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In Portugal in the Spring of 2017 PDF Printable Version E-mail

In Portugal in the Spring of 2017

Margaret Williamson
March 2017

Travelling in our Carado motorhome, we left England at the beginning of December 2016 on the Brittany ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, the port for the city of Caen. We headed south down the west coast of France to the Pyrenees. Here we paused for some time in the Basque country, hiring a car for a week out of Biarritz for a tour which included Christmas on the Spanish side of the mountains. After two months and 1,230 miles (2,000 km) motorhoming through the centre of Spain, we cross the mountainous border into Portugal.

Continued from: In Spain in the Winter of 2017

Continued atReturn to the UK through Spain and France in the Spring of 2017

To Camping Asseiceira, Santo Antonio das Areias, Alto Alentejo - 114 miles (Height 1,600 ft)     

Open 1 Jan-31 Oct. See www.campingasseiceira.com. €16 inc 10-amp elec, immaculate showers and variable free WiFi. 15 for 7 nights plus, 14 for a month or longer. Cash only. N 39.40992  W 7.34075

Leaving Merida, we return to the A66 Via de la Plata (3 miles) and drive north almost to Caceres. At exit 551, 40 miles later, we join N521, a good 2-lane road heading due west to Portugal. Near Malpartida de Caceres we cross a railway lined with telegraph posts, each one topped by nesting storks. At the next village, Aliseda, there is a Guardia Civil checkpoint but no police. It's a remarkably quiet road for an international route, the sun shines, Storks strut among the spring flowers round a lake: a perfect morning except that there is nowhere to stop - and it's Budget Day in the UK.

06-E_P_Border_(18).JPGIt gets hillier as we approach Valencia de Alcantara, the last Spanish town, 8 miles before the border. Reaching the Portuguese frontier at 104 miles (alt 2,112 ft/640 m), we pause for lunch on the large 01-MBT_(1).JPGparking area. It's deserted, derelict, the days of customs checks and money exchange long gone, thanks to the EU. The bar/restaurant 'A Frontera' has seen no customers through its broken windows for many a year. But is this soon to change?  We remember Portugal is in the West European time zone (same as the UK, an hour behind Spain), so put our watches back.


See more Pictures at: www.magbazpictures.com/spain-portugal-border.html

Across the boMarvao_(33).JPGrder, rd 521 continues as N246 towards Castelo de Vide. We turn right (signed Marvao) at the Portagem roundabout (alt 518 m/1,700 ft), after 5 Portuguese miles. An earlier right turn, via Ponte Velha, would be a short cut to Santo Antonio das Areias but it's a narrower road. Our chosen route climbs for 2 miles through groves of cork oak to a junction at 670 m/2,210 ft, where the (dead-end) road to Marvao Castle twists away uphill to the right. We turn left, descend to the village of Santo Antonio das Areias and turn right following campsite signs, up to the roundabout at the Bullring, then half a mile down to a neat little campsite among olives and cork oak on the left. The English owner, Gary, is expecting us (albeit a fortnight ago!)

The site has immaculate modern facilities and free WiFi that works somewhat spasmodically. With only a dozen pitches tucked inside a quiet walled olive grove, it's a popular base for cycling and walking, set on the edge of the Serra de S Mamede Natural Park and overlooked by the hilltop village and castle of Marvao. It feels good to be here in the Spring.

See more Pictures at: www.magbazpictures.com/around-marvao.html

At Camping Asseiceira, Santo Antonio das Areias

10-MBT_(2a).JPGThe Village: A 15-minute uphill walk, it has a mini-supermarket/bar (reminiscent of Ireland), bank (ATM limit 200 per day), filling station (cash only), post office (weekday afternoons), pharmacy, hairdresser (unisex), bar/restaurant, a new pizzeria, a Saturday morning indoor/outdoor market, an indoor swimming pool and a fire station. Above all stands the bullring - though unlike Spanish bull fights, in Portugal the injured beast is not publicly killed but finished off later in private if the attendant vet deems it unlikely to recover! In fact, there is only one annual bullfight here, in April, and the arena is used for other kinds of entertainment in the summer.

