Well, after Mike’s sickness spell we eventually reached Nazaré on 1st November and tied up on the next pontoon to Sea Spirit again. They still had engine problems and were waiting to be lifted out of the water so were a bit fed up. Of course they cheered up when they saw us. Paul still hadn’t caught any fish (neither had Mike mind you).
Nazaré is a very old port which occupies two levels. Some of the inhabitants, said to be of Phoenician origin, still dress traditionally. The port is a centre for sardine and mackerel fishing. There were racks of fish on the beach drying in the sun. The town itself is on two levels. The old part behind the sea front is full of narrow streets while the upper part on the cliff top contains a small chapel which is a place of pilgrimage. The cliff itself is spectacular, with different coloured and angled strata. The houses on top literally overhang the beach on massive outcrops of rock. We were idle and took the funicular railway to the top this time! The views were again magnificent.
The town was quite a walk from the docks where the surroundings weren’t as pleasant. The marina is in a corner of the fish dock which in itself isn’t unusual, but there is much waste land and dereliction around, together with packs of stray dogs!
The Capitania is a retired British Navy Captain who shall remain nameless but he was a bit officious and liked to tell people that they had not tied their boats up properly or that their boats were facing the wrong way on the pontoon etc. He was trying to be helpful in his own way but only succeeded in getting everyone’s backs up and we met people afterwards who didn’t like his attitude and left after only one night because of it. He also told everyone that if they were travelling south to the Algarve that every marina was full except for Portimáo and that he could telephone and book you in! We didn’t take his advice and hoped to find somewhere when we got there ourselves. The day arrived when we were leaving and along he came with more advice, namely that there was a southerly current flowing down the coast which would help us on our way and that if we brought him our chart he would mark on it where it was. Damn! This was the only area in our whole journey so far that we hadn’t got a large scale paper chart for (we do have it on a cartridge on the chart plotter). We didn’t dare tell him we didn’t have a chart! Like two naughty schoolchildren we skulked away only grateful we didn’t get 200 lines each!
We only stayed for two days then left for Cascais, 76 miles south.
Cascais is a lovely resort on the outskirts of Lisbon and we decided to stay for a week as it is a good base for travelling into Lisbon, also to visit Sintra, a World Heritage Site in the hills above. Cascais itself is one of the nicest towns we have visited, even though it is a holiday resort. The several small beaches are right next to the centre and are cleaned daily. We met up with Glen and Maureen from Touché again and swapped experiences with them and had a couple of meals together. As Maureen said, “We feel like family now”. They then left to make the crossing to Madeira and onwards to the Canaries to meet family for Christmas. We got a text a week later saying they had arrived safely having had a good trip. Let’s hope the weather is as kind to us when we do our next passage.
Cascais also had the benefit of the largest supermarket we had found since leaving France, except that there was no place to tie up the bikes outside. Mike was almost apoplectic looking for a spot amongst the cars and shoppers. We eventually just tied the bikes together in a corner but we still found that a van was trying to unload right behind us when we returned!
We took a bike ride to the Boca Inferno, a rock formation just along the coast which is noted for the ferocity of the sea crashing through the large hole in the cliff. Of course the weather had been so benevolent for the past couple of months there was hardly a sound from it when we visited! We carried on along the coast past the famous surfing beach at Guincho,where World and European championships have been held. Again, there was no surf that day! About 17 kilometres north of Cascais on the coast road is the westernmost point of mainland Europe, Cabo da Roca, a sheer cliff 140 metres above sea level. The last climb to it was tiring but it was well worth the trip when we got there, and the inland journey back down to Cascais was exhilarating! The local bus goes there as well but we were feeling in need of the exercise and were pleased we’d done it the hard way.
We did take the bus however, when we visited Sintra, another World Heritage site, 12 kilometres from Cascais. This journey was really uphill all the way into the mountains. Sintra is billed as ‘a place of mystery, magic and unique natural beauty’, and it really is. A medieval town with a Moorish castle towering over the old quarter, it became the summer residence of the kings of Portugal from 1147. The National Palace, parts of which date back to the Middle Ages, has been added to by various monarchs, and is now a glorious hotpotch of different styles and shapes, predominated by the two large chimneys which have come to symbolise the town. The walk through the many rooms and courtyards is well worth it, and was cheap enough for ‘pensioners’ at €2. We have found that Portugal is exceptionally inexpensive for tourist attractions. The full price was only €4 a person and many places have free entry on Sundays.
