59-592: Alentejo Sines to the Hills

590 – Saturday 7th January 2017: Porto Covo and Sines

Villa Nova de Milfontes is one of the best wild camping spots we have ever had – alone, views out to sea and cliffs (lemmings on the cliffs!), the sound of waves crashing during the night – slightly reminiscent of Capo Lo Vito in south west Sicilia for the sounds of the sea…

AM – K ran (too many wild dogs around though, so retreated) and Pilate’d – I rested – not really wimping.  We are still on the coast but now in Alentejo – now itching to move inland and back up into the hills and away from most of the tourists.

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The view that greeted us in the morning.

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Yes, we really were on the cliff edge.

Porto Covo – van services and relaxing coffee – we regularly remark that these days of sun would pass for high summer in UK and most of west/northern Europe – how lucky are we?  K:  It had been raved about by several motorhomers, but was essentially a very smart and touristy one horse street.  J went to see if the amply stocked newsagents had an English speaking newspaper… it had … The Mail, which said it all.  He left empty handed.  I spoke to a British motorhomer, they’d been here a month already as they had services, some shops and the sea … what more could they want, he asked?  Something to do, thought I that is not exactly the same every day.  I did speak to a charming Frenchman (in French) and we shared good camping spots.

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Porto Covo is essentially a street down to a cliff above the sea; brimming with cafes.

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A view from Porto Covo with industrial Sines in the distance.

Sines” – how many of you have jested that you “Followed the signs to Sines sinefully and after purchasing a Sinecure (for a late night) – Signed out of Sines?  It can’t be just us, surely!  

The town is a busy working port, with offshore oil rigs,  but pretty.  Vasco de Gama was born on the top floor of the Castle – a very impressive man according to his statue – does he look a tad like Henry V!!! ? K:  the guidebooks raved about the Vasco da Gama museum in the castle, sadly it consisted of a film about his life … but only in Portuguese.  We left none the wiser. A good romp for us and Oscar along the beach, ducking under the long fishing lines the locals had cast about 40 metres to the sea from the pavements.  As we left, our road took as along and over the wide river of oil pipes inland to the refinery … they were quite a sight.

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The castle at Sines looking out over the fishing harbour.

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Vasco da Gama was born in the caste here.  His father was the equivalent of the mayor.

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From the castle looking east to the industrial port.  Whilst J was in the museum, I watched a container ship lumber by.

Our overnight intended location was Santiago do Cacem – now Colin (CoPilot SatNav) brought us unerringly to the road in question – it was closed.  Never mind, we said – go to the next town aire – OK, team?   We drove around not quite aimlessly  – the exit route was also closed – and then we spotted – the Police Station.  K hopped out and received great directions from the Duty Officer who said “Ignore the no entry signs and drive on!!!”  It took us down a dirt track with a marvellous sump damaging hump where K had to navigate me forward inch by inch, having set off, yet again, all the local barking dogs.  Our location was to the Lousal mining town – and off we sailed again.  The aire in Lousal was well paved, level and quiet on the edge of town but private, with some houses around – sorted…

Fed, Oscar walked – we settled to sleep ‘perchance to dream?’   Now then, fellow motorhomers – what are the unwritten rules about townside wilding on Saturday – local party night???   Before we are deluged with replies – the answer of course is – you don’t go there at all…  The very close barking dogs started the party (well, their party) – then the quite close (within our earshot) local bar revellers – loudly – the little motor cycles we call ‘gnats’ – racing around in their only engine gear – ‘gnattygear’.  Around 1:00 am, a car entered our parking place (we were the only van) and parked close by. I was awake anyway due to the noise and I rehearsed in my head the ‘vanevac’ rules – we always leave the driver’s seat in position – face the car park exit, etc.  The car left eventually – at 2:00 am (?) and we breathed a sigh of relief- back to bed – to sleep?  No.  

Lesson relearned – more care of wilding on Fri/Sat/Sunday nights – always and everywhere – even in the country, ‘gnatspartyville’ can come and bite you on the bum!  We were reminded of Trapani harbourside in Sicilia a year ago…


591 – Sunday 8th January:  Lousal Mine Museum and Beja

Anyway, untainted – sorry, dotnaughtied – bugger – UNDAUNTED, we left Oscar in the van and walked to the museum at 10:00 am with heavy eyes – ours, not his – he slept through all the fuss…

The Lousal Mining Museum is one of those rare gems that is not even in our guide books.  We were only here as it had an aire!   Our personal guide, Andrea who is working full time whilst studying at University for a veterinary degree (she has permission to not attend all lectures); full of enthusiasm and superb knowledge.  It was like one-to-one tuition – we learned a huge amount – Belgian owners – treated their employees brilliantly (unlike the British owners at the Sao Domingoes mines, which we visited before Christmas. There were schools, a hospital and a maternity wing.  Workers were given their houses for free until their death.  As the mine only closed in 1988, there are still ex-mining residents.  Health and Safety rules were very different, even in the 1980’s – no safety gloves, shoes or protective suits – only hard hats…  and they worked at 500m underground.

