On another grey day we said goodbye to our lovely hostess and the “wettest part of Spain” as declared by the noticeboard outside the campsite. We had 2 days to make it to our Christmas quarters in Portugal and although we could have done it in one, we wanted to do some back-roads travel.
We headed out and onto the scenic A372 – why does “scenic” so often go along with disintegrating, narrow roads with crumbly edges? Well, it all adds to the interest and Kate took up “spotter” duty, calling “clear, clear, clear” on the left-hand hairpins as we twisted our way up amongst the oaks in the Sierra de Grazalema national park.
It’s a lovely area with Grazalema village itself (pop. 2,205) nestled beneath cliffs in the valley carved by the Guadalete river. We noticed a complete lack of air conditioning units which could be down to its altitude (800m) or shade from the surrounding mountains, and it has the most spectacularly situated football pitch we have seen to date – and we’ve seen a few on our travels!
We followed the road up through pine trees into the clouds and over the watershed where theGuadalete river rises and a viewing point was barely visible through the mist.
Sierra de Grazalema
Watershed in the Clouds
Going down the other side men with buckets were collecting acorns from the ground – free food for their animals perhaps, although we are told they can be used to make flour or coffee from them apparently.
Approaching El Bosque we looked down on our first covered bull-ring – we assume a testament to unpredictable weather.
As we left the mountains behind the sun came out turning the stubble on the rolling arable fields to light gold.
We spent the night on the quayside at Puerto Santa Maria just outside Cadiz where we sorted out our New Year plans and revisited Romerijo’s where Danny re-acquainted himself with the best Tortillas de Camerones in the world and had his first Percebes (Goose barnacles) which Kate couldn’t bring herself to try but mastered the art of preparing – holding the tip, twisting and pulling so the leathery sheath comes away to reveal the red flesh. Danny really liked them.
Tortilla de Camerones
Percebes – Goose Barnacles
It was foggy when we woke and it lingered over the coast as we headed off to fill up on LPGwhich we had just run out of. Not so bright of us! We took a detour at Seville to Autocaravanas Hidalgo where we managed to get a replacement heating relief valve – ours is leaking – and mid-afternoon we entered Portugal and headed straight to a car-wash where we finally got the caked-on orange muck off. All bright and shiny we drove to our home for the next month. The entrance was festooned with Xmas decorations and playing Xmas music and it was beginning to feel a bit like Christmas 🎄🎵🎶🎵🎄
Sunday lunch at a restaurant is a thing, but not something we ever do. Inspired by the nice feel of the San Francisco quarter we booked ourselves in to a recommended restaurant on the corner of Plaza Alameda, a nice square with a fountain where locals gather to gossip and people-watch.
We were not disappointed. The tuna tartare was the biggest we had ever seen, and the scampi wrapped in filo served with a curry-infused sauce was delicious. Kate played safe with fish but Danny went for the local Rabo de Toro – the best he has had – and he sucked away happily on the bones until there wasn’t a thing left, much to the appreciation of the staff who rewarded us with a complementary dessert wine. Another great Rough Guide recommendation. The only difficulty was waddling home up the hill!
Huge Tuna Tartare & Avocado
Ronda’s Rabo de Toro
Just making sure….
We needed to walk it off and although the weather wasn’t giving us the beautiful sunshine that would have set off the scenery to perfection we did do some exploring. One day we planned a circular walk, taking us up along a ridge through olive groves carpeted with small yellow flowers and sumac bushes in autumn colours. Small birds flitted about and the rain just about held off. When we reached the Ermita Virgen de la Cabeza – a chapel built next to a group caves where a small group of monks once lived and worshipped and where annual pilgrimages are still made – we found the gates firmly chained and padlocked, although the place is clearly well tended.
Walking in the Serrania de Ronda
Ermita Virgen de la Cabeza
We did however have great views across the Ronda basin to the town perched on the cliffs and we could appreciate again the gorge of El Tajo and the Puente Nuevo across it.
