Portugal

Six word Saturday

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Where

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have

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 you

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seen

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 this

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 before?

Don’t recognise it?  It’s Tavira in the Algarve, but I’m home again, with that pocketful of memories.  You know I love to share, so here I am, participating in Six word Saturday.

Have a beautiful weekend, wherever you are, and don’t forget to join Cate at Show My Face.  Just click on the logo, or the links.

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‘M’ is for Monsaraz

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I’m going to struggle for photos for this post, because I visited Monsaraz on a damp, if not soaking wet, day!  Seems to be a recurring theme on here lately, doesn’t it?  But such was the impact it made that I loved it anyway.  Some day, I hope to return and see it like this.

So will you excuse me for borrowing from Wikipedia?

So will you excuse me for borrowing from Wikipedia?

It must have been an anniversary or a special occasion, because I was sitting at a table in “A Ver” when I first heard about Monsaraz. This Tavira restaurant is named for its view down over the rooftops and the prices are more than we would normally pay.  But treats are treats, and so I happened to be sitting at the next table to a couple whose evening was interrupted by the wife’s mobile phone. The wife excused herself and was gone for some considerable time.

I can’t remember what prompted me to start the conversation, but before too long the husband was telling me about this beautiful place that I must see for myself.  The fact that it was a 4 hour drive or more seemed insignificant to him.  And so Monsaraz nestled in my imagination until I could make it a reality.

The town square and pillory on a sparkling day- @ Wikipedia

The town square and pillory on a sparkling day- from Wikipedia

The “Rough Guide”, always my bible, confirmed what I wanted to hear.  Monsaraz is a tiny, hilltop, walled village with sweeping views across the Guadiana to Spain.  It’s name comes from the Iberian word for Cistus landifer, the Gum Rockrose.  Xaraz thrives in dry, acidic slate-based soil, thus Monte Xaraz was a hill surrounded by Rockroses.

Monsaraz is one of the oldest settlements in the South of Portugal, and there are many menhirs and neolithic remains in the area. Due to its strategic location, there was certainly a fort there before Roman occupation.  Then came the Moors, and in 1232 it became a stronghold of the Knights Templar.  In 1640 it was refortified, during the Portuguese Restoration War and the border struggles.  Then land reforms and the growth of farm estates heralded change.  These days Monsaraz is no longer embattled, but there are still signs of the past.

The castle and keep- @ Wikipedia

The castle and keep-  from Wikipedia

In late October 2009 I journeyed north from the Algarve, across the wide, empty plains of Alentejo.  My destination lovely Evora and proud Elvas, but on the return leg I knew I would visit Monsaraz.  The weather was autumnal this much further north.  Leaving Elvas I headed directly into a rainbow and travelling south the weather steadily deteriorated.  I clung tenaciously to the hope that I would be blessed with a patch or two of blue sky, but it was not to be.

I stepped out of the car under leaden skies and looked up at the castle walls, and then out across the Guadiana.  Nothing could prevent an idiot grin settling on my face.  I grabbed Mick by the hand and started up the slippery damp cobbles, and through the narrow archway in the walls.

Looking out from beneath the town walls, across the Guadiana

Looking out from beneath the town walls, across the Guadiana

Medieval Monsaraz has only one main street, Rua Direita, with the village square at its centre.  The Inquisition House and the pillory point immediately to troubled times.  I was more intent on escaping the chill as I slipped inside the Chapel of Sao Bento, with its serene warmth and frescoes.  The main church, Nossa Senhora da Lagoa, was closed.  Climbing up to the castle walls, in a light drizzle, I felt I had reached the summit of a watery world.   The plains below had been flooded by the creation of the Alqueva Dam, boating heaven in Summer and a vast body of water.

The castle is topped by the Witches Tower (Torre das Feiticeiras) and within, the unexpected sight of a bullring, complete with tiered seating!  Currently it’s used for Festivals and fireworks, so no sad bulls.  As the rain increased its pace, tiny Cafe de Cisterna provided shelter, warm turkey pies and a slab of delicious cake.  Despite all that water outside, a drinking supply for the villagers had required a huge cistern to combat the blazing summer sun.  It was just visible through a barred window and then the weather really did drive us away.

A castle in spades!

I had planned a leisurely route back, crossing over the dam by a bridge to Mourao, but visibility was so poor that I had no choice other than to agree as Mick pointed the car due south.  In a couple of hours I was back under the blue skies of the Algarve.

I’ve found a site with some lovely atmospheric photos of Monsaraz, if you click on this link.  And you can get a better look at the whole trip on my E is for Elvas, and Evora.  It wasn’t all rain!

Meantime it’s thanks again to Frizz for prompting me to respond to his Tagged ‘M’ and to Julie Dawn Fox for the Personal A-Z Challenge.  And many thanks to you for reading!

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‘L’ is for Loule

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The market town of Loule

The peaceful market town of Loule

Loule to me means just one thing.  Carnaval!  This quiet inland market town in the Algarve is no Rio de Janeiro, but it knows how to party. For over 100 years they have celebrated the beginning of Lent with Carnaval, Portuguese style.  No shortage of dancing girls either, though they often have to dance hard to keep warm.

