This year we were ready, our Peage was pre-paid in the UK, no fear of the motorway. Why then as we crossed the border did the lane instructing “foreigners” to pull over and register for tolls strike fear into us? Piffle, we didn’t follow instructions keeping every limb crossed our pre-pay €40 was in operation (we will know when we get home and find a big fine if we have done it wrong).
Instead of heading straight along the Algarve we went inland and followed the border up to Alcoutim. On a clear Sunday morning we stood in Portugal looking over the Guadiana River to the Spanish village of Sanlucar De Guadiana. As Portugal is an hour behind Spain its fairly interesting when the village clocks chime – each one within shouting distance of each other over the river – the one in Spain chimes one one bell for 1 o’clock whilst in Portugal they ring out the full 12 o’clock. We took a walk down the cobbled streets into the modest little village square and from there down to the riverfront to look over at the mirror image village and castle in Spain.
Sanlucar De Guadiana
We stayed at Odeleite on a camperstop (N 37 19 54 W 7 28 06) good views down to the Barragem, an ace little coffee house in the teeny village of Alcaria – the only negative for us was Portuguese owner man decided we could share electric with the French couple next door, and plugged us into their supply by joining our cables to their on their van!. In theory fine, in practice we had less than 2 amp so just having our fridge on when they boiled a kettle meant we continually tripped out the electric. We gave up and disconnected and saved ourselves €4 which we spent in Alberto’s village cafe on a couple of milky Sidal coffees.
Loving the inland we took the scenic route west through the countryside and then down Moncarapacho. Where the hell did all these motorhomes comes from??? Route 66, last time we visited 3 vans on the site – this time 70+., they offered to find us a pitch, run electric over roads etc. We declined sure we knew of plenty of other sites. Next stop, Caravans-Algarve, uhh sorry full up. A new campsite has opened in the village, takes 60 vans – well it now takes 70+ as its full and they are also parking in the arrival area queuing up to 3 days for a pitch. Plan B, head for the beach Olhao and Fuseta – reliably good for a spaces on massive sites that take over 300 vans, not a one!!!
We are told the police are moving on Free Campers off the beaches and therefore the sites are all now much busier, add to that Morocco is not that preferred destination that it was for many of the French and its motorhome chaos in some places. We were surprised just how many new campsites, aires and motorhome parking sites have sprung up, there must be hundreds upon hundred of new pitches – however didn’t help us as the ones within a 30 miles radius of us were rammed full.
Seeing our bottoms with the area we decided to head to Lagos, knowing we would easily get on the site massive 5 star site at Espiche we left the crowded sites behind. Just over an hour later we arrive at Tursicampo Espiche, to be told they have 3 spaces (and the 3 were rubbish). We paid up, booked on, put our shoes on and went to the restaurant for a meal to celebrate Iain’s birthday.
On the upside, Portugal is showing some serious sunshine, change of pitch and lets bake. Factor 15 on and still reddnning gloriously. After a week done the attractions of Luz and Lagos as been to both a few times and nothing new. We needed a site near Albufeira for the arrival of the Bates. I found a reasonably new one and emailed the owner to check if they had space. Knowing things were tight on lots of site I went for the impressive email that is translated into their native language. Bit of Google translate and boom – press send. An hour later a response saying they will find us a space, oh and well done with the email translation – really well done into Spanish – when the site is Portuguese and the owner is Dutch anyway!!
Moving onto said site, all we could say was “wow” Mikki’s Place to Stay is gaining both fame and notoriety in Portugal. Mikki is a ceramic artist and has a studio slap bang in the middle of the site, together with a tres chic little hippy bar and cafe. The man in charge is Arno, who has built one of the best sites ever, a massive swim hole, as someone else put it – an oasis in the middle of the sand and dust of the Algarve.
The Bates arrived and brought even bluer skies with them, plus a stock of Tetley Tea Bags for Iain. Binty kindly cooked paella for us at Chez Posh Knob villa they were staying at, we thinks they were a tad concerned with our jalopy being parked in the complex as some will have thought we were Free Campers using the car-park as a handy overnight!
Over the many, many times we have driven up and down the N125 we have never gone into the village of Alcantarilha, mainly because the road diverts you around the edge but also because the mecca of motorhomes, Aldi, is on said ring road. To make up for missed visits we walked into the village – worth it? totally. Very small, a little run down maybe, not very touristy. The side streets were cobbled, the church was built in 1586, we went in for sit. It was beyond our comprehension this place for 450 years old. At the top of the village another church, for us the pièce de résistance a “bones” church. The ossos was built using the bones and skulls taken from local cemeteries – it’s not our first ossos and probably wont be our last.
The other place we always intend to call in at is Loule, we should have done so before. It’s fantastic and the Bate / Baxter day trip enjoyed it immensely. The indoor market is half fresh fish market, the remainder holds stalls of local crafts, wines and foods. A slight damper was Loule had the average rainfall of Snowdonia in about 2 hours. Rather than grow webbed feet we moved on to Vilamoura, same amount of rain so we took cover for lunch in the Old Navy on the marina, where Emyr offered (was forced??) to buy lunch for one and all. No matter how long we are away its always a massive treat to see friends and family from home – the Bates cover both.
Back down the coast, again, to Moncarapacho to wait for the next visitors, Alex and Alistair. Much better prepared this time with a few new sites, the first had opened 2 weeks previously and just a couple of Brits on, we were in and on before lunch. We walked down to the village, despite it being Sunday there were a fair few people around but nothing had changed, and that’s all for the good. (N 37.08030 W 7.71031), highlight of any trip to the Algarve for me, the Moncarapacho pottery shop, some of the best ceramics we have found anywhere, made locally and at really good prices.
We will be here for at least 8 days, whilst the campsite was good I felt we were a bit isolated for such a long stop. A quick reccy at Quelfes and we found another new small site, O Sol de Quinta, the gates were open and there scene was a bit devastating , torrential rain over the last 4 hours had brought torrents on water down from the hills, the drains and land couldn’t cope and water has flooded through the owners house and over the campsite. Iain parked us on the higher ground and sorted out our electric etc, I took to my bucket and helped the French campers start clearing up the rubbish. A little later the owner knocked on our door and handed over a bag full of home-made cakes in thanks for the assistance with flood clear up, then the next day a French couple came over with half a gateaux they had left over – seems we look like we need cake deliveries and we accept without question.
We spent the week trying to outwit that old adversary of ours, the Algarve cycle path. Possibly the most well hidden path in the history of cycling – when you do find it there is nowhere better to ride. Then suddenly it disappears meaning you need to cycle on the main road, or carry your bike over rivers, fords and railway lines. We managed to find a complete route from Olhao to Tavira and a few minor routes off, each time all roads led to Fuseta and a great little beach cafe so we called it a draw between us and the path.
Fuseta coffee stop
The end of the week and Baxters Number 1 and 2 arrived. We forgot to order sunshine so it was cardigans and hoodies on and some exploring at the Ria Formosa national parque and salt pans, Alex testing our his telescopic snake hook (kid you not), and some trying out the possibles for ham and cheese at various cafes. We made a second trip to Loule, this time in blazing sunshine, everyone was getting ready for carnival, the streets were being decorated and they had ordered proper sunshine, a relief for us as we were feeling slightly guilty that the good weather might not show.
The finale of the visit – dinner at Antonio’s in Moncarapacho, food was incredible, wine as I like it, Spanish and tasting of grapes and the fig grappa was something that you could possibly run a tractor on. Suddenly 2 days had disappeared and time for flights home for some – and time to explore the hinterlands of Portugal for us.
Dinner at Antonio’s