Castro Marim

Jo’s Monday walk : Frolics at the Fair

Back in the Algarve, the round of Summer festivals was still in full swing on my return.  Even though I’ve been many times before, the Medieval Fair at Castro Marim is quite irresistible.  The village, with its mighty twin castles, comes alive to a skirl of pipes and rhythmic, marching feet.  Every conceivable vantage point is occupied for the parade- some of them quite precarious.  I was one of the hypnotised audience.

But first, a wander through the streets and stalls to see what’s new.  I don’t seem to be able to escape colourful electricity boxes these days.  In Castro Marim the eyes follow you everywhere.  It’s just a little disconcerting.

But once you’ve paid your couple of euros admission to the festival you can leave them behind.  I disdained a cardboard crown.  It didn’t offer the same protection from the fierce rays of the sun as my wide-brimmed hat.  I did foolishly buy earthenware mugs to sup from.  What to do with them when your hands are full?  Balance them on a wall, and hope.  A lesson learned for next time- don’t buy, or bring a bigger bag!

Of course, there are plenty of craft stalls and you might just spot that purchase you really need.  Or you can sit awhile, under a canopy, and absorb the sounds and smells and watch folk drift by.  Someone is sure to offer you a bite to eat, and distractions are plentiful.

It feels like the whole village joins in, from the smallest girls, proudly paraded by parents, to mature gents and their ladies, delighted to don costumes and smile graciously at the watching crowds.  Promptly at 3, banners and band turn the corner and the entertainment begins.

Interaction with the crowd is part of the fun, and stilt walkers stride menacingly around, while tumblers joke and totter through the streets, two of them frolicking with a large green ball.  There is a menagerie of animals, from carefully controlled hawks to an endearing goose girl, from goats tugging at their leash to grouchy camels.  You can’t help but be drawn in by the atmosphere.

But let’s tear ourselves away for a while!  The parade will continue on and up around the castle, pausing for a little showmanship, and to rest the legs from the wearying cobbles.  Many entertainments later there will be a banquet within the castle walls, but for now I’m needing a quiet place.

I did mention that there are two castles at Castro Marim.  The fortress of Sáo Sebastiáo is rarely open to the public, and broods over the town in silence.  A former stronghold of the Knights Templar, it is used for demonstrations of combat during the festival, in a very low key way.  The ruins are treacherous underfoot in places, and a steep climb up from the village, and this tends to keep the crowds away.  If you’re looking for a breathing space, coupled with wonderful views, this is the one.  Just take it slowly.

High on the walls you have views of the salt pans and, far beyond, to neighbouring Spain, across the River Guadiana.  You can well imagine how all conquering it must have felt, looking down on your enemies from here.

Did you notice the pile of saIt in front of the bridge?  It’s harvest time for the salt in summer, and everywhere mounds have been raked into the sun to dry. Castro Marim uses this asset uniquely in the winter.  A beautiful nativity scene graces the village hall, the bed of salt crystals on which it lies looking for all the world like snow.

You can spend as much, or as little, time as you want at the Medieval Fair, and of course there are cake stalls.  I’m not going to indulge you this week, but the fair runs for 4 days in late August, and I can highly recommend being there, if you can.

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Time to introduce a few more walks.  Many thanks to my regular contributors, and to those of you who’re just passing by.  Join me any time here on Jo’s Monday walk.  I’ll try to make you welcome.

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I do love a good cascade, especially in Debbie’s company :

A lakeside locomotion in Chisinau

Alice takes us to a windswept beach :

Georgia’s Peach of a Beach

A free walking tour, with Mel, that I know you’re going to love :

A Winter Wander in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Lady Lee shares another gem from her tour of Japan :

Sensó-ji and Meiji Jingu

And you know there’s always time for food at Jackie’s place :

Street Food

I can rely on Drake for humour and good company, in some of the most beautiful settings :

Old but still with attitude

But you will seldom see a more beautiful walk on here than this share from Ann-Christine :

Thursday Thoughts – Centre of the Earth

It never ceases to amaze me, the beauty on our doorsteps.  I’ve borrowed this, Lynn.  Hope you don’t mind?

