Sunday 12th March 2017
Finally the day arrived that we were to move on into Portugal.
We’d looked into the toll system and it appeared that all tolls were now electronic. Having investigated signing up online we decided to wait until we crossed the border, as we’d read that tourists simply pulled over to the side and put their credit card into a reader while their number plate is read and the two details are linked.
This is exactly what happened. However, we’ve since discovered that not all the tolls are electronic (on the A2 on the way to Cascais yesterday) and that the tolls are pretty expensive…
Anyway, back to Sunday.
We decided to go the scenic route when we left El Rocio, meaning that we headed down towards Matascalana on the coast. This was a very pretty little town/resort with a lovely beach. It was very busy, as is usual in Spain on a Sunday, but even more so as there was a running race going on that was starting/finishing on the beach.
We carried on along the coast towards Huelva. This road has a cycle path pretty much all the way along it so is good if you decide to camp down there. We did see a campsite and went to have a quick look round. It was massive! And it was very much a live-in site. It took us more than 5 minutes to get less than 1/3 of the way through the site towards the sea – definitely not for us!!
I mentioned Huelva, which you can’t really avoid if you’re driving this way into Portugal. It’s full of oil refineries and gas – think of Fawley, only bigger.
We needed to fill up with diesel and were really glad that we did so before crossing the border (even though it was a Repsol, which tend to be the most expensive fuel stops). Fuel is way more expensive in Portugal, so we’re glad that we’ll only have to fill up once whilst here.
We also made the decision to come off the motorway as soon as possible and take the coast road. Not such a good idea (apart from the fact of not paying the tolls – I’ve yet to look at my credit card statement to see how much we were charged for the short time we were actually on the motorway… I’m not looking forward to it!!)
The road wasn’t brilliant but we continued heading towards Tavira where we intended to stop for lunch. There was a big parking area for motorhomes and we tried to have a wander round but were beaten back by the wind!
Calv decided to then take the road even closer to the coast, so we found ourselves driving through Santa Luzia, which looked lovely and did have a motorhome parking area, and spotting the tourist train (that runs all along the coast from Lagos back to Villa Real de St. Antonio near the border) before deciding that enough was enough and heading back up to the A22 (the toll road), where we struggled to make sense of the ‘cost information’ signs or to work out how much we would be paying!
We eventually arrived in our destination of Alvor, a lovely little town just past Portimao (shown in the main photo to this post). Whilst the town and the beach are lovely, particularly the beach, the campsite left a lot to be desired. We were originally going to stay for 3 nights but decided to make that 2 and do an overnighter elsewhere on our way to Lisbon (which turned out to be another good call as it still took us 5 hours to get to Lisbon on the following day).
In Alvor we chatted to our neighbours who, it turned out, hailed from the Isle of Wight! Calv and Trevor spent the 2nd evening in the bar – in fact I was getting a little worried when he wasn’t back by midnight!
On our full day there we cycled down to Alvor and along the boardwalk (there is a very good boardwalk here that goes from 1 end of the beach to the other, pretty much, and takes in a nature reserve). There’s an ‘inland sea’ leading to the harbour, along which there are several bars and restaurants. There is a maze of narrow streets filled with shops, bars, cafes and restaurants – we very nearly got lost (highly unusual for us…)
The beach is beautiful. There are dunes protecting you from the worst of the wind, and it is very windy, and you can sit for hours just watching, and listening to, the waves crashing on the beach. Idyllic. It helped me to understand why people come to Portugal year after year.
We ate in one of the harbourside restaurants. Calv had a club sandwich, which was perfect. I chose garlic mushrooms – unfortunately we think they must have been cooked in old oil as there was a very strange taste to them – neither of us could finish them!
When we got back to the site we nipped to the nearby supermarket, called Pingo Doce – great name, for a few essentials. Later still we went back out on our bikes to investigate a mysterious footpath that we could see ran by the site. We cycled out into the country a bit but couldn’t find the source and then headed back up past the supermarket and turned left a couple of times where we found it. We also found this little gem that we thought could be our 1st ‘doer-upper’?!!
We had managed to find a nice spot at the campsite but we were quite happy to be moving on after 2 nights and had identified a site near Vila Nova de Milfontes for our overnighter.
For the 1st time on this trip though we changed our mind mid-journey. I spotted another site that I thought might suit us better and was a little nearer in Zambujeira do Mar. As Calv says, often, ‘everything happens for a reason’, and what a gem of a site this was! I was even prepared to forgive the fact that the toilets had no paper, hand-soap, driers or, indeed, toilet seats!
If we come back to Portugal we will 100% return to Villa Park Zumbejeira J
We wandered down to the little town in the afternoon, went down to the beach – down a number of steps, and took a walk along the clifftop. Another charming little town. All the houses have window frames edged in either blue or yellow paint (except for the rebels who have edged in a sea-green or lilac or purple – we saw 1 of each. I can imagine people writing in to the local paper to complain about them…)
Unfortunately, as with everywhere so far in Portugal, people drive too fast, even through little towns like this. We watched a lorry approaching the 90 degree right hander at the end of the road at a ridiculous speed. But it seems to be how they drive as it’s not the first, or the last, time that we’ve stopped and stared after a driver going way too fast – even on the campsites themselves they drive as though they’re out on the open road L
So we were sorry to leave Zumbejeira after just 1 night and I’ll update you with our journey and 1st day in Cascais, near Lisbon, in my next post.