The Market: Well worth the walk on a Saturday morning, to see the village come alive with buses bringing extra customers. Fresh produce is inside the hall - fruit and veg, salt cod, cheeses and salamis, as well as a small bar and a tiny coffee and cake shop. The outdoor stalls sell all manner of clothes, shoes, linen, pots and pans, buckets and bowls. The old lads sit on benches, playing cards or talking while their wives shop - it's the nearest thing we've seen to Greek village life, dignified and simple.

The Hairdresser: On the main road well below the village, she lives and presides over a very tidy salon, in which she expertly transforms us both - shampoo, trim and blow dry for me, short cut for Barry - all in 45 minutes, without a word of English. Total cost: 14 (plus well deserved tip). Barry causes amusement on arrival by pointing at the gent who is leaving with very short hair: 'just like that'. They shake hands.

Deliveries: Two bakery vans take turns for a morning visit to the campsite, except on Sundays. The two bakers are very different. The quiet and serious Mario arrives at 9.15 am to sell loaves, rolls, 'energy bread'(a bread snack with sugar baked inside, for workers in the fields) and Boleima (a local speciality of Jewish origin - two slices of unleavened bread with a little apple and cinnamon between, topped with sugar). We find the latter much improved by the addition of custard!

11-MBT_(3).JPGFelipe, who bakes all the produce himself, loves to talk so his arrival time is less predictable.  He speaks excellent English and many words of wisdom, and insists on teaching his customers to count in Portuguese. In addition to the standard fare, he once (but only once) had 'sausage bread' with salami inside. Best of all, he occasionally brings delicious little cakes: the traditional Pasteis de Nata (creamy custard tarts) and/or tarts with a baked filling of cottage cheese 'but do not buy too many or they run out and the queue riots! I ask why he doesn't bring cakes every time he comes, and more of them; the answer is that he likes to keep his customers healthy so they live a long time and they should only have cakes twice a week. Capitalism clearly hasn't reached this remote corner of the Alentejo!

Buying rolls, I learn that a word sounding like doish means two.
Pointing to two custards, I say 'doish', which works. Indicating two of the other cakes, I try 'doish' again but I stand corrected: it should be 'duash'. Why? It turns out that custard tarts are masculine, while the others contain cheese which is feminine. The next addition to my vocabulary is 'Thank You'. Felipe explains that Men say Obrigado, while Women say Obrigada. But his parting shot is that 'You English say thank you all the time, every time I pass something. We Portuguese wait until the end and say it only once. It's quicker that way.' Brilliant!

The campsite also sells free-range eggs (brought round on Tuesdays) and there are grapefruit free for the picking (thanks Gary).

Dining: The cafe/restaurant Pau de Canela (= Stick of Cinnamon), run by mother and 2 daughters, opens Mon-Sat for drinks, snacks and evening meals. We walk up there one night for dinner, greeted by the friendly mother. The daily specials are written on a scrap of paper in Portuguese: a starter of soup, choice of mains, then a range of desserts, perhaps followed by coffee and the restaurantï's own cinnamon liqueur, smooth and sweet. There is no set price, with everything itemised separately. Understanding little except Porco, we query Pato and are delighted by an imitation of a duck quacking! We order the pork. The soup is a surprise: a garlicky broth with a poached egg and chunks of bread floating in each bowl, a typically Portuguese meal in itself. Indeed, the only other two customers are workmen who just order beer and soup and seem more adept than us at eating a bobbing egg with a spoon! 


The pork is good, served with crisp fried potatoes, wild asparagus and chestnut sauce. Chestnuts are an important speciality around Marvao: three types with a Denomination of Protected Origin, celebrated in the annual Chestnut Festival in November. The nuts are used in meat and fish dishes as well as desserts, while the bark and wood are used for basketry and furniture. So, an interesting and substantial meal, rounded off with a chocolate mousse and a panna cotta with cherries. We enjoyed the moonlit walk back down to camp, agreeing that next time we
'll know to skip the soup!

For a more modest meal, we collect a pizza from the new Brothers Pizzeria opposite the05-MBT_(4).JPG garage. Its small café is open all day, Mon-Sat, until about 9 pm. The medium size pizza at €7 (with 4 toppings from a long list) is plenty for two and very tasty. We also call in to escape the rain one morning and stay for lunch: generous bowls of home-made veg soup with large ham & cheese toasts, coffee and chocolate cake. The brothers deserve to succeed.

