Category Archives: Portugal

Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost?

Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost? Here’s a look at the costs, annual and daily, associated with our chosen lifestyle choice. 

(4th September 2016 – 3rd September 2017)

It’s been a full year now since we took the plunge, leaving our professions, friends and family behind for life on the road.  We thought it might be useful to others who may be considering a similar lifestyle change to see, for their planning purposes, how much we’ve spent over a full year, and on what.

Of course, what we’re happy with on the road may not suit you, and vice versa, so we should say first that our spending levels are absolutely personal to us.  Our costs are at a level we’re comfortable with, and they suit our current financial situation; but everyone is different.  If required it would be possible to live on much less, with patience and frugality.  And it would certainly be very easy to spend much more too, if eating out, guided trips and expensive attractions are what interest you on your travels.

We like cooking, so eating out only very occasionally is fine for us.  Most of what we really enjoy doing is free, like hiking in the mountains, wild swimming, cycling off-road or running trails.  The one big exception to this is skiing, which is definitely an expensive week (or two) whatever way you look at it, even if bringing your own accommodation helps reduce the costs a little. We like seeing cultural sites too, but we’ve learned to be selective, as paying into every church, museum, fort, gallery or other attraction we pass would be exorbitant.  We have occasionally volunteered our time at WorkAway projects and these social, volunteer efforts offer a variation that invigorates us, offers a welcome change of scene and keeps our costs for that time at a minimum.  We also have a few winter house-sits coming up which will enable us to live a more rooted, normal life for a time, and allow a more detailed exploration of specific portions of rural France.

General Overall route – Europe map:  (red – first six months, blue – current Scandi tour)Route map - all trips

More detailed country Route Maps: (paper maps marked up by hand)

Our travels during our first year were split into two long trips of roughly six months (France, Spain & Portugal) and five months (Northern Europe and Scandinavia) respectively. We had a month or so in between where we returned to the UK for servicing, maintenance and a catch-up with friends and family.  We sneaked in a quick two week trip to Scotland (no map) during this time too. The Scandinavia trip is still on-going as our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary has fallen mid-travels.

We have tracked all our costs and distances as we travelled, noting down spending and mileage counts at driver changes or stops as they occurred.  We added these to a bespoke spreadsheet set up to record, count and analyse our activities month by month and county by country.  Synopsis tabs with some complex formula then collate each category into, hopefully, easy to understand tables or charts, for a quick overview.  Yes, indeed we do have too much time on our hands.

France / Spain / Portugal trip:

COSTS - FranceSpainPortugal

Scotland Trip:

COSTS - Scotland Tour

Scandinavia Trip:  (note: still on-going)

COSTS - Scandi tour

After the completion of our first six month trip we tweaked the spreadsheet categories a little, adding in new columns to allow for a more accurate breakdown of our spending. This meant the spend percentages between each portion of the trip were not perfectly aligned, but the spend totals remain unaffected and it’s these we have used for this post.  We also added in a column for type of accommodation, to track where we spend our nights.  Here’s a typical (actually, untypically expensive) month from our current spreadsheet (June 2017) , for interest.  (note our serious lack of cycling in Norway!)

COSTS - June 2017

FACILITATING COSTS:
Outside the daily costs of living on the road we also had many one-off or annually reoccurring costs that enabled the trip to proceed initially.  (note: these are all included in the totals and are shown here purely as examples of other costs that you will / may incur)

COSTS - Facillating

This doesn’t include purchasing our Benny (a new Benimar Mileo 201) in the first instance, so the cost of your chosen van, whether new or used, should also be factored in here.  All our ferry costs to and from mainland Europe, or within each country are included within the daily cost totals under the category ‘transport’.

We tracked everything in euros, as this was the predominant currency of our first six months and it made sense to continue with the same base.  All Scandinavian currency spends were recorded in euros at a fixed exchange rate, that of what it was when we first entered the country, so there may have been some fluctuation in value during our time (in either direction) that we didn’t capture.

Our annual totals by portion of year:

COSTS - synopsis table

 This equates to (at current exchange rates) an approximate spend of £13354.00 for our first year travelling in Europe, or an average spend of £36.59 per day, all in for us both.

On the Road spending pie:

COSTS - On the road spending

FOOD – Food from a supermarket/shop. Includes wine & beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & day parking 
EATING OUT – Eating & drinking in restaurants & bars (includes snacks & ice cream)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
CLOTHING – This includes personal items such as clothes & shoes and laundry costs
ENTRY FEES– Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals and other events etc..  
MISC. – All other items not separately designated (from stamps to ski passes)

If we removed all the up-front facilitating costs and only looked at expenditure on the road, we are spending under €950, or £870, per month, and for the incredible experiences we’re having and the beautiful places we are seeing, this seems like a very good deal to us – long may it continue.

