If you decide to spend some days, or simply visit, Milfontes during the Summer, you may think that it is a very busy place; negotiating the beach going crowds can be challenging, particularly in August. Even then, the little village at the estuary of the river Mira, in Alentejo, will surprise you with many interesting rewards, thanks to its beauty, pristine beaches, and friendly inhabitants.
However, it is outside of the busy season that Milfontes provides the best and most tranquil experiences. Enjoying the many treks both inland or along the coast; boarding a boat trip upriver along one of Europe’s least polluted rivers; or simply watching a sunset. Such are the simple but nice things to do in a quiet November afternoon. Recently, a short wooden walkway has been built along the northern margin of the river, just beneath the Castle; this allows easy access to the river, especially during low tide.
Such was my plan during my last visit a few days ago, that is, simply walk along the margin of the river, between the few boats that were ashore, and a couple of fishermen. At least one of the boats has been sitting there since 1998, when I first photographed it; now it is all but falling apart. Time almost seems to stand still, with the quiet waters reflecting the colours of the setting sun, and a few paddlers returning to the pier before nightfall. I just sit still, with the water lapping against the pier and the nearby boats, while the sun finally sets in the horizon, thus ending another day in the village that has earned the appropriate nickname of “Princess of Alentejo”.
The municipality of Odemira, in the coastal Alentejo region, is rich in trekking possibilities. In later years, an effort has been made to increase the number of sign – posted pedestrian circuits, which allow the visitors to get acquainted with a unique countryside. Odemira offers the possibility of experiencing the interior mountainous areas (or Serras) in close contact with the coastal regions. This brings together a very peculiar heritage and ways of living, as the local population masters both farming, animal husbandry, and fishing, for example.
In this instance I am going to write about a trek I recently made near the small village of Troviscais, well inside the mountainous countryside. This circuit is labelled as PR3 ODM, is 11.5 km long, and is categorized as “difficult” due to the topographic profile (from 200m high to 0m, and back to 200m).
The trip starts in this village, which is surrounded by cork oak and holm oak fields, interspersed with oaks that provide the acorn feed for the famous porco preto breed (black pig). This type of Mediterranean farming landscape is being revitalised, in opposition to the vast plantations of eucalyptus trees, which are less fire resistant. They also provide the sort of smaller scale production that is typical of the local communities.
It had rained the previous day, so everything looked fresh and with vivid colours. The path starts to climb towards the highest point of the trek, which offers great views to the southern Serras, climbing in the haze towards Monchique (at 900m altitude) in the hazy distance. Somewhere nearby, peaceful cows graze in the pasture. One of the most interesting parts of the trip starts as we begin to descend towards the river Mira; this is a less used part of the rural path, taking us into a genuine Mediterranean wood, with abundant oaks and Arbutus trees. The latter hold abundant red and orange ripe fruits, which are very photogenic and tasty! The arbutus fruit, called medronho in Portuguese, is locally used to make a special aguardente, or brandy.
At the final approach to the river Mira, the path becomes more elusive, as it winds its way around several lagoons where oysters are cultivated. This is part of a recent (2013) project that reactivated an important activity from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Most of the cultivated oyster is from Japanese origin, the Cassostrea gigas. Yearly production is around 1,000 tonnes, and most of it is exported to France. It is interesting to see how the water from the river is diverted into artificial lagoons. The silence is only perturbed by the cries of the birds; by the way, this is a prime area for bird watching, with several species of migratory birds, such as the pisco-de-peito-azul (bluethroat). This stretch along the river is indeed one of the highlights of the trek, and is a great place to picnic, as we are halfway along the trip.
From the river, the path starts to climb again, crossing some ruined and abandoned houses, but also some new ones that are hidden in the woods. As we climb, the views over the river valley are beautiful. From this place, it is a straight walk back to Troviscais, under menacing and brooding skies that promise thunder and rain. Luckily, they were just that (menaces), and we managed to reach Troviscais as dry as we had left in the morning.
For those wanting to visit the area, below is the link of the website that describes the trek, and from which more information can be obtained. This is a highly recommended trek, with plenty of interesting things to see and experience, well in the heartland of the region of Odemira. A fine example of “country and farm life near the coast”. It is part of the longer Rota Vicentina, a network of treks that hugs the entire coastline of SW Portugal.
