Friday 4 March 2016

Eastern Algarve: Faro, Loulé and Estói

Faro marina

Portugal, 20th – 23rd February 2016

We’ve finally moved on from the Portimão area, and after a few weeks on the southwestern end of the Algarve we are covering new ground in the east, with the Spanish border coming ever closer.  We’ve had a few learning experiences this week, namely about the limits of what our solar-free electric setup can cope with, and also about what may drive a person to physically suck on a tap (the good news is the water pump still works, and hot showers are still within my grasp).  We’ve also been catching up with fellow motorhoming friends Matt and Ellie, which marked a special occasion in our fridge: the cans of Lidl lager were replaced with not just bottles, but branded bottles.  First bottled wine and now beer, aren’t we fancy pants?

Who needs a sandcastle when you have a
flexitub and a load of dirty clothing?
When we left Alvor once more sufficiently dosed up on Menu del Dias, we had a new objective: tackling the near 4 week high laundry pile blocking up the bottom of the wardrobe.  We thought of travelling along to the nearby Algarve Motorhome Park Falésia, but decided to attempt the supermarket laundry route first.  We plugged several Intermarchés into the satnav as these often have Revolution 18kg washing machines outside, unsure of how successful this would be given that it was a weekend, when looking for laundrettes further north it seemed everyone and their mother did their laundry on a weekend.  The first attempt at Portimão yielded a cramped car park with a very busy launderette, and the second attempt at Lagoa looked promisingly quieter until we saw the out of order sign in front of the dryer.  We carried on to Ferreiras, where third time lucky, we managed to arrive just as someone’s wash cycle was coming to an end and burned our way through our stash of euro coins (unlike their French counterparts, the Portuguese machines don’t take card).

Given that we were getting close to spending two months in Portugal, we decided it was time to make more progress and get a few of the more major sites under our belt, so we moved on to Faro.  After getting into the town and taking a somewhat dubious route suggestion from Daisy the Satnav (during which a passing local made hand gestures to say it was too narrow ahead), we decided to stick with the road signs until we reached the main parking area at Largo de São Francisco.  It’s free here (and there is a designated parking section for motorhomes), although a ‘helper’ tried it on by wandering over and calling to us through the window, saying our parking spot was okay but insisting another spot was much better.  After closing the cab blinds and hiding in the back of the van until he gave up trying to relieve us of our money, we finally went for a walk around Faro.

Faro is the main city in the Algarve, and home to the airport where all of the holidaymakers arrive.  Despite this it didn’t feel too touristy, with an attractive old town and marina area and few in the way of tat shops.  We called at the tourist office for a map, where the guy we spoke to gave us the heads-up that near enough all of the main points of interest close on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and then the museums are also closed on a Monday.  Naturally we’d rolled up on a Saturday afternoon, so probably didn’t time our visit too well!  It wasn’t too much of a problem for us given that we usually like looking at the outside of buildings more than going inside so were happy enough just to have a wander about, but might be something to bear in mind for anyone else considering visiting.

Most of the beaches around and to the east of Faro are island beaches accessible by boat, but Faro’s main beach Praia de Faro (just beyond the airport) is an exception as there is a small road bridge connecting it to the mainland.  We’d heard a couple of people mention it as a stopover place, so decided to have a look.  It’s a long sandy stretch quite built up with bars and restaurants, and was the first beach we’d visited that was still busy in the winter (possibly because it was a surprisingly warm Saturday afternoon), with the car park nearing full.  We got parked up (GPS: 37.00796 -7.99489), and after sunset it started to empty out, leaving just motorhomes.  It was an okay place, but after being spoiled with some of the other places in Portugal it didn’t feel like anything special.  It was at this point when we decided to check our emails and notifications after a few days offline, and discovered that Colin and Ro (who we’d met in Romania and again in passing in Hungary) had been following our blog and got in touch to say they were staying at the aire in Falésia, the one that we’d very nearly visited; if only we’d logged on earlier in the day!

The beach is home to Faro Bike Concentration every July,
Europe's largest biker event
The beach relative to the car park
After talking to our British neighbours in the morning, it became a bit clearer why so many vans used this spot: there was a nearby toilet block where you could get fresh water with a drain hatch you could empty cassettes into.  They also gave us a copy of The Portugal News (a Portuguese national newspaper that’s printed once a week in English), and highly recommended a place that offers unlimited grilled fish in a town coming up on our To-Visit list, so watch this space.

We might have missed Col and Ro, but we did have plans to meet other motorhomers in Loulé, Matt and Ellie of Postcards from the Road, who we’d befriended in northern Spain in November.  Loulé is mainly known as the home to one of the biggest carnivals in Portugal, and on the weekend of our visit was playing host to a chocolate festival.  Of course we turned up on Sunday, only to discover that the chocolate festival was Friday-Saturday (what is it with us this week?).  Matt and Ellie said that we’d managed to catch the town at the quietest they’d seen it in the post-chocolate festival slump, but we eventually managed to find an open coffee shop for a catch up.  They’ve been living around Loulé for a couple of months now with Matt working for relatives in the area, but are hitting the road again shortly.

