1st Few Days in Portugal

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.

wp-1489691337478.jpg
Matasclana

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!

wp-1489692049818.jpg

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’?!!

wp-1489692073260.jpg

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

wp-1489610494382.jpg

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.

wp-1489609023381.jpg

Advertisements

El Rocio – another WOW!

First off, this post is out of sync as I haven’t yet managed to get my thoughts about Camino del Rey down in words.  Also the WiFi here is pretty bad and I’m having trouble uploading photos.  I’ve managed a couple so I’ll put these on, but will add more to the gallery at a later date.

After El Camino del Rey we didn’t think we’d have many more ‘wow’ moments on this trip.  But we were wrong…

Some other travellers told us about El Rocio weeks ago and we were quite keen to visit, so were very happy to find there was a site right at the entrance to the village, Camping La Aldea.

The day after we visited El Camino del Rey we relaxed at the van for much of the day, did a wash, started packing up, I made a chicken and bacon pie for tea (well I made 2 actually, 1 ready for another day – today, Friday, as it happens!)  We also spent an hour or so at the beach and in the evening met Chris and Elaine halfway between us and them at Luna Beach, which turned out to be a very nice little bar with nice views.  On the walk there, along the beach, we could clearly see Africa (as we had been able to all day).  We also said goodbye to Roger (aka ‘Good Looking’) as we knew he wouldn’t be up by the time we left in the morning.

For once we were ready to leave quite early, and so were saying goodbye to Jill (Good Looking’s wife) before 9am and then on our way by 9.

We had to head back towards Malaga before going north and then west towards Seville.  From what we could see of Seville as we bypassed it (we went the wrong way onto the ring road, but it didn’t matter as going north or south was much of a muchness), it looked like rather a lovely city.  As we drove through the outskirts we saw a temperature gauge reading 32degrees!  We had a good run and no toll roads were needed!

We finally made it to our new campsite at about 3.15pm (we had stopped on the way for breakfast and then lunch and a spot of grocery shopping).  There was plenty of space and we could see that we were indeed right on the edge of the village.  Unfortunately the swimming pool doesn’t open until Easter, otherwise we would have been straight in there!

After a dirty burger for tea we decided to go and have a quick look, via the site bar, before it got too dark.  It was still warm enough to be out walking in a vest top (and we had eaten outside as well).  In the bar we met the young couple who were pitched next to us – they have a 5 month old baby and are taking their parental leave as 5 months travelling in their motorhome.  How wonderful is that?!

We walked around the village for a while.  It’s all sand roads and you can see that all the houses have ‘bars’ outside to tie the horses up to (sorry, I don’t know what they’re called).  We also saw many, many lodgings for particular ‘Hermandads’ – these are the brotherhoods from different provinces who come here on a pilgrimage at Pentecost (50 days after Easter) – apparently up to 1million people descend on this tiny village for the weekend of festivities.

On the way back to the van we walked along to a serenade of crickets and frogs.  In the mornings we are waking up to cockerels crowing, donkeys braying and beautiful birdsong.

Friday morning, once we’d properly woken up, we set off to explore the village properly and this time we found the main square containing the Ermitas and where no cars are supposed to enter…  We saw many horses and horses and carts (we’ll take a trip tomorrow) and also found out that the nature reserve starts immediately in front of the main area.

This is a horse village, many of the bars have high counters outside so that people can stay on their horses to have a drink!  We were told this morning, by a British man, that apparently Americans still come over here to buy horses that have a gene going all the way back to the original wild horses, and that the breed, Mustang, originated here.

The high point of the pilgrimage is on the Monday when the statue of the Virgin Mary is taken out of the church and paraded through the village to visit every 1 of the Hermandads (brotherhoods) – there were 106 of them shown on a sign we saw in the village.  Apparently the campsite charges 50Euros a night during the week of the pilgrimage (we’re paying 17…)  We saw the statue in the Ermitas and it’s huge.  We have no photos as individuals make pilgrimages here throughout the year and there were several people in there who were clearly on their own personal pilgrimage.

At lunchtime we sat in 1 of the bars at the top of the main square and had some tapas.  We tried patata Ali Oli (garlic potato) – which I would have liked if it had been hot, but it was straight out of the fridge and I’m not keen on cold potato – and Pimiento asados con atun (peppers with tuna), also cold, but I really liked it (sometimes I surprise myself!)

While we ate we watched the swallows flying around the Ermitas and into the eaves.  There were hundreds of them!

There was also a fenced off grove of Olive trees nearby.  These were fenced off as they’re all over 100 years old and 1 of them is over 600 years old.  It seems that those attending the pilgrimage used to touch them (maybe hug them??) and they needed to be protected.  It would be interesting to see if fencing them off actually had the desired effect!