We had intended following a footpath down the ridge and walking to Ronda across the basin before climbing up the gorge to the bridge. However our plans had not taken into account the difference between MapMe.com and reality. The track was gated, barred, and marked as private. We tried to assess routes down but everywhere we looked there was either barbed wire or dogs guarding stock. We had to go back and enter town the normal way.
Unusual Porcelain Ornament
On a rainy afternoon we visited 2 of Ronda’s museums. First the Bandit Museum, small, cheap and mildly interesting. This is the Spanish version of the Wild West combined with Highwaymen, and is immortalised through rose-tinted glasses in films and TV series. Easy to see where Zorro came from. Next the much more eclectic and eccentric Lara Museum. The private collection of a local grandee it’s an extensive collections of all-sorts including : clocks, weapons, phones, pipes, typewriters, musical instruments, scientific instruments, knives, bullfighting, cinema and photography, witchcraft and torture Instruments from the Spanish Inquisition. Fascinating, and only €4 each.
The only way to finish a damp, dark day like that was churros and hot chocolate before a last look at the bridge before walking back to camp.
The rainbow on the day of our arrival was a false promise and we sat on our pitch listening to the rain drumming on the roof for 2 full days. But it was a nice site with piping hot showers and decent enough wi-fi and we were snug waiting it out.
On our 3rd morning the weather started to clear and we took advantage to walk into Ronda. The clouds lifted for a while to show us the surrounding mountains of the Serrania de Ronda which were quite lovely and looked great for walking. Another day.
We entered the old city, the Ciudad, through the Moorish gate at the southern end of town where the huge medieval Iglesia del Espíritu Santo towers over everything.
We liked Ronda straight away as the Moorish maze of old streets drew us up through town to the main event, the Puente Nuevo.We ignored the crowds and peered over the edge. The Rio Guadalvín has cut sheer cliffs that plunge down 130m and this gorge even has its own name – El Tajo.
El Tajo – West from Puete Nuevo
El Tajo – East from Puete Nuevo
The famous 18th century Puente Nuevo spans El Tajo. Both the bridge and its setting are as dramatic and beautiful as we had heard and more than justify the constant flow of day-trippers.
We had a great lunch at a really traditional hole-in-the-wall tapas bar tucked inconspicuously away in the tourist area. Lucky to get a stool, our welcoming host insisted on us trying the house speciality, meltingly tender beef cheek, and Danny sucked happily on pieces of pork ribs. Spain is a bit of a foodie favourite for us.
More ribs please!
Seafood paella tapas
After lunch we visited another 18th century building, the Plaza de Toros, built in 1871 and one of the earliest in Spain.
Plaza de Toros Main Gate
Plaza de Toros
To our surprise, beyond the stockyards we found a very grand dressage arena lit by chandeliers where the RMR – Real Maetranza de Caballería de Ronda – trains riders and instructors in classical dressage.
The RMR started in the 16th century as a brotherhood of horsemen charged with defending Ronda. They developed the teaching of military equestrian arts and merged Moorish & European techniques to create a unique style, then with the emergence of bullfighting as spectacle they also developed techniques for handling bulls from horseback. For those interested in horses, it is the oldest riding school in Spain and 2nd oldest in Europe and specialises in the beautiful Andalusian thoroughbred horse. Sadly there were none in evidence although the stables are next door.
Putting its purpose aside, the bullring is elegant and attractive with a double arcade of sandstone columns. In the area underneath the tiers of seats is a display relating to RMR as well as a 19th century harness & livery collection.
19thC Livery & Tack
Danny declared it all well worth the €8 entry fee.
A copa of sherry and a tapas of Iberico bellota made a nice end to our first foray into Ronda.
Our camera is not great, having been bought primarily to fit easily into Kate’s pouch and to meet her technical knowledge – so point-and-shoot. Which she does a lot. Taking photos from a moving vehicle on bumpy roads produce what you could call “mixed” results. Add to that the fact that today was another grey and sometimes wet day as we headed from Córdoba to Ronda, it was not good for photos. But one of the things we love about our travels is the changing scenery. Some people drive to get from A2B but we have always liked the road trip itself – provided motorways and traffic jams aren’t involved – and the scenery in Andalucia can be rewarding even on a bad day.