The Belgian owners still own the rights to the mine and have been heavily involved in the redevelopment of the town as a mining museum and science learning centre.  At its height, there were over 2000 residents in the town, now about 400.  So how few residents had been out last night making all that noise?

Andrea also explained that State universities expect higher grades than the private ones, and are therefore better regarded.  Every town and village had a road named after the dictator, Salazar – these have been renamed 25th April 1974 after the peaceful revolution (white carnations in gun barrels – Like :)). Students learn English in Primary school.  And how there is currently snow in the North!

K’s photos speak for themselves!  

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The electricity control centre.  It supplied the mine and the local community.
 

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All the machines were kept so they could be brought back on line if a later engine failed.  They could still be run.

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The electricity boxes just still clinging to the wall of the roofless and collapsing building that once housed the women who worked a long conveyors, smashing up the rock and separating it.  They and the menfolk consequently suffered from silicosis.  

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The Green Lagoon.

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Even kaolin was found here.

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There were two mine shafts for ore and men.  This one for ore is right beside the departing building.

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Next, Beja – capital of Lower Alentejo – nice unassuming town – highlight – amazing museum in the  ornate old Convent – cloister tiles and love letters from a lovesick nun to her French paramour, which were published in 1669 – must have made erotic reading!  Beja municipal campsite was our overnight (no free motorhome parking) – ‘basic’ facilities but adequate – I mile walk from town centre – price with electric – Euro 6.96!!!  About the price of a small glass of wine in UK?  

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The tiles in the regional Museum, former Convent, were stunning.  

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Off the ‘net, as too dark for my hand wobble pix … and sadly it doesn’t do justice to the C16 ‘azulejos’ (tiles).
 

592 – Monday 9th January:  Showers and Serpa

Due to the basic campsite facilities, we showered in our van – luxury indeed – then refilled with fresh water and off to Serpa.  

A truly beautiful town – ancient aquaduct, castle (closed) – excellent meat/veg/stew/soup lunch – lunch with orange juice, James!  Having consumed most of our Aged P visit and Christmas / New Year booze to remove temptation, we are now largely on the wagon!!!  Drinkaware App being deployed!

We had noticed a lovely outdoor Nativity  scene set in a square – Portugal doesn’t bother with taking decorations down soon after Christmas.  Oscar – in his K9ndness – peed on the Nativity scene!!!  Sorry to upset you devout believers – but – the saving grace was – he missed (thank goodness the typing key for ‘p’ is not near the ‘m’ key) the baby Jesus…  

 A lovely place to wander … pretty narrow and cobbled streets and lots of open squares.

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Walking into the centre along the aqueduct and town walls.

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The Porta de Beja with its ‘nora’, Arab water wheel won from the Moors in 1232 … amazing how the wood has lasted!

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The landscape is gently rolling hills with cork, olive trees and cattle.  The hill top towns are really only hill top mounds, but this view caught my eye.  The roof top terrace was crammed with kitsch that looked like lego.

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A really tasty half “dose” (portion) of veal and vegetable stew in one of the many squares of Serpa … and yes, not a drop of vino in sight … that is fizzy organge!

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We had to buy some and I can verify it is truly yummy, if a little whiffy.   “Perhaps the most famous traditional cheese in southern Portugal, Serpa gets its strong scent and spicy flavor from the unique climate, soil and pasture of the Alentejo region. Made from sheep’s milk, the cheese is curdled with vegetable rennet and wrapped in cloth to mature. Inside the natural rind, the flesh is so creamy that it almost spills when cut. Serpa is one of the most genuinely crafted and high quality cheeses from Portugal.”

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And a queijada da Serpa – a cheesecake sort of cake … a bit of a a gastro day.

Now to Luz…. a town completely rebuilt after the Aguavera dam flooded the area in 2002…..

We have rarely, if ever seen a more peaceful wild camping setting near major water – fairly remote – 2 other vans in a large lakeside area – completely peaceful – and a mega beautiful sunset – can our life get any better???    Not a ‘gnat’ within miles…

More about Luz and the dam in our next blog….


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Luz was rebuilt when they flooded the local area … we are right on the lake shore…. as the sun goes down.

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4 thoughts on “59-592: Alentejo Sines to the Hills

  1. Very interesting blog. Beautiful country! I hope you have some form of self protection with you? A gun perhaps? Please stop parking in such lonely spots where possible! Joke about the gun! Or maybe not!!! Xxxxxxx roll on April!

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    • Ouch on weather – we read cold stretching across the SW, but it’s artic in the UK too.
      Do try st agatha’s nipple cake around Siracusa. I started having coffee and cake far too often in Sicily – love the almond flour. And aranchi are the best. No wonder I gained weight! X

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  2. Great descriptions and useful for us who will probably be roaming up that way in a few days. We’re on a Wild West themed paid aire called Route 66. Strange but quite interesting. Van getting fixed by Carlos on Thursday then we’re off. x x

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