Bombarral (Portugal) August 2021

From our hotel in Obidos it was little more than 20 minutes in the Van to the Buddha Eden Gardens on the Quinta dos Loridos estate outside Bombarral. The Gardens were recommended to us as a place to see and it, truly, is worth a visit although; you need a full day to do the place justice.

The Quinta dos Loridos estate of almost 100 hectares is owned by the Bacalhoa Wine Company. In 2001, in response to the Taliban’s destruction of the giant Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, Jose Berardo (principal share holder of the Bacalhoa Wine Company) set aside some 35 hectares of the estate on which to develop the Buddha Eden Gardens. This programme has seen 6,000 tons of marble and granite Buddhas (and various other Asian and African inspired sculptures) installed within a most beautiful park of landscaped fields and gardens, complete with lakes, streams and fountains.

There are literally hundreds of Buddhas of various shapes and sizes scattered across the gardens, the most impressive of which are the 21 Golden Buddhas located on and around the central staircase.

There are also some 600+ brightly coloured terracotta warriors, replicas of the terracotta army buried in China some 2,200 years ago by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang. To be honest, they look somewhat incongruous.

There’s a great deal more to the gardens than the Buddhas and terracotta soldiers. There are sculptures to suit just about every imaginable taste: a contemporary art section, an animal section, a section devoted to African sculpture artists, etc. Most intriguing are the African sculptures arranged amongst a small forest of palm trees (these are dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe who have carved stone by hand for over a thousand years) but my favourites are to be found within the animal section.

A quite unique place to spend a day

Obidos, Portugal August 2021

What a wonderful place. We booked into a “hotel” in Obidos for two nights but almost immediately extended our stay to three.

Obidos is known as the Queen’s town. It was gifted to Queen Urraca of Leon by the Portuguese King Alfonso II in 1214, after she visited and fell in love with the place. This became a tradition which lasted until well into the 19th century with all subsequent queens being gifted the town on their wedding day.

Although there has been a settlement here since Roman times and the Visigoths and Moors held sway here for a while, most of the existing Obidos dates from the 13th century and the town is medieval at it’s best. Almost the whole town is enclosed within the castle walls and traditionally coloured (i.e. whitewashed with blue or yellow trim). It has been described as looking like a film set and it does. It is stunning!

From miles away you can see the castle and castle walls which encircle Obidos and I defy anyone not to get increasingly excited as they first approach the town and then pass through the castle gates into it’s incredible interior.

Inside the castle walls the town is wholly pedestrianised (except to residents) but there is ample parking for visitors and deliveries just outside the walls. We left the Van in a designated motorhome aire just two hundred yards or so from the town’s main gate. This main gate (Porta da Vila) is at the southern end of the town and has a tight double elbow entrance (to defy battering rams and cavalry in days of yore but which serve now only to limit entry to all but the smallest vehicles). Just inside the first elbow, well above head height, is a pretty Baroque chapel lined with blue and white Azulejos tiles portraying various religious scenes. It’s quite an entrance.

The second elbow in the main gate opens onto a narrow cobbled street (the Rue Direita) which is the main artery through the length of the town. From Porta da Vila the Rue Direita leads through the main square (Praca de Santa Maria) all the way to the castle. We weren’t to learn this until much later in the day as the directions to our hotel almost immediately took us off into a small alley to our left. Did I say hotel? Our accommodation, like almost all hotel accommodation in the old walled town, is a room within one of the small medieval houses that form Obidos. The only rooms which resemble anything like normal hotel rooms are those inside the old castle, which was transformed into a pousade (heritage hotel) a relatively short while ago.

Rue Direita has a handful of bars and restaurants but is filled mostly with craft & tourist shops selling ceramics, embroideries, wine and especially the local cherry liqueur Ginjinha d’Obidos (more of that later). The side streets and alleys leading off the main street are quite remarkable, often being filled with purple, red or mauve coloured bougainvillea scrambling more than 2 metres up the sides of some of the cottages.