We drove down through Córdoba Province, through rolling hills with white villages on top amid a sea of olives, the valleys between filled with autumnal mist.
On into Seville Province where bare wheat-fields mixed with olives and the rain kicked up a broad band of orange earth against the sides of the van. Further on the Southern Highlands, Seville’s highest mountains reaching just over 1100 metres and gave us a nice, scenic drive, and we reflected on how different they would feel in the heights of summer.
One of the things we have noticed across Europe is the sheer variety of roundabout decoration, so different from the sponsored plantings common in the UK, and Spain and Portugal have given us some great ones. They range from the naff and the quirky to professional-grade art and usually pass before the camera can be wielded. But not today, where the prize for best roundabout went to the one outside El Saucejo, a huge basket of olives celebrating the crop that sustains the town.
The rain stopped just before we reached Ronda and as we crossed it’s famous bridge heading for our campsite, a rainbow seemed to promise better weather.
Cordoba was once the largest city in Roman Spain. Today it is a small provincial capital with a nice old centre and one outstanding attraction that pulls in coach-loads of tourists – the beautiful Mosque-Cathedral called the Mezquita.
We followed the maze of streets of the old Jewish Quarter downhill towards the river and found the walls of the mosque. Passing inside we found ourselves in peaceful gardens, the Patios de los Naranjas, its fountains and orange trees creating a green and peaceful area in front of the main building. For a fee we could have climbed the bell-tower, the Torre del Alminar, built at the same time as the Cathedral (1523) but were keen to get inside and explore.
Torre del Alminar, Mesquita
Patio de los Naranjas, Mezqiuita
The Mosque of Abd Al Rahman was built nearly 1300 years ago on the site of a Visigoth cathedral, and further developed by his successors over the next 50 years. We walked inside and stopped to drink it all in. We were looking at a forest of pillars supporting red and white arches stretching away into the distance, chandeliers creating a dim light and a rather magical atmosphere.
Mosque of Abd Al Rahman, Mezquita
Mosque of Abd Al Rahman, Mezquita
Moorish Lighting, Mezquita
There are niches all the way around the mosque which have been appropriated for Christian chapels, but most seemed clumsy or fussy in comparison to the simplicity of the arches and the delicate beauty of the Islamic decoration. At the far end the mihrab, indicating the direction of Mecca, was beautifully decorated and the dome of the first mihrab, designed to amplify the voice of the imam was also a work of art.
Today’s mihrab, Mezquita
Today’s mihrab, Mezquita
The first mihrab of the Mezquita
The Moors were conquered in 1236 and the beautiful mosque was consecrated as a church. After 300 years and after much resistance from the town council, a cathedral was built at the centre of the mosque. When it was complete, the king who permitted said “You have built what you or others might have been built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world”. Whilst the cathedral is far from ugly, it would be difficult not to agree.
Leaving the beauty of the mosque behind, we walked down to the Rio Guadalquivir and crossed the Roman bridge to the Torre de la Calahorra on the other side.
This medieval tower holds a small museum over 3 floors (and has nice views from the roof) about Moorish Córdoba which was a nice way to finish the day.
Exhibit in the Torre de la Calahorra
Roman Bridge from the Torre
We were limited to a one-night stay on the Aire because of the battery problems but were glad we had taken the time to visit Córdoba and Spain’s most beautiful mosque. We will be back to explore further.
We had intended heading further north through Portugal to the Douro valley but there is only so much rain we can take if we don’t have to. The 10-day forecast showed that the best weather realistically in range for us was around Seville so we drove through Lisbon and over the Vaso de Gama bridge (longest in Europe at 17km) and kept heading across Portugal to the Spanish border.