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Our first six months – an activity and financial synopsis

Our first six months – an activity and financial synopsis

Following on from our First six months photographic synopsis, we decided to also create an activity and financial synopsis, to record the details of our life on the road to date:

As motorhoming newbies, going full-time in our very first van was quite a scary proposition at first.  Would we enjoy it?  How would we cope with the driving?  Would our budget be sufficient, or have we made any miscalculations?  How would we get on in such close confinement every day?  The answers would only be supplied by time, patience, prudence and experimentation.

We learned not to see our day-to-day life in our van as a holiday, but as a specific lifestyle choice that brings its own trials, complications and rewards.  We gave up a lot of valued possessions, personal comforts and money to gain the time, freedom and frugality we experience on the open road.  Along the way we’ve had our share of difficulties and headaches, made some mistakes, but these normal hiccups in our new lives have been the insignificant parts of a much larger and complex jigsaw puzzle we have been building slowly and rewardingly together over these past six months.

First Six Months - Route

The above image is a rough sketch of our route, from our initial arrival in Dieppe until we arrived back in Dieppe six months later.  In these first 184 days on the road, we have:

  • Driven 7071 miles, in three countries (not including England), for an average of 38 miles per day.  ( France – 3256 miles; Spain – 2756 miles; Portugal – 1059 miles. )
  • Had our fuel costs and driving efficiency (27.1 mpg) average out to around €0.19 per mile
  • Cycled 1040 kilometres, mostly off-road, with 30 outings on our bikes
  • Walked over 500 kilometres (GPS tracked) and more urban kilometres that weren’t recorded

As mentioned previously in our80 days’ synopsis post, we tracked all money spent on the road, because we wanted to ensure this is a fully sustainable way of life for us.  We created an over-complicated multi-tab excel spreadsheet, a good sign of much too much time on our hands, that we used every day to input distances travelled and costs incurred.  We then compared what we spent our money on from month to month and from country to country, and tracked all our outgoings in specifically defined categories, as detailed below:

FOOD – Food bought from a supermarket / shop. This includes wine and beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & parking when not overnighting
EATING OUT – Eating and drinking out in restaurants and bars (also includes snacks and ice creams)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
ENTERTAINMENT – Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals, attractions and other events etc..
Note: This final category also includes personal items such as clothes, shoes, laundry and other misc. items

The current ratio of our spending is as per the image below:

six month finances - including skiing

The final category, the loosely defined ‘Entertainment’, has proved to be the most problematic for us, as it became the place to dump in all costs not otherwise specified.  This category then became massively skewed by the inclusion of a week’s skiing in Serre Chevalier, as this added the equivalent cost of around six weeks of travel into just one week.  If we removed all the main costs associated with our full week of skiing, including purchasing ski chains, lift passes, ski and pole hire and the ski aire camping costs, we would instead have:

six month finances - without skiing

Our ‘by country’ cost averages worked out as:
77 days in France –   €60 / day (inc. skiing)  or €46 / day with skiing trips excluded.
75 days in Spain –     €29 / day
31 days in Portugal -€25 / day

It’s clear that by removing skiing from the equation the general theme remains, as before, that feeding ourselves is the biggest expense, followed by diesel for travel, with every other category of expenses lagging far behind.  But in general, we’re comfortable with our pace, our spending and our level of activity throughout. All is going well and looking fully sustainable going forward.

Our next long trip, beginning in a few weeks at the end of April, is east and north, for a touch of Midnight Sun. We plan to ferry to the Hook of Holland and drive through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark before crossing to explore Sweden, Norway and Finland.  We definitely will continue to track all costs and miles, writing up posts and recording our experiences as we go, keeping active and living as we originally planned.

Our first six months – a photographic synopsis

Our first six months – a photographic synopsis

Over the preceding twenty-six weeks, or more accurately 184 days, we have passed through many stunning places, towns and landscapes around Western Europe.  We have cycled, walked and swam in beautiful and varied locations, covering more ground and staying fitter than we would have during the cold, grey winters of home.  We have eaten well, enjoyed the company of many friendly people, revelled in the noise of busy cities and the solitude of high mountains or rural retreats along the way.  It’s been nearly impossible to narrow each of our adventure-packed months down to only a few choice photos, but that’s the task we set ourselves for this post, to create a quick and colourful, impressionistic overview covering many aspects and experiences in our new life to date.

