the town, which has a lovely feel, beautiful architecture, lots of green space, a good market and nice shops and bars.

Whilst in the tourist office yesterday we picked up some information on other areas to explore within the region and decided to set off on the bikes along the canal to Becer de Campos which is roughly 20km away. It was a bone rattling ride and the town itself had more houses and churches falling down than standing up…. The Storks had found a good home in this one….

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Needless to say we did the journey back on the road….

Wine, Port, bubbly or just an overflowing Douro – 22/4/16

 

We woke to grey clouds but no rain and most importantly no puncture – the little bit of expanding rubber appears to be working 🙂

So, after a nice run along the canal and a bit of HIIT exercise we set off to explore what is apparently known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’ …. Aveiro. We found the fish market first and then worked our way round to the main market which appeared to be running a ‘bio’ week with some delicious breads, meats, cheeses and of course fruits and vegetables … One of the things we love about Portuguese markets is that you get the local producers who effectively are selling the produce they grow in their garden, one lovely gentleman parted with an Advocado an onion and a garlic for 1 euro … And not a hint of pesticide in sight.

I think ‘Venice of Portugal’ is a bit of an over estimation – Aveiro is built on canals but although we haven’t been there yet ….. it’s not Venice 😦

To be fair it is a pretty place with beautiful old buildings of all shapes and sizes clad in different coloured tiles – the old station being one of the most attractive examples.

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…it must be cheaper and harder wearing to clad a house in tiles than to paint it … Why don’t more people do it in the UK….. perhaps the cold weather cracks the tiles?

Whilst walking through the old town it was obvious that there was a music festival on with lots of musicians in traditional attire sporting every variety of guitar-like instrument you could imagine, all enjoying a nice hog roast and a few beers in between the rain showers!

 

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After not such a good night’s sleep as some idiot was doing donuts most of the night, we set off mid-morning to tackle the windy mountainous roads to get to Guarda where we parked up in a nice little park looking up to the city (Free with all facilities exc. elec. GPS n 40 32’58” w 07 14′ 32″).   Guarda is the highest city in Portugal sitting at 1056m and on approach is not exactly what you would call pretty, but when you get to the historic center, it is small, a little rough round the edges but quite interesting.

As we were back at Mika reasonably early, we decided to travel in the afternoon getting to Viseu (Free with all facilities exc. elec. GPS n 40 39′ 53″ w 07 55′ 02″) in time to do the bi-daily bake as the skies opened 🙂

Viseu is a really pretty historic city built on a hill with more churches than you can count. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily most of the time we were exploring it so we will have to come back to see it in the sunshine.

As we had 50km of cycle path on our doorstep I checked out the first part for my run and found some beautiful houses with fantastic views…. The city certainly doesn’t lack money and we will definitely be back to cycle the valley as the scenery was stunning.

Finally we come to the reason why we came back to Portugal …. The Douro – and probably more importantly the regions produce…… Our first stop was Lamego where we stayed at a fantastic little privately owned Aire looking down over the town nestled between a wine producer and the Sanctuary. The owner at Camping Lamego ((13 euros exc. elec. GPS n 41 05′ 29″ w 07 49′ 18″) was really friendly and helpful and although I have never been a massive fan of Alsatians, the one who lived here just couldn’t have enough cuddling – he was lovely, if it wasn’t for the quantity of fur and his size, I could have happily taken him with us in the Motorhome.

The sanctuary was very similar to Bom Jesus and equally as impressive, enjoying views over the rest of the town and the multiples of churches that it contained.

 

 

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As Lamego is famous for its sparkly wine we stopped in the bar at the Aire to enjoy a couple of glasses before finishing the rest of the bottle with Fajitas later that evening :). I would say that the Brut is as good, if not better than any Champagne I have tried – although possibly that is due to lack of champagne tasting opportunities 🙂

Getting ready to leave Lamego I put the GPS for our next destination into the Sat Nav and it said that it was in the middle of the Douro river ….. possibly we should have taken it as a sign.

15km and about 45 minutes later we had worked our way through some of the Douro hills with vineyards covering every inch of land around us. As the first sights of the River Douro came it was obvious why it has been in the news so much over the last couple of weeks – it is probably twice the size it should be and possibly 5m higher.