Two thirds of the way down the Rue Direita is a small square (the Praca de Santa Maria) containing the Town Pillory (the Pelourinho de Obidos) where criminals were publicly punished and; the 12th century Santa Maria Church (the Igreja de Santa Maria) which was one of the first buildings to be put up after the town was retaken from the Moors. The inside of this church is spectacular, clad with painted Azulejo tiles which were added some time during the 17th century.

A short walk beyond the Praca de Santa Maria, the Rue Direita ends at an old church, now a bookstore – the Igreja-Livraria de Santiago

Behind the Igreja-Livraria is the castle. Ordinarily at this time of the year (the last week of July and first week of August) the town holds a fair, known as the Mercado Medieval de Obidos, when stalls are laid out in the area immediately surrounding the castle and jesters, dancers and minstrels re-enact life in the middle ages (including jousting on horseback by trained stuntmen). We had chosen the right time to visit but unfortunately Covid halted the festival this year.

With a head for heights it is possible to walk almost a complete circuit of the castle / town walls and the views both inside and outside of the walls are magnificent…

Both Vanya and I liked Obidos best at night (I was going to say first thing in the morning and last thing at night but Vanya hasn’t seen early morning in years); that is, before and after the tourists arrive in numbers (although to be honest, the place was not that busy during our visit – Covid again?).

Oh, and the drinks! We were drinking white wine most of the time during our stay and the local Casa das Gaeiras white proved to be very refreshing and quite tasty. My favourite drink however was not a wine at all but a Cherry Liqueur. Ginjinha d’Obidos is a local sour cherry liqueur which is served in a chocolate cup. You drink the liqueur and then eat the chocolate cup so there is no washing up afterwards. Felicidades!

Staying in Obidos for three days we were able to visit some other places in the area, most notably Bombarral (see next blog entry) but I also really enjoyed almost a whole morning walking just outside the castle walls. The area is full of vineyards and both cherry and pear orchards and there’s a large lagoon to swim in when it gets too hot. Of most interest however is the 3 kilometre long 16th century aqueduct (there are a further 3 km of tunnels underground) which brought water into the centre of Obidos for more than 200 years. Also in the immediate area and of interest is the small 16th century church of Our Lady of Monserrate and the more imposing, if a little run down, 18th century baroque gem the Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra. This latter church is wholly unique with (a) it’s unusual hexagonal interior and; (b), it’s 2nd century stone sculpture of the crucified Christ (it is this sculpture in the altar which gives the church it’s name) and; (c) the little red fire engine parked inside the church – I kid you not!

What a place! Well recommended.

Estela, Portugal August 2021

The poor weather we experienced in Vigo prompted a radical rethink. Our original plan upon crossing the border into Portugal was to head for Braga and camp there for a few days while we enjoyed both the city of Braga itself and a couple of outlying towns, Guimaraes and Amarante. However, all the weather forecasts suggested the poor weather was going to be around the north west of Portugal for at least a week and we therefore decided to head directly south to the Lisbon area. We could always return another day.

We chose to do the journey in two steps stopping first at a coastal camp site near the Estela Golf Course for the night (simply to break the journey) and then in a town called Obidos (where we booked two nights in a hotel – time to treat ourselves).

Estrela, just north of Agucadoura, is okay as a rest stop but there is nothing else in the immediate area other than the golf course, not even a shop. The campsite we stayed at was an Orbitur site (a chain we would see more of during our time in Portugal and not one I would generally recommend) but it gave easy access to a massive beach which the dogs loved.

We only stayed the one night but I found time to walk the very pretty, albeit totally deserted, golf course. Perhaps it is still closed because of Covid? What a waste!

Arcade & Vigo (Galicia), Spain August 2021

For a while now I’ve wanted to try Vigo oysters. A Spanish chef I saw on tv claimed they are the best in the world so; I have long wanted to compare them with my favourite Cancale oysters. The waiter whom we met a few days ago and who seemed to know this part of Galicia well (despite originally having come from the Angel, Islington) suggested the Arcade oysters are as good, if not better, than the Vigo ones and so it was that we headed towards Arcade (which is pronounced ar-kah-day).

