Sunday 25th October.
We left Aviera two days ago heading for Coimbra but first we had a beach to visit. Someone recommended this beach to us at Praia do Palheirao 40.38749 -8.82315 and said it would be a beach we would remember for the rest of our lives. We had a look at the map and the roads to the beach didn't look too good but nothing ventured, nothing gained so off we went. The beach was stunning, clean sand for as far as we could see in both directions and big breakers crashing in. We'll remember the beach alright as we will the last 10k in and out on the forest tracks. To say it was bumpy doesn't really do the roads justice. The ideal speed was about 60kph but the problem then is that you don't always have time to react when one of the larger holes in the road appears but we got in and out without any damage so all's well that ends well.
We set off for Coimbra, which is famed for its historic hilltop university dating back to the thirteenth century and parked up next to the Rio Mondego 40.20515 -8.43217. We met an English couple who said the climb up to university was well worth the effort so we set off on foot. First stop the tourist information office where we picked up a map and then started the uphill climb through the steep narrow cobbled streets. To be fair I don't think we did Coimbra justice; in the first church we entered we were met by a security guard who wanted to charge us €2 each. It's not the money as much as the attitude we resent so that put us in a disagreeable mood and so we didn't really explore the Uni when we finally arrived. Also we were tired after walking around Aviera for two days and the tooth rattling drive to the beach earlier in the day so we descended back to the old town where we explored the tiny streets for an hour or so and then headed back to the van for something to eat and an early night.
Looking up at Coimbra University and the old town.
Yesterday was the first truly scenic route we'd driven since arriving in Portugal, from Coimbra to Vila Velha de Rodao on the banks of the Rio Tejo but, unfortunately, it poured down all day so most of the journey was viewed through the windscreen wipers. We arrived, parked up in a very pretty Aire 39.65174 -7.67198. The parking was opposite a campsite which was closed for the winter but they left the water switched on and the WiFi and there was no charge. I set off with my new €9.99 Decathlon brolly searching for a bread shop and was eventually pointed in the right direction by a young lady and returned with bread just as Phil was about to report me missing. The rain was relentless so we were stuck in the van although my time wasn't completely wasted as I managed to see most of the Arsenal - Everton game. Well done the Gunners. We did pop out to look at a notice board informing us of the exotic wildlife to be found in the river and along its banks including Egyptian Mongoose, Terrapins, Black Storks, Griffin Vultures, Eagles, Otters and more but it was hardly the weather for a riverbank walk. Which was a shame because as we drove out of town this morning and up and out of the valley we looked down and saw how beautiful the surroundings were. A wide river with wooded banks, it's a shame we didn't have the opportunity to explore.
Another scenic route today as we headed for Elvas, skirting the Serra de Sao Mamede National Park and after we passed through Arronches we saw our first cork trees. We drove through a long avenue with the old knarled trees on either side and plantations behind them. We were on the route de Sobriero and a very pretty route it was too in warm sunshine.
We had noted two Motorhome parking places in Elvas, one in an Intermarche car park which was a bit scruffy and a long walk into town and so after a quick food and beverage shop and a diesel fill up (€1.07/L) we drove to the second one underneath the very impressive seventeenth century aqueduct which extends for seven kilometres on five levels. Our guide book said that parking was tolerated but there was a huge market on alternate Monday's. We were caught out in Greece earlier in the year when folk started assembling a weekly market around us at 5am and not wishing to repeat the experience we thought we should check things out before we settled in. The receptionist in the hotel opposite confirmed that there would be a market tomorrow! We drove around town for a while following the big blue P signs but nothing was suitable for a Motorhome until I spotted the town's football stadium. A big stadium for a small town with training pitches and impressive facilities it also had a massive car park 38.87634 -7.15722. Which was empty. Result, as they say.
We'd bought some chicken in white wine and mushroom sauce from the supermarket earlier together with some cooked spuds and creamy spinach, cheating I know but we quickly warmed it up, enjoyed our lunch and then set off - uphill again! Elvas was once one of Portugals mightiest frontier posts and it's fortifications in the shape of star shaped walls and a wide moat are still well preserved. Apparently in the mid seventeenth century during the Wars of Restoration with Spain, one thousand troops saw off a Spanish army of over fifteen thousand and two hundred years ago the fort provided the base from which Wellington successfully attacked Badajoz in Spain. A tourist focused town but still with many folk living in the houses in the narrow alleyways within the fortifications.
The Cathedral was a little underwhelming but at least nobody attempted to charge us for entry but the octagonal shaped Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolacao was beautiful. The church replaced an older Knights Templar chapel that stood nearby and has tiled walls and decorated columns rising to a patterned cupola.
The Cathedral and restored central square ( was Escher here?)
Today will be our last day in Portugal, we've been here a week and a half and we obviously haven't seen anywhere enough for us to form an opinion. We're not going any further south so we'll miss Lisbon and, of course, the Algarve. We haven't immediately fallen in love with the country as we have others but that's not to say it doesn't have it's beauty and history, plus the beaches we've seen have been awesome although the weather hasn't been too kind to us overall. But we'll come back and maybe plan better. We kind of thought of this visit as a reconnaissance trip and we've seen enough to bring us back.