 

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The Aire (3 euros inc. elec. GPS n 41 09′ 46″ w 07 47′ 32″) was positioned just below the pedestrian bridge (on the right in the photo above), which I found out actually marks the highest level on records…. Back in 1909.

Despite the rain falling, the water level was dropping when we arrived and in a couple of hours it had probably dropped 2m, then in the following 24 hours another 2m although it did rise a bit in the middle which made us a little anxious.

Keeping an eye on the water level we headed into town to continue our tasting spree…. Finding a little place to try out some of the more local Port wines rather than the better known brands we found in Porto. We only learnt during this visit that it was only upon the entry into the EU in 1986 that the organisations who owned the vineyards outside Porto could actually sell their Porto wine. Previous to this, only the few larger organisations such as Croft, Taylor’s, Sandemans and Kopke could actually sell Port wine, the other (Smaller) producers sold their grape to those who monopolised the industry. This is why we only really know a handful of names (most of which are British owned) in the UK but there are many more that have come into the market in the last 30 years. The government still regulates the quantity of Port wine sold but it is a much more interesting market. Anyone interested may wish to invest in 2015 Port as apparently it is looking like it is going to be a vintage year for both Port and Douro Wine.

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As we didn’t want to mix our drinks we only tasted Port wine on Thursday, so decided to go back and try some of the Douro wines which we don’t see much of in the UK on Friday.

April Showers – 16/4/16

Well we always said that the weather in Portugal is pretty much like England ….It definitely has more sunshine but when it rains, it absolutely chucks it down!

We can’t complain though as we expected the week to date to pretty much be a puddle …. With us trying to swim through the middle. It has however been intermittent, with spurts of sunshine thrown in to keep us happy.

Monday’s run was accompanied by humidity and then possibly the fastest last 1.5km that I have done yet as the skies opened and the cold rain coupled with the wind chased me home…. One way of increasing my speeds I guess 🙂

We left the reservoir and meandered our way through the Eucalyptus forest to get to Avante where we stopped by the river, walking up to the old town and castle to eat our rolls whilst watching the black clouds form around us.

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After lunch we continued on through the Eucalyptus to get to our destination for the night of Tomar where we parked up near the bus station along with a handful of other motorhomes (GPS n39 35′ 59″ w8 24’47”). Tomar is a town of three parts …..a beautiful walled XI century town with a convent inside, a lovely historic town at the bottom of the hill and a new town on the other side of the river. The original – containing the convent – was the last Knights Templar town to be constructed in the XI century. Very impressive and well worth a visit if you are close by.

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With more rain looming we worked our way across to Pombal (GPS n39 54’30” w8 37’47”) where we caught up on the chores and then back to Coimbra (GPS n40 11′ 58″ w 8 25′ 44″) to visit the market and eat cake…. We really liked Coimbra last year and it presented itself at a convenient time to sit out the torrential rain. I wouldn’t have thought that the cloaks that the music students wear would be quite so useful …. Amazing how they can turn into waterproofs. In addition to re-visiting some of last year’s beautiful sights, we did find the rather spectacular Monastery of Santa Clara which was built in the XII century but wasn’t ever finished and finally abandoned in XVII century as it had sunk below water level and therefore was prone to flooding.

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The remains have been recently excavated and it looks like they have protected it as much as possible from the close by river taking it over, but it can’t be an easy task with the quantity of rain we have had and the river so close by.

Now to the real reason we came back to Coimbra ….. Leitao… Better known as suckling pig to the rest of us …. Yummmm (yet another apology to my Jewish ancestors – I blame my dad as I am sure they will appreciate you can’t stand by and smell the bacon without wanting to have a bite…). This time we ventured to a small town north of Coimbra which is known specifically for Suckling Pig, Mealhada. The meat was seasoned perfectly and succulent as it could be – we weren’t disappointed.

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With happily contented bellies we set off to Aveiro (GPS n40 38′ 35″ w8 39′ 30″), only to find that upon arriving we had a nice large nail embedded in our front right tyre ….. Yep we had a puncture 😦

The slow hissing sound at least drew my attention to a problem and although it meant we missed out on taking advantage of the dry spell yesterday afternoon to walk around Aveiro, it did enable us to get the puncture fixed and not wake to a ‘surprise’ over the weekend when it would have been more complicated.

