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!

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31 comments

  1. Good post. In 1976 before the road bridge was built I crossed the border from using the twenty-minute ferry link between Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal and Ayamonte in Spain which was the only way to get across.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I knew you’d have been there! I quite like Ayamonte, though we mostly just pop over with new visitors to show how easy it is (and the obligatory Spanish omelette of course).

  2. i never heard of this place but it sure is an interesting land to walk on!

    i wanna share to you my travel experience in Maitum, a province in Philippines. I hope the you will read this, and please hit the comment box and tell me your opinions (the writing style, content, etc.). You are also free to share it at your site, reblog, or tweet it. here is the url. http://tourshereandthere.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/maitum-sarangani-the-two-day-trip-that-should-have-been-a-lifetime/.

    PS, you may follow me on twitter @kloydskii.

    A million thanks!

  3. Amazing photos of a very beautiful place. I love the colorful buildings. Thank you for telling and sharing your trip with us.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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