Jo’s Monday walk : Party time in Ayamonte

You could be forgiven for thinking that I don’t really like living in Portugal at all!  Here I am, hopping on a ferry and crossing the border to Spain, yet again.  Actually, I was trying to salvage a day that was rapidly turning into a disaster.

Not for the youngsters, and Spanish families, though.  Owing to my bad timing I managed to completely miss the traditional Three Kings procession at Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the Algarve last week.  They had already ferried across to Ayamonte when I got there and not a trace of them was to be found in the sleepy streets.  Portuguese families were quietly strolling, sipping coffee in the cafés and contemplating lunch.  In a vain effort to catch up with the action, I persuaded the other half that we too should ferry across the Guadiana.

The atmosphere couldn’t have been more different in Spain!  It felt like the whole world was on the streets, out for a thoroughly good time.  A party was brewing and each and every plaza resounded with lively Spanish chatter.  But still no sign of the Kings!  Taking a breather from the hubbub, we climbed steps through the old side of town to look down on the river.

Back at ground level, everyone seemed to be walking in the same direction, the noise level constantly rising.  Tempting to take refuge for a while in the tranquility of the marina, overlooked by a faded sunset drama.

From across the street another mural smiles at me, inviting despite her tattered appearance.  As people settle into bars and reach for another beer, I begin to realise that I am not destined to see the parade.  The sun is already sinking low in the sky and the last ferry will be leaving soon.  It’s a short ride across the river but a long walk back by road!

Time to make the best of the situation and simply enjoy a beautiful sunset ride home, on a warm and lovely January evening.

Next year I promise to be better organised.  Did you notice, we didn’t even stop for cake? (though I did pick some up to nibble on the ferry  🙂 ). If you’d like to know more about the celebration, this link gives a little background.  Right now I have walks to share.   Join me next time on Jo’s Monday walk?  You’ll be more than welcome.

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Say hello to Natalie!  She’s doing her best to get us all fit this year :

Wellness Post #1 : A Fresh Start

Suzanne’s not trying quite so hard.  Coffee and cake, anyone?  And beautiful scenery too, of course :

A Walk around Mt. Maunganui Mauao

There’s no doubt that Carol’s right!  The waterfront at Vancouver is the place to be :

In the Right Place

Is it Winter somewhere in the world?  Apparently so!  Drake’s tracked it down for us :

Live and let’s snow

No such problems at Alice’s place!

Outdoors in January

While Geoff launches a series of fond memories with his Dad :

Walking With The Wind At My Back : Part One

Jackie always seems to have a plan or two up her sleeve :

New Year Appetizer

And Anabel has always just been somewhere interesting and beautiful :

Hebridean Hop 18 : Vatersay

More amazing architectural explorations with Cathy, this week :

Chaco Culture: Pueblo Arroyo & the Casa Rinconada community

You may not wander far but, if you look, you can always find something interesting.  Pauline and Jack set a fine example :

Lens-Artists photo challenge : Curves in Buddhism

Next week I shall be sharing purely Portuguese almond blossom.  For now my attention is seriously distracted by Australian Open tennis and the return to play of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.  Have a great week, won’t you?


Jo’s Monday walk : Alternative Ayamonte


It seems strange to be blogging again.  The even keel with which I was sailing seems slightly out of kilter.  When I visited Ayamonte I had no idea that Dad was ill.  With my usual exuberance I was seeking out a less well known aspect of this intensely Spanish town, visible from the Algarve across the River Guadiana.  The ferry journey is part of the attraction for me, and I love to watch as the white houses draw nearer and we nose into the quay.  An hour has slipped away on the 10 minute crossing, and a different culture awaits.


Maybe you remember A little side trip to Spain ?  This time I had my eye fixed on the church at the upper level of the town, San Salvador.  Looking back, the road bridge follows me into Spain.  The shoreline leads past an enigmatic statue and a severely embattled boat hull.

Beyond the boatyard a network of noisily inhabited streets open out.  The Spanish greet and call out to each other in a tongue more harsh than I’m used.  I exchange shy smiles and try to remember that ‘thank you’ is not ‘obrigada’ in Spain.

Ayamonte has changed hands between Portugal and Spain a number of times in its history.  The name is thought to come from the mound on which the settlement was built.  The Romans knew it as Aya Montis (or Mount Aya).  Beyond the modern apartments The Templo de San Francisco beams indulgently.  Once it belonged to a Franciscan convent, founded in 1417.

The street is nothing if not colourful, and my eyes wander from rooftops to doorways and back again.  I am particularly taken with a fully tiled jade green building, balconies gleaming with cool elegance.  I anticipate plenty of customers for the fish restaurant.