Thankfully we are still covered under Fiats 3 year roadside assist and within three hours the tyre and Keith had been whisked away, plugged with a bit of expandable rubber – the tyre not Keith – and refitted ….. All costing us the total sum of 4 euros 🙂

Alentejo or Tuscany? … 9/4/16

When the rain started we had been forewarned that it was here for the duration. Unfortunately the weather forecast was right, so after buying a few essentials we set off to cross the border into Portugal – just in case you wondered…. The border crossing was mine, I took it with both hands on the steering wheel (as we were being blown from side to side) and with glory…. arriving at Evora for lunch. We parked up close to where we were just over 15 months ago for New Year (GPS n38 50′ 35″ w 07 54′ 24″) and once the rain slowed down late afternoon, set off into town to get Wifi’d up and see what had changed in the last year or so.

Not much had changed – although you get a lot more wifi data for your money nowadays – Evora is still as beautiful and peaceful as it was. It is one of those towns that you can keep going back to as not only is it in the Alentejo region which is known for its excellent wine and food, it also has everything you need from history and culture through to nice shops and ample patisseries, restaurants and bars.

Not wanting to spend too much time on repeated ground, we relocated to the Intermarche on the edge of town for the second night where there is now a service area (GPS n 38 42′ 03′ w 08 03′ 53″) enabling us to do the necessary for Mika whilst also doing the washing before moving on.

Leaving Evora behind, we set off towards a small hill village called Marváo, stopping briefly a Estramoz en route for a wander around. Estramoz is one of Portugal’s biggest Marble mining towns, as you walk through the streets of the old town you can see how it is influenced by its surroundings as many of the houses have white/pink marble around the doors and windows. The most impressive – although personally I wouldn’t say attractive – marble building however was definitely the convent at the top of the hill.

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After lunch we moved on and up to the beautiful village of Marváo where we parked up in an Aire (GPS n39 23′ 39″ w07 22′ 26″) with views out into Spain and beyond …. There were even a few mountains in the distance with crisp white stuff on top 🙂

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As you can see from the photo, despite having stunning views… We were quite glad that it wasn’t raining as we would have been washed down the hill.

Marváo is a walled village with a IX century castle both of which have been kept impeccably. We were truly surprised when they only asked 1.30 euros to go inside as the views alone were worth ten times that.

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What I can’t work out is how they don’t have any decent postcards as I have a dozen beautiful photos (if I don’t say so myself – ahem!!) – perhaps I should be going into business…

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Leaving our perch on the side of Portugal, we headed all of 13km down the road to Castelo de Vide where we parked up next to the stadium and athletic track on the edge of town (GPS n39 24′ 37″ w07 26′ 57″). Castelo de Vide describes itself as having a bit of everything and I think we can happily confirm that is pretty much true.

After a quick visit to the tourist office and finding a couple of walking routes, we set off into the hills onto the other side of the valley. The walk was mostly off road and incredibly tranquil, giving us views of Castelo de Vide from almost all angles. Castelo de Vide is on a fault line – which we didn’t realise – but that is what accounts for the dragon like rock formation along the top of the surrounding hills.

Returning back to the Motorhome we decided that we should try out our local bar, where in exchange for 1.60 euro – ahhh, that brings back memories of our first day in Portugal in 2014 – we received a bottle of beer and a glass of wine with stunning views…. Happy days

As we were next to the athletic track I thought I would give it a go in the morning, so set off to do my laps pushing myself on the first straight each time round and came back exhausted and with an average speed 1.3km faster than I have been doing recently…. Note to self, must try harder on my normal runs 😦

Breakfasted, we set off to explore Castelo de Vide, heading up to the castle…. today it was only a twentieth century construction so not that attractive, but then down into the Jewish quarter which was full of twisty, steep, narrow cobbled streets. It is pretty impressive how the older generation still manage to get up and down some of these streets – or perhaps that is why they last so long!

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Happy that we had explored Castelo de Vide to the full, we excelled and managed all of the 17kms to get to the Aire at Barragem Povoa (GPS n39 29′ 02″ w07 32′ 51″), located on the side of the reservoir in pure tranquility. Yesterday we set off round the north side of the reservoir for a leisurely stroll meeting a couple sturdy bulls en-route …. One of them jumped out of a hedge just in front of us …. I am not sure who was more scared, him or us. Today, not a bull in sight, we walked the longer route to the south getting back as the dark grey clouds were gathering strength for the storm that is due over the next week or so 😦

I am sure that you can see the similarities from the photos, it is very scenic in this area of Portugal and there is definately a hint of Tuscany here, maybe it is the Olive groves, maybe the rolling hills, but there are definately some similarities.

