Saturday 13 February 2016

Into the Heart of the Algarve

The beach at Boca do Rio

Portugal, 6th – 11th February 2016

Since last time we’ve moved onto the more sheltered and busier south coast of the Algarve. We’ve been making our way along actually having a deadline to work to for a change, the day that my parents arrive for a holiday visiting us. In the process we’ve skipped the area roughly from Lagos to Portimão to leave new places to visit as we’ll be basing ourselves here for a week while they’re down. After a successful week free parking at beaches we encountered the Police moving us on, which happened to be in the middle of the night!

South Coast Praias

From Praia de Cordoama our next stopover was going to be on the south coast with Praia da Ingrina our target. First we needed a service point after five nights offsite parking and because there are no free ones in these parts we called at an Aire, Figuera Caravan Park, to use theirs for €2. The Belgian man running it was a friendly character, and while there we experienced a French man peeing into the drain on the service point while his grey water tank was emptying, next to a lady washing some clothes in the laundry sink, much to her disgust! At Praia da Ingrina (GPS: 37.04588 -8.88121) we had a walk over the cliff tops to Praia do Barranco, one of our favourites from last year. Here it was entirely hippy types and as we walked through the parking area we got offered “something to smoke”! The last few days, for a change I had free time to relax during the day so did some leisure reading and started work on some campervan design drawings.

Praia do Barranco

The parking at Praia Boca do Rio
The nature trail at Boca do Rio
Lagos Aire
The next morning we moved along just 14km to the nearby Boca do Rio where we’d planned to spend a couple of nights as it was another favourite (probably overall best for me) where you could park right alongside the beach close enough to step out the camper door onto it. This time though when we arrived we found that all the vans were parked in the paved carpark due to a Police ribbon across the access point to the beach so it wasn’t as appealing as before but we got parked up (GPS: 37.06678 -8.80894). There’s a very nice white sand beach here in the small bay and a 2km nature walk up onto the cliffs with info signs about things to see along the way. We’d tried this last time but couldn’t see where the far end of the route went, so thought we’d have another attempt at it. It clouded over and there was a cool breeze so we turned back to the van for hats, only to find we didn’t need them for long when the sun came back out. We found the end of the route this time, it dropped down onto the edge of a road for a short distance. Whilst nearby we decided to divert off into Salema, a small coastal town. We found it to be a nice little place, low-key but with some activity with people sat outside bars and on the beach. Small cobbled streets lead down into the centre that’s focussed around the beach.

Over past years there have been lots of stories of being moved or getting fined by the Police when free-parking down in the Algarve, but we spent three weeks with not a hint of a problem last year. This year however it has been stepped up and is actually more of a problem, we’ve had three first-hand accounts in the past month from people we’ve met so we were more wary about the possibility. After deciding to stay the night at Boca do Rio and getting settled, at about 11:30pm we heard a siren so knew it was going to be time to move. We got out of bed and pulled some clothes on and tidied away the few loose things that were out. Peeking through the blinds we could see the GNR 4x4 with blue lights flashing gradually moving along the line of around nine vans waking and talking to each of them. When the knock on our window came I popped outside to speak to the officer who was polite and asked if I spoke English to explain that we were in the national park so couldn’t stay overnight otherwise we'd risk getting a €200 fine. He said parking in the day was fine but to move after dinner, and added that there have been people firing metal balls (maybe meaning ball bearings) at vehicle windows at night so it’s best not to be there. Whether that was just an extra thing said to justify moving us from here, which might’ve happened once we don’t know. We got on the move seeing the Police waiting just along the road presumably to check everyone had left. We cruised along the empty roads to Lagos to the €3 Aire (GPS: 37.11572 -8.67827) where we were both too awake to sleep so had to read for a while before getting back to sleep after 1am.


Following the late night we had a slow start the next day and while on the Aire we utilised the free WiFi to get a few things done before heading off mid-afternoon. After calling at Lidl and for some LPG we got on the N125 to put some distance in (compared to the short trips we’ve been doing lately anyway) passing Portimão to get to Paderne (GPS: 37.16816 -8.20924). We were lucky there was one space left out of about 15 amongst the group of motorhomes in the car park next to a communal wash house. A lady in a motorhome we’d spoken to yesterday at Ingrina had mentioned this is a popular place for motorhomers to come to do their laundry; however we didn’t attempt doing ours.

