28 November – 29 December 2019
When we arrived at our Xmas stop-over site at Cabanas de Tavira the Xmas music was playing as we entered and decorations were up all across the site. Our favourite were those at the end of our “road” where a French couple had decorated the oleander shrub with beer cans & tonic cans and as well as a snowman outside their awning, they had a full grotto inside and fabulous lights all over both ‘van and awning at night. Someone sure likes Xmas! It made us smile every time we went by. We managed to resist putting ours up until December – just – when Kate draped everything with lights and the small wooden Xmas tree from the Black Forest took pride of place on the table.
We spent our time walking, cycling, birdwatching and otherwise relaxing and enjoying the novelty of being in one place. Having been shown around by Trevor & Maggie in September helped as well. When the sun was out we really appreciated why the Algarve is so popular in winter as its warmth often brought the temperatures up above 20C and enticed some hardy people to sunbathe by the pool.
We took the train into Faro to explore and found an excellent restaurant down a back-street, Tasca do Ricky, where Ricky was a genial host and his wife an excellent cook. We went fully traditional – clams “a bulhao pato” (with garlic and coriander), pork & clams, and a magnificent main course of seafood cataplana. Cataplana is the name of the traditional pan, shaped like two clamshells with a clamp on either side which is used in the Algarve for cooking seafood. It was superb, with razor clams, mussels, clams, various sizes of prawns, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and coriander all combining to produce the most fantastic broth which we soaked up with bread until we were stuffed. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
One Friday night we took the train into Tavira to sample local nightlife and found it so low key you could have missed it, but the decorations were lovely. And we did get a nice curry. On the theme of Xmas decorations, apparently there is a tradition for local communities to help their children make a nativity scene in their street every Xmas, and we found one near to us in Cabanas, enhanced by a snowman and multi-coloured tinsel Xmas tree. A lot of TLC had gone into it and we couldn’t help, rather sadly, wondering how long it would survive in many English towns.
We found that out-of-season Cabanas has a full campsite but a quiet night-life which suited us but made us realise that many of the apartments must be for holidays rather than residential. However there are some real “locals” places which never close. One night we revisited the tiny bar with no name up the road in Conceicao and had a lively Google-translated conversation with the 76-year old owner who remembered us from our September visit. This time we sensibly stayed away from the Aguadente!
We endured 8 or 9 days of grey, wet, cold and windy weather as the rains finally arrived in Portugal over a month late and all at once. We may have hated it – Kate was heard to mutter “could get this at home” – but the ground really needed it and greedily sucked it up. Green shoots started appearing in no time and the local’s heaved a sigh of relief. To stop ourselves going slightly mad trapped in a tin box with rain beating heavily on the roof, we hired a car for a few days and explored a bit which made us appreciate the area inland, and allowed us to do a good Xmas shop in Tavira.
One morning the staff came round with a sleigh and gave a gift to every pitch which was a lovely surprise and really got us in the mood. The very next day the grey vanished and the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of our stay. It did feel a little odd to be sunning ourselves on Xmas Eve! We broke open the box of mince pies Dave & Sandra had kindly sent us, whipped up some brandy cream, and slowly worked our way through them. Now that really did feel Christmassy!
Being new at this it felt even more odd to do a long walk in shorts and tee-shirts on Xmas Day, but please don’t think we are complaining. It was lovely. And unlike Xmas Eve when everything closes early in Portugal for family time, midnight mass and gift-giving, Xmas Day seems to see families out promenading in the afternoon sun and visiting the local bars for a glass of wine or nibbles. We were helped along in the Xmas mood by friends and family sending us pictures of roaring fires, real ale in lovely pubs, and their Xmas celebrations, and the campsite internet even got us through one or two FaceTime chats before giving up the ghost.
Later, after a full roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings and Xmas Pudding (again courtesy of D&S) we joined another English couple, across the way from us, in the great British tradition of playing silly games, whilst drinking, before rolling contentedly back to the ‘van’. Christmas Day had seemed so long coming and passed so fast!
The Friday after Xmas our near neighbours took us to John’s Bar where the English proprietor runs a weekly quiz. Fortunately, John put us together with a young couple from London who, despite being a few drinks ahead of us were able to save us from crashing and burning during the music round. We won a bottle of warm, sea-sweet Asti which we promptly shared in the warm glow of success. Our first pub-quiz win, ever!!
The day before we were due to leave we cycled out through the orange groves and bare persimmon trees, their orange fruits scattered on the floor, to Cacelha Velha. The sun was warm and we sat outside and had oysters, clams and brown crab as a ‘farewell to Portugal’ meal – yes, we know, any excuse will do.
And on our last night, we just had to go down to the front to watch the sunset over the Ria Formosa. We don’t know when we’ll be back, but we surely will.