I have never been a lover of camping, but when my friend Christine bought a camper van and excitedly said she was having the time of her life, I thought I would take her up on her invitation to pay her a visit.
She picked me up in Heulva in the South of Spain, I had just had two nights of culture in Cordoba (which was amazing) now we are heading to spend a few nights on a camp site where there is a singles event. Do not get excited haha, This is only about campers travelling solo, looking to meet up with others. For me it was jumping out of my comfort zone. I am not very good at group activities but as they say, In for a penny.
We are going on a little bike ride to see rasberries. I will get my own back on Chris later. I do love cycling but in small and comfortable doses. 20k of bumpy muddy tracks and a sore bum later I tell myself, ‘CALORIES! Lauren’ ‘Think how many you have burned.’ We did bypass the petangue, match. A game I was always familiar with grumpy old men in France, playing in town squares. We apologised and politely declined.
Moving over the border into Portugal we parked up by a river in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. A charming Portuguese town which was built by Royal decree after the earthquake of 1755. Think of urban 18th Century planning. Small myriad of streets and delightful cafe’s and gift shops. My favourite was the square. Created in a neo-classical style it felt clean and orderly. In Portugal, this architecture is also described as Pombaline after the Marques de Pombal, the secretary of State and Prime Minister of Portugal, whose job it was to oversee the re-building of Portugal after the 1755 earthquake.
From the motor home, we can look across the Guadiana River to the border of Spain. These two countries have been divided here since the 13C. Hard to imagine now but castles and fortresses remain to remind us that is was not always so peaceful here. Much was destroyed when the Tsunami following the earthquake hit. However, if there was a good side of that disaster, it is that this town may never have been built.
The wonderful thing about writing about a place that you visit is that it encourages you to dig a little deeper into the history, I am always facinated by the statues and on my small walk along the front of the harbour, there is a strip of garden where I come across a stone bust of Lutgarda Guimaraes de caires born in 1873 and died in Lisbon in 1935. A poet and activist for women’s rights, She was instrumental in improving living conditions for women prisoners in Portugal. Well done her, She was worth a mention.
Opposite, across the cobbles, painted on a wall, is a picture of Alvaro Cunhal, a Portuguese revolutionary, communist and politician. I am not quite sure of why he is painted on the wall and have not found anything linking him to Vila Real de Santo Antoni. If you know the reason, please leave it in the comments. I would love to know, I do not share his love of communism but I do agree with his quote. Maybe one we should remind ourselves of.
tomemos nas nossas maos os destinos das nossas vidas
let us take the fate of our lives in our hands.
Further along the main front is the Grand Hotel, overlooking the river, it is sandwiched neatly amongst the facade of 18C buildings, But she towers high just to say she is the Grand. Now called the Grand House Hotel she was formerly the Hotel Guardiana which was said to be the oldest hotel in the south of Portugal. Possibly the start of tourism to the Algarve. The Guardiana was built in 1926 by a Swiss architect and harbours eclectic styles. From 280Euros per night it is not cheap but well worth a visit. I had a peek inside to get the prices and ask about the restaurant. A curved staircase takes you up to the rooms and suites. The hotel has many stories to tell. There is a lot of info about it on their website WWW.GRANDHOUSEALGARVE.COM. You need to pre- book the restaurant, and it is only open in the evening.
Faro is only a 5Euro bus ride from the river front and will take a couple of hours. It may be my next stop. Unfortunately I have to start thinking about how to get home because Covid restrictions are dictating again.