Eastern Algarve Adventures
Spring has arrived here in Southern Portugal and we are so happy to wake up every day to sunshine and warmth after what the locals say was an extremely cold winter. There are zero complaints coming from us about weather though, as we felt like we dodged a bullet by not being in California this winter!
We have done a reasonably good job of exploring the Eastern Algarve, checking out almost all of coastal towns in our immediate area. One of our favorite things to do is to go someplace new, walk around and explore a bit, then have lunch. We've started calling ourselves 'The Lynch's who Lunch', a twist on SNL's the 'Ladies who Lunch' and a bit of call out to our friend, Peter, who introduced me to the term.
A little bit about the geography of the Eastern Algarve, which is very different from the colorful, rocky cliffs of the western Algarve. The town of Vila Real Santo Antionio (VRSA)marks the most southeastern part of Portugal and is located where the Guadiana River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Guadiana provides the border between Portugal and Spain for about 30 miles. Heading west from VRSA, there is a long wide stretch of beach (~13 miles) with a few smallish towns, including the one we are at, Manta Rota. A few miles west of us, an estuary called the Ria Formosa starts and runs west all the way to Faro and a bit beyond.
The Ria Formosa is a bit like the waterways around Ocean City, MD or the Outer Banks of NC. Barrier islands with huge stretches of beautiful beaches on the ocean side, inlets here and there providing access to the inland waterways and the rivers that feed the Ria Formosa. But unlike Ocean City and the Outer Banks, most of these barrier islands have little or no buildings on them. The towns are all built on the mainland side and you typically have to take a ferry or water taxi over the barrier island to get to the ocean beaches.
In addition to checking out our immediate area, we also had a couple of road trips. Our first one was to visit with Brett's step-dad, Rich and to see how his Portugal dream was coming along. His place is in the middle of Portugal, relatively close to the Spanish border and he's named it the 'Wild Jardim'. He bought a beautiful plot of land with a couple of ruins on it in early 2019, with plans to rebuild the ruins for his own home and for rental units. We visited with him in October of 2019 and couldn't get our heads around the enormity of his task. On this visit, we found his progress has been nothing short of amazing. He has done almost all of the work himself and now has a comfortable off-grid home, land cleared with walking paths all around and a separate wash house for guests. His latest project is an infinity swimming pool that he has dug out of the granite himself. He expects to have that completed along with two rental units in time for the summer. It really is inspiring to see someone work so hard to accomplish their dream.
Rich took a couple of well deserved days off from his hard labors while we were there and played tour guide instead. We visited Monsanto, a village that is literally built into the side of the mountain as well as Idanha-a-Velha, one of the oldest towns in Portugal and its first capital which got it start as the Roman headquarters for the Iberian Peninsula.
Our other road trip took us to Beja, which is about 1 1/2 hours drive north, more towards the center of Portugal. We stopped at a few interesting spots along the way: Mértola, Minas São Domingos and Serpa.
Beja is located in the Alentejo region, which is known for it's wine, cork trees and a great deal of agriculture. The drive up was really lovely, lots of rolling hills covered in spring flowers and very reminiscent of our California foothills. We made several stops along the way to take in Mértola, the Lake and mines at Mina de São Domingos and Serpa. On the way back, we stopped in the small village of Castro Verde and wondered into one of the most spectacular churches I have ever seen.
We were more than a little disappointed with Beja, as it is a World Heritage town that appears to be in great decline. The last 5 years have brought an enormous amount of immigrants to work in the main industry, agriculture. They now represent 20% of the population and it has had a very negative impact on the town. The castle was quite impressive and apparently the Palace is as well, but it was closed for renovation, so we couldn't get in. We did quite a bit of walking around the town and found it to be our least favorite place to visit so far.
Most recently, we took the ferry across the Guadiana River to Ayamonte, Spain which we both found to be very charming. The main square is really beautiful and there are many pedestrian-only streets filled with outdoor cafe's and restaurants winding through the town. Our first visit was on a Sunday and the town was really busy, we sat at a little Tapas place on the square called 'La Lola' and watched all the families enjoying the lovely day. We didn't have our Lola with us that day, so we went back again a few days later so she could visit her cafe.
We have just a few more days here in Manta Rota and then we go back to the Western Algarve to a town called Carvoeiro. Brett, Silvia, Mateo and Leo will be joining us there for a week over their Easter Holidays and I'm not sure who is more excited, them or us! We had a Skype with them a week ago and Leo started a 'count down' calendar, he's down to just 5 more sleeps before they come over. We have lots of fun things planned, a boat trip, to tour the caves, a marine based adventure park and a water slide park for our big days out. More great times ahead for the Lynch's who Lunch!
Lola gets (sort of) a swim in the Ria Formosa - Cacela Velha
Grotto nestled in Granite Boulders - Monsanto
Catedral de Idanha-a-Velha
Guadiana River at Alcoumin, Portugal
Ok, it was worth the wait
Original Matriz de Mértola Church built in 12th Century as a Mosque, in 1238 it became a Christian Church. It was Rebuilt in 1532 and restored in 1950's.
Minas São Domingos - Abandoned after depletion in 1966
Red's rules of touring Europe - If the church is open, go inside!
Crossing over to Spain