We left quite soon after breakfast because we had a long drive ahead of us now back to the Algarve.
Once again we had a pleasant journey across the Alentejo region as we headed south along mostly empty roads gliding effortlessly across the wide open plains. Compared to the Algarve it is a largely undeveloped region where hillsides are as important as beaches, Roman ruins are celebrated as much as golf resorts, rural vineyards promoted as well as luxury marinas – it is, I suggest, a more varied experience.
The Alentejo is also linked to many of the most important chapters of Portuguese history. It saw the birth of Vasco da Gama at Sines and the death of the ‘Holy Queen’ Isabel at Estremoz. It was at Atoleiros that the celebrated knight Nuno Álvares Pereira achieved his first victory in the battle for independence from Castile and it was at Vila Viçosa in February 1908 that King Carlos spent his last night before being shot down and killed by republican activists in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio the next day.
After an hour or so we left the flat plains behind as we began to climb steadily into the mountains that separate the two regions. We knew when we passed into Algarve because the roads immediately improved and became busier as we entered the Portuguese poster region.
We planned to have an easy two days before travelling home and had chosen a rural location in a village called Vale Judeu quite close to the busy town of Vilamoura. We were too early to check in so we went straight to the resort town for lunch. We immediately wished that we hadn’t. The official guide boasts that “Vilamoura is unlike any other Portuguese town, gone is the dilapidated charm, replaced with striking perfection, which is simply expected by the super-rich who frequent the marina.”
It is a modern purpose built tourist resort completely lacking in any sort of character. We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror. I should have carried out better research.
After arrival at the hotel we took a stroll into the village where we found the dilapidated charm that we like and instead of roving packs of British golfers in between golf courses found an untidy bar full of locals in between food courses so stayed for a while and had a simple lunch.
Close by was a restaurant that came highly recommended so after a quiet afternoon around the swimming pool we returned for evening meal. We shared a simple starter of grilled sardines and a main course of monk fish stew with beans, both delicious. We had walked eight miles today.
For our final day we made plans to drive east to the town of Tavira, the last big town on the Algarve before crossing the Rio Guardiana into Spain. We were meeting my blogging pal Jo who I have been friends with now for several years through our web sites.
I was looking forward to Tavira. In 1965 the artist David Swift who wrote a travel guide to the Algarve said this … “For my money Tavira is the most enchanting town of Algarve. It stands on two hills on either bank of a river, the Segua which is crossed by a seven arched Roman bridge. The hills are crowned with castles and churches yet from the middle green fields can be glimpsed in one direction and the sea in the other”.
Fifty-five years later I wasn’t expecting it to be quite the same as described but I was delighted to find that Swift would almost certainly have recognised the place that he recommended so highly. A wide fast flowing river, steep hills, whitewashed shops and houses, terracotta roofs and cobbled streets and still with its thirty-seven churches and a ferry service to the beach islands to the south. What a delightful contrast to the dreadful resort town of Vilamoura.
We spent a splendid afternoon in Tavira with Jo and husband Mike as our expert guides and as we drove back to our hotel we were in agreement that Tavira is a place that we need to see some more of.
For our final night we returned inevitably to the same restaurant, Kim had a beef steak and I had a salted cod stew. The Portuguese love cod and it is said that there are three hundred and sixty-five different recipes, one for every day of the year so I thought it was time to try one of them. I enjoyed it, the fish was firm and meaty but maybe just a little too salty for my taste. We had walked seven and a half miles today.
In preparation for an early departure we packed before going to bed, I was quite glad actually, it is exciting to travel but it is nice to go home as well!
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