A Travellerspoint blog

Watching the Douro flow by


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The whole of this area we had travelled across is famous for producing the wines that port is made from and we saw many of the names we recognised from our time in Porto last year; Calem, Cruz Porto, Sandeman and so on but there is also hundreds of smaller Quinta that either produce their own port or take the harvest to a number of coops around the region. There are also locals with small holding, allotments or their back gardens that grow vines for their own consumption, the whole area is so full of vines there is little space left. Large new planting are going on here, making new terraces with JCB's but I suspect the vast majority of the preparation of the stepped landscape has been manual over hundreds of years.
At the aire we met some brits, kiwis and a springbok lady on her own, too much wine again but it's the only way to find out stuff. The British chap was walking really badly and it turns out the NHS removed his knee caps at 15! This didn't deter him from life, chasing a lost love who's father sent her to a kibbutz in Israel because Mike was not suitable; he bought a Hillman Minx convertible and drove across Europe to find her just after the 6 Day war. He stayed a while and became the kibbutz sniper! They married, had children and unfortunately she died in her 30's. Mike had several careers including free lance finance arranger for such deals as aircraft purchases from eastern block individuals after the break up of the communist power base.
You couldn't make it up, I gave him our email address and told him not to contact us until he had written his book.
We spent some time with the kiwi couple and Lesley, the springbok, really just enjoying the views for a couple of days. Wednesday morning I went for a jog as the river promenade was lovely and saw a market and excitedly told Jacqui, turned out it was just horticultural stalls.
Jacqui managed a bit of girly shopping with Andrea and there was also a real market in town that was just closing when they got there. They saw an advert to celebrate World Women's Day, so the next night we went along to the best hotel in the town, to their Douro view restaurant and for €18 had a very pleasant evening including white sangria and a bottle of Douro red for me. Only thing was Geoff, who looks like a retired Hulk Hogan and I were the only chaps! Traditional pasty type starters and dried ham, bacaloa and lots of salads, stuffed pork or a fish bake with garlic potatoes and pudding was loads of fluffy things.
Next day after a good walk into town we left and drove away from the Douro but still very much in the same sort of country and spent 2 hours doing 55 miles on wiggerly roads again.

Posted by cjpolley 05:40 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Rio Douro


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We stayed at Almeida, a very fortified 16th century town, obviously the gun had been invented and this was one of many attempts Europe wide to defend against cannon. It is colossal and intricate and I don't know who designed it but from what I remember the Italians and Dutch were in the forefront of this technology. We have seen star shaped fortresses in Holland which even functioned in the early part of WW2 but nothing on this scale. Set on quite a low rise the walls are not meant to stop scaling ladders but provide a field of fire to stop assaults. The inside of the battlements are filed with soil and, I suspect, a million tons of rocks and rubble, most of the structures measure 100m wide by 50m deep and 10m high.
A set of double gates has recently been restored and the tunnel between inner and outer gate decorated, rather than show how an invader might have died in this enclosed area; shame I think they missed a trick there. A plaque shown that this town was instrumental in establishing Portugal's independence in the 17th century. I must check some of this stuff because Pedro's version of the creation of the country we know as Portugal starts with a son of Queen Isobella of Spain who was given the job of chasing the Moors out of the land below Galicia. She got him to do this because he was impatient for some power and it stopped him attacking those Princes trying to rid Spain of the same enemy! Interesting stuff over an almond liquor with Pedro.
I don't know how jacqui does it but there was a flea market on when we walked up to the town and Sunday night was obviously churros night which a mobile food van knocking out the hot donuts for families.
On to the Portugal's major wine producing area world famous for port, we had spent 3 weeks last year getting to degree standard on port tasting and production so it seemed logical to see where it all came from.
This is another great drive, 80 miles in over 3 hours, in and out of river valleys that feed the Douro; the upper river, Douro Altoa, slow and lazy before the dam that uses its energy. Then down past Pesos da Regua where the river is wide and boat trips start from the wide promenade although steps from the sides of the old Bridge suggested a much higher water level in the past.
This is where we found a brilliant aire run by the local angling and shooting club, another association running one, I assume they are non-profit-making organisations? Here we have what is referred to as a super pitch at home, perfectly level, electric and water at each pitch and grey water drain age and what a view! All for €3 per night.
The only downside of the view was a French old chap standing on the top of a wall having his morning pee in full view of two bridges, the cycle path and anyone else in the car park, quel domage.