Bring on the dancing girls!

Bring on the dancing girls!

Carnaval 2012 was a classic, and I made a surprising guest appearance!  Fortunately I was very easily overlooked in the crowd. Numerous photos of the Carnaval floats, of a distinctly political but humorous nature, appear in my post ‘C is for Carnaval’, so I won’t reproduce them all here.  The town’s main street, Avenida Jose de Costa Mealha, is closed for the event and there is a small charge. Don’t miss it if you are in the neighbourhood!

Normally Loule (pronounced Loo-lay, incidentally) is rather more sedate.  One of the most distinctive features of the town is the Arab style market, pictured in my first photograph.  Smaller shops surround the market stalls and it is a treat for both eyes and nose.  On Saturday mornings an open air market takes over the outdoor space too.  Parking becomes no easy matter.

On my first visit to Loule I remember having to search for the remaining fragment of the town walls and the 13th century castle, but I liked what I found. Entrance to the walls is through a small museum, which traces the town’s history back through Roman to medieval times.  It has the vaulted brick ceilings that I love.

The older part of town is fairly compact , and the narrow cobbled streets reveal artisan workshops and some lovely craft shops. Following the twists and turns you will come to a small square containing the town’s main church, Igreja de S. Clemente, and a tiny garden, Jardim dos Amuados, an ancient Arab cemetery.

Loule’s main landmark is visible from the A22 motorway when driving past the town.  Nossa Senhora da Piedade is a dome shaped modern church which sits on a hill to the west of town.  At Easter there is a huge procession in honour of the Sovereign Mother. This must be one of the few things I haven’t yet managed to see in the Algarve.

Nossa Senhora da Piedade- courtesy of Wikipedia

Nossa Senhora da Piedade- courtesy of Wikipedia

The procession to the church at Easter

The procession to the church at Easter

Loule is well worth a look when you’ve tired of the beaches and need a little historical detail, or a shopping bonanza.  A few  parking hints and a lot of photos are available in C is for Carnaval.

For now I’ll simply thank Frizz for his inspiring A-Z series.  With Tagged L this week he is just about managing to keep me on track. Grateful thanks are also due to Julie Dawn Fox, who started the Personal A-Z Challenge a long time ago!  Some day I’ll manage to complete it for both countries.  Join me in the challenges if you can. banner4

A place to relax

I 'heart' this view!

I ‘heart’ this view!

My habitual perch

My perch in the sun!

This week, Jake was wondering if I have a place to relax.  Well, for me that can only mean one thing.  My roof terrace in the Algarve.  I’m always in the mood for a swing.

There's simple Shell Beach

And if I get tired of swinging, there’s laid back Shell Beach
Nestle down by the anchors at Barril

Or I can laze by the anchors at Barril

Or chill at the beach bar

Or maybe chill in the shade of the beach bar.

Or you can fight for beach space on Armona

I could even fight for beach space on Armona!

Abandon your kite

I’d abandon the kite

But I do get better as we approach the lovely village of Santa Luzia

And take to the water

Then it's back to the terrace for sunset

Till it’s time for sunset on the terrace

Step forward a pace and you get a "free" umbrella

Evening’s are nice and easy on the river bank.
How restful is this?

Truly, what could be more relaxing than this?

I only have to look through the albums and it’s calling me back again.  But for now I’m sharing my memories with you and Jake.

Do you have a place you go to when you need to relax, even if it’s only in your mind?

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‘K’ is for Kings (three, or more?)

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Hip hooray and happy day!  An opportunity has arisen for me to fill a gap in my much neglected Personal A-Z of Portugal.  You’d forgotten I was doing one, hadn’t you?  Me too, almost!  So today I have Frizz to thank for getting around to ‘K’ in his A- Z challenge.

A collection of kings

A confusion of kings- courtesy of Mike Bradley

First, a question for you.  How many kings do you see?  Three, or more?

I had arrived in the Algarve just after the New Year but in time for Epiphany, and was curious to see what kind of celebrations, if any, this might entail. I knew that in Spain the 6th January was dedicated to the Three Kings, and was hopeful that this might spill over the border into Portugal. I thought there was every chance, especially in my eastern corner of the Algarve.  The shops were full of Bolos Reis – the cake of kings- with their extravagant and colourful toppings.

The tradition of this cake dates back to Roman times, when a King was chosen at Roman feasts if he got the piece of cake containing a fava bean.  I rather like the legend about the Three Kings of the Orient disputing who should be the first to give baby Jesus his gift.  The decision was finally made in the same way- with a cake inside which the local baker had hidden a bean.

I was very happy to discover that there was to be a procession in Vila Real de S. Antonio, a small town on the very edge of the Algarve, with its toes in the River Guadiana.  Better still, the kings were to ferry across the Guadiana to Ayamonte, in neighbouring Spain.