We had an energetic walk up to the Moorish castle above the town which was truly spectacular, and the view across to another palace, the Royal Palace of Pena was amazing. This is even more ‘fairy tale’ like than the National Palace, and we were just annoyed that we couldn’t visit that as well, but Mike was still not feeling 100% after his stomach upset, and he had already climbed all the way up to the Moorish castle. There is a bus which visits all the attractions in Sintra which we could have caught, but there are really too many places to see in one day, and we were satisfied with what we had done. This is what we have been finding as we move along. There are so many things we haven’t done or places we haven’t been to but we can’t see everything on our journey. We would still be in France now if we’d done everything!
We met a nice waiter called Sergio in a bar in Cascais who, when he saw us watching football on TV one day, started talking to us and Pat told him of wanting to go and see Benfica play at the ‘other’ Stadium of Light while we were in Lisbon. He went home that evening and brought back the following day details of Benfica’s next home fixture against Boavista that coming Sunday, with ticketing costs, plan of the stadium and Metro map all of which he downloaded and printed out from the Internet for us. He suggested we go into Lisbon the next day to buy our tickets in advance and acclimatise ourselves so by the Sunday we would know where we were going.
We took Sergio’s advice and went along to Lisbon the following day on the efficient local train service then changed to the Metro and found our way to the stadium. We bought tickets for €27 each (as opposed to Ł27 a seat back home) and then went back to an area of Lisbon called Belém which contains many museums and historic buildings. We visited the Jeronimós monastery, the Tower of Belém, the National Maritime Museum and the Monument to the Discoveries. They are all worth visiting and we spent the rest of the afternoon there.
Lisbon is situated on the river Tagus and is quite hilly but when we returned on the Sunday we became proper ‘tourists’ and took the open-top bus on a tour of the city proper. On the evening we duly took our seats at the Stadium of Light for the match and I must admit that the stadium is even nicer than ours with a beautiful curve to the stands with an open-backed curved roof to match. It felt nice and airy inside, truly a stadium of light.
The game went as expected with Benfica roundly beating Boavista 6 - 1 (and that included a missed penalty) and we enjoyed the whole experience. The highlight was that before the game they release a real live eagle (Benfica’s emblem and mascot) from the roof which then swoops round the auditorium and lands on the pitch to a rapturous reception from the home crowd. Very impressive. I think I'll suggest to Sunderland that we release a puma before the game and let it circle round the away fans! Ha ha.
I found a video of the event on Youtube. Check it out here. Eagle
All in all, we thought that this area of Portugal was really nice but we needed to journey on while the weather remained settled so we left on 13th November for Sesimbra, 28 miles down the coast.
Sesimbra is a small fishing town with a popular beach. It is a centre for harpooning as well as deep-sea fishing for swordfish. We only stayed for the one night in the small marina there but as we left the next morning we had our first encounter with bottlenose dolphins. We had seen plenty of common dolphins up to now, but these are much bigger in size, about 3.5 metres in length compared with the 2 metres of the common dolphin.
We first saw them moving across us, obviously on a hunt for food, as they were very active in the water, jumping and diving furiously. There were at least 30 of them. We gunned the engine to intercept them and to our joy some of them started to swim around the boat. We were then entertained for some ten minutes or so by them diving in and out of our bow wave then they returned to the rest of the pod to join in the feast. It was certainly a sight to behold.
We had not seen the last of dolphins that day, however, as we were joined a little later by a dozen or so of our usual friends who put on an even better show for us with one especially who was almost leaping out of the water in glee.
That afternoon we reached Sines, 36 miles south.
Sines is the birthplace of Vasco da Gama although there are no relics in the town. There is a medieval fort where he was reputedly born, but apart from a striking statue of him overlooking the harbour in front of the fort, there is no other trace of him. The town itself has grown since 1971 from a small fishing village to a substantial port capable of handling 500,000 tonnes tankers and has heavy industry as well as petrochemicals supporting its economy. The industrial areas are, however, masked by the old town when you reach the small marina tucked in behind the main harbour. The town is high above the well laid out sea front and has small narrow streets and interesting shops and cafés.
After three nights in Sines we left in the evening for the overnight passage to our first stop on the Algarve, Lagos, a journey of 83 miles. We wanted to reach Lagos in daylight, hence the departure time.
Lagos was once the capital of the Algarve and today, in spite of its popularity with tourists, it still retains character with its fort, walls and old quarter. The marina wasn’t full, as our friend in Nazaré would have us believe, and we tied up gratefully after our 17 hour journey. At last we had rounded Cape St Vincent and were away from the potential winter storms from the Atlantic.
There were a lot of Brits in the marina in Lagos and most were intending to spend the winter there. They had all sorts of things arranged including quiz nights, walks, talks, computer nights, book swaps and even a thrice weekly transmission on channel 77 in which anyone could put forward suggestions or ask questions about anything. We were tempted to stay but we really wanted to get on and reach Faro at least or the Spanish border for the plane home at Christmas.
