Monday, 25 April 2016

Back on the Adventure Trail. Part Three: Discovering Central Portugal.

What Fun!

The last two posts looked at our trip planning and arrival in a sleepy village in the heart of the Central Portuguese mountains. In this post I will share some of our experiences as we explored this most beautiful part of Portugal where we were surrounded my mountains, simplicity, friendliness, and beauty. Monsanto, Idanha a Nova, Penamacor, Pena Garcia. All names and dots on a map until you see real life thriving there as it has done for centuries.

The Surrounding Area.

In my last post I described the Quinta da Pedra Grande and the village of Relva This is a short walk from the Quinta as are other villages such as Eugenia and Devesa.
   Historic Monsanto, built among the boulders, high on a granite hill, was a car ride for us. Leaving Relva and passing huge boulders that overhung the road, we negotiated the switch-back uphill bend and parked up by the cannons which point way over the valley. You could easily see why the cannons were placed on the walls here. The valley stretched for miles below and beyond. From then it is a steep walk through winding cobbled streets.
Short steps are the way to tackle this.
It was a reminder of the past when we saw the fishmonger carefully drive his van up the narrow streets and park up while housewives came out to make their purchases. No supermarkets here!

There is a 'training hotel' and a few B&B establishments but bear in mind that there is a walk with luggage and possibly stairs to climb. Some of the streets were almost perpendicular but it did give you a good view of all the restoration going on among the rooftops below. We saw the bell tower and two of the churches from the outside but declined to struggle up to the castle. Strong shoes and good legs are the order of the day. Not something I am usually blessed with. A mountain goat I am not!

Pena Garcia not far from the Spanish border is worth a visit, if only for the views. All the streets led upwards high above the main road. Again the views are stupendous. In an area below a small plaza was an old tank. I am not sure of its significance but it looked impressive. Lunch in a nearby restaurant - on an Industrial Estate - followed where again we had the all-inclusive Menu del Dia.

Idanha-a -Nova is one of the main administrative areas. There is a lot of history here with old palaces and churches. We parked up by a Bank and expected the Satnav to guide us to a restaurant. Eventually we set off again, looking for the main hotel -one which I had looked at as a possible base. The hotel in question did not serve food but they pointed us to a nearby restaurant. This was an excellent choice. Due to the cold and rain, we did not linger with sightseeing. On the way back we once again negotiated the narrow cobbled streets of charming and ancient Proenca-a-Velha where people gathered around the water pump in the centre for a good old gossip.

It was the same with the city of Castelo Branco. Rain and more rain fell in in ever increasing fierceness. Not conducive to sightseeing and the traffic -well it is a city. All we could see were high rise buildings so evidently we missed the old part. There is a supermarket that had two huge washing machines and a tumble dryer outside. One machine took an eight kg load for four euros and one took an eighteen kg load for eight euros. Drying was charged by time. They welcome tourists here.
Eventually , we found the restaurant that we had heard about. After deciding to head out of Castelo Branco we found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be. A wonderful meal once again – Menu del Dia – soup, fish or meat, and pudding if new wanted. All for an unbelievably cheap price. Talk about Two for One. More like Four for Two.
Penamacor. Our last visit was to this mountain village high in the sierras to the north of the N239. Climbing steadily through narrow roads and ancient villages, we saw the signs for Spain. Our map showed us how winding was this road - excellent biking roads and we had a pang at the thoughts of our beloved Gold Wing motorbike. It would have been wonderful to ride any of these roads. The village had a surprising number of cafes and restaurants. It was also so clean as were all the places we had visited. here had been a lot of restoration work on buildings and roads. The views which dropped down below us from our parking spot by the bus terminal was amazing. he lad stretched out as far as you could see to the distant mountains.
The made-up roads are good but away from them, there is a veritable warren of unmade roads. Not a problem if dry, but with all the rain, the ground was soaked. this made for a hair-raising ride down one when we slipped into a ditch. drainage channel. A nearby 4x4 pulled us out but, yes, I was frightened.

