Monday 14th – Monday 21st Dec
On Monday we set off from the campsite careful to avoid rush hour knowing that in order to head south we first had to cross the enormous ’25 de Abril’ Bridge that straddled Lisbon navigating a tricky series of roundabouts/junctions on the way. Matt, who is never a fan of city driving was even more apprehensive given Heidi’s width. This apprehension was not entirely unfounded, as when (after a few sedentary minutes stuck in traffic) we did finally reach the bridge it was very windy and very very slippery (the bridge being made up of a series of metal grates through which you could glimpse the river far below, a slightly stomach-churning sight).
Away from the chaos of the city, the roads became quieter and quieter and were pretty much dead as we headed south and round towards the coast. Our only companion at one point was an elderly lady in a heavily dented car whose main method of steering seemed to be inspired by that of the bumper car as she bounced from one bank to another. At first I was rather worried that she was unwell (though we were reluctant to edge too close to find out) but she seemed to be in pretty good spirits so we followed her gingerly keeping our distance until she eventually turned off.
Our destination for Monday evening was a free aire in Lagoa De Melides on the west coast of Portugal. It was a large car park at the end of a lane belonging to a collection of beach restaurants, all but one of which was closed up for the winter. There were a few other motor homes and converted vans who had obviously traveled from a variety of different countries strewn about the tarmac, each surrounded by an invisible boundary, giving the impression that most of the inhabitants were keen to keep themselves to themselves. Matt and I had a brief walk down to the beach before heading back for some Duolingo-ing followed by supper and bed.
It is funny, having been completely spoilt by the wealth of incredible scenery we had experienced over the last few months, and coming from the vibrant streets of Lisbon, we felt that this new location was lacking in something indescribable. It was perfectly nice, and free (a bonus after our splashing out in the city), but there was nothing really notable about it. After spending a breakfast wondering whether we were just becoming complacent we headed south to the Vicentine coast, an area that had been enthusiastically recommended to us by Matt and Jo (eurotouring.co.uk).
Keen to rekindle a feeling of wonder and aware that we only had a couple more days of adventuring before landing in Loule, I scanned their blog to find some of the highlights of that section of their journey, so as not to waste a single moment. Matt had been keen to push on further south, but I persuaded him to take a quick detour en route to check one out, amid a little resistance as he is never one to deviate from a plan!
My efforts however were not in vain, and I had a building sense of anticipation as we nosed through Porto Covo, a busy town with a surfer-y vibe that lay just east of the sea. Then, as we pulled into a little aire on the edge of a cliff I felt my spirits soar at the sight of wild surf and a tiny sandy cove nestled below the rugged rock face. This was more like it!!!
Matt too was grabbed by the scene and without a moments hesitation he was legging it down the cliff to the golden sand below. Torn for a moment I nearly followed but was then overwhelmed by the urge to take photos of this gem of a beach and so hurried back to Heidi to retrieve the camera before high-tailing it after him.
With a huge sense of relief I realised that it was this that we had been missing at our previous location. This sense of nature and freedom and the call of the ocean. With unbridled contentment we explored the beach, clambering over rocks and steeling our way through a dark rocky cave which revealed yet another tiny beach, before flopping down on the sand to enjoy the sun and wind on our faces and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
We were both aware that we couldn’t stay for too long, as we had earmarked another of Matt and Jo’s recommendations (http://www.eurotouring.co.uk/2015/06/004-southwest-coast.html) as our destination for the night, but we held out as long as we could until the tide began to split the two beaches and we were forced to paddle back towards the rocky platform and rickety ladder that led back up to Heidi and a small cluster of similar vehicles.
Our spirits revived and our excitement reignited we headed to Praia De Amado, which Matt was keen to reach before it started to get dark as it was reputed to be at the end of a skinny dirt track. Luckily we did not meet any oncoming vehicles and after a bumpy 20mins had arrived at our location and our favourite beach by far!!!
My heart leaped once more as we made our way to the top corner of a large sandy carpark over looking the beach. It couldn’t have been a more perfect spot, the rusty coloured cliffs, roaring surf and wild landscape rekindling the kinds of emotions that I only ever really experience on rugged cliffs of the North Cornish coast.