And then there is the annual festival taking place in local villages at this time of year, the Matanca do Porco 'the Killing of the Pig' celebrated here on Sunday 12 March. Gary obtains tickets for all willing campers (€7 per person), which entitle you to join the all-day feeding frenzy inside and outside the market hall - from coffee and breakfast snacks, to the hog roast at 1 pm or so, music and dancing, and more meat off the grill at 5 pm! Like the annual bullfight, the Matanca is held to raise money for the care of the elderly of Santo Antonio, with the food and drink donated and work done by volunteers. Willing to support the cause, if not the local pigs, we wander up at lunchtime to see a huge crowd gathered around the hog, still roasting over a wood fire while men are slicing chunks off it.

Inside the market hall, the long marble stalls have been laid like tables, with baskets of bread, olives, jugs of wine, bottles of water and pop. It's a bit like musical chairs, with the slower ones left standing in the corners, and the noise echoing round the bare hall is deafening! Tureens of soup (two types: vegetable or blood & offal) appear, as well as platters of good lean pork, and are replenished regularly. Then come slivers of cheese, apples and oranges, and individual pots of creamy cold rice pud with cinnamon. A couple of musicians start to play harmonica and accordion and folk disperse outside to watch or dance. All very interesting. More than sated, we don't stay for the next round of food. The music can be heard, playing on into the evening under a full moon, from the campsite a mile away.

Birds: The motorhome makes an excellent bird hide and the surrounding trees and hedges are full of life and song. As well as a flock of sparrows, blackbirds, a mistle thrush, chaffinches, robins, blue tits and great tits, I watch two pairs of pretty goldfinch pecking the ground and a blackcap feeding on a bush. Just outside our window a smart nuthatch runs up and down the olive tree trunk, as only it can. Best of all (a first for me) I spot a blue rock thrush sitting (where else) on a rock right opposite the van. Only the male is this distinctive dusky blue colour and in Europe they are limited to the Mediterranean fringe. A pair of storks sometimes soar overhead and I hear that the cuckoo has arrived.

Leisure: On colder windy days, if we tire of struggling with the unreliable camp WiFi there is a selection of books, DVD films and jigsaws in Reception; there is laundry to be done (machine washed and line dried); there is good TV reception with some programmes in English (eg the series on Versailles that upset the French); and there is Danish Nils to talk to, a regular and knowledgeable visitor.

But most days are fine enough for exploring the quiet lanes that radiate from the 09-MBT_(12).JPGcampsite. It's an excellent base for cycling, with virtually no traffic, superb scenery and enough hills to test our gears and legs. We complete the rides described below during our stay in March, repeating some of them in the opposite direction.

For walkers, a sketch map of 6 local walks is available in campsite Reception and we enjoy a couple of these. Varying from 3 km to 13 km in length, they all start from the gate and follow rural lanes and footpaths, often running between dry stone walls once used for herding sheep and cattle. There is also a longer walking route that climbs steeply up to Marvao, an alternative to cycling or driving 5 miles up the tarmac road to reach the castle. We did cycle up on a previous visit and once is enough!

Cycling:

1.    21 km/14-mile circular ride from Santo Antonio das Areias, via Beira (a favourite route, repeated in both directions).  Uphill into the village of SA das Areias, then out northeast to Aires and circle round to Beira, riding very near the Spanish border. The quietest of rural lanes, through a rolling landscape of cork oak, olives and a few vines, scattered with huge boulders.

06-MBT_(6).JPGReaching Beira after 16 km, we photograph the lovely old railway station, with its classic blue and white azulejo tiled facade. This was once a busy international station (one of only 4 rail links between Portugal and Spain), with doors labelled 'Passports' and 'Customs', but the line is closed. The adjacent station hotel, recently re-opened as the refurbished 'Trainspot Guesthouse', offers B&B and self-catering apartments. Storks  nest on the roof and circle overhead.

