Our short break at Caldas de Monchique was fantastic – the hotel room seemed enormous after the confines of living in the van for a couple of months. We made the most of it, bathing, relaxing & watching telly on Wednesday before hitting the spa for the day on Thursday – most heavenly!
We both had a restorative bath treatment which involved sitting in a large bath with essential oils whilst it pulsed & massaged various areas of the body – it was absolutely gorgeous! This was followed with the “thermal circuit” of sauna, steam room & the thermal spring swimming pool with water jets – fabulous! The stay was half-board so the breakfast buffet & 3-course evening meals were a huge luxury too – I really could get used to this!
Caldas de Monchique itself is a spa-resort built around a thermal spring, nestling under a lush canopy of pine and eucalyptus. According to my guide book, the Romans were totally enamoured by the hot, curative properties of the waters and according to legend, if you take a sip from the fountain of love (an ancient font in the woods) you’ll fall in love with life! Before we left, we trekked into the woods & filled all our water bottles!
Wednesday was a bank holiday in Portugal & lots of families came to picnic in the woods. It was really lovely to watch as table cloths, bowls, wine & even vases of flowers appeared on the makeshift tables, in one case accompanied by singing. It certainly puts our cheese, ham & tomato sandwiches to shame!
Dragging ourselves away from all this luxury, we headed about 135 miles north to our next destination of Barragem de Pego do Altar. Barragems are huge dams, usually with areas set aside for swimming, sailing & fishing. Not unusually for us, we took a wrong turning at Alcacer do Sol & found ourselves negotiating the old town with the cobbled streets getting narrower & narrower and the turnings sharper & sharper. Breathing in & folding the wing mirrors in, we eventually made it out of the maze of tiny streets and back onto a main road.
The barragem was a beautiful stopover for the night but unfortunately the services (fresh water in, waste water out) were no longer available. We had planned to purge our water system, as we’d added some purifying crystals to the water tank before we left Monchique to give it a right good clean on the bumpy mountain roads! We knew our next stop (near Lisbon) doesn’t have facilities either so a slight change of plan was called for. Out came the handy ACSI camping guide & off we set, still heading towards Lisbon, up the IC1 to a lovely campsite at Costa da Caparica.
Out of the mountains, we passed through some beautiful rural areas. The fields were either olive groves or cork-oak plantations looking like they had jumpers on where the bark had been stripped. Huge lorries full of logs & cork barks passed us as we pottered
on through clusters of small white-washed villages. Yellow, purple & white wild flowers carpet the unploughed land. Where it has been ploughed, the soil is a startling ochre colour.
To our surprise, Costa de Caparica has a real vibrant seaside-town feel to it. We had a walk out in the early evening onto the raised promenade/break-water where the cafes and restaurants are all cube shaped & each seating area gives you your own small terrace view out to sea. Earlier on in the day, we had pulled up alongside the back of this huge long area and saw loads of surfers heading out to catch the waves. We’ve only been in up to our ankles – it’s still way too cold for my liking!
The camp-site is lovely & really busy – we’ll be spending most of Sunday here before heading off to Seixal in the late afternoon as our base for exploring Lisbon on Monday!