Posts tagged nature

Aljezur

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An old motorbike parked on an Aljezur street

Aljezur is an old Moorish town with a hilltop castle and stunning views to the mountainous region of Monchique. The cobbled streets lead up narrow lanes bordered by tiled houses. We spent a couple of nights at the campsite and also wild camped at a few local beaches.

The Amoeira beach is divided by an estuary with an aquamarine river providing a home to what looked like trout. Unfortunately David hasn’t managed to catch us an dinner, although secretly I am pleased as I am not too keen on gutting a fish. I dealt with a couple of squid the other day, one had nothing inside but the other had undigested little fishies which made me jump out of my skin and squeal when I discovered them.

Children dress up in bright colours for a festival in Aljezur

Westwards

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We are now meandering up the Western coast of Portugal, we stopped at Castelejo beach and managed to adopt two doggies who inhabit a little picnic spot. We took them on a walk and fed them, much to Odie’s chagrin, especially as they gorged themselves on ham.

The western coast is less developed, the sea is rougher and the weather more windy than the southern Algarve but it is perfect for wild camping by the sea. A lot of the coast reminds us of our travels in Australia with its jaw dropping scenery.

We had an abrupt reality check when we developed a puncture after stopping in Carrapateira. Luckily the AA managed to change it for us and recommended a repair shop where two very hard working Portuguese fixed it up for only 30!

Cycling Struggles

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Next stop was Salema, beachside wild camping along with 10 other motorhomers. This spot is in a wetland, and the sound of frogs and waves serenaded us to sleep. We spent a gloriously hot couple of days fishing, sunbathing and generally lazing about. We managed one cycle ride up the rather steep hills into the town, David’s very cheap bike is currently running on one front gear and he had a hissy fit when he saw the climb out of town. Our bbq is getting heavy use now, it is magical to sit next to the ocean, glass of wine in hand of course, and cook some fresh fish or frango piri-piri.

We reluctantly moved onto Sagres, the most westerly town in the Algarve where the weather turned more windy. Consequently, it proved to be another challenging ride to Cabo St Vincent, especially after a couple of G&Ts. David was carrying Odie in his doggie backpack much to the delight of the busloads of Americans who grabbed the opportunity to take a photo, some by asking if they could and others by snapping away when they thought David wasn’t looking. The lighthouse is the most powerful in Europe and its light can be seen for over 90 miles. It’s a very good thing as the sea is very choppy and rough out there.

Sagres town has a couple of places to park in the van, we stayed at both and had a great time walking and fishing near the town. We enjoyed an incredible Sunday lunch of grilled fish and a massive steak washed down with the local beer. All cooked by an old salty looking chef who brings out the uncooked wares for you to examine before singeing them on the grill. Beats a Sunday roast hands down!

El Rocio

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Being back on the road again was a bit of a shock to the system. We drove to Seville in the hope of spending a couple of days exploring this city’s incredible architecture. However our hopes of staying over were thwarted by the blustery weather and the local annual marathon. We had to make do with a drive-by-viewing of the fine buildings, but we hope to come back to the beautiful town after our travels in Portugal.

We hustled on to El Rocio, a genuine spaghetti Western town. The streets are sand covered, as wide as those in Bulawayo (for non-Zimbos that means very wide), and each house has a tethering post outside to cater for the horse population. The horsey way of life even extends to the bars where you are able to enjoy a drink from atop your horse at extra high tables.

The town was almost deserted when we visited but apparently is a famous pilgrimage site with over a million visitors over one weekend each year after Easter. The main draw is to see a statue of Mary that moves of its own accord and party like there is no tomorrow. The church is ornate with a very glittery altar.

Nearby is the Donana National Park, Europe’s biggest wetland (Dad was thinking of you especially), and it provides a winter home to a vast bird population. The enterprising grey herons have decided to use the highest structure in the park to nest in, never mind that they are electricity pylons instead of trees! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Iberian lynx, one of the animals we were keen to see on our European travels, I guess it was a bit ambitious to try and see it in one day!

Tiles on one of the El Rocio monuments

Canal du Midi

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I had hoped to cycle along the Canal du Midi at some point on our travels.  Luckily, we found a lovely spot next to the canal and close to the town of Villneuve Les Beziers.  There were two rival duck gangs that frequented this part of the canal and, the ducks proved to be fiercely competitive when we brought out our breadcrumbs.  The ducks quacked all day and night (even at 3am) patrolling their territory and trying to source more food from passers by.

We took down the bikes and went for a lovely cycle ride in brilliant sunshine in over 20 degree temperatures in November!  The canal is bordered by plane trees and their leaves turn a bright yellow in the autumn.  Much of the land next to the canal is covered with vines and farms.  Odie discovered to his detriment that farm dogs are not to be greeted uncautiously, even if they are chained up!

Much coffee is needed with the morning crossword when ducks have been partying all night next to your van

Carmague

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We have been dying to see flamingos close up.  The Carmague region is famous for them and so we decided to trek further south in search of these elusive pink birds.  The Carmague is like the last frontier, it is full of wide open plains and stark skies.  There are numerous marshes and canals that make it perfect for rice growing and its proximity to the sea allows for the farming of salt.  The salt pans vary in colour from white to a pinky purple hue.  We visited the towns of St Gilles, Grand du Roi on the Rhone river and Aigues Mortes.