Getting There.
Lisbon airport is so easy.
With a direct flight from Manchester UK to Lisbon airport we then had a hundred and fifty mile journey into the deep interior of Central Portugal.  The flight times had been changed which meant that when we were due to collect the car in Lisbon Airport, we would still be in Manchester UK. Landing in Lisbon in the late evening we joined the well-controlled taxi queue outside the arrivals hall for an extra overnight stay in an airport hotel.  The following morning the taxi driver dropped us in front of 'Arrivals' explaining that we would find Europcar in there. W e really ought to have listened to him but, having seen the Internet map and that it didn't add up to what was in front of us, we decided to follow the signs to  'Rent-a-Car. Off we trundled with our cases, found that the booking-in desks were all closed, went up to the first floor only to be told that we had to book in before we could collect the car. Off we went again and trundled the cases up and down the covered corridor until, at last, Allen did a reccae and found a brand new bank of car rental desks just off the Arrivals Hall. If we had collected the car on landing we would easily have seen the signs. But all was well and eventually we made our way out of the airport.

More options.

There is so much more to discover than we were able to during our short stay and we will certainly return. Next time we will drive from the UK. We had been fortunate to spot a large scale Marco Polo map of Portugal in WHSmith's store in Broughton. Most of our other maps were of Spain and Portugal so this was a real find. I would certainly recommend you to buy one if touring Portugal.
If travelling from the UK or other parts of Europe, another option is to either take a ferry to Santander/Bilbao or cross the Pyrenees at Biarritz. Then head to Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca and cross the Spanish/Portugal border on to the N239 which leads inland.. The roads here are good as the N239 gives way to Spain just after Monfortinho.

 I do hope that I have wetted your appetite to visit this beautiful country. Better on a motorbike and if travelling as a group, consider the Quinta that I have described.

Rosalie xx
Photos copyright Rosalie Marsh 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Back on the Adventure Trail. Part Two: Finding a Gem in the Central Portuguese Mountains.

I am horrified  to see that it is two weeks since my last post but there was a good reason.
My last post asked, 'Is it feasible?' Were our plans to trek one hundred and fifty miles into Central Portugal a step too far, or could we make it work?

It certainly was and we certainly did but not without a few fun and games in the Lisbon sunshine. More on that later.

Quinta da Pedra Grande.

We were to head towards the historic village of Monsanto built among the boulders of the granite mountain/hill.(take the N239 and follow signs for Relva/ Monsanto) The Quinta da Pedra Grande on the outskirts of Relva village was ideal with easy access off the N239 on the road to Monsanto. Monsanto itself we had decided was too steep for us – reviews are an excellent way to make informed decisions. The images for the Quinta showed the accommodation to be in newly restored farm buildings. And the price was a good one.   Leaving the motorway from Lisbon near Castelo Branco and taking the N233 and N239 we followed the Relva/Monsanto sign off the N239. We had thought that we may have to turn off this road and go up a track to the Quinta. But no, rounding a corner we found that the imposing gates were right by the road, wide open and waiting to welcome us.

We also received a warm welcome and nothing was too much trouble for Olga. Our room, in the building by the road - our window was level with the road but interior shutters protected our privacy - was furnished to a high standard with everything top quality. Beds and pillows were comfortable; bathroom was large, the windows had shutters inside for privacy. Breakfast was substantial with scrambled eggs and bacon to accompany the usual continental style breakfast.  Importantly, Wi-Fi had a secure connection – a different one for different buildings. The huge dining /lounge/TV area across the courtyard/terrace was enhanced with an inglenook stone fireplace where a log fire burned brightly each morning. A welcome sight on a chilly early spring morning. It was an unusually wet April.

The undulating grounds are extensive with parts of the gardens under ongoing planting. The not-so-early morning cuckoo announced its presence very forcefully as it sang in the early morning sunshine. Standing on the terrace admiring the flowers and trees, we had an uninterrupted view across the distant mountains which surround the area.