The weather in Galicia was set to deteriorate within 24 hours and it suited us to continue south through Arcade and Vigo towards the warmer weather. So, we drove through Sanxenxo and then on down the coast road with a view to having lunch in Arcade and dinner in Vigo. Another person we met on our travels had provided us with the address of an aire in the centre of Vigo which would suit our needs.

Arcade is a relatively small fishing town (about 5,000 inhabitants) on one of the less well known pilgrimage routes to Santiago (the Portugal Way) and as such the place has not yet been badly affected by tourism. It is not a pretty town but it has a genuine feel about it and the people seem very welcoming. There is a basic but large parking area down by the harbour and nearby are a number of pleasant looking cafe-restaurants all of which were open and advertising oysters as we arrived. We had a brief wander around the town (to exercise the dogs as much as anything) before returning to the cafe-restaurants for a light lunch.

And so to oysters, otherwise known as the truffle of the sea. Although I hadn’t heard of the place before, Arcade is famous for it’s oysters, so much so there is a world famous oyster festival here on the first April weekend of every year. What sets these apart from so many others in the region is, I am told, the confluence of freshwater coming from the Verdugo River and salt water coming from the Ria de Vigo. These water conditions are, it seems, “perfect for farming the particularly succulent, soft tasting mollusc that is the Arcade oyster”. The Arcade is small, no more than 5 or 6 centimetres, with a shell which is almost circular in shape (although nowhere near as rounded as the Cancale oyster). They were served raw with lemon on the side and went superbly well with my Albarino wine. I’d most certainly have them again (and again and again and again) but, for my part, they don’t have as much body and taste as the Cancale.

And Vigo? Well, shortly after settling in to our aire in Vigo (and that was a saga in itself but for another time) it started to rain. Not to be deterred (that’s not true; it was so wet and miserable outside of the Van that I and the dogs would have been happy to stay put but, Vanya insisted) we set off into Vigo for some oysters. Forget it. It was a wet, dismal Sunday night and; while there were a surprising number of people out and about, all prepared to sit and eat under dripping umbrellas, only a few restaurants had opened (and none of those did oysters – we were in the wrong part of the city). No matter, we did what was necessary (burgers washed down with the ubiquitous Albarino) and we made a good fist of it. After all, we are for somewhere else tomorrow – Portugal!!

Punta Faxilda (Galicia), Spain July 2021

From Cambados we moved just 12 miles further south to Camping Monte Cabo, a small campsite on the Punta Faxilda . It is best described as a back to nature type of campsite at the end of a rocky promontory looking out over the Atlantic. Vanya chose it because other visitors had reported seeing dolphins from where they were parked on the site and for that reason she somehow persuaded the Dutch owner to move us to a cracking pitch overlooking the sea. If Vanya wasn’t going to see dolphins while at Monte Cabo, it would not be for want of trying.

The campsite occupies a secluded and beautiful spot just yards from the end of the headland and it was a real pleasure taking the dogs out there some two or three times a day.

I’m not sure if we stayed two or three nights at Monte Cabo (I’m six days or so behind with this blog and losing all track of time now) but, does it matter (?), we weren’t going anywhere until Vanya saw her dolphins and; anyway, it gave us the opportunity to sample some of the excellent food in the campsite bar and restaurant. Ordinarily I’m not a great fan of croquettes but I particularly liked their homemade octopus croquettes.

The track to our campsite from the main coastal road was sufficiently long for us not to be bothered by any noise from the road but short enough for me to walk so as to explore the bays either side of our headland. The road in both directions is full of bars, restaurants and small hotels. There’s no getting away from the fact this is a tourist area.

I walked first to the Nosa Senora de A Lanzada, which is the headland on the other side of the Poza dos Barcos (the bay to the west of our headland). The Chapel of A Lanzada sits at the end of the headland. During the last weekend of every August, the festivity of the Virgin of A Lanzada is celebrated here and “women who wish to end their fertility descend into the sea from here to be bathed by nine waves”. This Celtic rite was presumably adopted by the Christian Church because it worked. In Celtic numerological symbolism, the number nine is sacred and symbolises the nine months of pregnancy. So now you know.

Having completed the walk to and from the chapel I immediately set off in the other direction to view the bay to the east of our headland. This is a much more commercial area which leads on into Portonovo and then Sanxenxo.

