We’ve been off the beaten track somewhat since our last blog update – into the hills & far away!
Our first mini-adventure was taking the N124 from Silves to Portimão. The road is so bumpy & rutted I thought the van would shake itself to bits. In places it resembled a patchwork quilt, there were so many differing blotches of infill & repair. This route took us past traditional villages with white rendered cottages, veg growing in the gardens, fruit trees in the fields and dogs snoozing at the gate.
Spring has most definitely arrived in the Algarve and the surprisingly green fields and verges are awash with yellow and white wildflowers, bees and butterflies. Elderly orange sellers line the route selling their produce at road-side stalls, 2.50€ for a 5 kilo bag!
After filling up with diesel & LPG (which runs our hot water & heating), we made our way up to Barragem de Arade around 10Km north of Silves. The hustle & bustle of Portimão was a real shock to the system & I couldn’t wait to fill up & go! You very quickly leave town behind you in Portugal and we were soon once again driving past isolated quintas (farms) and traditional hamlets. At the barragem there were a few vans parked at the bottom of the dam wall but we decided to venture up the track to the parking area that overlooked the reservoir & our view was pretty special.
First job for us once we’re parked up is to get a brew on! Apparently Italians start cooking & eating, the French start shouting but we get the kettle on! Fully refreshed, we set off for a walk around and discovered an abandoned & derelict restaurant/bar at the top of the trail. It was in an idyllic spot and the grounds must once have been beautiful but were now very overgrown – such a shame but the recession has bitten hard here too.
It is processionary caterpillar season at the moment & we noticed a couple of nests in the pine trees around the trail. These furry little devils are highly toxic and sadly a number of dogs have already been killed by them this year. They come out to feed at night in a long procession (hence the name) but they also fire something from the nest if it’s disturbed. Last year in Brittany I suddenly felt as if a thousand tiny arrows had been fired into my face when we were out cycling in the pine woods & now I think I might have been squirted on by these prickly horrors.
Picture the scene – it’s late in the afternoon and John & I are sat out both reading when we hear the roar of a motorcycle powering up the hill to the parking area. It pulls in & stops somewhere behind the van then … crunch crunch crunch … footsteps on the gravel coming towards us, round the side of the van. I look up (warily I must admit) and am confronted by a 6’ 5”ish golden-haired vision clad all in leather – wowsers! Turns out that he & his girlfriend have opened a motorhome stop in the area & he was spreading the word & handing out cards! At 5€ a night with showers, loos & wi-fi (but no electricity) we said we’d definitely be visiting.
Our photographs really don’t do this place justice. The weather was beautiful and the only noise was the birds singing and bees buzzing. Being so high up, we could hear any vehicle coming for miles even if we couldn’t see them. Apart from a couple of quads, tractors seem to be the popular vehicle of choice up here.
We stayed a couple of nights at the Barragem before setting off for the new motorhome stop. Once again it was a beautiful morning and a van full of kayakers were arriving at the dam just as we were leaving. The water looked very tempting but it was too bloody cold for us!
Our trip up to the motorhome stop took us via São Bartolomeu de Messines, a busy little town up in the hills. Parking on the aire we headed into the town for some essentials – cash, bread, salad and olives. The local market was still open so we headed in.
Stalls of fruit & veg lined the right hand side of the building with freshly baked bread in glass cases lining the middle. The left hand side of the market held the fish stalls. Even this high up into the hills fresh fish, shellfish & octopussy-things are available as a matter of course. The floor was cobbled and the building was filled with noise – bartering, greeting & gossiping!
We bought our salad & bread from some very little old ladies inside the market and our olives from a little old man outside, selling them by the pint pot from a washing up bowl! People sell their own produce here and they are very proud of it. I was given a very thorough guided tour of one stall and when I eventually selected something I was made to feel as if I had picked the very best lettuce in the whole building. What a lovely experience and so much nicer than Tesco!
Following our sat-nav directions we were heading further & further into the countryside and eventually onto a track rather than a road. Three big black barking dogs chased us part of the way but we left them in a cloud of dust when John put his foot down!
The camperstop is in a fantastic rural location & somewhere we would never have ventured under our own steam. We chose our parking spot alongside a stream in the blazing sun – gorgeous. There were around 10 other vans there and together with the facilities I’ve already mentioned, they also provide a free shopping service! Very handy should you run out of wine (John).
Maps of treks & hikes of varying length & difficulty were available along with guided walks during the week. We went for a small potter up the track, not too far from the campsite and found a couple of ruins (no, not us) and a field full of pretty, furry cows with their bull. It was so peaceful, the only thing to be heard at night was the frog chorus from the stream as we watched the full moon rising.
Sunday was the highlight of our stay as we were picked up by the owner & taken to a local restaurant for a lunch of either goat or wild boar – the traditional dishes of the region. As we sampled wild boar very recently we decided to try the goat & it was fantastic! We shared the car with a lovely couple from Sheffield and met up with 3 other Dutch couples who had cycled there from the campsite.
The restaurant was busy with local families (always a good sign) and full of atmosphere. The restaurants look really basic from the outside and a little bit tatty but step inside & it’s another world. Heavy, dark traditional wooden furniture complimented the sunny, yellow walls and our tables were soon heaving with bread, olives, pates, cheese meats and wine. Our mains were served in earthenware casseroles and after some initial confusion over who was having what, we all got stuck in!
John & I both had the Cabrito no Forno (translation – kid in oven) and it was FABULOUS, so tender it was falling off the bone. The other dish was wild boar with braised chestnuts & that was pretty tasty too. I had Tarte Amendoa for pudding which is almond cake whilst John had an ice-creamy thing with nuts, caramel & chocolate lumps. Coffees followed & all too soon our ride home arrived & it was time to go.
I know I’ve said it before but one of the best things about travelling is the people we meet and the new experiences we’re having. Just like the street party at the campsite & the leaving lunch, we were all chatting & laughing away like old friends over lunch, sharing stories and swapping tips, regardless of nationality and language barriers – life affirming stuff.
We’re back at Silves again at our favourite site. The storks are still busy building their nests, the swifts/swallows/house-martins are performing mid-air acrobatics & the frogs are serenading us with their special song at night. Ahh, simple pleasures – life is good!