Spring is in the air….3/4/16

Well, we did it…. we finally managed to part company with Alicante and headed up into the mountains to get a change of scenery….. And that we certainly got 🙂

We had planned to stop for a night in a small village called Alcala del Jucar, but when we looked at the weather forecast and it was predicting snow at 500m in the area we decided to make a run through the hills and get the majority of the mountainous bits behind us, arriving at a UNESCO walled town called Ubeda late afternoon.

Leaving Alicante we worked our way up into the mountains,  winding between vinyards and olive groves, occasionally getting snippets of some of the beautiful Cherry and Almond blossom whilst the temperature slowly dropped. By lunch time shorts and a t-shirt had been switched for jeans and a jumper, it had got down to 6 degrees in just a couple of hours…. Oh and about 800m of altitude 🙂

The Aire in Ubeda (Free with all facilities exc. Elec) was clean and tidy, nestled by the side of a Guardia Civil training center just outside the historic town center. GPS n38.00611 w3.37972   We selected this Aire as it enabled us to cycle over to Baeza (another UNESCO Heritage site) as well as explore Ubeda which was on our doorstep. So, after a quick baking session – yes, still making rolls – we set off to stretch our legs and see what was in store for us tomorrow.

After a peaceful night we woke to a crisp morning with blue skies and despite the 4 degrees and the Guardia Civil looking on, jumped into action and got on with our morning Tabata exercise to warm us up.  A quick shower and a bowl of porridge later and we were ready to cycle over to Baeza ….. What a beautiful place, despite being a slightly misty day the views were stunning (The enormous house behind where I was standing to take this photo was for sale….. tempted hmmm….)

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Baeza has been maintained to an immaculate state

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and the shops are mostly boutique-style with many a patisserie (very un-Spanish-like) to bring in the slightly wealthier clientele, but it still felt very welcoming and normal…. or perhaps that is because Keith and I found a Madrid Football Club bar to stop and have a drink in so we saw the darker side 🙂

After eating our delicious homemade rolls in the sun opposite one of the fancier patisseries we jumped on the bikes and headed back to further explore Ubeda.

Ubeda is also very attractive, but seen on the same day as Baeza it would be better described as ‘shabby chic’.  It is much more of a working town with normal shops, although thankfully also had its fair share of patisseries and I am pleased to say that we are back in the land of beer/wine and free tapa which is always a good thing 🙂

After a couple of hours being entertained by the next generation of military drummers we settled into a quiet evening to prepare ourselves for a brisk run along (down and up) the cycle path in the morning.

Showered, breakfasted, emptied, filled and packed up we set off to Córdoba ….. Where we have been before, but neither of us remember much except that it was raining.

With mixed reviews,  we decided to park up at the Parque Centro Historico Aire (11 Euros for just under 24 hours with all facilities at an extra charge) GPS n37.87454 w4.78648. It was easy and we knew we would probably only be there for one night so wanted to be close.

Walking around Córdoba didn’t trigger many memories oddly, not sure what happened on our previous visit, but I can assure you that it is very pretty and worth a visit, although full of tourists.

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After a long, hot afternoon of walking through the streets of Córdoba we settled in to a local (non-touristy) bar to watch the Madrid vs Barcelona game, eating tapas for dinner.

Four days back into travelling and we are definately getting back into the routine.  Obviously we have been living in the Motorhome all year, but moving, parking, emptying, showering, washing up, etc. all takes a little bit more thinking …… We are pretty much there now, although and I am sure that by the end of the week we will have forgotten what it was like to be on a proper site!

Tonight we are stopped in a little place called Zafra where the Aire (Free with all facilities exc. elec.) GPS n38.42544 w6.41186 is close to a pretty-ish little walled town.  For us, a bit of a convenience stop as we are heading over the border into Portugal tomorrow and we wanted a last night to sort out admin in Spain….. And to stock up on a few of the bits we can’t get in Portugal ….. It is really odd how Lidl stocks different items in different countries 🙂

Just a reminder, if you want to see a map of the route we are taking you can either click on ‘Our route so far‘ on our Home Page, or just click here