With slightly grey skies we left Alagoa and left Barry & Hazel behind and we headed towards Quarteira near Villamoura where we stayed over Christmas a couple of years prior. Nothing special but we decided we needed to chill by ourselves and get a good idea where we’re going on the rest of this trip and also to brainstorm some ideas for future trips and adventures. From the campsite is a nice 6 mile run/walk to the marina at Villamoura along a pretty good beach. Lovely and quiet out of season but no doubt hell in season! Loads of the other tourists appeared to be British on a bargain pre-season package tour. Our second day there saw us do our first 6 mile run since November… Ouch!
Having driven the coast previously, we headed inland on surprisingly good roads and had lunch at Alte – a rather pretty hillside town with spring, river, waterfall and cobbled streets. Perfect weather made the location idyllic. We moved on though and found Silves and wild camped alone next to the river (though 30+ vans were grouped round the corner). Silves has an interesting and good condition castle, pretty city with more cobbled streets, and a sports centre and pool that looked great. We were very pleasantly surprised by the pretty nature of the hilly areas here, much nicer looking and more chilled than the tourist areas of the Algarve.
From Silves we drove to Caldas de Monchique which is a small spa “village” set in great surroundings, but we could not find any of the nice views noted in our book. Then to Monchique where we fancied a walk but it was a little too warm so we cheated and drove to Foia the highest point in Portugal. Bit of a sun-haze so views okay but not spectacular – and the top is spoilt by dozens of aerials, microwave repeaters and radars. But from there, there was a lovely drive along great roads with interesting views along the way – very pretty indeed (N267) – though it was a bit tight joining the E1 main road – so seek alternatives if long, heavy or tall. Along the way there was a huge line of telegraph poles (a few km work) – each with a storks nest, and almost all had a stork standing up in it – quite wierd. At Ourique we found a lovely overnight spot on the Barragem – a first for us – put simply its a reservoir typically with quiet road and loads of parking places. Very peaceful – we stayed near a place called “Chicken Marias” – though the owner (Maria?) was very grumpy!
The following morning we headed to Beja (or BJ!) which sounded good in the book but wasn’t as exciting as we imagined, but potentially we missed a couple of must-sees and didn’t see the castle (Only remembered it after we left and checked the book. Oops). Anyway, on to Portel for lunch that appeared to be very traditionally Portuguese – a nice warm clean feel to it; white-washed buildings; a nice square and a castle you can wander freely around the ramparts enjoying a great view. Worth a lunch stop if nothing else. We filled up with Diesel which cost €97 – blimey – I’m missing the Morocco 56p a litre stuff already!! Then finally on to Evora where we have been before but it was flippin’ cold, so this time in the heat we saw a much more pleasant side. Busy squares and the ability to walk around and see the old walls, aqueduct, and a few other bits we missed previously. We then found a quiet corner to stay the night.
We left Evora on a Sunday which in Europe is generally a good driving day as most things are closed, so we headed NW via Coruche where we had lunch – a very pleasant spot next to the bull-fighting ring ideal for wild camping, and WiFi in the nearby Pizza parlour. From here we headed to Obidos which was a very pleasant surprise if a bit touristy – a lovely castle, oldie style shopping street, and reminiscent of Chefchouen in Morocco – though the latter has oodles more real life character. The main downside of Obidos is that they had a chocolate festival that ended only a few days prior – so the dozens of chocolate stalls were still there but closed. Damn. Almost perfect.
Finally we headed to the coast and Baleal and Peniche, the former has a lovely sandy beach and the latter a rocky peninsular worth a drive around, but due to the wind we just found a sheltered corner to hide away for the night which had its own little sandy bay and rocky outlet. Beautiful.
After a half-hearted morning run around Peniche (which was nice enough) – we left and hugged the coast via São Martinho do Porto which was suitable for overnighting over a lovely relaxing lagoon, on to Nazaré which has a lovely wide sandy bay and cliffs. Glorious at this time of year but judging by the high-rises – hell in the summer. As it was getting late we found a quiet spot near Vale Furado for the night.
We end week 17 enjoying a new side to Portugal, much more rural and quieter than the Algarve with a much more real feel about it. Interesting and varied countryside along the way – much of it very British looking…. Which brings home the fact we’re heading north back to Blighty and the end of this trip, though not for a few weeks….