Alcoutim

Walking on water

I’ve done and seen some wonderful things down the years, but I never had any thought that I could walk on water!  For one thing, I’ve never worn a halo.  Water wings would be more useful.  Nevertheless, last Saturday I found myself joining a queue to walk across the River Guadiana- a distance of approximately 720 metres- from Alcoutim, on the Portuguese side, to Sanlucar de Guadiana, in Spain.

Alcoutim is normally a sleepy little place and, over on the far shore, the enticing white village of Sanlucar is even quieter. If you have any desire to cross the river, you first have to summon a ferryman, who may or may not be located somewhere near his craft, but will always greet you with a friendly smile.  Not so on this occasion.  The ‘Festival do Contrabando’ was in full swing and, even as I walked down towards the river, I could hear the hubbub of the crowd.

Entertainment was in full swing, with a feisty matador swinging his cape at a ‘burro’ as the band played on, and the crowd cheered as clay pots were hurled through the air and skilfully caught.

This was not the Alcoutim I knew!  I eased through the crowd to the ‘ticket office’, where I purchased the mandatory bandana, for my admission fee of 1 euro.  I joined the queue to cross the river, wondering at what rakish angle I should wear it, and why some were wearing red ones when the vast majority were blue, like mine.  Just then the washer ladies arrived, and I was scolded gently and treated to a rub with scented soap.  I obviously wasn’t clean enough to join the party.

Slowly the queue shuffled forward, controlled by customs officers, of course.  The red bandana folk caught the ferry.  Maybe they had a pressing engagement in Spain.  I followed the washerwomen, laughing and calling out to each other as they flounced ahead.  The moment finally arrived and I stepped out onto the pontoon, trying not to look concerned as it wobbled.  What a bizarre sensation!  The river lapped gently all around me and I rolled slowly with its motion.  Gasps and giggles came from my partners in crime, as we staggered towards the middle of the river, not quite believing in what was happening.

Fortunately it was a calm day.  I think I might have felt a little seasick otherwise.  As it was I had assumed the rolling gait of the mariner by the time I reached dry land.  And a huge smile split my face.  I had walked on water!

Over in Sanlucar de Guadiana the antics continued.  Flamenco, involving the crowd and a very attractive ram.  A good time for all was guaranteed.  I wended my way past wondrous craft stalls to a quiet corner where I could survey the scene.

A mooch among the stalls and it was time to join the ever growing queue to return to the other side.  A few clouds had rolled in and there was talk of storms brewing, but fortunately the weather stayed clear and dry all weekend.  One last look back, and I’m home.

For a fuller account, including the story of the ‘last smuggler’, all of 97 years old, read Becky’s An unusual walk into Spain.  That’s it from me, as my son arrives tonight.  I’ll be back with a walk on Monday, 15th April.  Take good care till then!

Jo’s Monday walk : Following mountain goats!

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Now don’t be too alarmed!  It’s not as bad as it seems, and if you really don’t have a head for heights- well, you can tak’ the low road, and I’ll tak’ the high road.  To be completely truthful, I was out of my comfort zone for a short while, but we can blame the partner for that (and he’s not here to defend himself).

The area along the River Guadiana is wonderfully peaceful at most times of the year.  In places the road stays quite close to the river, making for a lovely scenic drive.  But, of course, you have to get out of the car to admire the scenery properly.  You never know quite what you’ll find.  Parking alongside the tiny village of Laranjeiras, our first discovery was the ruins of a Roman villa.  Not a lot to see, but the remains appear to date back to the 7th century.

Strolling into the village, life seemed to centre around a little riverside cafe, from which you could watch the occasional boat mooring at the jetty.  A couple of youngsters indulged in that age old pastime of skimming stones.  Entertainment for me presented itself in the form of a boatman, with a delivery of tarpaulin for the little boatyard.  His antics, trying to find a convenient space to offload his cargo in the minute space, kept me happy.

The moorings at Laranjeiras

The moorings at Laranjeiras

Never content to sit for too long, I had a mooch about while Michael consulted the map.  A path seemed to lead up the hillside and run parallel to the river before dipping back down at the next village, Guerreiros do Rio.  Gamely, we set off.

