The next leg of our journey sees us heading inland to central Portugal, (70 Km East of Coimbra, 5Km from Coja) and Vinho is the closest village to our next house sit, and we soon make ourselves known when we turn up trying to manoeuvre our motorhome around their tiny village, and soon become their entertainment, sitting back and getting comfortable they wait and watch us try to turn around.
Finally, as we start winding our way up the mountain, leaving the tarmac road we continue bumping along a dirt track until we arrive at the last Quinta on the mountain, we are certainly out in the sticks.
Geoff and Ann’s home is set in the beautiful Portuguese countryside, once a chestnut farm the house stands on a ridge, in 3 Hectares of land (mostly laid to pasture) with a swimming pool, games room and bar, and outstanding views to the South West and down to the foothills of the Sera de Acor.
Whilst there we are responsible for walking their dogs Honey and Prince in the morning and early evening around the grounds and through the eucalyptus trees, and sometimes Humphrey the cat comes along too, the rest of the day we tend to the strawberries, water the garden from the borehole and check to see if the wild boar have damaged the garden during the night, there’s always something to do here.
Somedays we wake to find we are amongst the damp clouds and can not see a thing, then the following day it’s bright blue sky and the heat blistering, but with no street lights, the sky at night is so clear we can almost touch the moon.
Using Ann’s nippy little car we get to explore some of the Portuguese villages we wouldn’t get the motorhome around and that includes Vinho!!
There are many different routes through this densely populated forest as we set off down the track, some narrower than others, some steeper but all showing wear from the previous vehicles or past rainfall.
When we meet the tarmac road we meander through the wiggly roads with views of the rolling hills full of twisted olive trees, ancient figs, oranges, lemon and almond trees, we get to snatch glimpses of the small schist and granite villages with their cobbled roads and jumbled streets. In some ways, it’s like going back to yesteryear and at times we wonder if some of the rundown properties are inhabited then we spot a little old lady all dressed in black, sitting on a rickety old chair wearing a battered straw hat so big it completely shades her wrinkly old face.
Amongst the traditional houses we find fountains, mills and olive-presses, and some villages still have a community oven, which is still used by the local people today.
Sitting by the pool it’s hard to imagine that less than 5 yrs ago this whole area was destroyed by fire. At the time Geoff and Ann had 2 horses, so with the fire heading towards their home, they decide to walk all of their animals down to the village and spend the night. When they returned the following day all of the land and gardens were destroyed but the house was untouched.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it “the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires”. But I suppose if you live in an area that sometimes sees little rainfall, as high temperatures and unpredictable winds, you are very much in the hands of Mother Nature.
Our 3 weeks here are coming to an end and as always it’s been a chance for us to catch up on motorhome chores and repairs, it’s also been an opportunity to experience every aspect of this rural life and how the locals live.
Just by getting a coffee and watching people go about their lives, we have learnt a lot or just queueing at the bakers to get the coffee you realise you can’t rush anyone here, you learn to just wait in the line and amuse yourself in some way. We can see why it’s so very easy to have the absolute ability to put everything off until amanha (tomorrow).
Dust is something you learn to live with otherwise it would drive you crazy every morning there’s a new layer on the kitchen worktops and car.
And when it comes to driving they don’t like to drive on their side of the road and I’m not sure the use of indicators has never really caught on in this part of Portugal or if they even know what the Highway Code is, they tend to just stop in the middle of the road without warning so you have to slam on your brakes and wait for them to decide which way they are going and in the more rural areas, we have found cars just stopped in the middle of the road whilst the occupants catch up with local gossip.
Being so remote which lots of people are here, you could go days without seeing someone and the need to get in the car for each forgotten item of shopping, or inability to pop out for a spontaneous coffee, and the feeling of being truly alone with only the croaking frogs and other country wildlife once night falls can all become a bit much for me I only want so much isolation, but for John, this has been a dream.
However, I do love that people here eat bread and cakes and aren’t always talking about the restrictive diet they are on and that dressing down is the standard way of existence here, I have long stopped worrying about what my hair looks like, it’s constantly windy and impossible to keep it in place or to take a reasonable selfie, which John loves to do!!
The Portuguese and English communities here have been very welcoming, kind and helpful we have had a fun time with them even though we are temporary estranges.
Big thank you to Geoff and Ann for allowing us to spend time in their beautiful home, hopefully, we will return to the area one day.