We stayed four days in Lagos and for one whole day it absolutely poured with rain. This was the first substantial rainfall we had had for months. We also watched England go out of the qualifiers for the 2008 European Championship in one of the marina bars. Same old story!
We left on the 22nd November for the short, 10 mile, trip to Portimáo.
Portimáo has a marina just inside the river which is a tourist complex like Lagos but we saw in the pilot book that there were pontoons closer to the town so sailed up there more in hope than expectation of getting a berth. We were fortunate that there was one, and only one, available. The downside was we couldn’t stay there for more than 4 days, the upside that it was only €5.15 a night, less than half of anywhere else we have stayed.
The town itself is very pleasant, with the usual patterned cobbled streets and we watched workmen building a new pedestrian crossing with light and dark grey blocks. The next day we saw that they had completed the crossing and the roadway for about 6 yards further along. Very beautiful and very labour intensive!
We also saw white storks nesting on tall chimney tops, although according to our ‘twitcher’ book they breed between April and June with only one brood then migrate to Africa for the winter. Maybe they were still in Portugal because of the extremely mild weather up to now. There just seemed to be pairs of birds in each one. We only noticed them when we heard the rattling of their bills as they ‘spooned’ above us.
After a couple of days in Portimáo we left for Vilamoura, a resort 24 miles away and found a large marina surrounded by hotels, apartment blocks, golf courses and all the usual tourist attractions. It really had no character and as we couldn’t afford to play golf there (at between €65 and €100 a round), they probably wouldn’t have entertained us anyway with our pencil carry bags, trainers and lack of a handicap certificate! There is a town, Quarteira, just along the coast which we cycled to one day which was more our cup of tea, even though it was itself a small holiday resort. It had proper shops and cafés, not designer ones!
We discovered that Vilamoura did have one item of interest. An archaeological museum on the edge of the marina housed excavations of a complete Roman city which has gradually been uncovered since 1964. Apart from a 1C villa with it’s own private baths and a cellar, there are wells, a crematorium, silos, stables, a wine press and the ruins of 3C public baths. These baths once stood near the harbour until the sea retreated. Beautiful panels and fragments of mosaics still adorn the floors and pools. Unfortunately, when we discovered the museums existence and walked along to it, they were just closing and as we were leaving the next morning, we didn’t get to see it. Shame.
We had hoped to stay in Vilamoura and leave the boat there over Christmas when we went home as it was near to Faro airport, but to be honest, we couldn’t face waiting there for almost 3 weeks before we left. We had decided to move further along the coast to Olháo, a town next to Faro, or if we couldn’t get in there, to Ayamonte, the first Spanish town over the border. We were just walking back to the boat after our aborted museum visit when we were pleased to bump into an Irish couple, Anna and Ken, from Broadsword of Hornet, who we had first met in La Coruna. We had been seeing them all the way down the coast, and had had a drink on board their 55 ft yacht while in Cascais, with Anna’s mum, Nola, who was over for a visit. It was great to catch up on what each of us had been doing and we went out for a meal that last evening. We may not see them again as they intend to make for Sardinia next. You never know though, plans change all the time. As Mike keeps saying, “We have no agenda and we’re sticking to it”!
The next morning we left for Olháo.
Olháo is a medium sized town next to Faro, and both towns lie behind low sandy islands on the Ria Formosa surrounded by salt marshes. Faro doesn’t have a yacht harbour but there is a small one at Olháo so we decided to try there. We went in on a rising tide and followed the buoyed channel up to Olháo but found there was no room in the small marina. We could have dropped anchor just outside the marina but were advised that we could snag our anchor on the bottom, so sailed back down to the shelter of the islands. We found a perfect spot in the lagoon and spent a peaceful night among the water birds and one or two other anchored boats. The sunset was magnificent that night too.
The following morning we raised anchor and made our way out of the lagoon, with the reed beds and sand banks clearly visible now that the tide was low. The only trouble was that we had to sail almost 5 miles back west to leave, which added 10 miles to our eastward journey! There was an exit to the east but at low tide we would have had to have some local knowledge to attempt to find the way out. No thank you.
Anyway, we eventually arrived at our last port of call, Ayamonte, which is on the east bank of the river Guadiana, which is the Spanish border. We had returned to Spain after a month and a half in Portugal. Time to get the Spanish phrase book out again!
Our overall impression of Portugal is positive, especially Viana Do Castelo and Cascais. We weren’t as impressed by the Algarve, although we didn’t explore much inland, away from the tourist areas really, but the weather is certainly milder down here. All of November the temperature has been no lower than 18C during the day, although it is starting to get chilly on an evening. Have to find some coal for the stove.
We will be home from the 16th December to 6th January, and hope to see many friends. If we don’t see you, have a very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.
The next update to the web page will be at the end of January. See you then.
Photos below as usual.