There are two cafes in Beira where we sip a welcome 
02-MBT_(7).JPGcold drink or hot coffee according to the weather. Then we ride south directly back to Santo Antonio das Areias via the villages of Barretos and Ranginha. The countryside is more like Greece or Eastern Europe, rather than Spain. In the cottage gardens, chickens peck around under citrus trees and there are rows of vegetables. Many of the young have gone to the coast or cities in search of work, leaving older folk to subsist. But the roads are well surfaced and the people friendly, always returning a Bom Dia or (as we were told to say after noon) Boa Tarde. The colourful flowers and butterflies also remind us of Spring in Greece.

2.    04-MBT_(8).JPG18 km/11 mile ride via Galegos to the Spanish Border and back (with a strenuous climb to Galegos). Turn left from the campsite gate (rather than right for the village) down the lane that descends to cross the River Sever, then climbs very steeply through the unspoilt cobbled hamlet of Galegos (5 km). The bar in the old post office, opposite a ruined watermill, is a good place for a coffee break. Ride on to meet the main rd 246 and turn east along it for 3 km to the frontier with Spain: an incredibly quiet international route with its deserted border post.

Returning west on rd 246 for 1 km, we then turn right onto a back road for an extremely swift descent to Galegos, pausing only to talk to Susana, a delightful local English resident, who greets us. From Galegos we continue downhill to the river, before a gentle climb home.

3.    19 km/12 mile ride via Ramila de Baixo, returning via Galegos and La Fontaneira  (again with a very strenuous climb). Uphill to the garage, left along the road past the small industrial estate and on via Ramila de Baixo, across the River Sever, then a severe climb until the main rd 246 is reached (5 km west of the frontier).

Turn left along rd 246 for 2 km, then turn off down to Galegos where we join the 07-MBT_(9).JPGvillage elders for a welcome coffee. They are engrossed in their noisy card game, the waitress equally engrossed in the 'soap' on TV - again we are reminded of rural Greece. Lovely.08-MBT_(10).JPG Before returning to the campsite we take a side-trip (2 km each way), climbing gently up a delightful back lane that was once the main road into Spain - the smuggling route for the Contrabandistas and their coffee, etc. The tiny village of La Fontaneira straddles the border, simply marked by a stone inscribed P on one face, E on the other. Most of the houses lie on the Spanish side and the lane continues down from there, though we turn back to Galegos and home. 

4.    31 km/19 mile ride via Barretos to Castelo de Vide and return. Up the hill to the bull ring in Santo Antonio das Areias (height 510 m), then drop to the main road and turn north via Ranginha towards Beira. TurnCastelo_de_Vide_(15).JPG left at 4 km in Barretos (1 km short of Beira), signed C de Vide. Follow the quiet lane west for the next 10 km across open country, past Camping Marvao-Beira (open) and a disused stone quarry. A very rocky landscape with huge quartz boulders - mostly uphill though quite rideable, climbing from 390 m at Barretos to almost 600 m in C de Vide. Enter the old town through the first archway in the wall, then wheel the bicycles up the steep cobbled alleyway to the Centro Storico of this amazing walled town, crowned by its 13thC castle. This lovely warren of twisting alleyways, churches, white cottages and flower pots is actually lived in, unlike the tiny tourist trap of Marvao. 

A bite of
Castelo_de_Vide_(14).JPG lunch in 'O Goivo', the tiny bar at the top of the alley, behind the main square, where a retired bullfighter and his daughter are serving the three small tables with the house speciality: vegetable soup and hot pork sandwiches. The bill for two, including coffees, totals €10 and the roast pork is delicious! Before turning to retrace our route back, I collect a map and leaflet from the Tourist Office – an incongruous concrete box standing in the main square, the only modern building in the old centre. We check the location of a recommended motorhome parking area on the south side of the city walls, which looks ideal as the base for further exploration. Cycling back to our campsite is quick and easy, mostly downhill until Barretos, where we turn right for the climb to San Antonio.

To Parking by City Walls, Castelo de Vide, Alto Alentejo - 14 miles (Height 1,900 ft)     

Open all year. Free car park, no facilities except rubbish bin. May be busy Fri morning (market day). Short walk to historic centre and citadel.  N 39.41583  W 7.45778

On the last day of March we said goodbye to Gary at Camping Asseiceira (though only after Filipe has called with bread and tarts). We shall very much miss this scenic and historic corner of the High Alentejo, its friendly people and traffic-free lanes. Like many others, we came to Santo Antonio for a few days and stayed almost a month.