By 2pm we were beginning to flag as it was so hot so we headed back to the campsite to relax for a while.

But by about 4.30 Calv was getting bored!  So we got the bikes out and headed for the lakes to see what birds we could spot.

This gave us another view of the main square and we also saw horses grazing in the shallows.  Calv made a friend of a stray dog that seemed to want to play, but I was a bit concerned that he was going to bite him – he just wouldn’t leave him alone…!  He got some good photos of the birds (including flamingos, spoonbills and black kites), but nowhere near as good as our Swedish neighbour next door, who visits us regularly and brought over some of his photos to show us this evening – truly amazing (mind you he has rather an impressive lens!)

Tomorrow we will go back into the village and hopefully take a trip in a horse and cart, and perhaps visit the ornithological centre to find out what some of the birds that we’ve seen are.  We might even get closer to the flamingos and get a better picture of them 🙂

It’s now tomorrow and we’ve had a lazy morning before walking back into the village.  It was hot again today and we were hoping to get some got pictures of the various wildlife.  I think Calv did get some pretty got shots, but we’re having trouble uploading at the moment so I can’t put them on here.

It’s Saturday today and there were, as expected, more horses around.  Naively we thought that perhaps there would be fewer cars in the village, but there were many more + many coaches…  Before we came here I had a daft idea that there would be no cars in the village.  In fact they’re only barred from the area around the Ermitas – however, being in Spain, this rule is regularly flouted…

We took a 25 minute trip, just the 2 of us, in a horse and cart, at a cost of 20 Euros, which we were happy with.  The driver spoke to us in Spanish, and we managed to communicate in some small way.  We now know there’s a famous singer living in El Rocio and he knows we also visited the village yesterday!  Also that El Rocio is pronounced El RoSio – I thought it was either El RoKio or El RoTHio.  (they also say GraSiaS here, rather than grathia…)

The Spanish love to come out to play at the weekend which is great to see.  We saw them having picnics, family gatherings, a wedding party in full swing, ladies practising playing their castanets and their flamenco moves by the water.  It was all very uplifting!  (Actually that’s another thing that’s big here, flamenco.  There are several shops dedicated to selling flamenco outfits – and they’re not cheap…..  There was also a show in 1 of the bars, but we missed it!

We also now have a party of scouts, or equivalent, here on the campsite – we could hear them this morning before they set out for the day, playing games and singing.

We saw horses at the bar – raised counters so that riders don’t have to dismount in order to have a drink.  People sitting in their carts outside bars drinking.

We saw several different species of birds plus frogs and a couple of lizards.  All in all we were pleased that we stayed an extra day.

Hasta manana 🙂

Walk to the top of Cruz de Juanar

It’s Sunday now and I’ve just realised how far behind I am on the blog.  Mind you, apart from our walk up the mountain, we haven’t done an awful lot except sit on the beach or sit in the van (it’s been raining for the last couple of days 😦 )

So on Tuesday it turned out to be a lovely day and we finally made it down to the beach.  There was enough wind for the waves to be rolling in quite nicely, but we positioned ourselves beside the breakwater and had a patch of calm water to paddle in (I got in up to my waist – it was rather cold…)

We popped down the shop in the afternoon, forgetting that it was still a bank holiday and most were shut.  But we found a Supercor express open and got a few essentials (San Miguel, an Oreo cheesecake….)

On Wednesday we headed back to do our mountain walk.  It was another beautiful day and we made sure we had plenty of liquids and snacks.  I even remembered my hat!  Continue reading “Walk to the top of Cruz de Juanar”

Day ??? (Who knows!) – Moving on from Alicante to ?? (Isla Plana – near Cartegena)

Everything happens for a reason. Or so Calv likes to say. Well today this was proved beyond doubt!

We had our first failure today, in that we got to our first choice of campsite and it was full. It was a big site too, at La Manga de Mar Menor. Actually this is the 1st time that we’ve highlighted more than 1 (3 to be exact) as we know that there’s now more chance of sites being full (as we head further South). And to be fair this was only our 1st choice because it was the 1st one we got to.

However, it was out of the way and we wish we’d rung in the morning to save us an extra 40 miles driving… I had thought that being situated right at the end of a peninsula with few roads going in (as shown on our map anyway…) and a sea lagoon on its doorstep it would be a little slice of heaven with very little going on. Haha – there were high rise hotels built along the sandbar that created the lagoon and a fair bit of traffic. So not my little bit of paradise then!