September 2016 – Synopsis
Day one in France took us to Rouen to see the cathedral, then Giverny and Monet’s Garden.  From there we enjoyed cycling to Mont St. Michel and Dinan, before seeing Poitiers and visiting friends in Chateau-Gontier and Moncontour.  We then relished a few days exploring on Île de Ré.  We headed south to first see Dune de Pilat then Biarritz, before crossing into Spain and stopping at San Sebastian.  Next up were Bilbao and Santander, before we reached the Picos de Europa where we walked Fuente De and Cares Gorge.  Then we headed west along Spain’s north coast, stopping in Gijon, Cudillero and finally Navia where we spent a few relaxing days on a clifftop with our own private beach below.

September 2016 – Photographic highlights

Monets garden, GivernyExploring Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

Avranches park - sketchingSketching in the park in Avranches, France

cycling to Mont st michelEnjoying a long rural cycle to reach Mont St. Michel, Northern France

Ile de Re sunsetBeach walking under an Île de Ré sunset, Western France

A+N Dune du PilatEnjoying the sun and sand at the Dune de Pilat, Western France

Walk 3 - lunch with a viewTrekking the mountains in the Picos de Europa, Northern Spain

Navia - (lunch overlooking bay)Cycling the rugged coast near Navia, Northern Spain

October 2016 – Synopsis
Tapia de Casariego was our next stop, where we cycled and walked portions of the Camino de Santiago, an experience we repeated from Palas del Rei.  We drove the Spanish west coast to Boiro, then on to a rural stop in O Mundil, before crossing into Portugal at Bragança.  We had long, rainy and tough cycles around Meda, Benquerenca and Idanha-a-Nova, before a more religiously influenced route took us through Tomar, Fatima and Batalha.  We reached the Atlantic and west coast of Portugal at Nazare, before following it south to Sintra and Cascais.  We visited Belem and the capital Lisbon and then spent long, lazy days in glorious sunshine at the beaches of Fonte da Telha.

October 2016 – Photographic highlights

Boiro (Az on decking)Chilling on our private decking on the beach at Boiro, Western Spain

O Mundil (skinny dipping)Skinny-dipping in the cold river at O Mundil, Spain

Monsanto (Walk up to castle)Climbing the heights at Monsanto, Eastern Portugal

Batalha (Az at cathedral)Visiting the cathedral of Batalha, Portugal

Sintra Pena Palace from High CrossWalking to Pena Palace from Sintra, Western Portugal

Fonte del Telha - beachfrontLazy days and fantastic sunsets, Fonte da Telha, Portugal

Porto Covo (N playing in the waves)Playing in the wild west coast surf, Porto Covo, Portugal

November 2016- Synopsis
We tore ourselves from Fonte da Telha to visit further beaches at Porto Covo, Lagos and Luz, before turning east to Albufeira.  Skipping the rest of Portugal, we jumped back into Spain and a fantastic city break in Seville. We loved the Via Verde cycling at Puerto Serrano and Olvera before escaping into the high mountains to see Ronda and Casares, where we encountered griffon vultures.  We skipped through the busy Costa Del Sol, preferring to be back into the rural tranquillity of El Torcal, before reaching Granada and the sublime Alhambra. We returned to beach living at Playa La Carolina before reaching Totana and the Sierra Espuna where we climbed beautiful, rugged mountains.

November 2016 – Photographic highlights

Seville (Plaza de Espana reflection)Exploring the beautiful city of Seville, Spain

Olvera (A looks out from church)Cycling and walking the pueblo blanco town of Olvera, Spain

Casares (town from castle)Exploring the town of Casares in the mountains, Spain

Casares (A and n near summit)Climbing Sierra Crestalina and seeing griffon vultures, Spain

Antequera (n in el torcal)Wandering through the amazing rock formations of El Torcal near Antequera, Spain

Granada (view from towers)Exploring the incredible Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Totana (a rest with a view)Climbing peaks in the Sierra Espuna near Totana, Spain

December 2016 – Synopsis
We met up with Nicky’s mum for five days of exploring Murcia, Cartagena and the nearby coastline from our base in Torre Pacheco.  We saw the groovy town of Castell de Gaudalest before arriving in the orange groves of Simat de la Valldigna where we enjoyed many mountain walks. We cycled around Carcaixent before an eye-opening visit to Valencia and a weather-beaten tour of Peniscola.  We briefly visited Morella and hid in the deep quiet wetlands of the Delta L’Ebre for a few days.  We visited Tarragona and  ArtCAVA then had two days in Barcelona in glorious weather, before spending Christmas by the beach in Blanes.  We visited musical Girona and Sant Feliu De Guixols to end our year.