But not before I had admired this 'Maypole' in the village

But not before I had admired this sign of celebration in the village

And soon we're out of the village looking down

And then we climbed out of the village, and looked down

There wasn’t much sign of the path and it was a bit of a scramble.  Stopping to catch breath, we heard a tinkling sound, and suddenly two dogs burst out of the scrub.  They darted to and fro, rustling between them a magnificent herd of goats.  Sighting us, the creatures pressed on, with nervous sidewards glances.  The goatherd gave us a nod, a third dog rounded up the stragglers, and the pack headed for home.  Happy to have found a proper path, we followed them.

Keep moving boys- they're watching us!

Keep moving boys- they’re watching us!

The trail rolled off across the hills, but we were quite happy to take a branch that led back down to the riverside.  Enough of adventure!

All was calm down on the riverbank

All was calm, down by the river

It looks dry, doesn’t it?  It had been a long, hot Summer and was still very warm in early September.  Just around the bend we reached the next village, Guerreiro do Rios.  Time for a drink!  As usual, I left Michael sitting in the shade, while I went off to explore the back streets.

When I returned, one of those village cats had attached itself to Michael and was greedily begging the ham from his toastie.  Good job he didn’t have the tuna kebabs he’d been fancying!  Strangely, the cat was not at all interested in my glass of delicious white.  I didn’t have time to hang about because I had discovered that the Museu do Rio was open! (the link is in Portuguese but you can translate it if you like)

We had passed the sign before, but never gone into this small museum, tucked away from the road.  Here was my opportunity!

And interactive displays too

There were interactive displays

Telling the history of life on the river

Telling the history of life on the river

A lot has been achieved in the space available.  I chatted to the nice young lady at the till, who sold me a ticket for 1.50 euro.  This was also valid for admission to the castle at Alcoutim, a few miles up the road.  A bargain, I thought!  The museum is open daily except Mondays.

For us it was time to amble back along the riverbank, occasionally stopping to admire passing craft.

Back to our start point

Back at our start point

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

I hope you enjoyed our little Algarve adventure.  It’s quite easy to just walk along the road and back between the two villages, if you don’t want to go following goats.  It’s not a busy road.  The riverside junction leading south from Alcoutim is the easiest way to find the villages.

Don’t let anybody tell you that the Algarve is just a strip of boring beaches, will you?  Not in my experience, anyway.

walking logo

And now it’s time to turn our attention to other people’s walks.  Thank you so much to all my contributors.  You take me to places I might never reach on my own.  Anyone is welcome to join in, and it’s very straightforward.   My Jo’s Monday walk page has all the details.  Just click on the logo above.   Let’s put the kettle on and settle in for a good read, shall we?

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Benches actually have several uses in Anabel’s world.  Highly useful on a walk!

Balloch benches

Fancy taking the train?  Let’s go to Montreux with Drake!  No regrets, I promise :

Heaven for everyone

I gather there has been lots of rain in Texas, but Amy’s found some sunshine :

Monday Walk : Texas Countryside (Part 2)

A lady I’d never heard of next, but an interesting post from Jackie, in Canada :

Laura Secord

Demonstrating her versatility, Violet Sky finds us some very scenic caves!

Seeing the caves

So many lovely things to discover in Tasmania, thanks to Ruth :

Taroona Coastal Path

I need to pull my socks up!  I haven’t even made it to Amsterdam yet, and here’s Rotterdam looking so beautiful!

Rotterdam in a Day (part 1)

We’re joined this week by Fifi and Hop- isn’t that a great name?  Please go and say ‘hi’ to Corey!

Walkway over the Hudson : World’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge

Indra at Trav Trails certainly covers some ground.  Can you keep up?

Four Cities and an Island

Geoff’s Dog has had a poorly paw, so we might have to slow down a bit on this one :

The Capital Ring- Highgate to Stoke Newington

‘Do you want this walk’, asked Meg?  You HAVE to be joking!  Wait till you see it!

