After a hard 3 day drive down to the Eastern Algarve, our intention on arrival was to stop and breathe. We pulled into the Aire at Vila Real De Santa Antonio and let out a sigh of relief. That was until will got settled in and quickly realised that our water pump was pulsing every 4 seconds. To be fair after more than 3 years we were used to our pump kicking in periodically (despite being told by Don Amotts our dealer that they’d changed it), however we knew that the regularity of it now was a warning that we needed to take action. For now we simply switched it off so that we didn’t have to listen to the incessant juddering as it kicked into action. A quick google search led us to Nigel from Algarve Motorhome Services – www.algarvemotorhomesercices.com Tel 0044 (0) 7739 359555, who offers a mobile service throughout the Algarve. As he was due to be in Alvor in a couple of days, a rendezvous was arranged and our destination determined for us. Before heading off we were able to reacquaint ourselves with Vila Real briefly though. The town is situated on the Rio Guadiana, which is the river that divides the Algarve from Spain. You can easily see the white Spanish town of Ayamonte from the quayside.
The town is laid out on a grid system and was designed this way by the Marquês de Pombal who was keen to apply the latest concept of town planning after the sea had eroded all of the original settlements in the area at the beginning of the 17th century. At the heart of the town is the impressive square named after the Marquis, there is also a charming marina and if you follow the Rio Guadiana you can reach beautiful beaches. The town offers a variety of bars, restaurants and cafes, so we were able to sample our first Sagres beer of the trip. There are numerous shops specialising in textiles, so this is the place to come if you need anything from tea towels to table cloths at bargain prices.
Vila Real De Santa Antonio
Our sleepyspot was at the Motorhome Aire which is located on the Estuary just a short walk to own. The cost is €4.50 per night plus €0.50 per person one off tourist tax (incidentally this is the only place we have experienced this so far in Portugal). GPS 37.199742 -7.415085.
With our time cut short, we were soon on the road again heading for Alvor. As our original intention to tour around Portugal has now changed when we realised how cold and wet it’s likely to be, so as we are only travelling a small section of coast we’ve decided to opt for non toll routes rather than try and navigate the sometimes complicated toll system. Our loose plan now is to head back towards Spain once we’ve explored the Algarve coast.
Historically, Alvor was a fortified town and fishing port, and although it’s now developed into a leading Algarve holiday destination it hasn’t lost it original old town charm. Having visited the area previously around 10 years ago for a holiday we were pleased to see that it hasn’t become overdeveloped, although the aire right on the sea front is probably the towns most unattractive feature. A rough piece of uneven ground is now home to dozens of motorhomes who like us have made their way south for winter sun. We were lucky to arrive and leave in dry weather, as the reviews on several sites point out, its not a place that you want to be if it rains. The aire offers decent services for emptying and filling though and because of its beachside location and close proximity to the town it’s a steal at €4.50 a night (GPS 37.125209 –8.594471)
The town lies on the banks of the Alvor Estuary, overlooking the protected marshlands of Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve, and has one of the largest sandy beaches of the Algarve with a series of boardwalks which were perfect for my morning runs. Alvor is a delightful town, with distinctively Portuguese appearance; there are traditional white-washed houses, narrow cobbled streets and small fishing boats pulled up along the banks of the river.
Alvor may be a relatively small town, but it contains a surprisingly large selection of restaurants, shops and bars, all of which are found within the pretty historic centre, although there’s lots of them closed for holidays at this time of year (and who can blame them), there’s still more than enough open to offer a good choice. There’s a couple of big supermarkets in town (Intermarche and Pingo Doce) and there’s an excellent fresh produce market on a Saturday morning by the harbour. We also discovered a Launderette for anyone else visiting in a motorhome, it’s walkable from the aire and offers self service washers and dryers and even has a change machine (GPS 37.127728 –8.589977).