December 2016 – Photographic highlights

Cobaticas (playing in the sea)A fantastic swim and play in the sea near Cobaticas, Spain

Simat monastery (oranges context)Exploring the monastery and orange groves of Simit de la Valldigna, Spain

Valencia (Hemisferic reflected)Walking around the grand city of Valencia, Spain

Peniscola (wild seas)Bracing , wild weather storm in the walled citadel of Pensicola, Spain

ARTCAVA (n tasting with Ramon)Having a wonderful tour and chat with Ramon from ArtCAVA, Spain

Barcelona (sangrada familia) (6)Revisiting Barcelona and the Gaudi masterpiece of the Sagrada Familia, Spain

Blanes (christmas morning on beach)Christmas day on the beach, complete with long swim, Blanes, Spain

January 2017 – Synopsis
Our year began with a beautiful coastal walk from Tamariu to Llfranc, before we headed back into France via Cadaques.  We visited Argeles-sur-Mer, then skied in Los Angles in the Pyrenees.  We saw Cathar castles in Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, before working north through Quillan and Esperaza to Limoux, to visit friends Jan and Andy.  We saw Carcassonne and the Canal du Midi, before heading west to Lagrasse.  A visit to Narbonne was followed by windy beach walks around Gruisson.  Further city visits to Beziers and Montpellier followed, then a long-awaited reunion of Nicky with her French pen-friend in Saint-Just.  We saw Nimes and Saint-Gilles, then drove south to visit a rainy Camargue, before seeing Arles, beautiful Avignon and finishing deep into wine country at Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

January 2017 – Photographic highlights

Tamariu (forest trail)A wonderful New Year’s Day walk along the Costa Brava coast, Tamariu, Spain

Quillan (a with town behind)Overlooking the rooftops of Quillan, deep in the foothills of the Pyrenees, France

Nîmes (a on top ring of arena)Visiting the bullring and central streets of Nimes, France

Gruissan (view from castle)Braving the harsh winds to enjoy the view in Gruissan, France

Béziers (town and bridge)Climbing the heights of Beziers, southern France

Avignon (pont and river)The beautiful city of Avignon, Southern France

Chateauneuf-du-pape (wine tasting)Enjoying many wine tastings in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region, France

February 2017 – Synopsis
We continued enjoying dégustations in Provençal villages, and a truffle market in St.Paul-Trois-Chateaux.  From the peaceful aire at Domaine des Lauribert we next went to Gap, Briançon and onwards to meet friends for skiing in Serre Chevalier.  We crossed the Col du Lautaret to Grenoble, staying at Visieu and Belley where we cycled peaceful canal routes. We visited Vongnes, enjoying wine tastings and nature walks.  We cycled around Dôle, visited Besançon and the quiet lake at Vesoul, before an architectural pilgrimage to Ronchamp cathedral.  We had a few restful days in Charmes, then a busy city visit to Nancy before arriving in Mareuil-sur-Ay in the heart of Champagne country.

February 2017 – Photographic highlights

Ronchamp (front)Our architectural pilgrimage to Le Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp, France

Domain de Lauribert (vines)Quiet walks through vineyards in rural wine country, France

Montbrison-sur-Lez (lavander field)Long walks through the lavender fields of Provence, France

Serre Chevalier (with friends)Skiing with friends in Serre Chevalier, France

Voseul - lakesideRestful parking overlooking the lake at sunset in Vesoul, France

Glandieu waterfallCycling to the waterfalls of Glandieu near Belley, France

Vongnes - miradorCycling and walking through the countryside around Vongnes, France

Lagos, Albufeira and Vila Real

Lagos

Leaving our clifftop vantage in Porto Covo, we drove on, ever southward.  We arrived on the Algarve south coast after a very decent and direct drive, on an arrow-straight and very smooth road running southwards, parallel to the west coast.  We were heading for the resort town of Lagos, where we had a treat in store; Nicky has a friend who has an apartment here, and he very kindly suggested it would be available to us to use as we passed through it was available.  At this point in our trip we had quite fancied a short holiday away from Benny, allowing us to stretch our legs and spread out a little, so this was an ideal opportunity to do so, at least for a little while.