Mid-afternoon we crossed into Extremadura and carried on down into Andalucia through the lovely countryside of rolling hills cloaked in dehesa. It took a while for us to realise that on coming into Spain the time had jumped forward an hour, but when we did we started looking for a suitable spot for the night.
We ended up down a dusty, bumpy track at a lovely spot just outside the small hill-town of Cumbres Mayores with a great view of it and its 9-turreted castle, just as the sun was going down.
Our neighbours were a herd of Iberian black pigs and a flock of merino sheep, neither of which were inclined towards silence but we really liked them. Kate felt a little guilty cooking bacon within a few feet of them!
The castle, part of a line of fortresses built in the 13thC during the Spain-Portugal conflicts, looks was much grander than the small town that surrounds it. There are a couple of historic churches and, attached to the castle, a bull-fighting arena.
But Cumbres Mayores main work is based around Iberian black-pigs and signs for Jamon Iberico production were everywhere, We tried to buy some but could only get it by the haunch so gave up.
One of Many
Loading the Van
We were, as usual, successful in finding a characterful little bar for a drink where we raised a glass to our new great-nephew, Ollie. With another 3 in the making we should be in double digits by next May!
Local Bar, Cumbres Mayores
We stayed a couple of nights and would have stayed longer if the batteries hadn’t been playing up so much that we had to run the engine for an hour before bed and again first thing in the morning. We needed to move on to find a hook-up.
We headed further south through the hills of the Sierra Morena, evergreen oaks and stone pines mixing with the bright autumn colours of their deciduous cousins, and our British eyes marvelled at the sight of new-born lambs and calves in November.
Eventually we saw from the hillside the city of Cordoba spreading out where the Sierra Morena ended on the plains of the Guadalquivir River valley. We avoided the city and headed up the Guadalquivir to our campsite at Villafranca de Cordoba.
We liked the nice but nondescript small town with its warren of narrow streets and nothing remarkable about it at all. We chilled out in the van and walked into town every day, dandering the backstreets. We visited the Saturday market so like the one in our home-town but with better weather. We experienced our first overnight frost and a day of torrential rain that managed to block both TV & Wifi.
Villafranca Saturday Market
A Villafanca Church
Another Villafranca Church
We turned up at Villafranca expecting to spend one night and ended up staying five. Seville would have to wait.
Sadly our first stop on leaving the campsite was a motorhome repair shop. The language difficulties were frustrating, but they confirmed our suspicions – 1 of our 3 leisure batteries was dead and another just okay. They disconnected the dead one and we faced up to the prospect of problems when not on a campsite.
Lighter in pocket we headed off to the coast and a campsite at Guincho for what we hoped would be a lazy few days. It has to be said the weather wasn’t great – very British.
On a gloomy Saturday we hopped a bus into nearby Cascais which we had heard had a nice old town. Hmm. Much bigger than we had expected, its old town was nice enough, although with a surprising amount of English menus and flyers – guess there are lots of ex-pats and holiday homes here.
Cascais Old Town
Cascais Town Beach
We had decided to try traditional “bitoque” for lunch at a recommended place in the old town. Busy with locals we got the last table and were presented with a thin steak in a sauce heavily flavoured with garlic – even the fried egg on top tasted of it. The pickled carrot & cauliflower were an odd garnish but a pile of excellent fries redeemed it. Not photogenic.
When we got half a day of decent weather we explored the neighbouring Guincho-Cresmina dune system, a lovely area where boardwalks protect the vulnerable ecosystem. Down on the beaches we watched Atlantic breakers pound the shore before finishing in a cafe in the dunes with a lovely view out to the sunset and a civilised glass of wine.
But that was the high point. We spent a couple of hours re-fixing our hob – it’s never been the same since our dealer “repaired” it – and the following morning completely unrelated, the water refused to drain from the kitchen sink. We spent a frustrating 6 hours on it before realising it was beyond us and the next day ended up travelling back to the motorhome repair shop.