From Heidi’s premium position we had a spectacular view across the bay and after parking up just stood listening to the wind and the waves in a kind of dazed reverie. I was glued to the spot, but after a while Matt got itchy feet and headed off to explore the beach, meeting one of our fellow travellers (a photographer/DJ parked up in a beautifully renovated old Mercedes van) on the way. Apart from him, a large blue and gold coach that looked as though it was the permanent home of a family of Spanish travellers and a few other vans, the carpark was practically empty and we spent the afternoon relaxing in front of our own private view. As the sun was setting I too got itchy feet and went with Matt for a walk along the beach, taking photos of the light rippling on wet sand and retreating waves.
The next morning we awoke still feeling elated and decided to stay at Praia de Amado for another day before missioning it to Loule (our resting place for the winter). After enjoying another windswept walk along the beach, admiring the cascades of red rocks that the rough tide had caused to tumble from the cliff, we returned to find that we had acquired a couple of neighbours.
Just along from us, was a german couple with a baby, looking laid back and relaxed in a very funky-yet-efficient looking yellow VW. The couple beside us however were looking much less relaxed in a rather swanky motorhome with Spanish plates. The guy looked quite at home and had just come back from enjoying a quick stint of surfing with what appeared to be a new and equally swanky board, but his rather elegant companion was looking far from happy. She was obviously finding the slight angle at which they were parked to be less than acceptable and so began a good couple of hours of trying to ramp it up on one side, then testing out other spots in the car park, then coming back to attempt the ramp again. I don’t think that the situation was helped by me attempting a friendly wave in their direction, as the blinds of their motorhome were rapidly closed. Matt had gleefully thought about offering Fat Max (his beloved spirit level) to them to aid with the levelling but felt that that might not be appreciated (as not even Fat Max would help them make a 10 degree angle car park level) so he stifled the impulse and instead contented himself with observing the amusing scene. The elegant Spanish girl was looking less and less happy and in the end the guy obviously decided to admit defeat and give up on, what I imagined he had thought would be a romantic weekend away… Suffice to say, I think a spar hotel would have been more up her street!
After spending a very relaxed two days at what is so far our favourite Praia, we set off for Loule and Quinta Do Cerro (the home of Nick, Chez, Jacqui, Art and Tay) on Thursday afternoon. The plan being to enjoy Christmas with them and then spend the next couple of months parked up outside their house whilst Matt did some building work with Nick. This was a bit of a win, win for everyone as it meant that we would be able to enjoy the winter months in relative warmth and be cost neutral and that Nick had an extra pair of hands to help with work on both their house and also a project that he was currently working on for his clients.
We face-timed Chez to let her know that we would be arriving sometime around 3pm and she had replied with directions to the house and the promise of a tasty chicken curry for dinner… yum.
After an easy run into Loule we had less of an easy time finding the house. Chez had given us directions from the big Continente supermarket nearby but on reaching what we thought was the right Continente we soon realised we were actually at the little Continente not the big one (although it was still pretty big). Luckily, we were just beginning to worry, when we spotted Nick in his old B-mer just in front of us, he had been circling the town on the look out just in case.
Once at the gate, the next challenge was getting Heidi up the drive. Their house ‘Quinta Do Cerro’ which means ‘home of the hill’ was on the top of it’s own little hill, and getting up to it meant tackling a steep 40 degree incline on a narrow strip of winding tarmac with a steep drop on one side. Matt literally paled when he saw it, but decided his only option was to man up and go for it, so up we went.
After a huge sigh of relief at having made it in one piece we rolled Heidi into place between the fence and a pile of rubble a few meters from the house, and after a quick introduction to the two guard dogs Leo and Seb, we went to meet the others for a welcome drink. It was great to see them all and catch up with Nick and Chez having left them in Duras. It was also great to hear from Jacqui that all the furniture had actually arrived in one piece, and to get a look at their new home.
The next day Matt caught up with Nick to get an idea of the work he was going to be doing, and we did a bit of shopping at the big Continente and generally got our bearings. Chez had driven ‘the pug’ a small Peugeot back from France so that we would have a car to run around in (very much appreciated!), which just as well as Matt, after negotiating the hairy drive the first time, was adamant that Heidi would now be staying still for the duration of our stay!
On Friday night Nick, Chez, Jacqui, Art and Tay took us out for dinner at one of their favourite restaurants ‘Jolly Bella’ an tiny but awesome restaurant where they served the best Piri Piri chicken we have ever tasted for 5 euros (including vino). Unfortunately I don’t think it fully worked from a gluten free perspective as I had a bit of a reaction to it, but out of all the things that I could have fallen of the wagon for… that was really, really worth it!