It is not far toCastelo_de_Vide_(16).JPG our next stop - just round to Portagem and then north to Castelo de Vide. Portagem (meaning 'toll road') is by a late 16thC bridge over the River Sever, with a medieval tower that protected the crossing here on the old Roman road. So many centuries of history! The tower has a plaque with the dates 1496 and 1996, commemorating the expulsion of Portugal's Jewry. Interestingly, Portagem is the word now used on some Portuguese motorways.

The car park below the city wall is easy to find and we join two other motorhomes Castelo_de_Vide_(10).JPG(Portuguese and French), parking right by a staircase up to the old centre of Castelo de Vide. Time to explore. At the top of the stairs is the small whitewashed church of San Tiago (sic), with a fountain for pilgrims en route to Santiago in Spain to drink and fill their bottles.

We work our way uphill to the 14thC castle (open daily 9.30-5 pm, free). In the main hall are models of the methods of torture used by the Inquisition on 'heretics' or on any forced Jewish converts found to be practising Judaism in secret: the rack, hanging by arms or legs, beheading or burning at the stake. We move quickly on, to climb the spiral stairs up the square tower, from which a flag flies. There are superb views in all directions, including a line of sight to Marvao Castle.

The smallCastelo_de_Vide_(11).JPG castle museum is closed for lunch (1-2 pm) but when the genial curator returns we find, to our delight, that it is Francisco – an extremely informative employee of the town hall/tourist office/library who we met here 4 years ago! On that occasion the castle was closed and he was on duty at 'Our Lady of Alegria', a small Baroque church in the adjacent burgo medieval (medieval village within the outer fortifications).

Speaking excellent English, Francisco quickly covers theCastelo_de_Vide_(12).JPG two museum exhibitions (military history of the castle; megalithic monuments in the area), on which he is an expert, then continues talking over a wide range of subjects: politics, Brexit, religion, his own family history, his passion for collecting books. A remarkable man.

Walking round theCastelo_de_Vide_(13).JPGburgo medieval we pass Our Lady of Alegria (closed today) and note the plaque outside that commemorates the Marranos - the 'New Christians' (forced Jewish converts), who had lived for centuries in this area around the castle gates. The Museum inside Portugal's oldest synagogue, a little lower down below the walls in the Judairia (Jewish Quarter), is also freely open but today it is crowded with a group and we did see it on our previous visit.

We finish the day with an excellent meal at Doces e Companhia, a café on the main square that offers a range of teas, coffees and cakes, as well as a 2-course Menu (soup + choice of main dish at €6.40) served until about 7.30 pm. Even adding an extra starter of bread with cheese or pork balls, and rounding off with coffee and cake, the bill is still only €20 for the two of us! Back at the car park, we have a very peaceful evening.

See More Pictures of Castelo de Vide at: MagBazPictures 

APRIL 2017

A return trip to the Barragem de Povoa e Meadas from Castelo de Vide – 20  miles driven, 10 miles cycled

April dawns warm and sunny. We drive 1 km from our car park at Castelo de Vide, past the stadium and swimming baths (where the Camperstop book lists parking places, though they are on the busy main road) to the Pingo Doce supermarket. It's a good shop with a small café, and we park here with some difficulty to replenish our fridge and cupboards.

Then a 10-mile drive north and east to the Barragem de Povoa (dammed lake) where a Parque de Caravanismo is signed. It lies across the dam wall, past the café and picnic area, on the right (at N 39.448357  W 7.54686). Having imagined a peaceful Aire by the lake where we might spend the night, we are disappointed to find a sordid squatter camp with dozens of assorted campervans and motorhomes (mainly French but also Dutch, Brits and Germans), feral children, loose dogs and washing lines. It is free of charge, with water and a dump, but the new WC/shower block is in a disgusting state, the toilets unflushed and unflushable. What a blot on the landscape! And the area adjoins a fenced historic site, the Necropole da Boa Morte, comprising a few medieval graves that were part of a settlement that now lies below the waters of the lake.

