May 2013 Camping in the Alentejo
May is when Jackie’s parents generally come to stay for a couple of weeks and therefore our chance to get a few days away for a camping trip. We chose the Alentejo again (we went to Marvao last year) because it would be warm, there would be plenty of places to take the dogs walking, there are a few interesting towns and we could enjoy the last of the spring wild flowers.
We camped at Camping Rosario which turned out really well. Although we had to keep the dogs on the lead at all times in the site (the owner had a cat and a chicken fall foul of a previous visitor’s dog), once outside we could let them roam free – and it was on the banks of a river so plenty of opportunities for Jussi to go swimming which was a real advantage.
...and it provided the opportunity for a few arty sunset shots…
There were plenty of hilltop villages nearby, Monsaraz probably the most famous. It was built on a craggy peak for defence, Spain being just across the river, but now it struggles to maintain its inhabitants who are mainly retired. However, like many similar villages it retains its quaintness and survives on tourism which is still pretty lowkey. The locals also seem to like a bit of a lie-in because when we arrived at 10am the tourist office was still shut and cafes only just opening for business.
Most similar hilltop towns have the castle at one end of the village and the church at the other. However, here the castle is at the right end but you can just see the towers of the cathedral in the centre and at the left is the tower over the village entrance.
I mentioned that the tourist office was shut when we arrived – fortunately the friendly French couple who ran the cafe nearby gave us a map of the area which showed us how to get to a number of interesting megalithic monuments in the area.
Antas do Olival da Pega
Menhir do Outeiro
Another hilltop village was Terena. Even less visited but if anything even more attractive.
One of the biggest towns in the area is Vila Viçosa (pop 9100), one of the famous marble towns. The streets aren’t paved with gold but they are literally paved with marble! A major reason to go here is visit the Paço Ducal, home of the Braganças, who ruled Portugal before the revolution. You can’t just turn up here however, as you have to go on a guided tour. Rather annoyingly, they don’t advertise the times of these tours and they are all in Portuguese, which is also slightly annoying as over half of the tourists in my little group of 15 were non Portuguese and you couldn’t take any photos. Here is the impressive outside.
We took the long way home in order to see a few more megaliths, including the famous Cromeleque dos Almendres. Up rather a long dusty track and set among impressive olive groves and stands of cork oaks, it is the Iberian peninsula’s version of Stonehenge.