Aigues Mortes, a town as famous as it is picturesque, is fortified and surrounded by canals.  We arrived on the last day of their end-of-season bull festival.  The French towns in this region often have bull rings, demonstrating the strong link they have to the Catalonians just across the border.  In contrast to the Spanish version, the bulls are not killed, instead the bull fighter has to show his skill by plucking a ribbon (or two if he is lucky) off his angry nemesis.  The end of festival party included lots of drinking and dancing in the streets.  Even a heavy storm did not manage to dampen the locals’ celebrations, but it did send me into a panic as the puddle under our van steadily grew bigger and bigger.  I began to think we may be washed along the canal and David had to reassure me that our van could cope with this sudden onset of water.  Eventually, the rain dwindled and I managed to get to sleep.  The puddle the next morning was still rather large though, and we had to drive out to avoid very wet shoes.

Ice Cream Towers

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Another day, another stunning national park.  This time the Ubaye Valley in the Hautes Alpes of Provence.  We discovered a sparkling blue alpine lake, Lac de Serre-Poncon, bordered by a series of stark peaks. As we rounded a corner we suddenly spotted pillars of sand in the distance. As we got closer we realised that each pillar had a large rock perched on top, rather like an ice cream cone topped with a huge smartie, and we stopped to take a closer look.  Erosion wears away the sandy soil on the hillside and mineral deposits from alternating rain and sun harden the pillars until all that is left is a tower of solidified sand holding a very heavy rock.

Over the next few days the weather turned rather cold, (perhaps because we were in the mountains) and we dared not venture outside for too long.  We spent most of these days enjoying the views from the van as we traversed one pass after another and kept warm with tasty quiches from the local boulangeries.

One morning we woke to snow-dusted trees and mountains which prompted us to hasten off to the coast in search of more sun and warmth.

Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre is a series of small villages that hug the coastline of Liguria in Northern Italy.  What makes them unique is that there is almost no traffic as most of the locals use their feet to get around.  We left from Levatano, a 5 minute train journey from the first of the villages, Monterosso.  The camper stop is right next door to the train station and a short walk into town where you can buy a combination train and walking pass for a mere €8.50.  Odie was allowed to come along but we were told he needed a muzzle, which we never used.

We boarded the train later than expected (10am), having treated ourselves to a lie; all due to the cloudy weather of course 😉  The train was rammed full of tourists and school kids; I dread to think how busy it gets in summertime.  Just five minutes after boarding we hopped off and started along the blue trail.

The walkers come in waves as the train only stops every hour and, after leaving the station, we were followed by a stream of people dressed in hiking boots and armed with walking poles and happy-snap cameras.  After about half an hour of steep climbing the traffic began to thin out a bit.  We enjoyed spectacular views down to the stunning coastline and wandered amongst farms of lemons, olives, grapes and tomatoes.

The five villages are very busy when you reach them, especially at lunch time. Tourists gorge themselves on pizza for their onward journeys, though it’s hard to imagine why some need so much pizza to fuel them to the nearby train station. Part of the blue route was shut for maintenance so we opted to climb up the mountain pass. This added some extra exercise to our day with relentlessly steep ascents tormenting us at every corner, but we were rewarded with a spectacular view at the summit where the path meandered through hillside vinyards.

We had only appreciated the view for a few minutes when we realised that we were far from the next village, from which our train would soon be leaving. Admiration of the surroundings quickly turned to much cursing of the steep paths as we rushed downhill to get to the station on time. We needn’t have bothered as, in true Italian fashion, the train turned up half an hour late.

In all it was a fantastic day out and an experience we would highly recommend!

Paestum

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We have been sampling the delights of Campania. One of its most famous foods is buffalo mozzarella.  A tricolori salad made with this cheese is to die for.  We stayed on a buffalo farm, nestled amongst olive trees with only the buffalos for neighbours.  The farm was around the corner from Paestum, a famous ruin which started off as an Ancient Greek settlement in the 6th century BC and later updated by the Romans.  It is a wonderful integration of these two cultures and highlights the similarities between them. It’s amazing to think that these buildings are now nearly 2400 years old, and still in such remarkable condition. It was discovered in the 18th century by road builders who, after making their monumental find, continued building the road which runs through the middle of the site!

Death to Mozzies

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Pollino National Park is Italy’s largest park and it straddles Basilicata and Calabria.  The park has rocky peaks, rolling green hills and a beautiful aquamarine lake.  It does not seem to be used by visitors all that much, we found a walking trail and embarked on what I was hoping would be a long hike.  After bundu bashing through some rather thick vegetation we opted for a stroll along the road.  Our exercise for the day done, we made a short hop to the Tyrrhenian coast.  The almost deserted holiday town of Praia a Mare has a long black pebbled beach.  It’s most famous attraction is the Isola di Dino, an island that sits just off the shore.

As we were setting ourselves up in the campsite we were surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes.  I killed eight immediately and yet more and more arrived. What followed was a very tribal looking dance as we spun around and around flapping our arms in all directions to try and swat the annoying little beasts!

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