Our rendezvous with Nigel took place shortly after our arrival and within an hour he was able to successfully replace our water pump – no more incessant pumping. At a cost of €233 it was an expensive start to our trip, but a necessity non the less and we were grateful to be able to get it done so quickly and efficiently. Every cloud has a silver lining though and our arrival in Alvor meant we were in close proximity to our friends Dave and Paula who we met in Spain a few years ago and have visited at their beautiful Spanish villa several times since. Arrangements were made for them to join us at Alvor. Getting reacquainted didn’t take long and the bond that we formed with these two previously was instant, so we were able to spend several days together laughing until our sides hurt. Alvor proved to be a very sociable stop over for us as we also hooked up with Phil and Lynne (previously fellow Bailey owners) who we’d be in contact with when we were in Croatia in 2017 and Mark and Debby who we’ve been in touch with on facebook forums for 3 years. A good excuse for a beer or two!
After 6 nights in one spot though we were truly rested and back into the swing of motorhome life. Our next destination was just a short drive away at Ferragudo.
This attractive fishing village has done a good job of avoiding the wholesale development that has affected much of this part of the Algarve. Considering its location just across the estuary form the tourist hotspots of Portimão and Praia da Rocha. It is something of a wonder how the village has retained much of its traditional charm given its sprawling neighbours and prime location.
The palm-lined riverfront here divides what can be considered the old village from the newer developments just across the water before it gives way to the little park. Across the road from here is the main square,lined with cafes, this is the perfect spot for a coffee or in our case an afternoon beer in the sunshine. There’s also a choice of fish restaurants alongside the estuary offering fresh catch of the day.
Our wildcamping spot was alongside the castle and next to the glorious beaches. At low tide you can walk all the way along the vast beach, then follow the steps up and continue along the top of the cliff path. There’s several houses along the way now precariously close the cliff edge, one of which had a for sale sign, the view would certainly been tempting even though the price at €475,000 wouldn’t be!
Our Wild Camping spot is GPS 37.119956 –8.520304.
With Paula and Dave moving on to meet friends for lunch in Armacao De Pera, we decided to tag along. The parking here although paid for in the past has been a little precarious with the police known to turn up unannounced and fine people, apparently now though there’s an understanding in place so we decided to risk it. The price has increased from €1.50 to €4. For this there are some basic services, but it’s location right opposite the beach and next to the town cannot be criticised. Even with the increased price though there’s a strict “No Camping” rule, so no chairs, mats or awnings allowed.
The town itself is made up of streets backed by high rise apartments, so it is not too pleasing on the eye. The redeeming feature though is it’s beautiful golden beach where you can witness the local fishermen hauling in their catch of the day. It has a traditional Portuguese feel with numerous restaurants serving local cuisine. After a recommendation we were geared up to visit Ze Leiteiro an all you can eat fish restaurant, but due to it being closed for holidays this is one will will have to save for another time. We did manage to gatecrash Dave and Paula’s lunch with their friends at the local campsite where they offer a plate of the day for just €5 though. Armacoa also holds a traditional fresh food market on a Saturday, we couldn’t resist taking a look and came away with fresh fish, bags of locally grown oranges and veg and some yummy tasting fig rolls.
With the Algarve coast being quite small it’s easy to bump into people again, our neighbours from the aire at Alvor pulled alongside us here and as the weather took a turn for the worse and our plans for eating out were re-thought we accepted an invitation for drinks in their motorhome. The social element of motorhoming is something you just don’t get eleswhere.
We have now ambled just up the coast to the Algarve’s largest resort Albufeira. Formally a fishing village and at this time of year it’s easy to see the area’s former glory in the tiny cobbled streets of the old town. With most of the town still closed up for the low season, it’s actually a pleasant place to amble around. Come Easter time you’d see us running for the hills though. The aire here is functional, it offers good facilities which include electric hook up, laundry and showers for €9 a night, but vans are crammed into regimented slots with just enough room to swing a cat before you hit your neighbours motorhome. There’s a lot of people that come here for the whole season, we figure the 3 nights we’ve booked in for will be more than enough, and this includes time to do our washing and give Boris a good spring clean inside and out. Our main reason for stopping off here is to try a traditional Portuguese restaurant that’s been recommended to us. We are off there tomorrow so watch this space.
Albufeira Aire GPS 37.098158 –8.242295
Until next time
Andi & Paul