Lots of spilt water, high pressure air, sealant and patience later, we had a functioning and apparently leak free sink again. We were incredibly grateful and headed off into the evening to the aire at SIntra football ground. We checked the weather forecast for the next week and gave up on our plans for Portugal for now – Spain beckons.
We could have gone straight to Lisbon but a detour beckoned despite the grey and drizzly weather. On the map we could see a westerly point called Cabo Espichel and decided to visit it because, well, because it was there. When we got there, having crossed a rather bleak landscape we bumped onto the huge car park where there were a handful of cars and, oddly, another British motorhome!
The cape has had a lighthouse since 1430, the current one dating from 1790, and can be seen 35 miles out into the Atlantic. Nearby we were surprised to see a huge religious-looking building which a sign told us was the Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape) – a large church framed by long arcaded buildings for the pilgrims who flocked there following a vision of “Our Lady”. But religion aside the Cape is a wild, beautiful place and the sun broke out for a short time to show it to us at its best.
Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo
Cabo Espichel Lighthouse
Cliffs at Cabo Espichel
We entered Lisbon via the Ponte de 25 Abril suspension bridge with a huge concrete statue of Christ towering over us and we could see the city sprawling over a series of hills as we crossed the Rio Tejo.
Our campsite was outside the centre on a wooded hillside next to a motorway, some tenements and a big modern retail park. It was raining again when we pitched up and found we had no TV and no Wifi. But we weren’t here for that. On Kate’s birthday we hopped an Uber for the 20 minute ride into the centre of Lisbon and our hotel, brilliantly located in the middle of the Baixa (lower town). We dropped our bags and wandered out to explore.
Lisbon has some lovely architecture. The broad, tree-lined Avenida de Liberdade. The Rossio, Lisbon’s the main square since medieval times with baroque statues and mosaic-cobbled pavements where the Inquisition burned heretics, governments conducted public hangings, and bull-fights were held but today just bustles with tourists. The ironwork Elevador de Santa Justa built by a disciple of Eiffel to carry people up to the Bairro Alto. Chiado with its fashionable shops where being back in a busy, noisy city finally got to us and we ducked into a quiet courtyard away from the crowds for lunch, shelter from the rain and time to adjust.
Elevador de Santa Justa
Tiled Building in Chiado
Statue of Dom Jose I, Praca de Comercio
Lisbon was flattened in a huge earthquake in 1755 and reconstructed by the Marques de Pombal, minister to playboy king Dom Jose I, hence the grid-layout of the Baixa and the large number of tall, grand buildings. Crowning glory must be the huge Praca de Comercio with the river at its foot and the dominating Arco da Rua Augusta opposite, gateway to the city after reconstruction. Either side grand, arcaded buildings house expensive-looking shops and restaurants.
The Birthday Meal was at a seafood restaurant in the hillside area of Bairro Alto amidst cobbled pedestrian alleys. It was packed and people were being turned away so we were glad we had booked, The lovely ambience lured us into a seafood feast of lobster, prawns, crabmeat and clams.
Pateo Barrio do Avillez
Clams with garlic & coriander
A lovely evening and we even managed a nightcap in an atmospheric small bar on our way back,
Next day the sun came out for a whole morning and we made the most of it, heading uphill into the maze of narrow alleys of Lisbon’s oldest quarter, the Alfama.
Recycling in Alfama
Alfama’s old housing
Apartment Living in Lisbon
Greek Graffiti in Alfama
And at the top, the Castelo de São Jorge with its Moorish ramparts & towers and spectacular views.
Castelo de São Jorge from Bairro Alto
Castelo de São Jorge
Lisbon from the Castelo
Lisbon & Rio Tejo from the Castelo
The walls encircle the ruins of the castle and former royal palace, an archaeological excavation site with finds going back to the Iron Age as well as a small exhibition of finds from the site ranging from pottery to clay pipes and azujelos tiles to gravestones.
Azujelo (Glazed Tile)
Castelo Museum Display
After an enjoyable exploration we headed down towards the seafront in search of lunch. Old-fashioned trams trundled past us and TukTuks touted for business as we headed to the Mercado da Ribeira.