Sure enough, a carnival atmosphere prevailed in Vila Real on Sunday, 6th January.  A Christmas market and ice rink were set up in the main square, Marques de Pombal, with jars of honey and every variety of cake adorning the stalls.  Trying to avert my eyes, I made my way to the Cultural Centre, where I knew there was a Nativity display.  It was enchanting.  As I emerged I was delighted to hear the ‘oompah’ sounds of a band.

Ambling along the street, with caskets of bonbons and flashing smiles, came a procession of kings.  Cordially they distributed sweets and paused to chat or have their photo taken.  It was all very casual and laidback, rather than kingly, but no less charming for that. A dais was set up awaiting them in the square, and soon they were enthroned, hurling the last of their sweets to the cheering crowd.

Beat a retreat?

Beat a retreat?

Thinking that I might manage two processions ‘for the price of one’, and wondering how it would be on the Spanish side of the border, I craftily caught the 12.30 ferry across to Ayamonte.  In January there is a 2 hour time difference between the two countries, so my arrival, 10 minutes later, was at 14.40.  A time at which all self respecting Spaniards are eating.  There was no sign of an impending celebration so, after a leisurely stroll and a delicious ‘biscuit’ flavoured icecream, I returned to the ferry terminal.

Sitting on board, gazing at the river, I became aware of a party of excited children boarding the ferry.  As we left the shore, the adults in the party proceeded to dish out sizeable portions of bolo rei, oozing with cream.  I had high hopes, but was obviously too tall to be regarded as one of their charges.  Nearing the Portuguese shore, I realised just what was happening.  The Kings, minus their band (who had presumably gone to lunch at Portuguese time), were strolling to the terminal, to meet the ferry. As the gangway came down, whistles and cheers and waving of flags greeted the sovereigns. Smiling amiably, they were destined for Spain, their caskets newly filled.

3 kings

I never did fathom out who were the genuine kings and who were the ‘imposters’, but they were a handsome bunch, don’t you think?  I hope you enjoyed my entry for ‘K’.

Many thanks to Frizz for hosting his A-Z challenge, and to Julie Dawn Fox, whose idea the personal A-Z series was.  Please click on the links or logos for more information.

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Six word Saturday

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Moonshine

A moonlight wander.

fills the night

Moon

with romance.

And romance

I’m cheating just a little because I have too many challenges and not enough week.  So I’m linking my Six word Saturday to Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post, but at least I’m keeping it brief!  If you’ve never met him, Jake is a lovely guy who produces amazing animation.  The theme this week is Moonshine. Go and say ‘hi’ but then don’t forget to visit Cate at 6WS, or she’ll be upset.

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Thursday’s Special in Cacela Velha

Beyond the wall

Beyond the wall

There are few places more special to me than the tiny village of Cacela Velha in the Algarve.  Long before I ever came to Portugal I had read about it in the Rough Guide.   A cobbled path surrounds the church, and on a day with even the merest hint of sunshine you can sit on a bench, with your back against the church wall, and gaze dreamily out to sea.

The occasional footfall disturbs and a visitor will appear, round the corner.  Some will nod, “Bom dia!” with a trace of a smile.  Others avert their eyes or focus on the view beyond the wall.  There are two benches and sometimes the other is occupied.  A bike might be propped against the wall. There is no transport into the village.  The birds sing, and alight shyly on the wall.  All is peace and tranquillity.

The lagoon stretches as far as the eye can see

The lagoon stretches as far as the eye can see

The clouds stir and endlessly fascinate

The clouds bump and blend- endlessly fascinating

After a while I rise from the bench and walk round to the front of the church.  The carvings around the door each tell their own story.

The village is Sunday quiet, but then, it’s like that most days!  All of the activity centres on the cemetery and the bringing of fresh flowers.  But I know that this village can erupt into life.  I was there once for the Festival of Enchanted Nights.  Hookahs, Turkish tea and dancing ladies!  Can you imagine it?

Changes come, as they surely must, but I so hope that Cacela Velha hangs on to the integrity which, for me, makes it a very special place.

Wishing Paula a very special Thursday.  It’s her birthday!

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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.

Six word Saturday

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Home is where the heart is?

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I seem to keep leaving mine behind.  It’s a bad habit!

Who wouldn't love a place that looked like this?

Who wouldn’t love a place that looked like this?

With Nativity scenes like this

With Nativity scenes like this

And this

And this

And a pontoon bridge like this

And a pontoon bridge like this

Countryside like this

Countryside like this

Washing on a line like this

Washing on a line like this

Even with moody skies like this

Even with moody skies like this.

Or how about happy dogs on a sunset beach like this

Or how about happy dogs on a sunset beach like this

Beside the ferry, abandoned for the winter

Beside the ferry, abandoned for the Winter,

Or maybe a view like this would charm

Or maybe a view like this would charm

Views like this

Or even, like this?

I expect you can see why I keep leaving my heart behind?  Each time, I say “Goodbye little house”, with a lump in my throat.

It’s Saturday again, and six words time. Cate at Show My Face is our hostess. Would you like to play?

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“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!