Finally, in terms of photographic gear, I travel light these days, and only took with me the following: Fuji X-Pro2 with 23 f2 lens; Fuji X-H1 and 56 f1.2 lens. Nothing beats the combination of a wide lens plus short telephoto lens.
The distance between Almograve and Lapa de Pombas is not big, at 2 km. There is even a dirt road along the coast connecting the beach with the small fishing inlet. It makes for a perfect lazy afternoon walk, admiring the beautiful coastline, where the cliffs are constantly being carved by the action of the sea and the wind.
The light during Autumn is always special, and after some recent rains, the colours of the sand dunes, rocks, and cliffs had seemingly taken a new life. Deep blue skies with some clouds and haziness also created some interesting light against the mist coming from the waves.
Gone are the summer crowds, so it is possible to enjoy the quietness of the place. There are the occasional fellow strollers, or fishermen trying their luck on the cliffs. This stretch of coastline holds many small coves, where often the geology controls the topography with abundant folding of the Palaeozoic rocks. As time passes by, erosion simply carves the rock and reveals the inner structure of the landscape in numerous folded strata. These make for very interesting shapes and textures, which are enhanced by the sidelight illumination.
Lapa de Pombas is a very simple and small fishing harbour, that holds maybe a couple of boats and some wood huts. The place was eerily quiet, with a spring nearby providing fresh water, plus some cats lazing in the steps and enjoying the warm sunshine. The aroma of the peppermint is pervasive – it is used in a local fish soup, adding a special taste.
Even though I know this part of the coast like the palm of my hand, every time I visit, it always provides something new. Otherwise, simply enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the place is more than enough to recharge our batteries and lift our spirits. Is there a better way to finish the day other than admiring the setting sun while seating on the cliff, perhaps with a drink?
Taking advantage of a bank holiday, I have recently visited the Serra da Freita region, in northern Portugal. This has been in my “to-do” list for quite some time, as the area, albeit small, is rich in cultural, geological, and landscape heritage. The rugged terrain, made of granite, quartzite, and schist, has been settled by Man since pre-historic times; today, many of the isolated and picturesque small villages are deserted, or only have a small number of (old) inhabitants. People have left for better jobs in the coastal cities.
Despite this, the local municipalities are making strong efforts to renew the region, based on its core attractions: local culture, natural & historical heritage, trekking, gastronomy, are key elements that concur for a unique experience
I planned my visit around two of the main attractions in the area: Passadiços do Paiva and Arouca Geopark. You can learn more about them here: http://aroucageopark.pt/en/
The Paiva river is one of the least polluted in Europe, and now it can be appreciated at close range by walking along the Passadiços, a wooden walkway 8km long that is quite popular. It is part of the Arouca Geopark, a network of a dozen or so spots that provide a unique insight into the early (Palaeozoic) history of our planet.
The surrounding countryside and landscape are a feast to the senses, with the sounds, smells, and large mountain vistas that are visible at each turn of the twisting roads. The road network is more than adequate, and traffic is scarce. Sometimes, after another turn, a small village, no more than a dot in the landscape, appears similarly out of nowhere. Such was the case, for example, of Manhouce, a small rural village that in recent years has become famous thanks to some local traditional music. Just seeing the corn cobs drying in the sun along the road, the granite – built houses, feels like going back in time.
I experienced some of the most beautiful landscapes of my life in front of the Frecha daMizarela, the highest waterfall in Portugal. To fully capture the scenery, I decided to shoot several frames, to be later stitched. That day would end at the top of Serra da Gralheira, basked in the golden light of the sunset.
In terms of photographic gear, for this trip I wanted to keep simple, so I only carried one camera with one prime lens, i.e. the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and 23 f/2 lens. This is a high quality and small package, that I carried in my backpack, together with food, drinks, and travel tripod.
No matter how often you visit and photograph one place, there are always new opportunities to find out and explore. This adage was proven true once more when I visited an old familiar area of mine, the Southwest Coast of Portugal, specifically near Cabo Sardão. I was in the area for my annual summer vacation, when the day dawned a bit foggy.