Relva village,
In  the mountains. Silent with birds chirruping in the trees.
The walk from Quinta da Pedro Grande was easy, slightly uphill, but pleasant in the early evening air with birds tweeting in the trees, A dog came out of nowhere to play. In the large cobbled square, all was quiet. Not much sign of life. Outside one bar a man started to cook, adding all sorts to a pan over coals
 As you round a corner from the Quinta, the sight of the Bar Joven greets you. From the outside it appeared dark inside but it was welcoming. Simple. Men drinking at the bar. A man’s place. It was  early. After a huge midday meal we just wanted a snack. The barman spoke in French and offered 'fromage, jambon'(cheese and ham).  All easily understood. We enjoyed a  pleasant snack and so cheap. Amazing. The barman a small thin man who spoke French naturally. The TV was blaring away - as usual with a game show. The sandwich with fromage- cheese – on wonderful  fresh bread filled a gap left by a lunch not totally consumed The local wine of course was wonderful as we had come to expect. 
All in all, the Quinta Da Pedra Grande is a ‘spot-on’ location for exploring this stunning and peaceful sleepy part of Portugal. I was entranced by the clumps of deep purple wild Lavender (called Rosemary here), yellow broom, yellow lupins and a type of rock rose with white flowers called ‘tears of Christ’ which grew in great profusion along the hedgerows and in the fields.
More on out and about in the surrounding area in Part Three of this article.
 Rosalie  xx
Photos copyright Rosalie Marsh


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Back on the Adventure Trail. Part One: Is it Feasible?

After nine years of being in a Gold Wing motorbike travelling wilderness we are back on in action..

Not, I hasten to add on a motorbike and certainly not on A Gold Wing. Those days are sadly behind us. However, the opportunity arose some months ago to visit Portugal. Our previous three visits to Portugal - Algarve, Lisbon area, and Oporto in the Duoro Valley - were booked with a travel company where everything was taken care off. All we had to do was turn up at the airport.

On a hill overlooking the Douro Valley
Overlooking the Rio Duoro in Oporto
This time, we were back in charge of everything. This time we were heading for the mountains. Older and wiser, this is the A-Z of how we planned our trip.
  • A map search with a proper map. A map search on the Internet and Satnav. ( Yes, I still have an uneasy relationship with a  Satnav but have to agree with OH that they have their uses for pinpointing an exact location.
  • Internet search of hotels in the area. is invaluable for finding hotels in more rural areas as well as cities. Previously, when travelling on the motorbike I booked many hotels direct with the hotel chain such as Accor or Holiday Inn. Now, in order to decide on dates, I simply input a variety of possible ones. Then I compared their location against the area we wanted to be near to for our visit. I found a reasonable one which was easily accessible off the main road, Due to the flight times back, we would have to travel back to Lisbon the day before. This involved an overnight stay at an airport hotel.
  • was invaluable for booking the flights. This is the first time that I have booked a flight direct with the airline. It was quite a learning curve I must say. A direct TAP Air Portugal flight from Manchester was the best option. It was also a reasonable price. We didn't really want to fly all around Europe with connections by going with  a cheaper airline. we have flown with TAP Air Portugal  scheduled flights before and found them excellent. My first search was some months ago. When I cam to actually book, the flight schedules had changed and the expected early morning flight had changed to 11:00am. But that was OK. We wouldn't have to get up as early on the morning of departure.
  • CHANGES. Then one day we took a message from Expedia. Air Portugal had changed the flight times to late afternoon, arriving in Lisbon in the early evening. This meant flying a day early. Another hotel. But when  have I ever found staying in an hotel a problem? It is one of my pleasures.
  • CHECK-IN. This was also my first time at negotiating the seemingly complexities of online check-in which is preferred by the airlines now.. Nat, my helpful hairdresser - cosmetic hair consultant went the extra mile on my last visit. He looked on his computer and gave me all the information that I needed. I was uncertain about bag drop etc. in checked in online.
  • I could have booked a car for onward travel through but decided against that. There were many options but on looking at some of the car hire firms individually, settled for Europcar. When travelling for my job some years ago, the hire cars came from Europcar and I felt comfortable with them. They were also based in the Terminal at the airport. Booking was easy.
We were all set. Both the hotel and the airport had helpful maps and directions from the arrivals point to Europcar (marked on the map) and directions from the airport to the hotel, directions from the hotel to our final destination. The wonders of Internet. We spent many happy hours looking at the area to which we were heading, taking advantage of the photographs that came up of the area etc.
Being computer literate, negotiating the information highway does not hold any terrors for me. The frequent e-mails that appeared in my Inbox were at once re-assuring but also time-consuming. I reflected that I was being a travel agent of a kind. I feel for those who are not computer literate or even do not have a decent broadband connection - if any. The digital age is passing them by and, to a point, disadvantaging them. We have also come to the conclusion that it would be easier in the car - simply book the ferry and hotels - and stay in control without the hassle of airports.
I will let you know how we get on in Portugal in Part Two of the Adventure Trail..
Rosalie xx

