Monday 1 February 2016

Santiago do Cacém and the Alentejo Coast

Portugal, 24th – 31st January 2016

Ilha do Pessegueiro from the coastal Fisherman's Trail
This last week we visited Santiago do Cacém before going slightly north to the coast around Santo André, including spending some time on a campsite to get some jobs done. From here we’ve started picking up our route south down the Alentejo coast towards the Algarve. We’re now into the area we already know having come up as far north as this point during our time down here last winter, but are not intending to just cover the same things again; instead we plan to see new places amongst the ones we saw before, but also hopefully stay at our favourite spots again.

With today being the end of the month Jo has updated our spending accounts and found we’ve only spent €412, or £310, this month in Portugal which is only 37% of our monthly budget! At this rate we’ll be hanging around here a bit longer and our budget will keep lasting longer. Happy days!

Santiago do Cacém, Take 1

Our first stop was an Aire at the swimming pool in Santiago do Cacém (GPS: 38.01299 -8.69433, Free inc. serv. pt.). On the day we arrived we had a wander around the historical centre then uphill out of town where there was a good view over the town. The next morning we planned to have a look at the museum based in an old prison building and also the castle, but woke up to rain. Luckily it cleared after a while so we walked into town to try to get some bread for lunch from a Pasteria but the bread area behind the counter was empty. We thought we’d check the museum opening times while passing and found it is closed on Mondays, so with that decided we’d head off to Lidl at Vila Nova de Santo André a bit earlier than planned and maybe come back another day.

Santo André area

After doing the shopping we moved to the nearby Intermarché that has a self-service laundry outside the same as the French ones, so that we could get our backlog of what was now over a month’s worth of washing out the way. After a wait for the 18kg machine to become available, as it looked like a guy from a hotel or B&B was doing its whites, we loaded everything in and paid our €8. By the time we’d then waited for the dryer to be free and used it it was gone 6pm so we parked in the Aire at the back of the supermarket’s car park (GPS: 38.06515 -8.77933, Free inc. serv. pt.) for the night. We made a great discovery that evening; the large Tarte Brigadeiro chocolate cake bought earlier in Lidl was very nice, the best foreign cake we’ve had so far, they’re usually drier and with less flavour than we’re used to in the British ones. After trying a piece before dinner, which turned into two slices, I had to resist eating it all!

The lagoon at Costa de Santo André
In the morning after getting some diesel, which we were pleased to find had dropped 2 cents over night to just under €0.90/L, we travelled the short distance to Costa de Santo André which is a village by the beach and a lagoon. We couldn’t find a way to access the GPS location from Camperstop that we were aiming for, so parked at the beach car park instead and had a walk on the beach and back through the village, going down several side roads and tracks to look for a way to an area to park by the lagoon, with no success. Instead we went to the next coastal spot north near Melides, where we saw a few vans dotted about in a cobbled car park next to several beach bars and restaurants (some of which were open) so headed for that. Finding a space not covered with low wooden sunshade framework we parked up (GPS: 38.12788 -8.78919) and had bacon sarnies with some of our British stock before a walk around, looking at the lagoon (another one) and the beach where the waves were large and crashing in close to the shoreline.

We were thinking we should get on a campsite or Aire with electric hook-up whilst our 10 days of mobile internet was still active so that we could get a decent amount of use from it to get some jobs done. We were finding that now we had unlimited data we weren’t able to get much use of it due to draining the batteries of the laptop or tablet and MiFi, not having a means of charging devices while parked, and with not travelling much we had limited time to regain charge. On the look around Costa de Santo André we had called into the campsite to check if it was open and the price, so at €12 including electric we thought we’d head there (GPS: 38.10797 -8.78804) for a night as there aren’t any Aires with hook-up in the area. This was a shock to the system having to get my wallet out to pay to stay somewhere for the first time since coming back out from the UK over five weeks ago! Plus, after a couple of months in I would’ve liked to keep up our no-campsite streak, it turned out to be a pleasant place to spend some time though. We ended up spending a second night there to get more done as we woke up on the second day to rain, although this quickly cleared into another lovely day.

We got on with various jobs including sourcing a new water pump and camera battery, work on the blog, banking, emails, plus getting distracted with a bit of browsing Auto Trader for me! In the evening I utilised the unrestricted data to stream the second part of Building Cars Live which was filmed at a previous workplace of mine, BMW MINI Plant Oxford, and our 3G performed faultlessly, better than most WiFi connections we get. Taking my windsurf board off the roof to take it out of it’s bag to dry and air it out I found we’d carried about twelve hard shield-shaped shelled bugs all the way from Italy back to the UK and out here again tucked into the foam padding on one of the roof bars.