Local Walks: Tofoni at Larrabee

I end, as so often, counting the footsteps with Cathy :

(Camino day 35) Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo & ruminations (week 5)

That’s it for another week.  Hope things are good in your part of the world.  Take care till next time.

Jo’s Monday walk : Todos a Caminhar!

Something a bit different this week.  We’ve often remarked that we seldom see Portuguese people out walking, as we stride around the countryside.  Maybe they don’t regard it as a leisure pastime, or are simply too busy earning a living and looking after their families.  It obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed because, a few months ago, we came across an initiative called ‘Todos a caminhar’- walking for everyone!  Sponsored by local councils, it aims at promoting better health in the community.

Each Sunday morning, at 10.00, a different venue across the Algarve hosts the walk.  A couple of Sundays ago we turned up for the one at Castro Marim, a beautiful village right by the River Guadiana.  I had visions of tramping through the salt pans with flamingos wings beating the air all around me, but it was not to be.  Coaches had arrived from all across the Algarve and, there in front of the sports pavilion, a sea of people did variations on a ‘warm up’.  Unphased, we joined them, and off we all surged, on the road out of the village, but nowhere near the salt pans.

Almost immediately we were in open countryside, in an area unfamiliar to us, and surrounded by chattering groups of Portuguese.  Determined older ladies and their gents, who were keen to show they still had what it takes, groups of giggling teens, singles striding away, everyone using up those calories so they could enjoy a really good, late Sunday lunch.

A right turn took us up a hill, in the direction of Vista Real, and so it was, a royal vista.  Once we’d gained height, far across the fields I could just make out the outline of the mighty castle at Castro Marim, with the Guadiana beyond.  As the hill dipped again there was an option to collect a free orange and a bottle of water, and complete a shorter circuit of 3.5km.  Fitter individuals could tackle the longer 10km course.  Well, what do you think?  In for a penny…

It was a blustery day, with rain threatened, the scudding clouds encouraging us to pick up the pace.  The group was well spread by now and we were keen not to be last.  There were arrows marking every junction and cheerful helpers riding back and forth, ensuring no-one had come to grief.  After another steep climb, with views of the salt pans, there was a second opportunity for water and an orange.

A couple of horses, probably bored with the sparse grazing, took an interest in us motley passersby.  The route climbed through the village of Monte Francisco, a few characterful older properties and a sequence of mostly new villas.  Locals nodded a polite ‘Bom dia’.

The best views of all were afforded to the Castro Marim Country Golf Club, a swish establishment with as extensive and beautifully laid out golf links as any I’ve seen.  However, nothing surpassed my first sighting this year of a cistus in flower.

Smiling down the home strait, the blossom twirling in the breeze, I enjoyed the placid cows and the ruin.  Soon we’d come full circle, and finally I sighted my first flamingo.  And where there’s one, there’s often another, isn’t there?  Not quite as I’d hoped.

It took us about an hour and a half to complete the 10km.  We marvelled at the scale of the operation.  Not all are as big as this one.  There were ambulances on hand, in case anyone over exerted themselves, and everywhere, smiling, happy faces.  Best of all, the rain held off, the clouds blew away and afterwards we treated ourselves to delicious tapas on a lovely sunny corner in nearby Vila Real de S. Antonio.  Life could surely be worse!

So much variety, here in the Algarve!  I hope you enjoy sharing it with me.  Come back next week because I have something rather wonderful to share.  Meantime, thank you very much for your company, and if you have a walk you’d like to share with me, please feel free.  Details, as always, are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Please do visit as many of these walks as you can.

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Mosaics, history and emerging Spring in Israel from Lisa this week :

Shoham Forest

Meg takes us time traveling through the twists and turns of her beloved Australian landscape :

Aragannu

Let Amanda take you back in time with the amazing Pergamon Museum in Berlin :

Finding Heine and Treasures in Berlin

Still shivering with Irene in the Midwest!

Chilly Reflections

And heavens, Janet almost disappears in the snow!

Monday walk… winter walk

How about some warming stew with Jackie?