Loulé: So quiet that the people had turned to stone

There was no aire in Loulé and we didn’t want to end up getting moved on in the middle of cooking for guests (or after several of the drinks that would accompany it), so we went to Estói (GPS: 37.09313 -7.89605, Free), where the small aire was shared by local vehicles but we managed to get a space, which conveniently looked like one of the few spots in the car park that didn’t require levelling ramps.  We also spotted a dozen or so vans parked directly behind the aire on a dirt-surface sports area.

Ellie & Matt arrived, so the four of us went for a walk around Estói.  It’s not a big place, with the main sight being a palace that’s been converted into a posh hotel surrounded by huge gardens, which were locked up.  In the evening I managed to cook a somewhat edible dairy free, coeliac friendly meal (Thai curry), of which I take the fact that I haven’t had any reports of illness to be a good sign.  We had a great evening catching up on each other’s travels and making notes of recommendations for countries that lie ahead. Like me, Ellie is facing the challenge of trying to eat more meat-free meals whilst living with a die-hard carnivore, and seems to be having some success, with only a couple of meals a week having meat.  Meanwhile on Planet Wander Wagon, this week I had the audacity to cook veggie meals two nights in a row, and had to give promises of a chicken dinner to conquer the resulting sulk!

Back on our own the following day, the wheels stayed firmly rooted in Estoi.  My head seemed to have developed a strange aching sensation, which I am sure had absolutely nothing to do with drink, nothing at all.  We opted to have a chill-out day, clearing the fridge of various leftovers for dinner (including a questionable chicken curry stuck in the freezer 3 months ago, the chicken now having gained a somewhat rubbery texture).  We’d read that the gardens were open Monday-Saturday so went for another look to see if we could get in, but there were still padlocks across the gate.  We did find another locked gate we could peer through but it appears the gardens have been neglected, with a lot of sorry looking grass and weeds all over.  Whether they’re only maintained during the high season or whether they’ve just given up, I couldn’t say.  Later after our rubbery chicken curry the telly came out, and after the last couple of years or so of gradually getting through Lost we finally watched the ending of it (conclusion: Matt was not impressed).

After 11-odd months of travelling without issue, in the morning we finally saw a warning on the control panel to charge the batteries with the voltage on our leisure batteries having fallen to 11.8V. Usually we recharge through driving but we’ve not travelled much distance since we were last on hookup 25 days ago (averaging 25 miles a day compared to our trip average of 79).  The biggest factor is probably that we haven’t moved much since the week Matt’s parents visited, when we only gained 12 miles.

Our nearest known place with hookup was near Moncarapacho, at what Camperstop referred to as ‘Far West Style Camp’ (actually named Route 66), a French-run motorhome park that for some reason has a Wild West style theme.  It seemed to be okay, if a bit scruffy around the edges, and we possibly would have thought about staying if not for the fact that the price had increased (from €7 to €8) and electricity was no longer included, instead having a confusing system where you pay a €1 base fee plus €0.45/kWh.  Without any idea exactly how much electricity we’d need to fully charge our batteries and not being particularly impressed with the site, we decided we’d check out another nearby site first.

Caravanas Algarve (GPS: 37.09548 -7.77402, unfortunately forgot to get pictures) is just a few km away and a much smaller site, with capacity for about a dozen motorhomes, but was much more peaceful and attractive.  At €10 a night the price was a little higher, but included electric so probably saved us overall.  With free WiFi, clean shower/toilet blocks and well maintained pitches, it was worth every cent.  A British van parked next to us had been there for four months, so clearly we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the place.  As much as we knew we should utilise the internet access to get some jobs out of the way like updating records or route planning (or get caught back up on this blog!), it was difficult to want to do anything other than getting chairs out and relaxing under the clear blue skies.

The WiFi certainly proved useful in one area however, and that was in researching water pump problems.  After all of the palaver going without a water pump for a month, we turned on the taps at the campsite to find that nothing was coming through the pipes no matter how long we ran them for; not what you want when you’ve just installed a brand new pump.  The pump appeared to be running but there was no suction beneath it.  It seems if you run your tank to empty and then fill it (as we’d done on our arrival), sometimes this pushes air into the system and causes an airlock.  The cure came by turning on the nearest tap to the pump (in our case the kitchen) and sucking on it until flow returned and water came back through.  Not the most pleasant fix, but at least at this rate we’ll be experts at diagnosing water pump issues!

We debated staying on the site another night as it was a nice spot but it’s time we sped up a bit through Portugal, so it’s on to new grounds.

- Jo

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