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