Turning the corner the street narrows and starts to ascend.  Still looking up and down, the random delight of spouting gargoyles, serpentine door knockers, a subtle school and the indisputably Spanish window grills.  A senhora pours water down the gutter and languid chat ensues.

Halfway up the street I encounter the mystery of El Boqueron.  A chapel and a huge well denote the place where an underground tunnel links the former castle at Ayamonte with the Portuguese town, Castro Marim, on the other side of the Guadiana river.  The passage is about 300 metres long and runs from the area of the well on Calle Galdames.  It is part of a sewerage network, channeling rainwater and domestic water from homes.  A large trough ripples gently in the bright sunlight.

I knew nothing of El Boqueron in advance and, not being fluent in Spanish, it wasn’t until I returned home that I could unravel this mystery. Incredible to think of this structure, used as a hiding place in war time, beneath these tranquil streets.

Continuing upwards, finally I reach Plaza del Salvador.  The magnificent pink-belfried church of San Salvador dominates the square. All is silent and the church closed, so I cannot verify the lovely Mudejar ceiling from 1400, nor climb to the belfry for the fine views.


Beyond the plaza the modern world intrudes, overlooked by the remnants of a fortress.  I make my way back down towards the waterfront and make one final discovery, on Calle Marte.  The bull ring, resolute in its presence, though I could never have persuaded myself to witness its spectacle.

In Ayamonte eventually everyone gravitates towards Plaza de la Laguna, and so do I.  The restaurants surrounding the striking square hum with Spanish lunchtime chatter.  In a quiet corner, children choose an after dinner treat from the sweet shop.  The assistant solemnly awaits the outcome of this most important decision.


For me it’s time to return to Calle Muelle de Portugal for the ferry crossing back to Vila Real de S. Antonio.  I hope you enjoyed my visit to Ayamonte.  Further details can be found in this Ayamonte guide, and in the link to El Boqueron.

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Thank you so much for your kindness and for the many messages of support I have received.  Dad had a fine ‘send off’ and I’m doing my best to adjust to life without him.  It’s what he would have wanted.

I’m back in business for walks this week so if you have any you’d like to share I’d be grateful.  As usual details are to be found on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo above.  Meantime please enjoy these select few :


Becky does find interesting subjects for her walks.  Don’t miss this one!

Unexpected and fascinating art on Howland Street

And equally unexpected and interesting from Yvette.  I almost missed this one!

Walk with Jo : Food and cast iron (SC Flea Market Part 2)

I passed by this place on a long ago trip to America.  Let Elaine show you around :

Hearst Castle

‘Your money or your life?’  Nope- that was Dick Turpin, wasn’t it, Becky?

Waylaid by Captain Kidd on the Thames Path

Take care of yourselves.  I hope to be out and about visiting you all soon.


A little side trip to Spain


I never like to have things hanging about in my ‘Drafts folder’.  I’m not an organised, scheduling sort of person though, heaven knows, it would be an improvement!   But this little side trip keeps smiling sadly at me from it’s lonely position in there.  Unfinished, until now.  So, with a flourish, let me present Ayamonte.

Remember my kings, strolling through the streets of Vila Real de S. Antonio on the Algarve’s eastern edge?  They were smiling and throwing sweets to their loyal subjects, as any good king should at Epiphany.  And then they boarded the ferry for Ayamonte, in Spain.  Just 10 minutes on the ferry, but a lifetime apart culturally and in temperament.

Ayamonte, seen from the ferry, is a simple whitewashed Spanish town.  At close quarters it reveals its medieval side in narrow streets and historical buildings.  This is Huelva province, and there is no shortage of Andalucian flamboyance.

The approach, by ferry

The approach, by ferry

Such pretty tiles around the fountain

Such pretty tiles around the fountain

Life is so colourful

Life is so colourful

Even under a cloudy January sky

Even under a cloudy January sky

The bronze dome pierces the clouds

The bronze dome pierces the clouds

I love the colour and the tiles yet it always surprises me how very different Ayamonte feels from Portugal, just a wave away, across the water.  The road bridge over the River Guadiana now links the two, for speedy access, but I prefer a gentler approach to the culture change.

A canal runs away from the Guadiana, around the old side of town and past a park at which I don’t look too closely.  There are animals caged there in an environment I would never choose for them.  A new boardwalk has been laid and there is an air that the town is thriving.  Not the case in much of Spain, nor Portugal, for that matter.

Beyond the canal, the older side of town

Beyond the canal, in the distance, the older side of town

And so I’ve had my little flirt with flamenco.  Back on the ferry now, and home to Portugal (and those crazy, likeable kings).



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!