El Guisado Stew

And you can usually rely on sunshine from Lady Lee :

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

My good Danish friend is giving us an easy option this week.  Thanks so much, Drake!

Walk the easy way

But Cathy doesn’t know the meaning of easy.  Go along with her and Mike, and just enjoy yourself!

Prague, Czech Republic : exploring Mala Strana

This one won’t take long.  You have to love Tobias’ sense of humour!

A tour of the Academy

Thanks again to you all for spending time with me.  I have another busy, but sometimes lazy, Algarve week ahead.  Take good care!

Jo’s Monday walk : Enchanting Castro Marim

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The period just after Christmas can be an enchanting time to be in the Algarve.  Especially if you are lucky and the skies are awash with blue.  Each of the towns and villages have their own Presepio de Natal or Nativity scene, and these vary from life size models to much simpler displays in a church, or a shop window.  I hope to share a few of these with you, but today we’re taking a short walk to find a rather special one.

You may remember Castro Marim as the scene of a remarkable Medieval Fair each August.  The town lies right at the border with Spain, looking out over the River Guadiana.  Alongside the river lie a series of centuries old salt pans.  A high quality salt is harvested here and, for the first time ever, 3 tons of it have formed the basis of the local Nativity scene.  It is a startling and beautiful sight.

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The detail is extraordinary.  The trees are delicately crafted from wisps of plants, and every conceivable craft is depicted in amongst them.  Did you notice the pumpkin patch, and the birds protecting their eggs up on the rooftop? And the storks aloft upon the chimney?  You probably need to click on the gallery for a closer look.  If you like, you can throw a few coins, in appreciation.

The Presepio de Natal is very conveniently and easily signed from the main parking area in Castro Marim, and takes place on Rua 25 de Abril. Maybe a date for next year’s diary?  But as we are here in the centre of town I’m sure you’d like a look around.  Any potential kings among you?

Climb the steps to the Igreja Matriz and you have sweeping views of the town and its surrounds. You can peep through the grills of the church at the regal azulejo panel, and spy on the locals hanging out their washing.

A little meandering will bring you within sight of the gardens of Revelim de St. Antonio.  You cannot miss them because they are crowned by a windmill.  But first I have to warn you, there’s a bit of a climb.

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I was delighted to find that the restaurant at the summit was open.  Can you imagine a nicer spot to linger over a coffee laced with cream?

It made the climbing a few steps entirely worthwhile.  I hope you enjoyed this gentle saunter. I’m saving the strenuous stuff for later.

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Thank you all for your patience.  I have tried to pop in on a few of you but, if I’ve missed you, please accept my apologies.  I’m travelling back to the UK today so my responses won’t be immediate but I’ll get there as soon as I can.  Meantime, pop that kettle on!  You have some fine walks to enjoy.

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Nothing beats a canalside stroll in my book.  Thanks for being so patient, Anabel :

Glasgow canal walks

Jackie’s been out and about chasing a bit of magic :

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

And Woolly had a grand time ‘In Brugge’.  There are some beautiful images!

Jo’s-Monday-Walk_16-9-Brugge

Jo’s-Monday-Walk 17-01-Brugge

It gets pretty cold in Bavaria but it’s so beautiful!  Thanks for sharing, Lady Lee :

Freezing in Freising 

Much warmer where lovely Becky was.  We managed to meet up again in the Algarve :

It maybe midwinter but it doesn’t feel like it

I thought I’d lost Susan, but fortunately she has kept right on walking :

Walking with Vultures

And Violet Sky’s been busy looking for bargains at Honest Ed’s :

Honestly

What would a walk be without Drake for company?

Hjem til Aarhus

And the ‘other’ Susan has some lovely ideas for strolling in New York City :

Take a Stroll with Me Through Rockefeller Park

Isn’t it kind when people remember you when you’re far away?  Thanks, Elaine :

Glen Finglas Reservoir

Hope the new year is progressing well for you.  See you soon with more walks and reminiscences.

