Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Sun Reappears in Sintra and Cascais

Portugal, 11th – 14th January 2016


It’s great news for us from Portugal, the rain has gone and made way for nice sunny weather! After the period of rain we’d had, luckily the next day it changed, there was clear blue sky and the sun was out. I stepped out of the van in the morning to take some photos of the view across the valley to Mafra, felt the warmth of the sun on me and thought this is more like it. So we have resumed normal service of being able to get out and about to explore.

We set off happy and relieved we had some nice weather to be able get on with some sightseeing as our next stop was Sintra, the summer residence of the kings of Portugal and before them the Moorish lords of Lisbon. In 1809 Byron stayed here so there are references to him in the village including street names. We parked in a bus and motorhome parking area on the outskirts of town where we were the only ones there, but there were several closed up snack bar vans so presumably is a busy spot in the summer. It was 2km or so to the historic centre which is up and down hill and only had a narrow strip to walk along the side of the road in places which wasn’t ideal, although we noticed on the way back later that the centre was signposted off down a quiet side street for pedestrians. The buildings are terraced on the hillside and we passed several large grand buildings that were abandoned; it continues to surprise me that buildings like this get left to go into disrepair. The centre was pleasant but quite busy with tourists. We picked up a map from tourist info and looked around the little backstreets for a while, some of which were traditional narrow cobbled ones. We walked through the park to start heading back which was quite a tiring walk uphill back to the carpark.

Red building on the right in the background is one of the abandoned
Ingreja de S. Martinho
From Sintra we were deciding between two spots to head for the night, a free parking spot on the coast near Cascais or an Aire at a swimming pool north of Lisbon that was in Camperstop. Jo chose the latter option and we travelled along the IC19 in rush hour traffic and after 45 mins arrived in the centre of a busy urban area amongst blocks of flats and shops with no sign of a swimming pool. Checking the coordinates and address again it turns out the GPS and location marker in Camperstop were completely wrong, it actually refers to a town 100km south! This meant we had go back exactly the same way we’d come to go to Cascais instead.

Arriving in the dark we couldn’t spot our intended patch of rough land on the coast as it was very rough and rocky so looked for other options further along. We found a gravel carpark with the barriers removed and payment machines covered over for winter, overlooking the sea (GPS: 38.72755 -9.47529) so stayed here, joining a German motorhome built from a caravan mounted on the back of an old Mercedes truck. In the daylight we had a brilliant view from the van looking over a small bay next to the well-known and popular surf beach Praia do Guincho. Back in shorts and T-shirt, we followed a wooden walkway that formed a nature walk over the sand dunes that are over the road from the cliffs, which had small signs pointing out the various plant species. The dunes are unique as the sand transport process involves the sand being deposited here but then carried overland down the coast before being deposited back on a beach further along.

Cabo da Roca

We found it to be a pleasant spot so stayed another night. The second morning the car park was quite busy with about a dozen surfers out in the water that we watched while having breakfast. Leaving this spot we travelled up the coast to Cabo da Roca which is the westernmost point of Europe. There’s a lighthouse here, a monument and viewpoint on the cliffs that has an end of the Earth feel. Seeing a tour bus with a large Chinese group on it arriving I rushed to get my photos taken while the area was empty. On the edge of Cascais we had a look at Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) which is an inlet in the rocks that the sea accesses through a hole in the rock across the front of it. From here we walked into Cascais along the promenade which was pleasant, and through the marina which has a series of bars and restaurants by the water. The town centre is nice, being well-maintained with attractive buildings, one of our favourites in Portugal. Ending up near the shopping centre we went in to the MEO phone shop to get a mobile internet SIM so that we’re not as limited with data, but apparently the one we wanted was for phones only so we left. After checking alternatives at NOS and Vodafone, which were more expensive than we aimed to spend, we left it for now until we’ve done more research.

Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell)

At our previous overnight spot cars came and went in the night and on the second night we had idiots wheel-spinning and blowing their horns for a while meaning Jo didn’t sleep well so we decided to try one of the several small patches of rough land on the rocky cliffs along the road. The bit we chose (GPS: 38.71719, -9.48122) was a few metres down a very bumpy track and next to the remains of a building built into a crevice between the rock that went from ground level down three or four stories. Part of the concrete roof was crumbling away so you could see down into the depths of the structure, I couldn’t tell if it was a form of bunker or a water holding system.

We’d been debating whether to go into Lisbon so looked online for places to stay. Finding there is only one campsite for €25 with basic facilities and some poor reviews we decided it was one to leave for another time. Another option would be to stay nearby maybe at Cascais and get public transport in, but we chose to make some progress south. After crossing the Ponte 25 de April bridge, we got back to the coast at Fonte da Telha. This is a small basic coastal resort with some houses and beach restaurants and bars dotted along the coast accessed along a compacted earth and sand track, which was very bumpy in places. The parking area near the southern end was a fantastic beachside spot where you could step from the van straight onto the beach. As the weather had turned off a bit that day with grey skies and it was still earlyish in the day we decided to move on after lunch, during which time it rained for a short while, and a short walk on the beach followed by two large local dogs.

Due to limited roads in this area we had to head north-east to get south and join the coast further down. Whilst passing we made a short detour to an E’Leclerc in Amora-Seixel to get a few bits of shopping and diesel for the first time while we’ve been in Portugal. They had a self-service laundry outside the same as the French ones, but although we were in need of one by now Jo didn’t want to hang around here as it was a rough looking area. Our next stop was at Lagoa de Albufeira to check it out for future reference as I’d read in our Rough Guide that it was an excellent windsurfing location. Behind the beach an inlet leads into a huge lagoon with a parking area next to it so it would be ideal, but a sign on the way into the village I think says something along the lines of no overnight parking except on the campsites.

Lagoa de Albufeira

Our stop for the night was at Cabo Espichel (GPS: 38.41964 -9.21349) where there is a lighthouse, a church with two lines of disused pilgrim lodgings buildings and a small chapel by the cliff edges, in a similar setting to Cabo da Roca. We had a look around and at the views from the high cliff tops but it was cold and windy on this exposed point. The wind increased in the night to the strongest we’ve experienced, it kept coming and going in gusts that howled down the sides of the van shaking it side to side, and then would be still again before repeating. This kept us awake a lot, Jo especially didn’t get much sleep at all.


Originally we were going to continue down the coast from here but I noticed on our map not far off route a Barragem (dam and reservoir) was marked in highlighter pen, meaning it was a recommendation from Mal and Maureen down in the Algarve last winter, so we changed our plan and decided we’d head there next as we’ve not seen any Barragems yet.

- Matt

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