Friday, 22 February 2013

First time in the Algarve

Los Piedades
After five days in Lagos, Portugal, it's about time I started the first blog of the year!  Our friends' offer to let us stay in their apartment couldn't be missed.  We've been saying that we'll visit for years, and never got around to it!
  Very central to Lagos, and in a converted tile factory, or Fabrica.  Never been to Portugal before and Jools and Stu took us to their favourite haunts and to see the sights, beaches, rocky cliffs and Piedades, rocky outcrops littering the beach close to Lagos.
After a few days, our hosts left us in charge of their beautiful apartment.  They are good friends!  First impressions, in spite of the cooler weather, were very good.  Great food, especially the fish, simply cooked and inexpensive, especially if you seek out the local workmen's cafe.  Fish cooked over a wood burning BBQ.  Lots of good cafes and restaurants all around the marina, which is directly opposite the apartment. Happy hour, beer and large glass of vinho verde for 3euros!  Unbelievable!
Hired two bikes from a guy living in Torre on the way back to Almaceo do Pera. A bit basic.  Ian's was a bit small for him, and mine came with an unforgiving saddle.  But not much choice and not many hirers.  So beggars can't be choosers.  Very different to our experience in Mallorca.
Cav at the top of Foia
Our first ride was a reccy up into the foothills below the Serra do Monchique.  Following day, with poorer weather forecast for the coming two days, we decided to go for it and ascend the highest hill, Foia at 3000ish feet.  It was also the second day of the Tour of the Algarve, over four days, and the cyclists would be climbing the same course, so it was an opportunity not to be missed.  We reached a junction close to Marmalete, and watched them ascend, at speed, the ascent we'd just laboured up for the last hour.  In the peloton, we caught sight of Cav and Tiernan Locke.  We then continued up to the top of Foia.  Found it hard for this early in the season, but you've got to put up with it, to get better as the season progresses!  Pleasant on top, sitting in the sunshine, but like all these weather station summits, not to be attempted in worsening weather.  Picked up the proper riders descending at breakneck speed, and on to the finish back at Lagoa.  We continued back to Lagos, via Odiexcere, after 52 miles and about 4100' climbing.  Enough for now!

In between cycle rides, we explored Cabo Sao Vicens, or the "end of the world", as it was formerly known.  Then on to Aljezur.  Countryside not as expected, very green and soft.  Eucalyptus trees everywhere, giving it a very Australian appearance.  Introduced to meet the growing needs of the paper industry and building trade, because it's fast growing, they've now spread all over the landscape.  There are environmental concerns about their effects upon the water table and being more prone to fire risk.  Acacia trees with their beautiful yellow balls, oak trees with their barks stripped for cork.  Monchique is the second biggest source for cork in the Algarve.  Rolling hills, sometimes quite steep, into numerous valleys, steep sided terraced farmland, with the occasional painted one-storey farm building, and large dog.
Beach near Burgau
Sometimes reminds us of areas of the New Forest, sometimes Provence.  So very quiet and unspoilt.  Hardly saw any cars all the time we were cycling over 3-4hours.  Apart from enthusiasts watching the Tour, we didn't see any other cyclists.  Local people greeted with a smile and Bom Dia.  Groups of men, particular old men enjoyed staring at our lycra.  It gave them something else to comment on as they sat and watched the world go by, in the bars and bus-stops.  The weather has been a bit disappointing, but still much warmer than at home!
A second time in the Serra do Monchique, and we called in at a bar in Marmelete, for coffee and piri piri chicken and chips.  Chicken piri piri is the traditional food of the Monchique.  A great little food station before climbing up or down.

All the development is on the coast, but minutes away from the main N125, and the unused toll motorway, and you're into quiet rolling countryside, with reasonably good roads, and dirt tracks.  Few direction signs and even fewer giving distances!  Signs saying monte, vale and Ribera, describing the features.  A couple we met in a little bar near Moinho da Rocha, out in the countryside, said that they frequently saw wild boar, and that there was talk about reintroducing lynx.  Hunting is still common here on Thursdays and Sundays.  She was from Wales and they'd been living here for a couple of years, but couldn't speak the language.  Away from the coast, where English is commonly spoken, you are reduced to sign language and Anglo -Spanish.  They seem reluctant to speak Spanish, preferring English and German.  Although written Portuguese is similar to Spanish, and you can understand it reasonably well, spoken Portuguese is completely different, sounding more like Russian!  It's impossible to understand a word!

Cafe in Alte
Only ever seen storks in Kaysersburg, France.  But here they are numerous, building large nests on the spires and chimneys.  The apartment was directly next to a nest, and when a resident complained about excessive excrement on his patio, the nest was moved to a specially-constructed metal pole nearby!  So strong is the folklore about the loss of fortune to the town, if the storks ever left their nest.

We're also reccying from a point of view of bringing the van down one winter.  Portugal seems, for now, to have a generous and relaxed attitude towards Motorhomes, until owners take advantage and take over beauty spots en masse, staying for long periods, as they do.  There are service areas near Lagos and Silves and a spot further up the coast overlooking the sea, and a number of camping sites, so staying in the van seems straight-forward.
On our last day with the bikes we went over to eastern Algarve and Loule. Did a 40 mile circuit which took in Alte, a pretty village surrounded by hills. It was a hard day with many undulating roads and reminded us more of Spanish landscape.

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