19 November to 22 December 2021
So what was I doing while Stefan was crossing the Atlantic? Primarily, I was supposed to be working. Mostly, however, I was frantically updating the race tracker to see how they were doing, sending twice daily weather updates and generally trying not to think about how far away from land they were.
But I did have time to distract myself with some exploring of my own in the company of our friend, Rainy.
First we took a road trip away from the coast and into a surprisingly remote area with a river that is half in Portugal and half in Spain, the Guardiana. We drove to Alcoutim, a tiny town on the Portuguese side which was almost reaching distance to Sanlucar on the Spanish side. Despite the watery border there is little perceptible difference between the two. Both were a jumble of whitewashed, terracotta roofed buildings with a castle looming on a hill. Only the style of church gave away their nationality.
It was not hard to understand why this area has a reputation for not letting people leave. It feels so tranquil and unspoilt. With a pace of life so laid back, it is no wonder it has earned the nickname “the Sticky River”. Immediately on visiting it was no surprise to me at all that having sailed up in their boat, our friends Ursula and Alex (remember them from The Germans?!) had felt compelled to stay,
buy some land right on the Spanish side of the river and, as it turned out, raise a family there!
Ursula took Rainy and I on a walk along the Spanish side of the river. This path is the only access in and out their property by land. To the north it leads to Sanlucar. To the south just through endless views over the river and surrounding hills. It’s a beautiful area and I vowed to return, with the Captain this time and Pintail.
A couple of days and a drive up to Cascais later, Rainy and I found ourselves in that fairytale kingdom of Sintra. I had visited before by train when our friend Richard came to visit us on Pintail in Lisbon. That time, in the height of summer, the crowds had been of Disneyland proportions but approaching Christmas the streets were cooler and far less crowded.
We played tourists in the cafes and shops, stopping for a compulsory pastel de nata and buying small cork gifts in the lanes. Rainy even tried a ginja, the local cherry liqueur, in its chocolate cup.
The Christmas tree outside the National Palace mirrored its iconic chimneys.
Someone had recommended we also stop at Mafra, another hilltop town further north. Knowing nothing about this unassuming looking town, we parked the car near the (closed for lunch) tourist information office and walked around the corner
to be confronted with this incredible view. Our jaws quite literally dropped at the scale of this Baroque palace and basilica before us.
The inside was equally breathtaking and chock full of exquisite sculpture crafted by the Mafra School of Sculpture under its Italian Master.
Outside there was more evidence that Christmas really was just around the corner.
For our second sightseeing day, these two sailors needed to see the sea again and we headed north again from Cascais but this time along the coast. We stopped first in Azenhas do Mar, a small seaside town built in the cleft in the cliffs.
We were joined for the day by Rainy’s friend and now Cascais resident, Doreen. As we climbed up and down the cliffs, we couldn’t help looking out into the Atlantic and wondering how Stefan was getting on out there.
From the cliffs, we headed inland in search of a tiny village we had heard of that had been restored, Aldeia da Mata Pequena. Thinking we had taken a wrong turn somewhere down the country lanes we finally found this quaint street of 13 houses now available as holiday lets.
The village’s communal laundry was very much still in use though this bike had seen better days and the only living resident we found was this enormous pig!
Our final stop on this day trip was to the surfing capital of Portugal, Ericeira. Despite the blustery Atlantic conditions surfers were still making use of the rolling swell.
The lanes of the old town were bright and cheery even on an overcast day
with lots of decorative detail.
The most spectacular of which was the trompe l’oeil on one of its walls, so real you could have mistakenly walked into it. Instead we randomly bumped into an opera singing local.
We had time to see the Christmas lights and share a meal together in Cascais but then it was time for Rainy and I to head back to the Algarve.
En route we stopped in Aljezur and climbed up to the castle, the last of the Algarve’s Islamic castles to fall to the Christians in 1249.
Down in the town we had just missed the sweet potato festival but that didn’t stop us trying the sweet sweet potato cake while we watched the sun set over the castle above.
Thanks, Rainy, for a fabulous few days away, exploring some more of Portugal and taking my mind off the Captain in the middle of the Atlantic!