Tuesday 23 June 2015

Entering Portugal: The Sunny Algarve

Spain and Portugal, 27th – 30th December 2014

Struggling with the Weather

The start of our journey into Spain wasn’t particularly pleasant, as the rain was so heavy at times that visibility was really limited.  Near the Spanish border we were going to stop at the Aire in Biarritz and park up for a short period while we planned our route, but upon getting to the entrance we discovered that they have now installed barriers at the entrance
Our overnight spot at Miranda de Ebro
since last time we were here, and you need to get a ticket to enter.  As there wasn’t much indication about how much it actually costed to go on the Aire and we didn’t want to be given a hefty parking charge just for a ten minute stop, we had the awkward experience of reversing out onto the roundabout as there wasn’t anywhere to turn around on the road to the Aire and a man there attending to a fault with the barrier wouldn’t let us enter for the sake of turning our vehicle around.
Once we finally made it back onto the roundabout, we travelled into Spain through twisting roads and heavy rain, until we finally stopped at an Aire in Miranda de Ebro, which was basically a section on a side road near the river Ebro where motorhomes were permitted to park with a water change point nearby.  There was another motorhome and a campervan here, but it was a bit rough with graffiti on the nearby walls, so we made a few safety precautions before going to sleep (putting the ratchet straps through the front door handles, security lock on the rear door, valuables in the safe etc.).

The Aire at Cáceres
The next day of travel was mainly on stretches of clear roads down the A62 and A66 that were barely in use by other vehicles and the weather had cleared up significantly, so the next portion of the journey was fairly painless.  The number of Aires in central Spain was significantly more limited than it was in France, which meant that the one we stopped at for the night (Cáceres, €0, includes water facilities) was already full and other motorhomes were already spilling out into areas designated for other vehicles.  It had been a big mileage day covering 337 miles so as we had already spent a significant amount of time travelling, we opted to park in one of the bays outside of the Aire as we didn’t know how long it would be until we found another safe place to stay, and moved onto the Aire (pictured) first thing in the morning.  While we were here we experienced what was possibly the coldest night of the trip, with temperatures falling below freezing during the night.

Entering Portugal

We set off early and crossed the border into Portugal via Badajoz. In Portugal we discovered that the road quality varied vastly, and sometimes a road would swap between fresh tarmac and dirt tracks for no apparent reason.

We made it to the Algarve and stocked up on food in Lidl in Albufeira (including stocking up on lots of nice things in the bakery, like a nice Portuguese baguette which we seem to find nicer than French baguettes), and found that the Algarve seemed to be one of the most motorhome friendly places we visited to far (in stark contrast to Spain), with most Lidls having designated parking for motorhomes and the locals being a lot more relaxed about parking.  We had clear skies and it was fairly warm, which made a very pleasant change to the weather we had been trying to escape in France.

Alvor Onwards

The beach at Alvor
Alvor Harbour

Alvor Aire
There were a lot of locals selling oranges on the roadside, so we picked up a bag that lasted us several weeks, which were full of seeds but very tasty.  We found the Aire in Alvor (€4 a night in Dec 2014, €4.50 as of Jan 2015, including water, additional fee for EHU) to stay for the night, which had the highest number of British campers that we had seen anywhere else on our travels.  In the morning the British couple we were parked next to (Mal and Maureen) chatted to us quite a bit and gave us a list of GPS co-ordinates of some of their favourite recommended places to visit along the south-western coast, including beaches where overnighting was tolerated in the winter as well as places where we could refill water.  They gave us the advice that a lot of places that had ‘No Camping’ signs were mainly there for the high season, and during the winter the local police was very relaxed about letting vans park there, however if we were on a National Park site or anything similar we were likely to get moved on.  They also recommended the €0.75 cartons of wine at the local Pingo Doce supermarket!  They’d been down here for 3 months and travelled about quite a lot but spent the majority of the time on this Aire. We also briefly spoke to another British lady in a massive tag-axle American RV who was pleasantly surprised to see another couple that weren’t retired.  They full-time in their RV and stay in Portugal during the winter months and return to the UK during the rest of the year to work, where they have some land on a friend’s farm they park on.

After exploring the beach we went for a wander into Alvor harbour and through the town and found that there were still a few places open during the off season and it was pleasant enough that we decided we would come back the next time we wanted to stay on an Aire or Campsite.

Praia de Amado
In the meantime we wanted to spend some time at some Freecamping spots, so we headed towards the west coast in pursuit of some of the places that Mal and Maureen had recommended.  We made it to the western coast and pulled down the first road we saw that was signposted for a beach, and travelled down a dirt track until we made it to the beach Praia de Amado.  This spot proved to be very popular with surfers, with a designated parking area for campers that was mostly full of lots of older surf vans and campervans that were mainly German, and was fairly busy for the time of year.  Whilst here we had our first major cooking disaster, in which Matt accidentally emptied an entire pot of pepper onto his dinner…

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