European Escapades

Heading for Cork on the Portuguese Coast

19

May

2010

a grove of cork trees
A Grove of Cork Trees.

Regretfully we finally leave Serpa and head for our next port of call which is Beja. Not a town on our list for a tourist visit, although as you approach the City you can’t fail to notice the 13th Century Torre de Menagem, the keep of the original castle built by Dom Dinis. But we were there for the large shopping complex near the campsite and the mobile phone shop within, that was to provide us with our internet access for Portugal. Whilst it is not a great deal, TMN does provide a dongle to allow connection to the internet for €25 a month with a 1GB limit. But it is Prepay and you do get access to all of the PT hotspots within the country for free, with unlimited download. The process of purchasing was harder than my time in Llelida, as the girl spoke no English and my Portuguese was non-existent. But I finally walked out of the shop with a modem firmly in my grasp ready to experience the delights of TMN and banda larga. Seems this new fangled OS software Windows 7 is new to Portugal and its national telecom company as of May 2010 and support for it is rather poor.

Yes you guessed it, my modem didn’t work and I had to go back to the shop a few times to get it sorted. Personally it was not the modem at fault this time and in my opinion the windows 7 drivers I finally managed to download failed to resolve the problem. The modem connected to the TMN network but then failed to give an internet connection. What fixed it in the end I really have no idea; it just seemed to start working one day and has never failed since.

The campsite we stayed at in Beja was a municipal and whilst not as cheap as Serpa provided all we needed, although I would not go as far as recommending the site as it’s in pretty poor condition. Frances would not even take a shower there and it seems that a number of the fair-weather campers were more homeless than on holiday. But if you do go and stay there for a brief visit then don’t forget to say hi to Dave, its oldest permanent resident as far as I could tell. He will happy tell you the delights of Portugal over a glass or two of red wine as he has seen and done it numerous times. Forget the toll roads, the N roads are perfectly adequate and you get to see more of the country by them anyway. The convenience of the site to the town and all there is to see just makes it a good quick stopover from A to B or wherever you are going. A few glasses of red wine and some good tips on campsites later from Dave and we were ready to move onto the coast.

how to camp Portuguese style
How to Camp Portuguese Style.

Our next stop over we had a choice of three campsites or so we thought, as we headed for our first stop which was to be ‘Praia de Gale’ on the coast north of Sines. As the Sat-Nav took us through the smallest road she could find, we had our first experience of cork trees. These gnarled looking trees littering the landscape all with small numbers or marks on them and a number with a dark brown base where the cork had been harvested. It was a really fascinating farming industry to see and we were intrigued at the process. It seems that once the trees are about 25 years old, the cork is stripped from the trunks every nine years. I do hope that the recent interest in artificial corks for wine bottles fails, as to move from a product that is 100% recyclable to a petrolum based product, with the consequential loss of cork woodland would be an environmental travesty. Stay with cork and say no to synthetic, Horrahh! We would have assumed that the road was an abandoned potholed leftover, only suitable for the number of horse drawn carts we have seen in Portugal, if it were not for the bus stops that we passed as we drove through the small hamlets. Our major concern now, was meeting a bus coming in the other direction. We finally finish our journey on the small road westward and hit the North/South coastal road that is much more likely to be called a road. We head northwards for the turnoff to the campsite and the coast only to be greeted by a dodgy left turn and a faded sign to the site. After a few hundred metres the thin layer of tarmac gives way to a wide sandy dirt track used by loggers. Yes we are in Logging country again and the scarred landscape littered with ravaged tree stumps and log piles are causing us concern. If this campsite is still open, it is not a campsite for campervans. I would have concerns taking a car down this track and rather than risk anymore shaking and juddering of the campervan, we do a three point turn and head back to the highway and onto the next campsite. Sorry ‘Praia de Gale’ , but if you are open the road is not fit for a visit and the signs need to be taken down or adjusted to allow people to get to you. The next campsite on our list was ‘Lagoa de Melides’ and we hoped that it would not be another repeat of this journey. We had nothing to worry about as the road was passable and the campsite easy to find as we pulled into a very well laid out facility. Huge by comparison to any we have been on so far, as the Portuguese campers seemed to stretch for kilometres. It had over three thousand pitches and some had paved areas and tended gardens as part of their layout. Fortunately the campervan area which consisted of around twenty self contained pitches was at the front of the site next to reception and had all the facilities you could wish for, including water and electric on each pitch as well as a grey water point. It was also near the local bar and restaurant across the road and the swimming pool. With the beach only a kilometre away you couldn’t wish for a better site.

lounging around on crystal white sand
Lounging Around on Crystal White Sand.

Checking out the local restaurant we noted that the Menu del Dia was only €6 and we just had to eat there at least once. As our Portuguese was still nonexistent, we just went for it and whilst Frances had some calamari, I ended up with a local speciality of pork & cabbage stew. It felt like waiting for a bus as this was the second time in a week that I had managed to order pigs trotters for dinner. With the starter of bread and soup and a small local dessert of a coffee topped custard similar to a crème caramel, helped down with two small carafes of red wine, it was a great value meal and we couldn’t believe the price. With the number of locals eating there too, it was obviously good value, although I will admit that it wouldn’t win any culinary prices for excellence. After the filling meal we headed to the beach just down the road to find a few wooden shacks, offering drinks and snacks and a boardwalk to one of the most beautiful beaches I have come across. The place when we visited was empty and you could see for the glistening golden granules of sand stretching for miles in both directions. We headed down to where the estuary met the seashore and feeling the fine warm sand between our toes, it reminded me of the time when we visited the coral beaches of the Maldives, it was just so soft. We sat for a while watching a young boy building sandcastles in the sand by the water’s edge and then just took in the views and tranquil nature of our coastal paradise that surrounded us. This is a long way from the ‘Costa del Packed with Tourists’ and whilst it may not be as idyllic and peaceful in the full height of summer it’s a must place to visit when you’re in Portugal. With the warm afternoon sun on our backs, we headed back to the campsite to check if Missy was OK and to lounge a while outside the campervan, partaking in a little more red wine as the afternoon turned into evening. As we sat there watching the sun set over the trees that surrounded us, turning the sky into a brilliant orange flame, we wonder if Portugal holds any more surprises and can get any better….

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 at 8:56 am and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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