We took advantage of being on a campsite to get the chairs and Cadac out, cooking some curried kofta-type kebabs that Jo prepared with sweet potato chips the first night. The next day Jo took control of the Cadac for the first time to cook a meal at lunchtime while it was warm and sunny to eat outside, using a recipe for crab hash from the Campervan Cookbook using tuna instead which turned out nice. Three weeks have passed since our water pump failed so we were able to enjoy nice long warm proper showers for the first time in ages which was a treat.

On our arrival the lady on reception had said we could leave later than the checkout time so on the last day we got my hair cut which was overdue, and after checking out at 12 hung around for a few more hours getting some more jobs done. Mid-afternoon we moved to the beach parking to have a walk along a walkway behind the dunes that we’d seen the other day when we were here, which I thought might follow the dunes quite a way along the coast. It turned out it went so far then led onto the beach, so we looped back along the sand near the large waves rolling in and at one point having to make a dash from a large one coming towards us!

Santiago do Cacém, Take 2

With Santiago do Cacém being not far off our projected route south we went back to the Aire there in the evening to have another attempt at the museum and castle. So yesterday morning we set off on foot through the old town area that we saw last time and uphill to find the castle. There is a cemetery within the walls and a church but otherwise not a lot to see, although walking around the perimeter there are good views down over the town and surrounding area stretching out to Sines on the coast and the sea beyond. We’d read in our Rough Guide about the municipal museum in the town centre being based in one of Salazar’s old prisons which is free to visit, and the main reason we came back here. Luckily it was open this time so we went in, were given an info leaflet in French as they didn’t have any in English and had a look around. The lower floor consists of several rooms with information boards about the past of the area and nearby Roman ruins but unfortunately these were only in Portuguese so we couldn’t understand them, and other rooms had various archaeological artefacts on display including a large collection of old coins going back as far as 45BC. Upstairs one of the cells was set up as how it would’ve been as a prison cell and others were set up to be typical of various rooms of local buildings in the past including a country bedroom, a wealthy person’s bedroom, a barbers, a suitmakers and more. It was quite interesting and worthwhile spending a bit time looking around.

Onwards down the coast

Praia São Torpes
After a short chat to a Dutch man who had arrived in a large old Mercedes 508 based motorhome, which involved him asking why we had two awnings, thinking the pipe tube was one (which has happened several times now), we got on the road back to the coast below Sines into the area we’ve covered before. First stop was Praia São Torpes for lunch and to chill for a bit on the car park overlooking the beach. It’s a popular surf beach with a surf school although there was nobody out on the water this time. Having stayed here before and being earlyish in the day we chose to move on a bit further to Porto Covo. This part of the coast road is very patchy and rough, with a long stretch of it having to be taken at 35 km/h. We headed for the Aire in town (GPS: 37.85216 -8.78912, Free inc. serv. pt.) to park up and set off to explore. When we came here before we only passed through and parked at a spot on the coast so yesterday we had a look around the pleasant town centre with its restaurants and shops lining the main street through, then down past the small fishing port. Since last year a level coastal walking path going north has been set up which has meant the patches of parking areas overlooking the sea which the path now passes through have been blocked off. We followed the path along to check if our great previous parking spot was no longer available, finding it isn’t which is a shame. There is a surfaced parking area closer to the town still available though which was being used by several motorhomes when we passed. After a couple of hours walking around we decided to stay where we were on the Aire and settle for the night, having a nice meal of chicken in a white wine and cream sauce accompanied by a bottle of local Alentejo wine.

The main street in Porto Covo
Giving the local exercise equipment a try
Today we went on a nice walk out of the south of town along a coastal path on the cliff tops which was a short part of the Trilho dos Pescadores (Fisherman’s Trail). The weather was ideal again, sunny and warm, and the scenery was fantastic along the undeveloped rocky coastline with several small beach coves, one of which we had to pass down into, then came down onto the beach at Praia da Ilha, which we visited by road last year. Here there’s an island, Ilha do Pessegueiro (Peach Tree Island) which has the ruins of a fort on it, along with another fort on the mainland. From Porto Covo to Praia da Ilha is about 2km of the trail that runs over 100km down the coast.

The van has not moved today, we have stayed put doing some planning and writing this before we move a bit further down the coast tomorrow. If you’re still reading this far, sorry for the long post, but at least we’re fully up to date again!

- Matt
Porto Covo
One of the little cove beaches on the Fisherman's Trail

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