Sintra 30C … Lisbon 37C easy decision and what a good one. An early start on a 35 minute train to Sintra … we crammed in as much as we could. We are in a microclimate with abundant trees, surrounded by castles and palaces too many to discover in 1 day. We take a hop on hop off tourist bus and the advise of a guide. Pena Palace, Sintra National Palace and Regaleira Palace in that order. All very different and amazing. Another fiest for the amateur photographer … nothing could go wrong. A must see for any Lisbon visit. I could have spent much more time here.
A summer day, beautiful blue skies you get that feeling it’s going to be hot. The Metro was busy as we headed to the centre of town. The aim was go to the Elevator de Santa Justa we were 5th in the queue for the day. The lift goes up 7 floors … 47m; today it is a tourist attraction, however in it’s day was a main thoroughfare for locals to get up the steepest Lisbon.The views were great on the clear day we have, the construction and architecture is another visiting attraction built by an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel (Eiffel’s name has been remembered all throughout Portugal in terms of bridge constructions). On the top level is the ruins of the old Church of the convent of Santa Maria do Carmo and the Archaeological Museum. Lisbon was almost flattened in 1755 by an earthquake which followed by large fires. The remains of the church is now a tourist attraction, the church and museum were well worth the visit. Back down on the street, a walking tour group is just starting … I can hear the guide speaking English … giving the opening blurb … we ask to join … we were going to have breakfast … oh well …
We join the group and visit local monuments and learn more history. What is a walking tour without a visit from the Mayor of Lisbon? He just happened to be outside his office and upstaged our tour guide with more history. The tour wound up at 2pm. What a way to fill a day. It’s gotten quite hot … 38C as we grab any shade in the streets as we head back for a swim the hotel pool.
A nice little town, rich in corn, rice, farming and cork.
It’s 9am and it seems hot already it’s going to hit 40C today … we are on our way to the bus station, riding along the river, a couple of fishers look like they are set up for the day. The excited screams of kids as they play under water fountains, it looks like a school holiday program. Kids also at the beach under the shelters they are in for a treat today as the temperature climbs.
We are on the milk run on the bus which is good; seeing the little country towns. I’m amazed at the expanse of the rice growing areas.
Back in Lisbon, we chose a hotel with a pool, glad we did, we hit the town running and got our bike boxes within hours of checking in, a 6km return walk at 36C …the pool came in handy.
From the hotel window I look out to the Águas Livres Aqueduct what a sight … I’m hoping to see more of it tomorrow.
‘Oops … I don’t think I mapped from hotel to hotel’, she says as they struggle up a hill towards the castle in the heat and following garmin … she has stuffed up …
A soupy morning, it’s quite foggy and low cloud cover, such a shame as we are riding along a river/lake system on our left and cork on the right. We are going through the kilometres quite quickly, a brief stop at a fruit stall, fresh local fruit cherries, melons of several varieties … we settle for peaches and plums and a local cheese. The lady gives us a slice of melon … yum so juicy.
We divert off the road to avoid the trucks onto a EuroVelo, I’ve done some research and it’s a fast hard packed surface with some areas of sand. A great diversion, all shades of green. A canal from the dammed lake/river provides irrigation for the crops in the plain. We are riding through rice and corn fields. A lovely quiet ride then onto a red bike path into Coruche.
It’s become very hot, the tourist office lady suggested a few sights in this little town, the castle was one … no … too hot. The river is a lovely alternative, a simple ride on the path on both banks, a lone swimmer, a Canadian canoe, a little further is a pseudo beach with permanent umbrellas and a beach patrol, a few people around. Tomorrow is expected to be 41C I’m sure there will be activity in the river.
I write today from the balcony of the Casa where we are staying, 9pm it’s cooled down and I can see the river, people enjoying the drop in temperature as they take an evening stroll .., it’s not dark yet. I join them for some pics of the river. A lovely way to end a country stay before we hit Lisbon tomorrow.
It was nice to have breakfast out the front of the bar, espressos were giving the locals a heart starter for the morning before work or just to meet up for some gossip. I hope we weren’t at somebody’s table.
Out of town on back roads, cattle and sheep farming, cork, pines and gums. Our focus is on cork trees; some freshly harvested with No 22 painted on them.
Lots of little villages close together … we are centre of attention as we ride through the town, almost as if there are motion cameras in the street, little old ladies just pop out of their doors. We stop for a coffee, it’s hard to find someone to serve us at this very old cafe. The water fountain in the square, seems to be a popular daily chore as the old folk fill up their water bottles, I join in to fill my water bottle, lovely fresh cool water.