We park there for lunch before taking the bicycles out for a 10-mile circular ride, via Povoa e Meadas, which is a lovely cobbled village, with a tiny museum (closed), nesting storks and a couple of cafes. Two old ladies in straw hats wave in puzzlement, as if they haven't seen British cyclists before (even though we rode through 4 years ago!) The rolling lanes are empty of traffic and edged with aromatic eucalyptus trees, fragrant broom and flowering rock roses (cistus). Spring is here. Back at the Parque de Caravanismo we decide against staying in the squatter camp and drive back to Castelo de Vide, where we can rest in dignity and safety for the night. We remain bewildered that the owners of shiny big motorhomes costing thousands of euros choose to stay in the middle of nowhere on what has become a rubbish dump.

A bonus of returning to the city wall car park is another evening meal at the Doces e Companhia café, a 5-minute walk away: soup, followed by spinach & sausage quiche and salad, pineapple cake and coffee.

To Municipal Camping, Barragem da Idanha-a-Nova, Beira - 91 miles

Open all year. See campidanha-a-Nova€9.90 inc 6-amp elec (or €10.90 inc 10-amp elec), simple showers and variable free WiFi. N 39.95027  W 7.18777

On a fine Sunday morning we drive west from Castelo de Vide for 10 miles to Alpalhao, a small town with plenty of parking space and a few market stalls in the centre. Here we turn north on E802, descending to cross the River Tejo (or Tagus in Portugal) at 27 miles, the bridge at the low altitude of 93 m/306 ft. A mile later we join the A23/IP2 motorway and continue north towards Castelo Branco.

It is supposedly an e-toll motorway but we see nowhere to pay and have been advised that there is no system for charging foreign-registered vehicles. An enquiry at the service station where we park for lunch, after exit 23 at 58 miles, gets the same response!

Leaving the motorway 7 miles later at exit 25, we follow signs to the little town of Idanha-a-Nova, cross the River Ponsul, and are poised to take N354 for the final 5 miles up to the dammed lake and campsite. But, unbeknown to us, this weekend marks an annual cycle race, which we meet head-on after the bridge! More police cars and motorbikes than we have seen in months are gathered to hold up the traffic in both directions, eventually sending us on our way to follow a longer detour round narrow winding lanes. How can we complain – it's lovely to see athletic young cyclists riding these hills.

Finally meeting1._Idanha.JPG N354, we find the former Orbitur campsite at the end of a lane near the lake. Jose, one of the enthusiastic young team in Reception, explains that the land belongs to the municipality but the camp is run by a non-profit environmental group. The free WiFi is erratic, as is the hot water to the showers, and we feel there is scope to charge a little more and improve the facilities. The shop, bar/café and swimming pool will open in June for the busy summer season, when there are kayaks and boats for hire on the lake. Meanwhile, the site is delightfully quiet; the only sounds are the woodpeckers hammering the trees and the chatter of house martins swooping in and out of the shower block, to the consternation of the cleaning women.

Staying for a second very warm day, we do the laundry (which dries on the line in an hour) and take a walk down to and along the lake shore, spotting our first lizard of the year.

See More Pictures of Idanha at: MagBazPictures

To Municipal Camping Fundator, Quinta do Convento, Fundao, Beira - 38 miles (height 1,800 ft)

Open all year. www.campismofundao.com.   €13 inc 10-amp elec, hot showers and good free WiFi. N 40.13276  W 7.51205

In Idanha-a-Nova, 5 miles from the camp, we shop at the Intermarche supermarket (fuel, small café, limited parking), then retrace our route for 18 miles to join IP2/A23 at junction 25. Continuing north, through a couple of short tunnels, we take exit 28 at 34 miles and follow campsite signs through the town of Fundao.

The site lies about a mile uphill from town, on the left just past the former convent4_Fundao.JPG which is being transformed into a hotel. It's a small terraced camp with a couple of hard-standing places inside the entrance, where we quickly settle. Later we are joined by an interesting Israeli couple in a motorhome, who are coming to live in Portugal to escape their previous home in a war zone (Hebron).