Eurobodalla beaches : Bingie Beach North

Come and sing some Bruce Springfield with me?  I love this song!  Thanks, Kaz :

Travel Album : Philadelphia 

Nearer home, I don’t think I’ve been to Anglesey!  Have you?  Looking good!

Flashback Walks : Holyhead Mountain

And it’s simply impossible not to enjoy one of Tish’s posts!  Look and learn!

It’s a wonderful world

As Jaspa demonstrates, on his trip to South America :

Cartagena, Columbia : UNESCO World Heritage Site

But you don’t have to go past Worcestershire for beauty- or pretty much anywhere on Jude’s blog!

Garden Portrait : Arley Arboretum

Aren’t they a fantastic selection?  Thank you very much everybody!  I’m off to the Lake District on Thursday, celebrating another birthday, so hopefully I’ll have an English walk for you next week.  Have a great time till then!  Monday Escapes is on again this week if you’d like to join in.

G is for Guadiana

My next post seems to flow quite naturally from my recent trip across the Guadiana River.  More than 800 kilometres long, if you look at it on a map it’s very clear that the bulk of this river is in Spanish territory.  It rises in Castile-La Mancha and shortly after the Spanish city of Badajoz, turns south, forming the border with Portugal for most of the remainder of its length.

Guadiana’s origin- from Wikipedia Commons

It’s this southern area that I love, and with which I’m familiar.  The Guadiana glides out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the river mouth a brief ferry ride connects Ayamonte on the Spanish side with Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal.  The difference between the two cultures is tangible, and the time difference simply serves to accentuate this.  Unless you time it carefully you will frequently find that Ayamonte is engaged in a prolonged siesta when you arrive.  The elegantly tiled main square and pretty calles are still worth a stroll, but remember to switch to buenas dias when you order your tapas.

Main square, Ayamonte

A street corner in Ayamonte

Vila Real de Santo Antonio (as opposed to Vila Real in the north) is one of the architecturally more interesting towns in the Algarve.  Demolished by a tidal wave following the 1755 earthquake, it was rebuilt on a grid plan by the Marques de Pombal.  Using the same plan he had pioneered in Lisbon’s Baixa district, the rebuild was completed in just 5 months.  The attractive main square bears his name and is often the scene of lively cultural events.

I love to stroll along the mosaic tiled river bank, picking a favourite yacht from the dozens moored in the extensive marina.  4km to the north, the arcs of the bridge linking Portugal with Spain are clearly visible.  In summer a very pleasant boat trip can be taken up the Guadiana, to the Foz de Odeleite, where a restaurant and refreshing swimming pool await.

River front at Vila Real de Santo Antonio

The swift and often empty IC27 runs north from Vila Real to connect with Alcoutim, the next town along the river.  Alcoutim has a long history as a river port.  It was fortified by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs, and the commanding castle dates from the 14th century.  Not much battling goes on these days and Alcoutim is a delightfully sleepy spot to simply sit and stare.  Across the river, idyllic Sanlucar de Guadiana looks back.  If you can catch the small ferry, a wander through Sanlucar’s immaculate white streets is a lovely distraction.  Restoration is taking place on the castle ruins so that might prove a rewarding trip for the future.  The Romeria takes place the first weekend in May, for a feast of flamenco frocks. Just ask Flat Ruthie.  She’s been!

Alcoutim from the river

Sanlucar de Guadiana from the river bank at Alcoutim

The banks of the Guadiana are wonderful for walkers, and the riverside road back down towards Castro Marim, from Alcoutim to Guerreiros do Rio, is one of the loveliest I have ever driven.  For now though, continue north on the N122, over the border into the Alentejo.  Set high above the Guadiana, at Mertola, are the mighty ruins of yet another Moorish frontier castle.  The region is home to the rare black stork and little other than birdsong disturbs the peace, though copper was once mined locally.  At the top of the winding streets the mother church, Igreja Matriz, looks down.  Behind the altar on the eastern wall the mihrab (prayer niche) testifies to her former life as a mosque.

Mertola hilltop fortress and Igreja Matriz

North of Mertola the river carves through a deep gorge with limited access by road.  For intrepid types the reward is the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and some remarkable rock formations.