You can read about Lisbon and the hills surrounding the area in ORANGES: A Journey.
A fiction story built on a dream. ISBN 978-1-908302-31-1 (Paperback) In print and eBook formats

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Stirring the Cooking Pot of Life.

Hitting the ground running.

Life has been hectic since our return from Gran Canaria a few weeks ago. With the usual round of review appointments at the doctors, dentist, optician etc. we have barely had time to draw breath. We have also been caught up in local issues of one kind or another with writing at the forefront of my mind. I am afraid that the gym and Aquafit sessions have been sacrificed.

Meandering in the Mediterranean Sea. 

This is one section of Island Interludes: Just Us Two Escape to the Sun. It includes Sicily, Cyprus and Malta. Sicily, which we have visited twice, follows on from where The Long Leg of Italy ended; Malta and Cyprus are two other wonderful islands that are steeped in history, culture, sunshine, good hotels, and sea crashing against a rocky shore.


My writing research includes re-visiting camcorder film that I made at the time, the inevitable maps, books, and Internet searches to check my facts and spellings.

In Cyprus on our last visit 2008.
I watched our 'Cyprus with Mum 2004' video yesterday - our second visit; it was wonderful to see my  late mother as she was when, at eighty-six years old, she was sprightly and perky on her first trip abroad. I felt that I had her back again; not as she was when she gradually deteriorated until she slipped away at ninety-seven years young.

The Atlantic Wanderings section will follow where I will chart our adventures in the Azores, the Canary Islands that we have visited many times, and Madeira.

Wrexham Writers' Group.

Last Saturday, April 1st, I had the pleasure of being part of a panel to edit entries for the 'Wrexham Write Now' project. This was part of a BBC Cymru Wales, Arts Council of Wales, and What Next?  initiative to celebrate creativity. The brief was to edit, publish and market a book in one weekend.

The Wrexham Writers Group, led by Sue Miller of All Words Matter
and David McCall -writing as David Ebsworth,  Author of Historical Fiction, set the task to the Writers' Group to write short stories and poems with a Wrexham flavour.
They published the finished anthology, Wrexham Write Now, with digital distributor Smashwords. Our own brilliant artist Alan Jones Art designed a cover which depicted major places in Wrexham town including of course, the World Heritage site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which soars above the Dee Valley at Trevor in Wrexham County. (We lived in its shadow for many years and never tired of a walk across it - a four mile round trip back home.)

You can download your free copy of Wrexham Write Now! here in a variety of formats to suit your reader or PC. I am sure that you will have as much laughter and tears as I did at the sheer variety and depth of feeling that came across.
Alan Jones. Art
Publishing with Smashwiords

Sue Miller

Some of those involved from the Writers' Group.









Visiting my website last week I found that the hosting company are retiring the current format and a complete update is needed in the next few months. The changes on offer look exciting. Meanwhile there is much to see at Discover-Rosalie

Rosalie xx