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Colour Postcard from Portugal

Colour Postcard from Portugal    

By Inntravellers, James & Fiona Clarke, travelling in March

Day 1: From home to Odeceixe
It’s late-March and, after our flight from Stansted to Lisbon, we are soon on the train south. We arrive on time for the taxi drive to our first hotel, Casa Vicentina. Dinner was a very good meal of salad, fish risotto and crème caramel with local wine and a glass of port. All very local, unlike our fellow Inntravel diners who hail from Scotland and Derbyshire.

Day 2: Yellow margarine
After breakfast we have a brief chat with the other Inntravellers before setting off on our walk, quickly realising we’re in for a feast of wildflowers. Some are blue and red, but it’s predominantly yellow – oxalis and mimosa, osteospernum, hottentot figs (Carpobrotus edulis), potentilla, narcissus, lupin, squills, lithospernum, antirrhinum, cistus, lavender, rosemary, camassia, Cala lily and many more. As soon as we reach the sea we see colonies of nesting storks on the rocks and flying overhead, and a fisherman perched on the rocks. On the way inland towards Odeceixe we spot the red front of a kingfisher on a branch. We find a small café where we have a beer and toasted sandwich before heading up between white houses painted in bright colours around their doors and windows. All day we have seen plenty of small birds: stonechats, finches and swallows, and I also spot a small snake. Back at the hotel we sit outside our room on a terrace and admire the sounds and sights of spring.

Day 3: Greys and favours

It is already raining when we get up, a very grey day. So we ask if we can join our luggage in the taxi to the next hotel (the driver allows this favour), where Sandra, our host, welcomes us to Cerca do Sul. Our room is ready but despite some bright sun, it is soon a howling gale and persistent rain and we realise we had made a good choice. By late afternoon, it eases so we go out for a quick walk into the village, down to a levada, up a track, and back to hotel. We do see azure magpies though, and a magnificent rainbow which ends right on our hotel. Dinner was very good: soup, steak and chocolate mousse with local red wine. It is called Kingfisher, the messenger.

Day 4: Green and purple
It’s still looking grey this morning, but much brighter. We are quickly back on the coast and in the dunes. Although some soft sand it is relatively easy walking. The flowers are as good as yesterday and we start to see some more – geranium, lavender, thrift, rosemary, blue lupin, more cistus and potentilla. Although we are advised we may see lots of wildlife we see very little – until we reach a field with ostrich, vicuña and yak! We pass though a couple of sleepy towns and a small fishing port which involves a scramble up steep and slippery rock. From the top we see more storks nesting, before passing through the pastures of our next hotel, where a welcoming beer awaits. Dinner here was all good and better so for the local red which accompanied it. In the evening we catch up on our writing!

Day 5: Clockwork orange
Excellent fresh orange juice for breakfast sets the tone for the day! We head off in glorious sun, first heading along 'Acacia Avenue', the track bedecked in yellow flowers, before reaching soft sand which ends in our boots! The walking is generally good and passes through some thin woodland of pine and eucalyptus, but it is mainly open with lots of wildflowers again. Much of the route is along the top of orange sandstone cliffs and so the sand is also quite orange. There are houses with beautiful orange flowers and finally an orange in our picnic. There are plenty of people fishing from the cliffs today, including one man grinning at his large catch. As we reach our final destination, we note we are spot on with the planned timings in our notes – like clockwork! On arrival at Monte Novo da Longueira, we are welcomed with cake – and freshly squeezed orange juice. Later, we head out to a local restaurant, João Da Longueira, and enjoy Alentejo pork with clams and black pork.

Day 6: Blue-ming marvellous
There’s no rush today as the walk is shorter. We set off armed with a picnic, cutting inland through farmland to join the coast a little further north. And very enjoyable it is. Most of the days could have had a blue theme with the azure sea, blue paint on houses and blue sky! But today we see a lot more blue flowers, including two types of orchid and blue-flowered scarlet pimpernel – as well as blue bailer twine and blue netting everywhere. It is quite hot when we stop for our picnic lunch at Pria das Furnas and we hope that the ferry is running. We needn’t have worried. As soon as we head onto the jetty we notice a boat heading towards us, having been alerted to look out for our arrival. The ferry boat is predominantly blue and white, too, and is the best way to arrive in Vila Nova de Milfontes and Casa do Adro. After a time sitting on the balcony in warm sunshine, we go out for dinner at Tasca do Celso, a predominantly white building with blue on the door, windows and plates. We have black pork and Alentejo steak, cooked with plenty of garlic and lime and basil soufflé and local tart served with an Elvas plum. All delicious.

Day 7: Red end
After an excellent breakfast with fresh fruit in abundance, we head out of town and soon see lots of red poppies. The flowers are just as good as other days, but more are red, with dark pink hottentot figs now, both the flowers and their reddened leaves. The early part of the walk is along cliffs, with the continuous roar of waves all day. There are quite a few fishermen and we stop and watch a stork for a while – we are close enough to see two white eggs. Later, we walk through dunes with fewer flowers, and then along the beach to reach our destination, Porto Covo, and the bar from where we will be picked up. Tres Marias is very different to our other accommodation in everything except the welcoming hospitality. Much more modern in design, the floors and walls are very smooth concrete. It’s a pleasant spot and we sit with a cup of tea amongst the olive trees and watch the donkeys, sheep and ostrich in the field next door. The food and wine is excellent and we are well looked after. It was warm enough to sit out all evening.

Day 8: Homeward reflection
On the journey home we have plenty of time to reflect. A very good holiday, among the best. Although a few days were longish walks and in soft sand, it was more than made up for by the excellent hospitality everywhere, the wonderful coastline, more sightings of storks than we ever expected – and an abundance of colour from the wildflowers.

All photos by James & Fiona Clarke