Despite a lot of opposition to the project initially, the Alqueva Dam today presents a serene surface.  It’s a developing market for gentle boating holidays.  The 250square metre reservoir was created by damming the Guadiana, causing substantial loss of natural habitat, not to mention the compulsory relocation of the hamlet of Luz.

One of the best vantage points for viewing this vast expanse of water is the tiny hilltop village of Monsaraz.  It has to be one of the most charismatic places I’ve found in Portugal, and believe me, I’ve found a few.  Within its fortress walls there is essentially just one street, Rua Direita, with a village square, two churches and a castle, topped by the Torre das Feiticeiras (witches tower).  Following Moorish occupation, it became a stronghold of the Knights Templar.  Strangely the fort now contains a small bullring, which comes into its own for the annual village celebrations.  The festive fireworks must be visible for miles.

The Guadiana from Monsaraz

Monsaraz, remote and interesting on a grey November day

From here the Guadiana continues north, swinging a right into Spain, through Badajoz and Merida, and is, sadly, lost to me.  This is, after all, my A-Z of Portugal.

If you would like to join Julie Dawn Fox’s My personal A-Z challenge, just follow the link or click on the banner below.  It doesn’t have to be about travel.  If your passion is food or books you can still join in.  We have an A-Z of Art on Alyson Sheldrake’s The Thought Palette and and lately an A-Z of Films by DML Designs.  Be as creative as you like.  Read my posts on my A-Z pages.  Hope you’ll enjoy!

A day with Flat Ruthie in Portugal and Spain

Who better than Flat Ruthie, with her keen observational skills, to accompany me on a short foray across the border?  For a number of years the snow white village of Sanlucar de Guadiana has been calling to me, across the still waters of the Guadiana.  The village of Alcoutim, on the Portuguese side, is blessedly peaceful, but I always wanted to look back at it.  Mission accomplished!  With a little help.

Alcoutim, with a little help from a friend

Just minutes later the breeze caught her and she’d fallen out of a tree!  She was gallantly rescued from the rocks by my husband, looking daggers at me.  It’s a good job a Flat doesn’t bruise easily.  Maybe a beach umbrella would be a better option?  Softer landings, anyway.

Johanna, am I quite safe here? And by the way, it prickles!

Into my pocket she went, just for a little while, so we could have a proper look around, without her blowing away.

Such a delightfully pretty place

Can I be in this one, Jo please? I just love castles.

Just a minute- what’s happening here?

Ah, now I understand. It’s a festival!

We chatted to a lovely local lady who explained that the village of Sanlucar and the village higher up the hill. El Granado, compete in a yearly festival.  The procession would be lead up the hill by the mayor, with a floral cross and a donkey, to a meeting place, where the fun would begin.  What luck!  I hadn’t known anything about it.

In all their finery.

Such a patient donkey! And such lovely little boys.

Side saddle and very elegant

Incognito?

Take me with you!

And then they were gone, and our lovely villager was heading off to get changed to join in the fun herself.  The village was effectively closed to business.  We waved to the ferryman and crossed back to Alcoutim, where we sat with a drink and watched as the procession slowly mounted the hill.

The riverside cafe at Alcoutim

Of course, Flat Ruthie wanted to see another castle and flirt with the fountains a little, but that was fine by me.

New fountains at Alcoutim

Castro Marim main square with church and castle

The orange blossom is choking me!

A drink before we climb those steps? Is my foot stuck?

But it wasn’t!  The funny thing was that we had gone to Castro Marim expecting a festival to be taking place, and with the promise of an Algarvian goat contest.  The place was quiet as can be.  Reading the leaflet later, my husband pointed out that the festivities were actually taking place in a village called Azinhal, “near to” Castro Marim.  Ah well- something for another trip.  All’s well that ends well.

Many thanks Big Ruth for loaning me your little gal, and for your wonderful idea.  To join in and read Flat Ruthie’s other adventures, you should contact Cardboard Me Travels.  She even ventures to Hartlepool marina you know.