There are a few places I visited in January, I haven’t mentioned. In these last days in Portugal I just enjoy some last encounters with people from around Cacela Velha, some last sight-seeing in the Eastern Algarve and trying to focus on my next trip to Spain.
There is Monte Gordo, a place full of apartment buildings and hotels, but with a fabulous wide beach, very busy in the Summer, but now just occupied by mainly Dutch overwintering retirees. The beach reminds me of Scheveningen, a famous Dutch beach town by Den Hague, but of course not as crowded.
Another interesting town is Castro Marim, where the two fortresses are seen from far away and from where you have fabulous views over the surrounding landscape and over the river Guadiana, which borders Portugal with Spain.
The last place on Portuguese grounds is Vila Real de St Antonio. A busy little town, where a lot of tourists come for a visit during their overwintering in neighboring villages, but also popular by Spanish daily visitors, who are often interested in the Portuguese textiles, which are sold in many stores.
The old town of Alcoutim is situated on the Spanish side of the river. You can reach this town by boat or by car via the bridge, which is towering over the river.
From Vila Real de Sto Antonio and Castro Marim, I drive on the IC 27 towards the Barragem de Odeleite and take the inner road on the right to Foz de Odeleite. After, I follow the road along the river Guadiana towards Alcoutim. A very quiet and scenic road, following the bends of the river. Lots of sailing boats on the river, waiting for the warm weather to arrive. My first stop is at the cemetary, just before Alcoutim. From here you have a good overview over the Spanish village of Sanlucar on the other side of the river. On both sides, you see the fortresses, which were built to control and defend the borders. In former times there were also a lot of smugglers going back and forwards, with cafe from Portugal and cigarillos from Spain and many other articles.
Alcoutim is a cute village, which can be combined with a visit to Mertola. The road to Mertola goes high through the mountainous landscape. It is a pretty bare area, with some flocks of sheep, but barely any agriculture. An empty country……
Mertola is a nice surprise. You can easily spend here a whole day, to see all it has to offer. It is one big museum……The town offers a beautiful fortress with a tower you can climb and from where you have magnificent views over the two rivers, the Roman bridge, the churches and the winding streets in between the white houses.
Excavations took place under the castle and the Islamic treasures can be admired in the museum.
If you cross the main street, you can walk to a church up the hill, from where you have totally different overview. Not many take the effort to climb another few meters, but it is so worth it!
Later, I take the main road back to Vila Real de Sto.Antonio, which is an extremely quiet, new road and I am just back before dark in town. I rush to a cafe to upload my pictures, check the internet and have a bite. It will be an early evening, as tomorrow I booked an organized trip to Seville and they are picking me up around 7.30 a.m.
The first days in my new temporary home are chaotic. I have to drive up and down to Faro and I am so happy with my Portuguese mobile phone, as lot’s of phone calls are necessary. The first one is to the car rental office, to ask for another car. No problem there, I can collect another one at the airport in Faro. This time I get a Fiat Punto and it drives way better and has brand new tires. I combine my visit to Faro with buying a new computer at Staples, as my old one gave me already a headache for a year or so. I have to drive up and down a few times, before everything is solved and the programs transferred, but the service is one of a kind, as I finally leave the store one hour after closing time! I told them I can’t function without my computer, which is true! Another obstacle is the internet stick for my computer. For that I have to drive up and down to Tavira. Sometimes they work in one go, but mine took a lot of phone calls and store visits, before it was willing to function. I noticed that a lot of tourists were confused about the two choices you have to make; you can buy time on your stick or you buy GB. If you use the internet stick for mainly downloading movies, then you better buy time. I go for the GB, as I need the internet for my writing; I will download my pictures in an internet cafe. There is a great place in Manta Rota; Pastelaria Manta Mar, where I go every so many days, end of the afternoon, for a glass of wine (or two) and work for a couple of hours on my computer, as they have free wifi. This place is the expert in good coffee and sweets! Nice people there!
After three days or so, everything is set and working and I can start exploring. If I am not on the road or in Manta Rota working, then I walk end of the afternoon to Fabrica, for the sunset. There is beside a restaurant, also a small cafetaria, right at the Laguna. Here the locals are gathering around for a chat and a drink and some tourists and in the weekends lots of Portuguese are also finding their way towards this unique spot. Some small fishing boats are coming in or still sailing out. In this time a year it can be pretty cold, so I always brought a thick sweater. The view of the sunlight on the small fishing boats is very relaxing and I never can get enough of it. It is always nearly dark when I leave and I have to bring a torch to find my way back over the beach to Cacela Velha.
One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed, is a visit to one of the big Saturday markets. There is every Saturday (and also sometimes on Sunday) a “region” market and every week in another place. The Eastern Algarve Magazine mentions where the markets take place. The first one I go is in Castro Marim. Later in the month I will go back to Castro Marim to visit the two fortresses, but this time I concentrate on the market. I have visited many market places in my life and in Greece they were huge, but this one is something else. Clothes, shoes, towels, fruits, vegetables, nuts , cheeses, olives and many other things. What I enjoyed the most is the ambiance. There were 3 barbecues going with chicken piri piri (hot), bottles of red wine flowing and of course beer. The locals, as well as the tourists (mainly Dutch in this part of the Algarve) were sitting on long tables, enjoying not only the food, but also the singing and guitar playing. A lot of Spanish influences, so close to the border.