To finish our ride we pass a cork company Amorim Florestal, looking like a timber mill, but instead cork in piles. This company has been trading in the cork business since 1870.
A late check-in so we relax and have a tradional lunch; we learn later that it is one of the best restaurants in town … and we arrive in our cycling gear … eek. Lovely food and service. You just have to love the Portugese … ‘2 starters and 1 main should be plenty for you both’ … so it was, mushrooms and croquettes followed by orange duck, vegetables and fries and lovely white wine.
A must see … the culture centre … a mural of 400,000 cork stoppers. A Guiness Book of Records certificate.
A quick 10 minutes and we were down the mountain and coasting along the flat plain. It was nice to move the legs without grinding up hills.
Gum tree plantations and cork trees, the cork trees have the number 22 painted on them meaning they have been harvested this year, they are rich red in colour where the bark has been stripped.
The landscape is very Australian wheatbelt – rocky outcrops, it’s very dry and a lot of cattle farming. Little streets with cobblestones, a couple of men sitting on a steps in the shade solving the problems of the world.
We roll away the kms and stop just 15km from Castelo Branco at a little village for lunch, they are using a rotisserie for chickens and potatoes over hot coals. A hot chicken roll and potatoes with amazing sauce for lunch.
On of those moments today when you walk into an event, at the castle there is a weekend festival. We have caught it on the last day … yes a climb on foot up to yet another castle; atop the festival is in full swing … local products, people dressed in medieval clothing, jugglers, dancers, food stalls … entertainment to while away a few hours.
We immediately found our climbing legs and gears on the bikes.
A beautiful ride on backroads and lanes with rolling hills and lots of tiny villages. A few road cyclists not much traffic. Grape vines, peach orchards, cherry trees, cattle, sheep, goats are all in the mix today, not to mention those sweet smelling pines and plantations of gum trees.
The little villages with the locals on the corner having a coffee and beer; the lady wiping her outside table as her husband is enjoying a beer at 11am … I say, ‘Bon Dai’ John shouts “we are from Australia”. I’m sure tour cyclists don’t venture here. The very little old lady walking down the street we say ‘hi’ to her and stop, she is talking in Portugese, we tell her we are off to Monsanto, she holds my arm … probably telling me it’s a lot of hills and it’s going to be hot.
No end of surprises today, every steep hill ends with amazing scenery. A coffee stop in a village, it’s the local watering hole, a man-made pool in the river and a Cafe, I’m tempted to join the group of kids diving in and cooling off, they look like they have been playing sport.
A sound of cheering and a horn blows, as we are directed by a stadium, the local soccer game has just finished.
It’s after noon, we are only 16km from the Spanish border, the temperature is topping 41.3C and the hills are getting to 7-10% just outside of Monsanto. The last few kms have to be walked, it’s too hot and too steep to ride, John cussing.
We are sooo high, view of the plain below and mountains are breathtaking. The hotel room is frosty cold, the air-conditioning is on. We venture to the castle in the heat … we have come this far … giant granite boulders as we weave in the steep streets. We still ask ourselves, ‘how did they build these houses and castles?’
An amazing night out at a restaurant built into the granite rocks … chatting to people from USA and Wales.
‘The down starts here‘ says the man at reception …
Mapping the ride today … 610m descent and 70m ascent. You never know how it pans out however it looked good but there is always a twist; we are on the old national road; the freeway and highway out of our sights. I can hear John thinking … at any minute we will end up on a gravel track.
It was such a surprise, sunny, lovely road, shaded by tall trees, at times the sweet scent of pines and the most spectacular views of the Zezere Valley and the Serra da Estrela mountains on the other side. It was a short 22km ride and we only worked the pedals for about 3km.
A 2km very steep walk to the old town of Belmonte, today was a history lesson in this medieval town.
The 13th century granite castle is the birthplace of Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1467, who at 32 years old lead a fleet of 13 ships and discovered Brazil;
The well preserved Jewish Quarter, and a trip to the Jewish museum to learn how the Jews were banned from practising their faith but did so in secret.
The streets are interesting with shops selling local handmade produce. A few restaurants in the tiny streets with tables and chairs under large shady trees. A lovely place to visit.
The weather is heating up again and a lovely dip in the hotel pool.
We have timed our visit to the centre of Portugal well … it is very quiet and not full of tourists … where are they all? No doubt at the coastal towns soaking up the sun at the beach. Or are they victims of the airport strikes that has hit the UK?
