Motorhome and Away
Portugal 2011 - Coast and Country

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Portugal - Coast and Country

For the next few days we toured inland missing out Lisbon as we aren't city lovers although we probably missed some interesting sites. Cutting around the back of Sines an industrial port we drove on an empty dual carriageway, being rebuilt for several kilometres, through oakwoods and bypassed Grandula to fill up with LPG at a filling station on a now busy main road with lots of lorries despite a motorway running parallel to it. At Alcácer do Sal we turned off into the town centre and parked at the castle, now a Pousada, and walked around the town through steep cobbled lanes with a mix of smart and scruffy houses to the riverfront promenade where there were a few shops and bars. The town takes its name from the salt marshes of the estuary. After lunch we set off north reaching Porto Alto then through workaday towns along the flat valley of the Rio Tejo to reach Alpiarça where there was a municipal campsite overlooking the lake dos Patudos (ducks). There was only a VW camper and us so we were given a key to the gates when the office closed in the evening. After dinner we walked into the town past the Casa dos Patudos, a museum and art gallery (closed when we were there), and several large street sculptures including one dedicated to cyclists.   

Alpiarca cyclists statue
Alpiarça Cyclists statue

Alpiarca modern building
Alpiarça modern town square . . .
Alpiarca statue
. . . and statue
The next morning we drove across the river Tejo to the large provincial capital of Santarem set upon a hill. It was too busy to park in the centre where we passed a large tiled market hall so we continued west through the suburbs and eventually found the road to Rio Major and followed the tourist signs to the Salinas where salt is still harvested by evaporation. We were able to walk around the salt pans and the distinctive traditional wooden buildings made from olive tree trunks, some converted to shops, a cafe and a small museum.

Rio Major saltworks wooden shed
Saltworks traditional building

From there we drove into the forested hills of the Sierra dos Candeeiros climbing up to the tiny village of Chãos where an overnight stop was listed at a picnic spot. We decided not to stay at such a remote place and whilst parked there for lunch we discovered that our water tank was leaking due to a split, so a change of plan was needed and we drove back to Rio Major and then on to the coast at Peniche hoping to buy a water container. Once there we parked by the harbour with a few other motorhomes for a walk around the old town, and with the help of a friendly shop keeper who spoke just a little French we found a hardware shop to buy a 20 litre water container for €8.  (At least we learnt that the Portuguese word for jerrycan is jerrycan). When we returned to the van we discovered the cap was too narrow to fit the submersible pump! We drove round the headland and stopped at the Praia Peniche campsite where they had low cost motorhome pitches. It wasn't in a very attractive part of the town and even the site's pedestrian gate needed a security card. As the weather was rough we only went for a quick stroll along the cliffs. 

Obidos gateway - decorated ceiling
Óbidos - decorated gateway

The next morning we drove inland to old walled town of Óbidos, a major tourist attraction, and were directed to the private motorhome aire which cost €2.50 for the day (€2 extra to use the service point). The town was worth a walk around with narrow streets within the old walls which had very uneven and unguarded walkways around the parapets. There was the usual mix of gift shops and expensive art and craft galleries catering for the many visitors along the maze of cobbled streets. From there we continued to Caldas da Rainha, a busy spa town, then back to the coast road and along to Nazaré. Motorhomes are banned from all the carparks and the aire was full so we headed for the Orbitur campsite a couple of kilometres inland where there were a few level pitches on the soft sandy soil among pine trees and there was free wifi in the "Conviviality" room. Nazaré is famous for its fishermen's wives who wear seven skirts and stand by the roadside with signs offering rooms to let. Many are colourfully dressed for the benefit of the tourists but we did see some genuine old ladies with the traditional tartan style skirts at the market hall. We drove into the town centre the next morning in warm sunshine and parked at an empty carpark where a weekly market is held. We discovered the "No motorhomes" sign thrown on the ground when we returned but luckily avoided a parking fine. After walking along the promenade alongside the large sandy beach we took the funicular railway up to the old town of Sítio. There were fine coastal views from the overhanging cliffs and we walked around the church square where there were stalls manned by colourfully dressed ladies selling dried fruits and nuts to the many coach parties. 

Nazare woman in traditional dress

Fisherman's wife

Returning to the van we drove inland again with a diversion along an extremely busy main road to the outskirts of Leiria where we found a small motorhome dealer and managed to buy a wheeled water tank (which cost €90 but needs must!!). We reached Batalha where there is an aire behind the impressive abbey and wandered around the building glad of some shade on an extremely hot afternoon, and then drove on through small industrial towns to the large Catholic shrine at Fátima where we stayed overnight with several motorhomes in Car Park No4. There were a few pilgrims around in the evening including two devout ladies approaching the basilica on their knees and looking in great pain.

   Conimbriga mosaic
Conímbriga Roman mosaic floor

The next morning we set off north across the hills to Conímbriga, a large Roman site with well preserved mosaic floors and baths with a complex underfloor heating system. After looking around the buildings and the museum full of everyday artefacts, we continued our journey bypassing the city of Coimbra and stopped at a small municipal campsite at Penacova where the next morning we discovered a new free aire in the town centre. A short drive took us to the forested Mata Nacional do Buçaco, and after paying a €7 toll drove through the dark woods to the old convent and ornate 19th Century palace, now an exclusive hotel. From the parking area there is a maze of paths passing Calvary shrines and waterfalls to the top of the hill for a great view.

Bucaco old convent
Buçaco convent entrance

To the north of the forest is the small spa town of Luso but we headed back to the coast at Mira then along flat coastal plain where virtually every house had sacks of potatoes and onions for sale, to the small resort of Vagueira and another Orbitur campsite. We tried to use the site's new motorhome service point before leaving the next morning but they had omitted to install a waste water drain! As it was a sunny and warm day we drove just a few kilometres alongside a lagoon to Costa Nova where we parked on a track with some other vans by the beach and dunes at the southern edge of the attractive seaside town with its uniquely striped houses. We spent the day and night parked here although we came across a larger aire behind the town centre which was full, mostly with old cars. As it was the weekend the town was busy with trippers.

Rio Major Saltworks       Rio Major Saltworks Salinas salt pans

Obidos back street
Óbidos - cobbled back street

Obidos flowery corner
Óbidos quiet corner

Nazare beach and boats
Nazaré beach

Nazare from Sitio
    Nazaré from Sítio

Sitio main square
Sítio church square

Batalha cathedral
Batalha Abbey

Fatima shrine
Fátima basilica

Conimbriga Roman Baths
Conímbriga Roman baths

Palace at Bucaco
Palace at Buçaco

Costa Nova striped houses
Costa Nova striped houses

Aveiro decorated boat
 Aveiro traditional boats   


Aveiro old merchants' houses
Aveiro Merchants' houses
More saucy boat art
Aveiro . . . 
Aviero painted boat
dubious boat art
Keen to find a larger supermarket than the small Lidl and Intermarché ones in most towns we drove into the large town of Aveiro and eventually found a Continente hypermarket on the ring road so topped up our supplies resisting the piles of Bacalhau (dried salted cod), whole piglets and other parts of animals for sale. We spent a couple of hours  wandering around before we headed for the town centre where we found roadside parking by the quay with some interesting old buildings and trip boats with saucy cartoon paintings on their bows. We were glad to get out of this busy town and eventually found quieter but slow back roads through the hills of the Rio Vouga valley to reach a free aire at the small spa town of São Pedro do Sul for a peaceful night.

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