Posted by cjpolley 03:13 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Pigs Ears in Plascenia


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The almond blossom had been part of the landscape from Portugal into Spain on these rugged hills but now we came into the Jerte valley they were abundant, this was the same valley that surprised us last April with the cherry blossom and the number of cherry products available in every village. They were not all alcoholic, beers and brandies, but loads of cherry inspired food items like cheese, bread,pate and biscuits and of course the wood makes beautiful decorative items.
This year we panned to stop at Plascenia just outside the Monfrague NP, home of the imperial eagle, but we weren't looking for it in the rain. Stopping at a riverside site we managed a slow walk (due to Jacquis knee brace,normally i can't keep up with her)into the city on Saturday lunchtime and fancying a beer stopped at our usual choice of bar, small and full of locals, this one even doubled as a bakers. So the drinks came with a choice of tapas, one looked like pork belly, the other I'm not sure? Jacqui obviously leaves both tapas for me and the first one was indeed pork belly pieces where the skin had been caramelised; the second was a bit gristley and raw and in a nice chilli sauce. Well I chewed off the small amount of meat and it didn't taste at all bad, turns out it was raw pigs ears, yummy!
This bar, like the rest of the city was very friendly and I doubt there were too many tourists about. We walked to the bullring via the aqueduct and back through a park where the local council had set up a child size street system to teach road safety.
Our first sight of the cathedral gave us to wonder why it seemed to have so many different styles used in its construction. Turns out that the Segrada Familia has nothing on this uncompleted 16th century project, much of it is now bricked up.
So back to the van to put our feet up, we are trying little bits of exercise for Jacqui's knee and cosied up against the rain.
Isn't Google wonderful, it always get spelt with a big G on my spell checker and I understand it an American company but why when I spell a European city name do I get the US near equivalent? Plasencia, not Plascentia USA, which doesn't even sound very nice. I know it's so we don't confuse Americans but when they say, "Paris, France?" I feel like saying, "Is there another?"
So Sunday morning we decide to leave and have to get the old chap out of bed to pay him and head back to Portugal, passing through the Sierra del Gata which looks a bit like Scotland with rice fields on the plains. We stopped for fuel before crossing into Portugal on top of a hill and the cheery local pump attendant even gave us an area map and did his tourist guide bit, coffee out of a machine wasn't too bad either.
We made our way over these 1000m hills and into Portugal using a free stop at Almeida which we will have to find out about before we blog about it.

Posted by cjpolley 03:06 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Monsaraz


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We drove around another section of the lake system and started to ascend a twisty but wide road up to the fortified town of Monsaraz, the very top car park of which was designated for motorhomes, what a view! There was another free stop around the lake on a small peninsula but this was the place to take in the whole scene.
We wandered around the sleepy town inside the walls, very pretty but it must get packed in season, and asleep! The castle and keep had been rebuilt several times and the area inside the keep had been rebuilt as a small bullring with animal pens opening through one side of the gate into it. We briefly met another British couple and Bernie told us of a free aire at an old Cork factory that even had free electric, another one on the list for next year.
Back at the van we sat in the sun for a couple of hours as rain was forecast for the next few days and Jacqui wanted to top her fading tan up. She then cooked a magic dinner; roast loin of pork, roast potatoes with mediterranean vegetables. Followed by strawberry cobbler and Greek yoghurt, I just had to have an extremely expensive tawny port to round it off.
Well the rain did start the next day so we stuck to our little plan and drove into Spain via a town we had stayed at last year, Badajos. Last year we were paying €0.96/L for fuel, this year it is more like €1.13 but we managed by chance to find it at €1.02 so result there.
We had an interesting drive in the afternoon in the rain and saw the black iberian pigs for the first time, eating anything they could in the road side forests. There was even a roundabout pig sculpture, nearly forgot about the roundabout sculpture in the town with the fire station aire, twenty foot tall house with firemen abseiling, pumping water, rescuing babies, everything a good local fire fighter does.
We also thought that this area of midish Spain looked a lot more scruffy than the Portuguese equivalent across the border with it well ordered farms and orchards and the roads were worse, but we had just come from the lakes area that obviously had a lot of money invested in it.
We arrived at Plasencia, quite late and had to leave one site as the Internet was rubbish and we had planned a couple of days of catch up in the rain. We moved on nearer the city by a river and by the time that I had been in and out of the van a number of times I was chilled to the bone in the rain, I even had to get out of my shorts and put longs on and a blanket.
Boxing day tea that evening, cold pork, mashed potato, beans and for the first time for ages for me, beetroot.