(A big thank you for the lend of the apartment, kind sir, very much appreciated – you know who you are!)

lagos-arrival-at-apartment

We arrived at the complex and located the apartment and keys without any issues.  It was such a welcome change to be in a spacious apartment; all that space to fully relax into, to watch TV for the first time since we left, to complete some laundry; a luxury mini-break from our regular, very tiny home in Benny.  We decanted most of our clothes and possessions into the spacious apartment and, looking around, we wondered how we’d ever get it all back in.  Considering how ruthless we were when leaving, we are still a little amazed at how much we actually have with us, and how efficient the storage in Benny is.

lagos-coast-from-headland

We first explored the apartment complex, but it seemed that the inviting looking communal pool was closed for the end of season, or at least blocked off at the time of our visit, which was a shame.  We walked to the local Praia don Ana, only a few minutes from the apartment door down some stone-built steps, passing a restaurant with a timber walkway leading across the sand.  But a change in the weather caused us to dash back indoors, as rain temporarily stopped play.

lagos-church-on-beachfront

Later, when the sun returned, we wandered down into the centre.  Lagos old town is a pretty whitewashed village, all of uniform appearance and neatly maintained.  It was a bustling town, busy even this late out of season.  There were many restaurants open and all alive with customers.  Walking around we heard lots of British accents, so would assume there are many expats owning apartments in town, and either holidaying, over-wintering or living here permanently; quite a popular resort.

lagos-our-local-beach

With the weather still unsure of itself, we visited a museum in Lagos that was attached to the side of the Igreja de Santo António, and housed a very varied collection of artifacts related to the local area.  There were Bronze Age arrow heads, models of fishermen boats, coin collections, life-size models of local peasants, a real patchwork quilt of items and curiosities that combined to create an impression of life through the ages in the Algarve.  But the interior of the church itself was the most striking element; fully gilded on all faces, intricate carvings of saints and cherubs formed the backdrop to the intoxicating gold envelope.  The friezes and statues told the stories of St. Anthony’s life and his reported miracles in an impressively garish fashion.

lagos-santo-antonio-church

lagos-marina

Being on the more protected south coast rather than the wild west, the sea water was warmer and noticeably flatter allowing, we hoped, greater opportunities for swimming in the calm blue. But swimming and beach time would be on hold until the weather behaved.

Instead, we undertook a very damp coastal walk, following the cliff edge with views of eroded stacks and archways, thinking it would be very interesting to kayak around this coastline.  We got caught in several heavy showers, with the intervals of bright sun between drying us off just before the next deluge struck.  It was never cold, and in many ways quite refreshing, but did distract a little from the coves and rock formations below.

lagos-typical-coastline

There was a slightly scruffy feel to the clifftop scrubland, and an aged 1970’s feel to many of the nearby buildings.  Whilst it was out of season, a lack of maintenance around the town was evident, and many unfinished construction projects looked either on hold or abandoned, potential casualties of the 2007 crash.  The outskirts of the town were littered with crumbling concrete skeletons, awaiting further works or deserving only demolition.

The rain stopped as we walked back, and we were treated to a surprising window of sunny weather, the brightness and temperature immediately lifting.  We were intending to head back to the apartment, but instead detoured back onto our local beach and had a refreshing 400m swim around a lonely orange stack set out beyond the surf.  Having a notional goal to aim for definitely makes a swim more focused and motivated, in this instance a loop around a fixed marker, rather than swimming short lengths parallel to shore.

Drying off, we noticed a scruffy young beachcomber with wild hair and a deep tan passing us, then spotted him later climbing up the cliff face into a shallow cave where clothes and provisions were visible.  It looked like he was living in the cave, camping on the rock face, and this made us curious as to his story and reasons, but we never did find out.

luz-arrival-in-resort

luz-beachfront

One day we cycled, in a roundabout way, to the village of Luz, a nearby beach resort, for a day out and a change of beach scene.  We found some nice off-road tracks that led through a half-finished but beautifully neat golf resort, offering a little insight into where the real money in tourism is focused for this region of Portugal.  We locked up the bikes and sat on the beach for a while, but despite the sunny day there was a sharp crosswind that was quite chilling, so disappointingly we never made it into the water for our expected swim.

luz-beach

luz-getting-ready-for-the-beach

We passed some beautiful, bespoke houses built in a small cluster that had no surfaced road leading to them, with high-end cars having to carefully drive over roughly stoned sand, pitted and potholed, to get to their immaculately finished long driveways.  This smacked of an unresolved dispute with the original builders or developers, as the short road between each driveway was finished, but not the final 800m or so connection to the main road.  The one downside of the day was that we continued to be aggressively barked at and chased by slavering dogs when cycling in rural areas; not a pleasant experience.

lagos-long-beach-walk

lagos-view-back-to-lagos

The following morning, we decided to go for a long walk along the Lagos promenade and Praia Meia, the largest beach in the Lagos area.  The dander took us from the apartment through the old town, to the marina bridge and along the wide, golden beach.  The sea lapped gently on the sands, with small waves breaking neatly on the deposited lines of shells. We walked on the sand to the large stone walls protecting the shallow inlet bay behind, a distance just over 8km one way. Here we approached the small red and white striped lighthouse on the end, where fishermen were quietly plying their trade on the rocks.  We found a small ledge on a rock sheltered from the wind but in full sun, and sat here to enjoy the sea view, our packed lunch and the sun’s heat warming our faces.