There was a slight complication though when we were told it was full in that there were 2 other vans there who were told the same thing. Were we all headed for the same site next? Were there any spaces there? If so was there just the 1?! So we ditched the plans to stop for a cuppa, Calv jumped in the driving seat and we were off – it was like Wacky Racers!! The old Talbot that was already there before us also got away first, but we easily overhauled him within a mile or so. The newer Carthago looked like he could have had us, but, luckily, he went in the other direction J

Anyway, my point is that we headed towards the 2nd site (which in reality WAS my 1st choice…) and, having skirted Cartagena, we started climbing through a mountain range – hard driving, following an already hard drive with high side winds all the way – lots of switchbacks and hairpins; it was a bit like being back in the Pyrenees except that we were in the van instead of the little C1!

wp-1486571252921.jpg

But the views!! Just amazing and as we emerged from the mountains, the final descent revealed the sea sparkling just up ahead and we knew then –‘Everything happens for a reason’ J

The drive here saw the landscape change from one of groves and groves of orange trees to groves and groves of lemon trees, and finally to acres of agriculture (we don’t know really but it looks like cabbages and leeks – much is hidden in poly tunnels and greenhouses). Where we have landed, Isla Plana, just south of Cartagena, is no exception. (It’s now Thursday evening and we’ve been on a bike ride alongside some of the polytunnels – filled with hundreds of thousands of tomatoes in various stages of ripedness).

There’s not much going on here but it is beautiful and the site had 4 spots left. It was a bit of a squeeze getting in to our chosen spot – not particularly helped by the German man who emerged to point out that we couldn’t leave it with the nose sticking out into the road (really? really??!).

Normally when people emerge it’s to assist a fellow camper, but he came out to tell us off before we’d even finished manoeuvring– anyway Calv managed to get in sideways instead. Everyone who walks past keeps staring – I don’t think they can believe it’s in like that!! Even our neighbours were impressed that we had a van you could park sideways J

wp-1486659579155.jpg

But we do have a seaview, and a good steep walk to the toilets, supermarket, reception, bar and swimming pools!

wp-1486659610925.jpg

We have an indoor and outdoor pool, both open. The outdoor pool is thermal and we’re thinking of going in later. It won’t be so warm today (we had about 20 degrees again yesterday), maybe 18 (we’re hoping!) We’ll also ride back towards the mountains we came through and maybe up a little to one of the viewing spots (we went out yesterday down to the beach and the ‘town’ – very tiny!)

** Okay Thursday update – the temperature today was easily 24/25 again with full sun all day. We have sat outside the van, swum in the outdoor pool (followed by a bit more sunbathing) and then ridden the other way along the coast, up a mountain to look at the tower that we spotted yesterday. (And we have both, definitely, caught the sun – as in “should have put some suncream on….!”

The tower was part way up, yet another, mountain and then the entrance was halfway up the tower itself, followed by some steep, and very narrow, spiral stone stairs up to the top! It was used to protect the coast from pirates J

We are definitely going to stay a 3rd night here and just relax – or maybe try to cycle up into the mountains to one of the viewpoints – wish me luck!

From Benidorm to Alicante – About 40 miles distant, but hundreds of miles apart!

Separated by 40 miles of land but so very different!  A completely different feel to Alicante (and El Campello where we are actually staying).

Saturday and Sunday in Benidorm proceeded much as expected.  We did very little,  went for a couple of swims, walked a little, went to watch the rugby on Saturday in a bar where even the San Miguel was only 1.50 euros per bottle!..So later on Saturday evening was spent singing and dancing along to music in the van (some of you may have seen the video!)

Sunday evening we walked along to the Benidorm Palace to see The Rat Pack.  A very enjoyable show but a little disappointing that the main event only lasted for 20 minutes more than the support act….  Glad we went though 🙂

We knew we would have to pay for any electric that we used over 4kwt per day at the campsite – we weren’t expecting over 23euros!  In the UK campsites aren’t allowed to actually make money out of the electric; we’re guessing the same rules don’t apply here…

So, whilst we’ve enjoyed our time in Benidorm, we’re not sorry to be moving on now.  We’ve just headed a little way down the coast to El Campello, just outside of Alicante.  It’s probably not even 40 miles (it took less than an hour).  Some lovely views along the way (and also the usual impatient Spanish drivers!)

Once again we managed to get into our chosen site, albeit in the ‘winter camping area’, which turns out to be really rather pleasant.  We met another British couple coming the other way (around Spain & Portugal that is) who gave us some interesting information about Lisbon.