A carbon copy to yesterday, I wonder if the younger generation would understand ‘carbon copy’ it’s a little obsolete. Anyway quick down cross the bridge over the Coa River then a very slow up.
Lovely weather if not a little chilly first up at 9am, however the hills soon got us warm. We only have 46km today, skirting around and up and down hills on some back roads. Rocky outcrops, vineyards, cherry trees. You have to love the dry rock walls. Little villages along the way. At times our lovely downhills were returned with 11-12% climbs … thanks so much!!!
We are in the real Portugal and the touring I like when …
the tiny village is soooo old and the ladies are out sweeping their front path trying to talk to us as we say ‘Bon Dia’;
the goats are in the bush and we see dogs by them … the dogs start barking when they see us; the shepherd appears … was ‘he under a haystack fast asleep’;
a little village didn’t have a Cafe but the bakery van was pulled up and the 20 something driver is swamped with old ladies buying their daily bread products. We join the queue and have the best and freshest croissant we have had in Portugal, but not before we said no plastic bag we will eat now, a lady went into her house and appeared with paper towel for our purchase. The driver apologised that he couldn’t speak English. He must get more daily gossip than a hairdresser. Off we go and the driver through the village hooting his horn for more sales, he passes us 2 times later on the main road.
Guarda city is at the highest altitude of Portugal. We are staying in the old city, the main square just 100m away, tiny alleys through the town. A fiest for the photographer. It’s exam time and we were lucky to see a group of nursing students in their black capes who were happy to pose for a pic. Those who are Harry Potter fans can relate to the dress. BTW, the dress code came well before Harry Potter, it started at Coimbre University.
A lovely meal tonight. We have wine from the area where we had lunch yesterday. Surprisingly the old town is very quiet and quite cool as we wander back to out dig for tonight.
“I can see the car disappear’, he said … that is John’s way of guessing we must be at the top ofyet another hill.
This is what tour cycling is all about. A great day on the bike, all boxes were ticked, adventure, culture and a much more.
We woke to an amazing view of the valley. I was a little anxious … the route was 5km steep down; 5km steep up then 52km steady up; 950m ascent and 610m descent.
Breakfast was entertaining there was us, Julie from Brazil on bike, Antoine from France on bike and a guy who was going out shooting wild boar, it’s his sport, lovely guy, we were all quivering at his stories and videos of his passion to shoot boar and to sell to butchers … as he lifted a slice of ham at the breakfast table.
Komoot took us on a ‘Cooks tour’ out of town much to John’s displeasure … small cobbled paths and up hills … I thought it was lovely; he was cussing away … haha. Back on the national highway and 7% down to the river, crossing the Còa River with the confluence of the Douro River. It’s quite warm as we start climbing … the Douro River below a glimpse of 2 river boats then more climbing 7-8%. We are blessed as some cloud cover and a little tail wind helped. We are up amongst the vineyards with beautiful views.
We reach the top and plateau with slight inclines and lovely rolling hills. … the landscape also changes … it’s a lot drier with large outcrops of rock. A lovely old village for a coffee … a group of cyclists on a Backroads tour having their scheduled break.
‘Hey John, keep a look out for cork trees’, I say,
‘Oh no … I saw a tree with a number 5 painted on it … it could have been a cork tree’
Further on we find a plantation of trees some with number 6. We laugh and think of how Choo, from Malaysia would be so proud … he was on a hunt for cork trees in Pinhao.
Another lovely town, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo for lunch then it was smooth slight climbing to Almeida.
A lovely day … lots of changes in the landscape, vineyards, almonds groves, dry rocky outcrops and views of hills. The end result was 1014m elevation gain.
We are very close to the Spanish border. Almeida is a walled fortress in the shape of a star … a quick change and off to explore the old town. Lovely old buildings and view points.
We, on the other hand are staying outside the wall at a very cheap Casa. We are likening it to be a scene from Fawlty Towers.
On arrival the door is open, nobody in sight, keys to rooms all exposed. A phone with a number. We ring; a friend who speaks English says someone will be here soon, the petrol station person next door comes to the rescue and we get the key. After showering and exploring the old city our key doesn’t work. We try the phone and number, leave message, the whole town tries to open door including a 99+yo dear old lady. Finally the owner and his English-speaking mate arrive after an hour. The lock is dodgy but it finally works. All good.
Oh well that’s country Portugal … my mind goes back to the 70’s when you didn’t lock your car or your house … wouldn’t we all love to turn back time.