Lisbon’s main and most historic market today hosts the Time Out Market, a food-hall of food-halls. All 5 of Lisbon’s Michelin-starred chefs have premises here where signature dishes are served, and plenty of other restaurants and food specialists are represented in the stalls that line the edges. The centre hold a couple of bars and rows of tables for diners to eat whichever delights they have selected.
We started with oysters then Crispy Suckling Pig in a bun by a Michelin- 2 star chef – Danny declared it delicious – and Octopus Rice with Prawns & Clams. Dessert was unavoidable – Pudim do Abade based on a traditional recipe that was runner up in a ‘7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy’ competition.
Oysters & bubbles
Michelin Pork Bap
Pudim do Abade
Once we adjusted to the hustle and bustle we enjoyed Lisbon – its elegant buildings and squares, characterful alleyways and trams, markets and good food. Being in the hotel for a couple of nights was a real treat as well, but we have definitely developed a limited tolerance for the crowds and noise of cities – must be getting old!
The morning we left Marvão the clocks went back, a reminder that autumn really has caught up with us.We decided to change pace and do a bit of walking and birdwatching. First stop was an aire at Barragem de Nisa, described as very scenic, where Kate thought we could do some walking and birding.It was only 18 miles but the change in scenery was dramatic. Leaving the high ground we followed a road lined with tall trees into a landscape of granite outcrops and grazing Alentejana cattle.
Picturesque Plane-Tree Avenue
Granite Outcrop with wall on top
The aire was 3 miles down a narrow road and we were surprised to see about 30 motorhomes parked up, some on the aire and others at at various spots around the water’s edge. We found a spot on the aire itself, Danny a little grumpily as it was clear there were dogs walking about unrestrained and stray cats, and it was more crowded than we would have liked after our recent isolation.
We stretched our legs with a nice long walk around the reservoir on rarely used tracks through the scrub. An all-weekend fishing competition had fishermen dotted around the lake edge although we never saw a catch.
Barragem do Nisa
Reservoir with Fishermen
Barragem de Nisa circa 1927…
… with interesting cracks, circa Now!
The water was very low and we noticed the dominance of an unfamiliar tree with fine, fronded leaves, very fast-growing, pushing up everywhere through the native oaks and alder – it looked alien and invasive – possibly Cape Wattle??
One of the other British campers came for a chat and we learned that the reason motorhomes are chased by police from the free aire at Marvão is because a local has set up a campsite and pressures the mayor and police to stop it being used. He also told us some people spend weeks here at the reservoir, which given the poor state of the services and the stray dogs and cats we found a bit baffling.
This was not somewhere for us to loiter so we only stayed a night. Apart from the strays it was not a good place for us to recharge the van’s leisure batteries which, after being replaced in April 2018 with brand new ones have started playing up the way the first ones did. This means that when we are off hook-up we need to recharge by running the engine for 30 minutes late at night and again in the morning to keep the systems ticking over and power the shower, which is noisy for the neighbours. We have already woken up to a dead van a couple of times which means no heating or hot water, but we don’t want to be confined to campsites. Back to difficult conversations with our dealer.
We headed west towards the Atlantic coast and Comporta, a place that a couple at Ria Formosa told us had good birdwatching and appeared to be off the “touristy” map. The weather was grey and it rained on and off but we still enjoyed the drive. As we neared the coast we started to see stork nests that were actually occupied – elsewhere the storks had already left for Africa. We saw water lying in some of the fields where yellow stems of a harvested cereal crop were piled and realised we were travelling through rice paddies, good hunting grounds for the storks which was stopping them from moving on.
On the outskirts of Comporta we pulled onto the sandy Aire – not the prettiest spot by a long stretch but we had plenty of space as there were only 2 other vans, all a good distance away. No problem charging the batteries!
On exploring the village – a small, low lying affair with a scattering of shops and restaurants mostly closed for winter – we could hear a roar which we thought was water crashing over a weir.We followed the road out of the village between rice paddies and over a river.
