Continuing my report of a very pleasurable weekend exploring our new home-country, we arrive at Sunday.
The weather was not quite up to the standard of the previous day, and we initially resigned ourselves to visiting the supermarket to get provisions and having a quiet day in. We headed off to Continente, our nearest supermarket, just after midday.
In previous posts I have commented how it is wonderful that the shopping centre opening hours here are so long, and that you can go shopping up until 11 or 12 o’clock every day of the week. Well, since saying that, we have come unstuck and realised that other than at holiday times, despite most of the shops opening until this late hour, the supermarkets in fact close at 1pm. A strange state of affairs which I have yet to understand. Nevertheless, this time we were prepared and had our shopping done before they drew the curtains to the store at 1pm (and they didn’t mess about – when they say “closes at one” that is exactly what they mean…)
After enjoying a simple lunch of some of the things Portugal does so well – warm bread, tomatoes, cheese and pate, the sky turned a rather more favourable colour so we decided to go off on another expedition. Each time we had driven east, towards Spain, we had noticed several signs to “Mata Da Conceicao” (Conceicao woods,) and were curious to have a look, so this was where we set off for.
Before leaving, I consulted the web and found a small amount of information on a local authority website about the woods, along with a few pretty uninspiring photographs. It is fair to say our expectations were pretty low when we left. After a couple of false starts through the country lanes and twice ending up back on the main EN125 road we found the woods. The journey at this point had already seemed worthwhile just for the drive through the orange groves and seeing several pretty little villages in the hills, but we were in for a real treat.
We turned into the woods onto what initially looked like a dirt track and soon became something that, in a small hatchback, felt distinctly like “off-roading.” We have to admit we are not looking forward to taking back this particular hire car: “yes, those scratches are when we tried to reverse out of our cobbled alley, under pressure due to an impatient local. We are not sure whether the dent was there when we hired the car. On Sunday, we accidentally went off-roading. Oh, and someone keyed it when it was parked on our road.” Don’t ever let anyone tell you the extra insurance isn’t worth the money!
After bouncing along for five minutes or so, we met another car coming the other way and were both delighted that the occupants didn’t look surprised to see us, and reassured that we were in fact supposed to drive on this dirt-track. Shortly afterwards, we caught sight of water between some trees, stopped the car, and had a wander. There below us was a beautiful natural lake, almost hidden from view and only visible from certain places between the trees. It was a stunning sight and nothing like I ever expected to see in Portugal. If I ever find myself missing “England’s green and pleasant land,” I know where to come. My wife described it as a non-manufactured Center Parcs, which I think is a good description.
We drove away happily and continued to take in the views of the forest, especially the almond trees, now almost snowing with white blossom with the tiniest hint of pastel pink. The lake we had found would have been quite enough, but we then spotted a clearing with a stream, stopped the car again and found what I hope will become a frequent picnic spot. It was a fairy-tale view, and one that our pictures really don’t do justice to.
Neither of us had ever expected to find views like this in the Algarve. Perhaps in Central Portugal, but not here – we had happily swapped these scenes for the beautiful seascapes that are now in our reach. To find out we had this just down the road was truly awe-inspiring.
Already pretty blown away by what we had seen, we drove out of the woods and found ourselves rather lost. It soon became clear we were driving up a mountain! Before we knew it we were on windy roads, some without barriers, and gazing across incredible valleys, where almond trees were growing at what seemed like impossible angles. Once again we were experiencing breath-taking vistas which we hadn’t dared to hope to see here in the Algarve. The undulating landscape was something between things I had seen in South Wales and in Madeira – quite incredible. Again, the photos didn’t do it justice, but then again none of the photos I have seen in guidebooks really give you an idea of how stunning this place can be.
Just before sunset, we arrived at Altura, a beach resort near to the Spanish border. Exposure to so many stunning beaches over the last few months means it is hard to impress us now, and by Portuguese standards, this is a fairly run-of-the-mill beach, but it was still a lovely place to spend the last ten minutes of daylight on one of the best weekends we have had since arriving. We weren’t the only ones – there were plenty of people squeezing the last few drops of sun out of what felt to us like the first weekend of spring.
We fell in love with the Algarve all over again this weekend, and at times it is hard to contain our excitement for what the coming months will bring! After all we have only had winter so far. This coming weekend is Carnival – bringing with it Brazilian style street parties, and lots of samba, and I look forward to reporting back on what it was like.