 

Castro Marim Medieval Fair (2)

Looking down from the fortress walls in Castro Marim

Looking down from the fortress walls, in Castro Marim

In yesterday’s post I left you looking out from these walls to the border with Spain.  Beneath the castle, tickets were going on sale for the Castro Marim Medieval Fair.  8 euros bought you an earthenware cup (to fill with your tipple of choice), a cardboard crown (one size fits all- or almost!) and entry to the castle.  The streets were starting to fill up, and it seemed a good time to browse the stalls, before the entertainment began.

Click on any photo to view the gallery 

Any fair maidens aboout?

Any fair maiden needing a headdress?

A skirling of pipes and the thunder of drums had me glancing over my shoulder.  Look out- the excitement is just about to begin!

Here they come!

Here they come!

Such focus!

Such focus!

Just time to immerse myself in Arabia before the next group!  Exotic teas, cakes, sweets, nuts and magic lanterns.  A cornucopia of delights!

A little more music!

A little more music!

The stalls are full of enticements and exotica, and the hand-crafted furniture is enough to make a maiden swoon into a finely carved seat.

But for all the razzle, these are my favourites

But despite all that dazzles, the lady in blue is my favourite

At this point it becomes impossible to focus on shopping.  The parade has arrived- an amazement of  stilt walkers, tumblers, weird and wonderful costumes and masks, and the most hypnotic and enigmatic of magicians.  I am enthralled.

But this guy stole the show for me

This guy stole the show for me

There was just something about him!

His skills defied the camera!

Food stalls tempt and wonderful aromas waft, but dusk is about to descend and the time has come to mount the steps to the castle. Yet more entertainment is planned for the evening.  What else can there be?

The scene from the church steps

The scene from the church steps

I won’t discourage you by showing the number of steps and the cobbles, shiny with age.  But take it slowly, wear sensible shoes, and the excitement and momentum will carry you there.  Once through the ancient gates, a Medieval world appears before your very eyes.

There's always a Fool!

There’s always a Fool!

The scene is set

The scene is set

And the sinking sun adds to the spectacle

And the sinking sun adds to the spectacle

Up on the castle walls, I look down on the church

Up on the castle walls, I look down on the church

And then back at the setting sun

Then back at the setting splendour

The air is thick with the scent and smoke of barbecuing meat.  More and more people throng into the castle.  Small faces look up at me, aglow with the lamplight and the excitement, clutching tightly to a parents hand.  Shadows flicker on the walls.

Beyond the wall the moon gently glows over the salt pans

Beyond the wall the moon gently glows over the salt pans

There is courtly dancing, a banquet to eat (but the queue for tickets is long!) and later the promise of medieval combat and jousting, but it’s time for me to slip away, sated with the day.  Down in the streets the party is in full throttle and people continue to arrive.  I am seduced by the notion of sangria of figs.  Just one small indulgence before I go.

And the dance goes on!

And the dance goes on!

This is the second part of a post that I have linked to the Capturing History Challenge and I hope that you’ll take a look.  I couldn’t help but smile, though, when I saw that the Daily Post challenge this week is entitled Happy Place, a place to escape to and ‘recharge your groove’.  Most of you who know me are well aware that the Algarve is my happy place.  For 51 weeks of the year the village of Castro Marim is an oasis of peace and calm. Perhaps you can use your imagination and make these people disappear.

Apologies to my Six Word Saturday friends.  I won’t be taking part tomorrow.  I hope you can join me on Monday for a walk instead.

Castro Marim Medieval Fair 2015 (1)

The castle at Castro Marim

The castelo at Castro Marim

Seldom have I seen such a sleepy little place so transformed, and yet you have only to look at these fortifications to know that Castro Marim has a turbulent past.  Situated at the cut and thrust of the Portuguese border with Spain, the Medieval Fair brings back to life the mighty fortress of São Sebastião.  In the 14th century the castle was a stronghold of the Knights Templar, but it fell into disuse when additional fortifications were built on the hill opposite, in the 17th century.  The fortress is seldom open to the public so I was delighted to find it playing a major role in the festival.

If you’re interested in the history of Castro Marim the link will tell you more.  For myself, I’m going to take a quiet stroll, before the crowds descend.