lagos-walking-to-lighthouse

lagos-fishing-boat

On our return we watched the pedestrian bridge at the marina open to allow a tall sailboat through, before making our way back, again through the lively old town centre.

lagos-marina-bridge-opens

Albufeira

After leaving the luxury of a spacious apartment, we moved a little distance along the coast road to visit the next renowned resort on the Algarve – Albufeira.  Our resting place this night was a large commercial aire on a roundabout on the outskirts of town.  It was a practical stopover place, with wide bays and all necessary services, so suited just fine as a base to visit the resort town, albeit a reasonable half hour’s walk to the main centre.

We had a walk around the town and along the beach front, remembering all the reasons why we don’t really do beach holidays, at least not package tours to resort towns.  It’s a pleasant enough place, but restaurant touts and club promoters everywhere made it feel much too focused on taking our money rather than allowing us to enjoy the visit.

albufeira-main-beach-from-cliff

albufeira-n-on-beach

We walked along the beach a while, which looked nice from a distance but wasn’t actually very clean; there were discarded plastic bags and takeaway wrappers alongside whatever other debris the sea had deposited.  After a short distance we decided to cut back up some graffiti-covered steps to the high level promenade and back into the town, then made good use of some external escalators to bring us back down to the town level behind.

Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Moving on from Albufeira, we decided to move faster east and so we skipped the remainder of the Algarve, heading close to the Spanish border, stopping near to the town of Monte Gordo.  We spent our last night in Portugal in a rather forlorn aire in Vila Real de Santo Antonio.  An interesting town in some regards, rebuilt on a grid design after being destroyed by an 18th century earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, but the aire near the harbour was not located in the most salubrious part of town.

The aire was busy with many who were staying long term, and we couldn’t think of a more unsuitable place to pay to live – after all the wonderful free aires we’d passed, and other beautiful cheap campsites we’d visited, we couldn’t fathom why others would wish to remain long term in such an obvious ‘stop-over only’ place, all gritty, dirty and noisy.

vila-real-main-square-and-church

vila-real-a-in-main-square

We had a short cycle, perhaps 12km or so in total, into the local large town of Monte Gordo.  Besides from a long, impressive stretch of beach, we saw little of real interest, and it had the feel of a summer resort town that had closed up shop for the winter.  There was little life around, and few people, so we returned to Vila Real and awaited the dawn.

Thus endeth our travel adventures in Portugal – next stop, España.

Fonte da Telha and Porto Covo

Fonte da Telha

After leaving Lisbon, we headed south in search of solace and tranquillity.  We found it at the end of a long, dusty, unpaved road.  With a rough, bumpy and difficult approach leading along the sea front, this quirky, run-down but vibrant village was once a beach resort-of-sorts.  The surroundings consisted of small beach-fronted restaurants that spilled down onto the sand, punctuated with palm trees.  Many were closed up at this time of year, but a few remained open to mop up the small dribble of visitors still managing to find themselves in this out of the way place.

fonte-da-telha-benny-on-seafront

fonte-da-telha-early-sunset

We parked up with a sea view out the front window, our nose less than a metre from the edge of the beach, facing due west.  From here we enjoyed the repeated pleasure of incredible sunsets, perfectly visible from inside Benny, or from just sitting quietly outside overlooking the water.  Occasionally we would walk down to the water’s edge to watch the reddened waves roll in up close, and listen to their gentle lapping.  We luxuriated in long, slow days on the sand, only metres from both our motorhome and the sea, and the weather remained at a constant 28 degs C during the days of our stay. It was a great, quiet spot to unwind fully.

fonte-da-telha-early-mornng-teas

fonte-da-telha-evening-beach-walk

One morning we decided to exercise our restless legs and we walked along the incredible extent of beach, over five miles long.  We discovered that, a mile or so from where we were parked up, a specific stretch of the sand was designated as a nudist beach. We passed quite a few walnut-skinned sun-worshippers taking full advantage of this designation, as they had for many years according to the evenness of their tans.  Beyond here, very few people had made the effort to reach this end of the beach, so we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful golden sand all to ourselves.  The high cliffs set behind the beach were yellow ironstone, similar in colour to Northamptonshire stone.