Footnote: thanks to our UK spell checker, Scoop, who always spots when either red wine or Google spell check has taken over.

Posted by cjpolley 10:27 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Heading north


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We set off the morning after the carnival in bright sunshine and clear blue skies, not what was forecast. The weather reports had forecast cloud and rain and the only way to avoid it was drive 500 miles back into Spain! On leaving Pedro's we got hugs from him and Mireille and we booked for Christmas; this also might result in some warmer weather in January, February if we drive back via a warmer Spain.
We both like the Algarve a lot and the people are lovely but the influx of huge number berserk of motorhomes because they have not travelled to Morocco, the vast majority of the vans came from one country, no prizes for questing which une! We met an English couple, well they were from gods own country Yorkshire really, and the husband delighted in say GNR loudly and talking about being moved on. It took me a wile to work out he wasn't talking about the Great Northern Railway and about Portugal's Gardia Naciones Repuclica!
We headed for a town we missed last year, Serpa about 100 miles north of the coast. A very pretty drive along the IC1 and IP2 both free roads and very good road surfaces, to boot. We remembered a huge diversion around this area last year but now it's a brilliant route. We stopped for a sandwich at Beja, another place we had forgotten we had stayed at and got on the site at Serpa early afternoon and went for a walk to stretch our legs.
Serpa is a small town famous for having been built as a communist community within a castle, much of which has been renovated, including the very slim aqueduct, not medieval that one,
Much of the town consisted of hundreds of identical terraced bungalows, all painted white. Some people had added new doors and windows, one owner had obviously wanted to impress by building a small rampart around an ornate chimney to differentiate his dwelling.
There are great views from the castle walls, well it wouldn't be much of a castle if there weren't!
Quick snooze in the van and salmon pasta, then juggle our route around the weekend's predicted rain.
Still sunny but chilly next morning but a different feel about the place, there were not hundreds of motorhomes and lots of bustle, we do like it quiet even though we had a filled couple of weeks at Pedro; we probably need a rest from getting worried about Jacqui's knee as well. Some reviews we read about this site we were on said the showers weren't up to much and we could see some work going on but the water was piping hot and the place clean, we wonder what some campers want from a quiet little site out of the way.
We decided to head to the border for a few reasons, cheaper fuel, somewhere to stay out of the rain and to visit a site recommended by Mary and John, we also wanted to see this area of man made lakes.
The countryside had changed again but still very attractive, we found ourselves driving through a very productive landscape with olives, fruit orchards and vines, one particular village, Pias, was know to us as the red wine served at the recent bbqs. The area was obviously wealthy and huge areas were being planted with olive trees and new vines, it soon became clear why.
The newish man made lakes provide water and power here abouts as well as improving the access to the area with new bridges, roads and dams to cross the now flooded valleys. The land nearest to the lakes has also become easily irrigated, hence the increase in cultivation, shame a lot of mature trees appear to have had to come down though.
We stopped and made a coffee on one of the dams and watched swallows and a type of sand martin catch flies for their young, born already here. Jacqui of course had a fruit cake ready to go with coffee!
We made our way to our goal of Monsaraz and stopped to get fuel at a small town called Reguengos de Monsaraz and noticed not only a pink bull ring but an aire sign we hadn't expected. We had seen a decorated bull ring a few miles before so the sport is alive and not so well for the bull here as well as Spain. The aire sign turned out to be a drainage area for campers behind a fire station, a noticed informed us that for €5 motorhomes could stay inside the fire station, got to do that one day!

Posted by cjpolley 12:08 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

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