The church is looking wonderfully festive

The church is looking wonderfully festive

You can click on any of the galleries below to see the photos in more detail.

These steps won't be empty for long!

These steps won’t be empty for long!

Time to ascend the steps to the fortress

Time to ascend to the fortress, above the village rooftops

You can see it was built on solid ground!

You can see it was built on solid ground!

The view across to distant Spain

The view across to the castle, and in the distance, Spain

It was a sultry day and not hard to get into the mood.  From within the fortress came grunts and clangs, the ‘masters’ putting the youth through their paces.  A smattering of people looked on, choosing a favourite.

Who will come off best?

Who will come off best?

I was astounded by the thickness of the walls

I was astounded by the thickness of the walls

The bridge to Spain is just visible

The bridge across the River Guadiana to Spain is just visible, behind the castle

I’m ready to saunter back down into the streets, where the parade is about to start.  Before I do, I’d like to link this post to Ed Mooney’s Capturing History Challenge, which I’ve been meaning to join for a week or two.  He’ll explain how it works to you, and I’ll be back tomorrow with the parade and a look inside the castle.  Join me then?

Castro Marim and the estuary

It’s an odd thing!  Castro Marim is one of the most peaceful spots I’ve ever come across.  Yet standing there, glowering, at the top of the hill, is a monumental castle.  Part of the ramparts that once surrounded the town provide wonderful contrast in the domestic scene above.

Looking out from the battlements across the broad sweep of estuary, the town of Ayamonte, on the Spanish side of the River Guadiana, looks like many another.  But as your eyes travel along the shore, you might spot the fortifications at the top of the town.  This is the pattern all along this river, a natural boundary between Portugal and Spain. Like pugilists, ready to punch and counter punch, these two nations have squared up to each other down the years.  But today, thankfully, all is peace.

The castle walls and main church of Castro Marim

The castle walls and main church of Castro Marim

Castro Marim is a sleepy place, with one ancient street that straggles up towards the castle.  The nature of the shoreline and the shifting sands of the Algarve has much to do with this.  The first settlement here was back in the Neolithic period when Castro Marim was much closer to the sea than it is now, and surrounded by shallow waters.  For thousands of years Castro Marim was a port that offered shelter to the ships that sailed up the Guadiana to collect copper from inland mines. Romans and Phoenicians settled here and such was its prosperity that Castro Marim was connected to Lisbon by a Roman road.

The castle and fortified wall that surrounded the medieval town date from the 12th century, when border disputes had become commonplace. Castro Marim subsequently became the headquarters of the Order of Christ, but went into decline when these were transferred  to Tomar in Central Portugal.  The castle fell into disrepair and was replaced by the fort of São Sebastião on a hilltop on the opposite side of town.   The shifting sands did little to help the economy.

Today tourism has found Castro Marim in a small way.  New housing surrounds the old town.  The Architectural Museum in the partly restored castle tells of a fascinating past.  But essentially the town is as self contained as ever, only rousing from its slumber each August for the Medieval Fair.

A typical townhouse

A typical townhouse

Looking across the rooftops to the town wall

Looking across the rooftops to the town wall

And down from the church steps

And down from the church steps

Gardens in the newer part of town

Gardens in the newer part of town, and the Chapel of S. Antonio

With fountains and a windmill

You may remember that I mentioned Castro Marim in A gift from the sea.  You can gaze down on the salt pans of the nature reserve from the castle walls. And if you’re really lucky, you might catch a sight of the flamingos, stretching their wings in flight.  For a better chance of seeing them, try my walk through the salt marshes.

Flamingos on the salt pans (courtesy of Mike Bradley)

Flamingos on the salt pans (courtesy of Mike Bradley)

Where to next?  Maybe a tidal mill, or we could hop across the border.  Or even join the smart set at Vale de Lobo.  But not for golf.  Come along and see.

“A gift from the sea”

A salt mountain, carefully harvested.

A salt mountain, carefully harvested.

One of the best things about visiting the Algarve off season is being able to take long walks.  The 12km circular of the salt pans at Castro Marim Nature Reserve was one of the highlights of my recent stay.