Talking to other Brits here in the morning, we found there was a three day carnival on in the town in the afternoons so thought we’d have a look. The carnival is the biggest festival of the year across Portugal, taking place before lent starts. It marks the end of winter and leads into the religious period of giving up meat, although the activities of the carnival are not usually religious, they focus on fun. The town centre was fenced off with tickets required to enter so we coughed up our €2 each to go in. Lots of people attending, particularly children, were in fancy dress and a number of different floats were being pulled by tractors with people on them dressed up and some performing, and throwing out confetti and sweets. Jo ended up with some in the face while not looking! A band and other performers were involved in the parade too, which formed a loop around the streets. There were a few stalls dotted around from which we sampled Filhós, large flat deep fried doughnuts dipped in sugar, which were nice, and had a couple of small beers each as we walked around or stood watching. We noticed several times people offering their drinks or food to the ones on the floats as they passed by, sometimes they had a sip or bite and passed the item back. We had an enjoyable time that made a change doing something different.

CamperServ, Quarteira and Back West

After another night at Paderne we headed off to collect a new water pump from Camper Serv near Quarteira. They were recommended to us while in the Algarve last winter as a place that does motorhome storage for €1/day which is handy for if you need to fly back to the UK. Looking on their website a couple of weeks back I found that by coincidence they stock exactly the same type of water pump as fitted in our van which was ideal. They’re helpful guys there too, after I asked, the English owner crimped me some terminals onto the bare power wires at no extra cost so it was ready for me to install. He also gave me some advice on installing a 12v socket from our leisure batteries, which I’m thinking of doing so that we can charge our devices while we’re parked. They have a workshop where they do repairs and a shop with a range of spares and accessories at good prices along with the storage. It’s a useful place to have note of in case you need anything while down here, they’re easy to get to too just off the N125 between Quarteira and Loulé, GPS: 37.1022 -8.0695, and you can find their website at

Sad gits queuing to be first into the Aire at Quarteira
We’d heard about a large market on a Wednesday in Quarteira on the ground that is also used as an Aire for the rest of the week, so headed there next for a look. As we approached the busy car park we saw the couple that we’d been parked next to in Paderne waving at us as they were just walking into the market. It wasn’t what we were expecting; being almost all just tat, with numerous stalls selling fake designer bags, belts, tea towels and clothing. So it didn’t matter to us that some stalls were starting to pack away when we got there around 1pm, we had a quick wander around then back to the van for some lunch. Originally we thought we’d spend longer here looking around then move into the Aire when it opened after 5pm to stay the night but with it being only 2pm and the Rough Guide description of the town not sounding inspiring we decided we’d head off back west. As we set off out of the car park we realised that motorhomes were queuing in the car park and along the roadside to be first into the Aire when it opened later to choose their spots first, maybe to get the places with electric. We took a detour via the seafront area of town and found it matched what we’d read, being all high-rise hotels and flats so kept going out of there.

After a slow journey due to several sets of roadworks with traffic lights on the N125 we got to Portimão and found the main tolerated free parking spot (GPS: 37.12027 -8.54666) which we’d stayed at for a night last year was full so drove around and found a suitable spot nearby at the side of a quiet dead end road. We got on with installing the new water pump and were pleased to find it’s working a treat now so we’re back to having running water after 36 days without! We didn’t find it too much of a problem after we’d got used to it over this amount of time but it’s nice to have the convenience back.

In the morning we went for a walk down to the seafront promenade heading towards the Aire to have a look and spotted Bill who we met about a month ago at Barragem de Pego do Altar. We had a catch up with him over a coffee at a café before looking at the Aire, and then were lucky to find at the main free-parking area that one space had become free so we got parked in there. My parents were arriving later in the day and very conveniently their hotel is right next to here. While they’re around this next week we’ll be basing ourselves between Portimão and Alvor so we’re nearby and will be exploring the surrounding area with them.

- Matt
A change in scenery to our normal parking spots - The high-rises of Portimão
Interesting block in Portimão

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