Anyway, I’m going to finish this particular entry with just a few more rather random photos…

I nearly forgot to say. We were sitting having a late dinner on the terrace of the campsite bar and some dolphins came by. Vanya was made up!

Cambados (Galicia), Spain July 2021

From Santiago we set off towards Sanxenxo which was recommended as a place to visit by a friendly and very informative waiter at Camping A Vouga. He also recommended Cambados and Arcade and upon learning that Cambados is a small fishing town on the coast road to Sanxenxo, we decided to visit.

Parking is easy in Cambados. There’s dedicated campervan parking on a small island down by the beach very close to the old town (N42.512135 W8.818061) and in no time we were parked up and strolling along the Rua Real to the town’s imposing stone square, the Plaza de Fefinans, which is the centre of Cambados.

I didn’t find out until after we left but Cambados is famous for its oysters. It is also considered the capital of Albarino wines and was declared European Wine Capital in 2017. Moreover, we had arrived in the town just as the annual Festa do Albarino was beginning. What a wally I am for not having undertaken even the most rudimentary research into Cambados before visiting. Had I known these facts beforehand I could well have agreed with Vanya that we reconsider our movements. She had proposed staying on (or at least returning in three days time) after learning that a three day music festival was scheduled to commence that very day in the Plaza de Fefinans. To be fair to me, there was no guarantee that we would be able to secure tickets for the final day and in any event heavy rain was forecast for then. Oh well!

We had a good mooch around the town, taking in the Plaza de Fefinans and the 16th century San Bieto Church and then; found a bar so as to sit and enjoy a glass of Albarino (and accompanying tapas) before continuing our journey down the coast.

By the way, a large glass of Albarino white wine and accompanying tapas cost little more than 1.50 pounds!

Santiago di Compostela (Galicia), Spain July 2021

We very reluctantly left that almost perfect campsite on San Francisco Bay (Camping A Vouga) but with the new Brexit rules limiting the amount of time we can spend in the EU to just 90 days in every 180, it is time to move on.

Our first port of call was Santiago de Compostela. Despite the criticisms I voiced in my last post (Finisterre), I am seriously thinking of doing a Camino next year (I might even create a new route of my own – LoL) and thought it appropriate to check out the finish point of Santiago di Compostela or; should I go on to Cabo Tourinan, near Muxia, which is Spain’s real westernmost point (not Finisterre).

We drove into the outskirts of Santiago and parked up near an Abu Dhabi size shopping mall with a huge Carrefour. I figured that Carrefour would keep Vanya occupied for the time it would take me to walk the six or seven mile round trip to and from the Prazo do Obradoiro where the Cathedral sits (and where the relics of Saint James are supposedly interred). As it happens, I was back at the Van before Vanya had finished in Carrefour.

It was an easy walk to and then through part of the old town to the Prazo do Obradoira and the Cathedral. You simply follow Camino shells until you can no longer see any shells because of the thickening crowds and then; you follow the crowds (especially the scruffier, smellier elements of the crowd) until you can see a cathedral spire or two. Then, there you are, standing on what must be the most wonderful square in the world to those pilgrims or walkers who have just completed a proper Camino. Honestly, the excitement of some of the pilgrims as they approached the cathedral was almost palpable; it was both emotional and uplifting even to an old cynic like me. Well done them!!!

My particular route on to the Prazo do Obradoira took me through a small arch where I was thrilled to hear a busker playing foliada (traditional Galician music which is almost Celtic in style). Just goes to show, you can take the lad out of Scotland but you cannot take Scotland out of the lad.

I had time to explore more of Santiago and when I next pass through here I certainly will but; on this occasion (after taking the obligatory photos), I was content to do nothing but sit and observe. Honestly, it was wonderful. Seeing the different ways that individuals and groups of people were expressing their total joy at having finally completed their Camino was well… sublime. “People Watching” at it’s absolute best.

Okay, so I made time to take a few more photos. Time to move on. We hope to get at least as far as Cambados today.