The sapal or salt marshes are a special feature of the Algarve.  It is one of the few areas where harvesting sea salt, begun in Roman, or even Phoenician times, continues today.  There is an art to skimming the salt crystals off before they grow big and heavy enough to sink to the bottom.  The end product is mineral rich, though needing hours of toil in the heat of Summer.  The distinctive sight of the salt pans, evaporating in the sun, always fascinates me.

I loved this landscape

The wide, flat landscape of the reserve

And suddenly, taking off across the water...

Then suddenly, a white stork takes off across the water…

Maybe to visit this nest?

Maybe, to visit this nearby nest?

The walk starts off, without too much promise, along an unsigned dirt track which doesn’t appear to lead anywhere. Olive and carob trees line the neighbouring field. In the distance, across the salt marsh, you can see the towering piles of salt and the refinery.  As you head towards them a river appears on your right.  Beyond it, in the distance, hovers the sleepy town of Castro Marim, its mighty castelo perched high on the hill.   The twin peaks of the road bridge, which crosses the River Guadiana into Spain, are barely visible.

The salt mountains beckon across the lagoon

The salt mountains beckon across the lagoon

Can you see the flamingoes in the foreground?

Can you see the flamingos in the foreground?

They were everywhere on the salt marshes

They were everywhere on the salt marshes

And seem very content to be there

Seeming to be busy, and happy to be there.

In the distance, across the river, the hilltop fortress of Castro Marim

In the distance, across the river, the hilltop fortress of Castro Marim

And just faintly you can see the bridge to Spain, across the Guadiana

And just faintly you can see the bridge to Spain, crossing the Guadiana

I’m not very knowledgeable about birds, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the quantity of them, indulging in this salt spa.  Heron, white storks, spoonbills and egrets are common sights.  The landscape seems vast, but it is not until you reach “the gate”- the entry to the saltworks- that you begin to realise just how far you are from your start point.  And to wonder how you will get back there.

The infamous "gate".

The infamous “gate”.

It's not only the flamingos that flourish here

It’s not only the flamingos that flourish here
This family of horses

This family of horses seem quite at home.

The horses are wearing bells round their necks, as were some cows we passed earlier.  Maybe, because they have young?  In 2000 hectares of salt pans, there’s a lot of wandering to be done!

According to the guide book, the next landmark is a pumping station, a far off speck on the horizon.  Arriving here is when the adventure really begins!  You turn left, into the salt pans themselves.  The book warns that you must never deviate from the track to attempt a shortcut, as many are dead ends.  If you tire and despair of making the end, you should turn around and retrace your steps.

This last section is a bit of a leap of faith, as it crosses the pans on an overgrown, narrow ridge, and does not appear to have an ending on dry land. It does, though, of course.  It feels quite surreal being out there, surrounded by water and sky.  It’s a little tricky underfoot- a mix of smooth, hardened mud and shrubs- but well worth the effort.  Nor did I want to contemplate retracing my steps, by this stage!

All seems peaceful and calm

All is peaceful and calm

And then, that magical moment when the flamingos take flight!

And then, that magical moment when the flamingos take flight!

The ultimate magic, as you pick your way around the reserve, is that moment when you approach a flock of birds.  Seemingly minding their own business in the salt pans, they obviously have one eye cocked for nare-do-wells.  Panic, or simple good sense, sends one of them into the air, and in seconds the sky is full of beating wings.  Those pallid-looking flamingos have the most glorious crimson underside to their wings, and the sight of them above me, at full stretch, is one I will never forget.

In a world where sky and water are as one.

In a world where sky and water are one

And the horizon seems far away.

And the horizon seems far away.

The book I was using was “Algarve Walks” by Julie Statham, walk no. 22.  It has been revised and reprinted a number of times and I have quite an old copy, so there may be some variation.  It’s not a difficult walk, but if you don’t fancy the last part you should retrace your steps from “the gate”.  Don’t even think about doing it in Summer- there is no cover whatsoever.  And don’t forget the bottled water!

I’ll be taking you to Castro Marim another day.  You’ll like it there!