The weekend we elected to cross the border into Portugal coincided with All Saints Day followed by Dia de Finados (Portugals celebration of Day of the Dead). Traditionally this time is a holiday during which families come together, even spending the night at the graves of their loved ones, believing that the spirits of their dead relatives return to visit those they left behind.
A few days before the holiday the Portuguese government decreed (in order to reduce the spread of Covid), circulation across council areas would be against the law between 30th October and 3rd November. The decision to limit the circulation comes a week after the Council of Ministers announced the return of the state of calamity to Portugal, where many regions particularly in the north were placed under semi lockdown conditions.
Latin America (Mexico especially) create fantastically colourfully celebrations to mark the occasion, in Portugal it is a more sombre affair.
Having left locked down Spain behind we were now unsure of what the Portuguese travel restrictions mean to us. We decided to pause and take stock at a small friendly camp site in Covas. Getting there involved a tortuous route over a mountain road with healthy dose of hairy, blind bends. (thankfully the co-pilot in the lefthand seat, does a fine job of spotting round the blind right hand bends).
Our first day began when Antonio our talkative Portuguese live-in site warden, came by to for a chat (usually a mixture of Portugese history and European politics), and take our bread daily order. He also asked if we’d like to join him and our Swiss neighbours in a Hymer plus the French occupants of the only other Moho on site for a socially distanced lunch.
Well of course we said yes. The village restaurant had a dish of the day which on Friday was Bacalhau à Brás – a lovely warm salad mixture of fish, potatoes, egg, onion. Antonia collected it from the village and we were invited onto the patio area where each table was served with the food and a bottle of wine per table. The meal was delightful, very international and expertly orchestrated by our convivial, multilingual chatty host.
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most famous Portuguese dishes and is considered the ultimate comfort meal in Portugal. The dish uses many of the quintessential ingredients found in Portuguese cooking: bacalhau (salt cod), eggs, potatoes and black olives
The ebikes are a great way of exploring and quickly discovering more about an area. With Komoot’s help we found a good route from the campsite albeit on ancient uneven limestone cobbled roads, that connected Covas to the surrounding hamlets. It was a steady climb up but the view from Alto da Castanheira looking back down on Covas and the Coura river valley was worth the effort. With the reward of a long perfect tarmac descent back down again.
Our three nights at camping Covas had been our longest stay so far but it had given us time to workout our plan needed to change radically. All the research we had done on great places to see in northern Portugal was going to be have to be kept for another time. With the new travel restrictions coming in imminently we needed to head south. Lesley’s analysis of the changes revealed the Algarve as one of the few areas largely unaffected by the new rules.
Using motorways from Covas to Faro is just shy of 700 kms and would take us best part of the day. We packed up and pointed Margo south. The roads were incredibly quiet – even for a Sunday. The real reason we concluded was, All Saints Day, plus the restricted local movement due to Covid, resulted in motorways that were virtually empty.
Regularly swapping drivers we made steady progress, but nearing the outskirts of Porto, traffic cones reduced the lanes from 3 down to 1 then directed us off the motorway to a roundabout underneath. Here police were pulling cars over, presumably questioning their routes and anyone found breaking the weekends local travel restrictions fined. Fortunately for us (maybe because of the UK plates) Margo was just waved through. We had been advised that as tourists going to a pre-booked campsite we were legal but it did have our pulses racing for a little while.
7.5 hours after setting off, we were tired but relieved to leave the boring traffic-free motorway near Albufeira. We were also relieved of 95€ in motorway tolls but hey ho! The sun was going down by the time we found Mikki’s very relaxed camp site. First impressions suggested an eclectic mix of motorhomes and their owners.
We quickly discovered this place is not like any standard aire or campsite. Around Mikki’s huge quirky site there were donkeys, five or six types of chickens, goats, white doves, miniature pigs, parrots, llamas, and a whole variety of budgies and parakeets. These were mixed in with the bio garden where an impressive range of fruits and herbs are cultivated with bi-lingual information boards. Last but not least everywhere you explored you’d discover more of the crazy assortment of Mikki’s colourful and bizarre pottery.
Melded into this melange, is a colourful collection of campers, where £300k portable palaces are neighbours to surfer dude’s re-cycled double decker buses. Bronzed youthful looking full-timers, share spaces with transient short stay tourers. Super fit silver surfers side by side with families with young children. Spanish, Dutch, Brits, Irish, German, Belgium French and Portugese nationals, all brought together in this one big cosmopolitan cocktail.
Dave & Lesley