Ezaro & Finisterre (Galicia), Spain July 2021

We never made it to Muxia. On the way to our first stop at Finisterre, up along the Costa da Morte (the Coast of Death – so called because of the large number of shipwrecks ), we paused at Ezaro and so ran out of time. No matter. Muxia is famous for it’s beaches but we have already seen a great many wonderful beaches and I don’t doubt there will be more.

We paused at Ezaro as much to exercise the dogs as anything although a large sign by the side of the road suggested there was a waterfall in the area and we thought it might be worth a look (once the dogs had burned off some energy). The dogs enjoyed a run on Ezaro’s wide sandy beach and a little paddle both in the sea and a short way up the estuary of the River Xallas. It was as we were walking alongside the Xallas that we again saw the sign advertising a waterfall and the sign confirmed that it was no more than a kilometre or so away. Off we went.

The Fervenza Do Ezaro (to give the waterfall its full name) was formed when the river was dammed and a hydro electric power station was built in the middle of the 20th century. To start with the waterfall was not allowed to flow unless there was an excess of waterflow on the River Xallas but in 2011 pressure from various environmental groups forced the authorities to allow some “ecological flow” to allow local wildlife to recover. Now the 40 metre falls have become a local tourist attraction with viewpoints, cafes, souvenir shops, etc.

And on to Finisterre. During the period of Classical Antiquity, this precise part of Spain was considered to be the end of the world and the place where the sun died at dusk – hence it’s name which quite literally translates into the “End of the Earth” . To reach Finisterre, you simply follow the main road (the AC 445) through the fishing town of Finterre towards the lighthouse along some quite spectacular coastline. Ordinarily, Finisterre would be packed with people because, following the success of the Martin Sheen film “The Way” (which saw him and his fellow pilgrims continue their walk of the Camino de France on through Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre), the extra three days walking to Finisterre has become quite the norm. The place was surprisingly quiet as we arrived no doubt because of Covid travel restrictions. I’m not complaining.

The extra three days walk from Santiago de Compostela has actually developed into yet another Camino (there are a great many of them nowadays as different towns and villages cash in on what has become a tourist phenomena) known as the Santiago to Finisterre Compostela and an office within the lighthouse offers walker certificates. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not having a go at Camino travellers (be they pilgrims or just walkers); I have total respect for all those people who have completed any one of the original Camino’s to Santiago and those who continue on to Finisterre deserve particular credit (I’d like to do it myself) but, it is becoming farcical now with increased commercialism, new routes being developed and/or many of the original routes now paved or covered in asphalt and, worst of all, with an increasing number of ‘pilgrims’ completing the Camino on mountain bikes, etc. It could be cars next.

It is still a pretty place.

San Francisco Bay (Galicia), Spain July 2021

And so we came to San Francisco Bay on the west coast of Galicia. The nearest town of any size is Muros but we were parked a few kilometres further west, just outside of Louro, at Camping a Vouga. It is rare that I make comment about any of the campsites we stay at but both Vanya and I were really impressed by just about everything at Camp a Vouga – in no particular order: it’s location on the beach, it’s views, the cleanliness of the site and facilities, the warm and friendly staff and, let’s not forget, the food and wine in the restaurant – all were superb.

After that first afternoon and evening in Camping a Vouga, during which we took the dogs down to the beach and then enjoyed an absolutely great evening in the campsite restaurant, we decided to stay on for a while and use it as a base to explore the surrounding area.

The next day I went walkabouts. I had no plans to go anywhere in particular. I simply started walking along the road to the west through the nearby village of Louro and then, seeing a fair sized stretch of water to my south (a lake), I beat a path through a thick mess of green scrub to get to it. The stretch of water was as much a marsh as a lake but it proved to be a wetland for birds and it had a great many residents of all shapes and sizes. I sat for ages just watching them.

Eventually I moved on. I found a walkers trail by the side of the wetland which led me over some sand dunes to a long wide empty beach that was the other side of the headland I had seen from our campsite. The setting was beautiful – a bright blue sea, fine white sand and a thick dark green background that was the scrub around the lake. But then, horror of horrors, I noticed I was not alone. There were only three of them but they were all nude and they were all men. I had stumbled upon a naturist beach! Call me a prude if you like but I couldn’t handle it and promptly set off towards that headland which would take me back to Camping a Vouga. There will have been easier paths back but none as quick as the direct course I followed.