River boats on an October afternoon
We climbed a low wooded ridge and found ourselves in a dunes complex that took us to a boardwalk then out to a beautiful beach where the hazy sun made the spray from the Atlantic breakers appear like mist. It was lovely. We dandered and enjoyed and watched the sky change as a sea fret covered the sun and the waves turned moody and threatening. Fascinating how the atmosphere changes with the light.
Atlantic sun through mist
Perfect place to sit and watch
The couple from Ria Formosa were right – it was great for birdwatching. We had a couple of days of walking through the golden fields that masked the river from view. The ripe rice paddies were a first for us as we had only ever seen the younger crop, and we marvelled at the heavy heads of grain.
There were also allotments where locals were harvesting squash and yams and washed us with great curiosity.
Us watching them watching us
Some of the harvest
There were lots of little birds – warblers, pipits and a first for us, common waxbill. Skeins of glossy ibis – up to 100 in a group – flew over us to feed on the mudflats of the Sado estuary where they joined the flamingoes, spoonbill and avocets feeding in the rich mud. The paths were scattered with the empty shells of crabs and crayfish the birds had been gorging on. They seemed to find the claws too much trouble – or maybe they fought back!
The weather varied but it was never cold – a complete contrast to birding in Britain!
Birding outfit Portugal
Birding outfit Portugal
Birding outfit England
Sadly our photos were appalling as we had to rely on the scope with the iPhone attached and our expertise with that set up is… less than expert.
One evening on a sunset watch we met a nice French birdwatching couple out amongst the rice paddies who, with the resilience of youth, were camping in the back of an unconverted VW van. We decided we’d rather be old and comfortable and didn’t feel a twinge of envy. Really.
We followed that with 3 nights at a site outside Lisbon’s container port, Setubal, with no Wi-fi but a friendly owl who serenaded us all night, where we killed time and caught up with things in the wet weather before our Lisbon adventure. Hope it clears up.
Leaving the fascinating market of Estremoz behind, we climbed into the hills of the Serra de São Mamede, a natural park where the forests were showing their autumn colours – evergreen oaks interspersed with silver-barked aspens whose yellow-gold leaves were startlingly bright in the afternoon sun. In the distance we caught a glimpse of Marvão castle perched on its huge rocky outcrop, the highest land in Alto Alentejo.
We climbed the winding road to the old Aire set below the walls where daytime parking is allowed, conscious that the police have started to fine €200 for overnight parking despite no signs forbidding it. It’s a lovely spot, a ledge on the hillside with between an attractive convent and a rocky outcrop with great views and, rather disconcertingly, a lean-to behind a large boulder where an old man appears to live.
Motorhome Parking at Marvão
A Room with a View
Marvão is a stand-out in an area of pretty and dramatic hill-top fortresses, really lovely. Fortified by the Moors in the 8th century and named after a Moorish ruler, its steep, narrow cobbled streets twist and turn up to the castle between pretty buildings.
Its small museum in an old church has an eclectic mix of stuff from megalithic remains to a wall of azulejo, the famous Portuguese tiles.
But it’s the castle that is really impressive. From the huge cistern that can hold enough water for the whole village and echoes marvellously, to the encircling walls and the highest point on the keep tower with amazing, no stunning, views of the town, Alentejo & Spain all made better by sparkling autumn sunlight.
Marvão Castle & Crag
Back in the town we wandered up and down the enchanting streets and along the walls. It made us want to stay and experience the town at night.
Marvão house & castle wall
Guard dog on Duty
We walked down to the GNR station (national police) and got the ok from a local cop to stay overnight. This allowed us to enjoy a drink looking out over the rooftops at a bar -with a parrot for company – which we really enjoyed, and a meal at a restaurant that felt very touristy and overpriced with very average food which wasn’t so great. Can’t win ’em all.Still it was nice to dander back down through silent streets to the dark of the aire where the blackness of the sky allowed us to make out the milky way. And there was no ticket on the van. A great way to end the day.