It was in Fonte da Telha, finally, that we enjoyed our very first meal out, some 55 days into our trip.  This premier event took place in the ‘Cabana Bar’ on the seafront.  This was a great, quirky little bar with friendly staff and a real laid-back vibe. We had a burger and fries with a large beer each for €20. Then we had an additional beer each to celebrate the rarity of the occasion; quite the luxury for us.

fonte-da-telha-long-beach-walk

fonte-da-telha-cabana-bar

The next day we walked to a local shop, on Sunday, to buy bread and wine, like a humanist communion.  It was 28deg C, the day before Halloween, and much too hot for sunbathing.  The waves were also too large for swimming.  On our return, we watched surfers in the water, and one sole stand-up paddleboarder riding a few waves, showing great control on such a large board.  We overcame our reticence and joined them in the water sans board, splashing and jumping in the large waves, our joviality punctuated occasionally with a longer swim out beyond the break.  The only downside of this was the loss of my favourite goggles after momentarily letting down my guard and falling foul to a sneak attack by a rogue large wave, just as I was leaving the water; a slightly disappointing end to a day’s play in the surf, and a search of frothing waves turned up no sign of them.

fonte-da-telha-n-at-sunset

fonte-da-telha-sunset

Although we spent only three days and nights here in total, time slowed down and we became the quintessential beach bums.  With us fully recharged and relaxed, our wanderlust grabbed us again and we decided sadly we needed to move on, further down the coast to another beach resort.  It would be all too easy to linger, but there’s always some place else to see.

Porto Covo

After a long drive south, racking up bills on the toll roads with abandon (€14.50 over two separate charges for this stretch) we found ourselves back in civilisation, of sorts.  The aire just outside the town of Porto Covo was quite full, with around twenty motorhomes parked up on the clifftop, enjoying the wonderful views to the sea. We joined them, finding a spot near the edge, before having a quick walk to the edge to look over our new local beach.

porto-covo-our-local-beach

porto-covo-typical-village-building

After settling in, we walked into town to have a quick look around.  It was silly hot, around 25degs but sticky, humid and draining, so we walked slow, exploring the tidy streets and neat squares.  Porto Covo was an absurdly picturesque village, with most buildings painted in a uniform white with blue trims to windows and doors.

We relaxed on our new local beach to read a while; my third book in six days now underway.  Again we watched the huge waves crashing wildly against the sand, enjoying the power of the ocean, and let ourselves be battered by them.

porto-covo-selfie-on-the-beach

porto-covo-n-playing-in-the-waves

The next morning we decided to cycle south along the coast, exploring other coves and quiet beaches, with the hope of locating an idyllic one to claim for ourselves. From the centre of town we descended and forded a small sea inlet at a point where it was a miniscule river, then had to endure a steep, rocky climb back up to the neighbouring cliff top.  Dusty gravel tracks kept us close to the coast from where we could see all the nearby coves and sandy bays, enabling us to keep an eye out for which might become our beach spot for an hour or two.

porto-cove-coastal-cycle

We were initially attracted to a nice sandy cove and cycled to the edge of the beach, before having a walk about to explore the area.  It was entirely deserted, all but a few footprints from an earlier dog walk. Swathes of sandy beach were interspersed by jutting rock formations segmenting the beach into what would be several separate areas with the tide higher.  Our idyllic spot was shaping up nicely and we quickly changed from bike to beach clothes, yet when we returned to the bikes a noisy campervan had driven down to the edge of the grassy bank directly behind the spot we’d chosen, ruining our tranquillity and privacy.  With this beach no longer to ourselves, and with a sudden weather change and the sky clouding over like a dark grey sheet, we decided to continue our cycle.

porto-covo-on-the-way-to-beach

porto-covo-clifftop-vantage-point

As we got back onto the coastal path, we were greeted by more ominous dark rain clouds overhead, both in front and behind us.  It was not to be a chilling beach day after all, so we called short our cycling explore and returned to Porto Covo to relax for the afternoon.  Later had a brief spell on our own local beach, having fun getting battered by the powerful Atlantic waves as we played in the surf, before sitting on the rugged clifftop overlooking the bay and reflecting on a lovely couple of days in the company of beautiful Porto Covo.