We set off down to the seafront for a bike ride and found a tramline!  It turns out the tram goes direct into Alicante for 1.45 euros each – bonus.  (It also goes back to Benidorm and beyond – who knew?  Not us evidently!)  Rather a lovely aspect along this seafront and much more chilled than Benidorm; also with a few statues thrown in.

dsc_0051

A feature of the beaches over here is the volleyball nets and basketball nets etc. that are provided all along the beach.  Also a lot of outdoor gym equipment is available.  There’s a cycle path along almost the length of the seafront too.  All very pleasant 🙂

dsc_0050

I’d made a chilli for tea, which was okay but I’d forgotten to look for the fat content of the mince when we bought it…. I won’t make that mistake again!

Today we caught the tram into Alicante and walked 169m up to the castle (even the steps were steeply sloping).  We made it anyway 🙂  (There is the option to take a lift all the way up – you only have to pay (2.70 euros) if you go from the very bottom, otherwise it’s free). The castle is really amazing, there’s a lot of it and it costs nothing.  The lift takes you all the way back down to the beach, which is handy – last time I came here (with Lou about 11 years ago – I think) we pretty much walked back down the side of the mountain – in our flip flops!!

We had lunch, and a sangria, at a bar by the beach, and then wandered a little more.  Unfortunately my heel was hurting again by now so we needed to head back to the tram – which we had to find first!  Needless to say we did so and headed back to sit in the sun by the van (we’ve had 25 degrees today – bikini weather).

We’d also found a bloke’s wallet on our way out in the morning; we tried to contact him but ended up handing it to a policeman at the gate to the castle!  Hope he gets it back.

We’re moving on tomorrow and hoping to stay close to Cartagena – it looks like it could be worth visiting 🙂

 

 

Tuesday 31st January – a bonus day in Cullera

We had originally intended to move on today, but are so comfortable and relaxed here that we decided to stay an extra day. Also we hadn’t yet managed to do the walk up the mountain or see the castle yet.

So we started the morning with the walk up to the Ermista Santa Marta. My heel was still hurting but I figured it would get better if I exercised it a bit. I’m glad I put my walking shoes on as the terrain was quite challenging in places – I nearly slipped over at one point. Not the best thing to be doing when you’re on the side of the mountain…! Anyway it was 226 steps up (I counted them on the way back down) together with rocky terrain and normal walking. There’s a sort of cactus grove on the way up, and, to be honest, not much to see when you get up there! And what there is is locked and you can’t get in.

dsc_0010wp-1486146504690.jpg

So Calv decided that, as there was no roof, if he went up the side he’d be able to look down into it. Now. If you were an experienced rock climber this would be a good idea perhaps, but I had to beg him not to do it as I imagined him losing his footing, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we’d been on level ground… You get the picture. For once he listened to me! Only to try to scramble up a different way, only to abort that when I heard him mumbling that there were definitely snakes living in there…!

dsc_0015dsc_0019

After a rest we set out on our bikes for the castle, which is signposted form the main road, but not at the road you need to turn off to get to it. So we spent 5 minutes cycling up and up, only to find a dead end! So glad of our electric bikes on this trip – we’d never have made it to the top of some of these hills without them.  Calv videoed the trip back down from the castle (1 hand on the brake, the other holding his phone – luckily there were no cars coming when he got to the bottom and had to turn left, as it was the steepest bit and he couldn’t stop…)

We finally made it to the castle. Again worth seeing at 3 euros apiece. However it was lunchtime so, naturally, the café was just closing and so was the church, so we missed out on the church. Which did look pretty impressive, so we were a bit disappointed.

We needed some fruit and veg so stopped on the way home and loaded up the bikes. Then Calv decided to buy a 6 pack of 1ltr bottles of water. He secured them onto the back of his bike with one of our locks, and then forgot they were there and mounted his bike, knocking them sideways. I know, it was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments, but it made me laugh!

I’ve finally done my ironing (outside though J ) and we’re now ready to look for our next site (Benidorm remember?!)

Will be sad to leave this site – even though I dreamt last night that we were overrun with some ‘battle re-enacters’ who wouldn’t let us leave…. Not sure what that was all about, I’m obviously getting too much sleep (averaging 8 ½ hours!!)

See you in Benidorm J xx

 

Pamplona :)

2 posts in 2 days – I’m on fire!  Well actually it’s because I have about another 3 hours left on Wifi and I want to make the most of it 🙂

Also I wanted to tell you how lovely the old part of Pamplona is.  Yesterday afternoon we sat out by the van in the sunshine (it was only about 13 degrees but out of the wind it was lovely).  We knew it was unlikely to get above about 4 degrees today so we put our base layers on and wrapped up warm ready for our cycle ride along the river (about 10km).  (Btw, base layer bottoms seem to be like tights ladies – you need to get a size up for them to actually fit properly and be comfortable – just saying…!)

It was fairly straightforward – we only went wrong twice, once on the way there and once on the way back.  Quite good for us, don’t you think?!  Continue reading “Pamplona :)”