So, having decided to stay on at Camping a Vouga and use it as a base to explore further afield, the next day we took a day out to visit Finisterre and Muxia.

Ourense (Galicia), Spain July 2021

We decided to visit Ourense next although it was only ever going to be a short visit. The route we chose took us down the Canon de Sil. Oh, but I could do that journey every day. Some of the views were stunning. There was one viewpoint at the top of the canyon which I didn’t see until it was too late and then; we were sailing past it with no possible turning point for many miles. Even so, I would have continued until we could turn around and drive back up to the viewpoint but Vanya wouldn’t have it. She was almost on the floor having kittens at the thought of our going back up.

Entering Ourense we found a quiet aire, at which to overnight, on the north side of the city next to the fire station. The aire suited us because it is only two to three kilometres from Ourense’s old town (the Casco Vello) where we could find something to eat and drink. We had googled where to find the best tapas and discovered that the best restaurants are on either Lepanto Street (Casa Tonita for its Poached Eggs), San Miguel Street (Paris for it’s Garlic & Oil Potatoes and Ocugumalo for it’s Mushrooms & Prawns) and Hornos Street (O’Souto for it’s Mashed Potato & Beef and Atarazana for it’s Scallops). All three streets are to be found by the Cathedral which would serve as a great reference point and perhaps provide for some spiritual fulfilment too – only joking Vanya!

We locked the Van up and set off in the direction of the Cathedral, crossing the Mino river by the Ponte Vella (the High Bridge); otherwise known as the old Roman Bridge except, it is not an old Roman bridge. It is a medieval bridge with five arches that was simply built on the site of an earlier Roman bridge but; why ruin a good story with historical facts? It is now a pedestrian bridge and it provides fantastic views across to another of the eight bridges in Ourense which cross the Mino river – the Puenta Milenio (the Millennium Bridge). Our route to and from the old town took us under the Millennium Bridge and, for such a modern structure, it really is something quite different and therefore rather special.

It proved very easy to find the Ourense Cathedral (Catedral de Ourense or Catedral do San Martino) and I was pleasantly surprised by it’s very simple Gothic design and unusual octagonal lantern tower. I don’t know what it looks like inside. As has so often been the case during this tour, the doors were locked. We actually saw more of one other very impressive looking church in the old town, the Iglesia de Santa Eufamia, when we stopped just short of the Cathedral for a drink.

We hadn’t completed a circuit of the Cathedral before we found ourselves on Hornos Street and, almost immediately thereafter, on Lepanto Street. Scallops were a non starter because Atarazana was closed but the other bars on our list were open and there were plenty more to choose from. The approach here was different to Logrono. In Ourense, one sits at tables outside the tapas bar and are served by waiters whereas in Logrono one invariably stood outside and ordered food and drink through windows or across bars. This being so, in Ourense there is neither the same movement between bars nor as much interaction between diners and staff as was the case in Logrono. For me it wasn’t bad; it was just different. I think Vanya favours the more informal and friendly approach we experienced in Logrono but, we both very much enjoyed our evening in Ourense and we particularly loved the Tempura Prawns at Vinoteca Taperia. One final observation regarding our tapas evening in Ourense, Ourense still holds with the tradition of providing at least one free tapas with drinks (twice we were given free tuna empanadas). You don’t often see that nowadays in the larger towns.

Okay, so I found the Cathedral and I found the tapas bars. Unfortunately, I failed to find any of the thermal baths which are dotted all over the city but, the fact is, my sense of direction didn’t stretch that far and couldn’t without my first imbibing an Estrella Galician beer, a glass of Ribeiro red wine and a few Albarino white wines (and by then it was too late). Next time? Meanwhile, the Chavasqueira – Outariz Pools were the closest to where we were parked, being on the northern bank of the river and west of the Millenium Bridge.

After we had taken our fill of tapas and the Albarino, we had just enough time and energy for a last look around Ourense’s lanes before heading back to the Van and, in my case, a wee dram. It was a great evening.