Lisboa and Belém

Lisboa (Lisbon) and Belém

From our base of two nights at the clifftops above Praia da Crismina we reluctantly moved on, to see Portugal’s premier city, Lisbon.  Finding parking in large towns has previously proven difficult, so we were pleased to find an aire located adjacent to a train station, just three stops out from the centre.  We drove the short distance to the district of Belém, about 12 miles from our beach, on the outskirts of the capital, where we were able to park for free.  There were posted signs saying no parking for autocaravanas, but there were already 10-12 parked up, so we joined them in defiance.  From Belém, it cost just €3 return on the train to Cais de Sodre, the central train station of Lisbon; combined with the free parking, this route into the capital was ideal.  Just as we completed our ticket purchase the train arrived at the platform, so our transfer into the city couldn’t have gone smoother.

lisbon-n-in-square

lisbon-central-plaza-fountain

For a European capital city we had been expecting to encounter swarms of people in the centre, both tourists and locals.  Yet the volume of people encountered initially was pleasingly insignificant; it barely felt like a city at all.  We walked along the water’s edge, past a utilitarian marina, to reach the Teffeiro do Paco, a good starting point for our visit.  There were concentrated pockets of tourists here, along with a long line queuing to visit the tourist office, which we didn’t join.

lisbon-street-tram

We walked up through narrow streets to the entrance of the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a castle we had already admired, that overlooked the city centre from its high vantage point.  Here we discovered the drawback of a capital city that is also a large port; hordes of tourists gathered in small groups had descended on the city from a recently docked cruise ship.  They blocked up the road, the paths, and bolstered the queue to the ticket office to such an extent that it looked to take up the entire square.  Between the crowds, tuk-tuk taxis weaved, created waves of people moving sideways, like enthusiastic spectators at a lively gig.  After our previous weeks of rural living and tranquil solitude, we had no desire to compete with the cruising multitudes and gave up the idea of visiting the castle. We left again in an indirect way, threading through empty residential side streets, finally weaving our way back to the sea front.  Here we enjoyed the playful three-dimensional façade of the Fundação José Saramago.

lisbon-3d-facade

lisbon-central-plaza

We meandered around the narrow streets of the old town and the wider boulevards and plazas of the more cosmopolitan area, our eyes and ears absorbing the new city experience.  We appreciated the plaza commercial’s impressive facades with few tourists around.  We enjoyed watching fountains spout water out against the blue sky with the sun casting a rainbow over the ruined abbey in the background.  We passed a large lift that transported queuing tourists to a bridge leading to ancient Roman ruins.  Quaint, old-fashioned trams rolled past us on narrow cobbled streets, adding a certain bygone era charm.  We watched locals watching us from their tiny cafés.  It was certainly pleasant enough to wander through, but there was always a nagging thought that it should, somehow, be slightly better, more polished, than it was.

lisbon-lift-tower-to-ruins

All large cities are inevitably under constant pressure of refurbishment, redevelopment and rebranding, and Lisbon was no exception.  Some areas looked in dire need of remedial works, and many other areas were currently in the process of being repaired.  There were, it seemed, many more areas looking dilapidated than completed.  This could have been a lasting effect of the financial crash and the consequent austerity issues suffered in Portugal, although it was good to see some works underway now.  Perhaps we unluckily arrived at a poor time; paving and road resurfacing contracts may all be administered to begin in November, with it being out of season so fewer tourists, with cooler temperatures to provide ease of working for ground crews.  Who knows?  But we were left with an overall impression of Lisbon being slightly tired, rundown and somehow smaller than other European capitals we’ve visited.

belem-monastery-elevation

lisbon-monastery-facade

After we’d explored the main parts of the old city we made the easy return train journey to Belém.  Rather than returning to Benny, we continued along the esplanade to explore the impressive sights of this city suburb.  We walked directly to the impressive gothic monastery with its beautiful attached cathedral.  This was the highlight of the city visit for us; the way the sun lit up the intricately carved doorways and façade.  We continued down past the Maritime museum before looking around inside the Modern Art gallery, which housed a collection of Pop art, Cubist and Abstract works from minor, tangential European movements and artists.  We proceeded to the stone-built Torre de Belém, set close to the riverside.  Here we passed lots of entrepreneurs selling various cocktails, wines and snacks to the passing tourists, and impressively offering free wifi to customers from their bicycles and trolley stalls.  From here it was a short walk back past a working marina to Benny, completing our quick overview of the city of Lisbon.

belem-tower

belem-around-maritime-museum

Overall though, we were a little disappointed with Lisbon.  This may have been because we still had our ‘beach bum’ heads on and the crowded hustle contrasted starkly with the casual freedom and laziness of our previous few weeks.  Or it could have been a consequence of bad timing; arriving at a time when the city was being repaired and upgraded and thus not looking its best, or when it was under siege from a horde of cruise ship invaders.  Or maybe we didn’t give it the time it deserved to grow on us.  But whatever the reason, we were happy to have seen it, and also happy to move on.

fonte-da-telha-beach-view

So off we went, over the bridge and south to an even more tranquil beach location at Fonte da Telha.  This spot was only twelve miles from Lisbon, but a world away in terms of atmosphere, crowds and tourism – time to relax, again.