Next day we make good use of the WiFi and the shower block, both a big improvement on our last camp. We also sample the lunch of the day at the campsite restaurant - €7.50 pp for a generous menu of bread, olives, soup, choice of main, wine/juice and apple cake. This is my first taste of paella (called Rice Valenciana) made of saffron rice, peas, sausage, chicken, pork, prawns, squid and clams. What a tasty mixture! A group of a dozen women (plus one man – perhaps their boss) rounded off their meal by singing 'Happy Birthday' to one embarrassed lady. We do like the Portuguese, they seem very warm and friendly to each other and to strangers.

A post-prandial stroll round the Convent Park, on the hillside next to the campsite, rounds off the afternoon. It has a mountain bike circuit, zip wires and walkways in the trees, picnic tables – how different from the Prince's Park in Spanish Aranjuez where you daren't even feed the ducks!

Fundao to Camp Municipal de Guarda, Guarda (Beira) - 41 miles (height 3,390 ft)

Open all year. €13.50 inc 16-amp elec and showers. No internet.  N 40.53861  W 7.27944

On a fine morning with a nice cool wind we drive 5 miles through Fundao to join A23 at junction 9 (5 miles). A large Lidl on the way provides essential supplies: genuine mature English cheddar, Portuguese custard tarts, flaky croissants and a chocolate mousse gateau. International cuisine!

As we continue north on the motorway, I am surprised to see several storks settled in trees that barely look able to support the weight of their nests! Maybe these are late arrivals, finding all the church towers fully occupied. At 36 miles we take exit 35 for Guarda, Portugal's highest town, and our last stop before crossing into Spain.

To find the 6_Guarda.JPGcampsite, avoiding the narrow streets of the town centre, follow the Ring Road and the SatNav round to the stadium, 6 miles from the A23 motorway. It's a small simple municipal camping, half of its area now cordonned off as a building site. The only hot water is in the uninviting showers and we are advised to empty the toilet cassette in one of the 'Turkish' toilets. On the plus side, it's a short walk from the old town.

After lunch we walk up to the tower (all that remains5_Guarda.JPG of the medieval castle), for a fine view from the hilltop, then down into the old centre with its sombre cathedral. I replace our broken umbrella at a shop specialising in chocolate, gifts and souvenirs, though it is none of these. Circling back to the campsite, we find coffee & cakes in a quaint salon de thé. There is little else to see in Guarda.

See More Pictures of Guarda at: MagBazPictures

FROM PORTUGAL INTO SPAIN – APRIL 2017

Guarda, Portugal to Camping Don Quijote, Cabrerizos, Salamanca (Castilla y Leon) - 112 miles (height 2,570 ft)

Open 27 Feb-31 Oct.  www.campingdonquijote.com  ACSI Card €17 inc 10-amp elec, hot showers and reasonable free WiFi.  N 40.97611  W 5.60472

We return 6 miles round the Guarda Ring Road to the A23/IP2, then continue north to Arrifania, where we turn east on IP5 for Vilar Formosa and the Spanish frontier. This is high country, remaining above 800 m/2,640 ft. At exit 33 (Vilar Formosa) we turn off to check Camperstop Zaza, less than half a mile along the road towards the town. The ample parking, with water and dump, costs €5 per day (+ €2 for a hook-up) and is next to a handy bakery. Too early in the day for us to stop, but it is certainly more accessible than the campsite at Guarda and is open all year. Back on IP5, we soon cross the Spanish border at 30 miles to enter Castilla y Leon. The Portuguese side is busy with shops and fuel stations but there are no checks or hold-ups. Entering Spain, clocks go forward one hour.

The A62/E80 Autovia de Castilla, a toll-free dual carriageway, takes us past the fine walled city of Ciudad Rodrigo. Again I notice storks nesting in trees as well as on old buildings. Shortly before Salamanca we take its outer ring road (signed Tordesillas) and follow it to the exit for Cabrerizos. Use the SatNav, then camping signs for the final couple of miles to find the large, popular and well organised campsite that is obviously on the migration route from Northern Europe to Southern Spain. The restaurant/bar is open, busy and expensive (no set menus) but you can sit there in front of a giant screen and watch football, if so inclined.

With several campsites round Salamanca (including two other ACSI Card sites), I chose this one as it claims to be an easy cycle ride along a riverside path into the city. This will be tested tomorrow. For non-cyclists, there is also a bus.

Continued atReturn to the UK through Spain and France in the Spring of 2017