Such foggy spells are recurrent in the coast, and normally clear out later in the morning. With this expectation in mind, I set out to take some photos of the nearby fields, with typical houses, hay bales, and grazing cattle. The yellow colour of the field provided a nice contrast with the fog, while covering the scene with some mystery.
As the day evolved, it became clear that the fog was there to stay; in fact, it lasted to nightfall… therefore, I changed my plans (which entailed going to the beach) and went out on a short trek near Cabo Sardão, where the cliffs, sea, and fog, hopefully would result in interesting and different photos. I walked the area until sunset and was rewarded with a new take on a familiar landscape, where the fog played a central role; now and then, it would become somewhat weaker, allowing glimpses of the cliffs entering the sea in the distance.
For those wanting to visit this place, it is worth mentioning that care must be taken when accessing some of the best viewpoints, as they are normally at the end of rocky spurs, with precipitous drops nearby. Especially with fog, the rocks may be slippery.
As I mentioned above, there are many interesting subjects; one of them, which opened due to the fog and the soft, low contrasting light, was the numerous rock formations and erosional features present in the dunes. Some of the dunes are consolidated with ferruginous materials, which highlights the red colours. The soft sky light results in a natural enhancement of the colours, like a natural saturation slider.
I played around with both wide angle and telephoto compositions, trying to convey the ruggedness and mystery of this stretch of coast, which is beautiful. Hope you like the resulting images.
I recently went to London for some well deserved vacation time with the family. It is a fantastic city, full of photo opportunities and truly a melting pot of cultures. When I go back to places that I know well, which is the case, I tend to keep it simple in terms of photo gear; in this case, one camera plus one lens, a 35mm f/1.4.
Being London, the weather was often overcast, but with some clearing of skies towards the end of the day. I wanted to concentrate on the margins of the Thames, with the new booming architecture mixing in with the old, plus the new establishments along the river. Plenty of interesting points, offering new views over some classic locations.
With this plan in mind, I made most of my photos with the plan to ending with some interesting black and white images. I am continuously amazed by the power of the available computer tools to extract the most of the files. Of course, simply converting a colour file to black and white is no magic recipe for an interesting photo; if the elements for interest are not there, they will not appear out of the blue.
In some of the photos, the combination between clouds, sky, buildings and light turned out to be very good, and I am pleased with the results I got in the end. Below are some of the photos of the trip.
While trying out a new lens for my system (a 35mm f/1.4), I went out to take some photos of some hay bales I had seen before, close to an old and abandoned house. I waited for sunset to have some good light, and off I went.
I tried some compositions, including the one below, catching the Moon and bicycle.
Having such a fast lens available, I then thought about using it at extremes of aperture range, in this case, from f/16 to f/1.4. The results are shown below, in the following order: f/16, f/1.4 (maintaining focus on the bike), and f/1.4 (focusing on the house).
Normally, when shooting such subjects, I tend to favour a deep depth-of-field, so that both the foreground and background are acceptably sharp. However, later on, when I looked at the images, my favourite of the series was #2, focused on the bike, and shot wide open at f/1.4. In my mind, the bicycle and hay bale are given more prominence, while the house is still there, identifiable. All bathed by the warm and golden light of the sunset.
Talking about sunset, this is what it looked like that day. Wonderful.
I have written before about this small town located in SW Portugal, at the estuary of the river Mira. It is considered as the “pearl of Alentejo”, and is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Coming summer, it can be a bit congested, given the affluence of vacationers. But throughout the rest of the year, it is a haven of tranquillity and beauty.
In one of my recent visits, just a few weeks back, I planned to shoot the hay bales that dot the countryside during this time of the year. I had envisaged to use the bales as foreground interest, using the rising sun and the Cercal hills as backdrop. Of course, shooting the sunrise during the summer implies waking up at around 5am, but this is just one of the challenges of landscape photography!
I wanted to capture both wide angle and more telephoto field of views, so those were the lenses I carried with me: the Zeiss Loxia 21 f/2.8 and the Sony G 70-200 f/4. I prefer to have the flexibility of a zoom for my telephoto shots, as the light changes quickly, and “zooming with your feet” is not always practicable.
Shooting towards the East, I got lucky for the bonus of the mist and fog that were present along the river Mira course. This extra element provided some fantastic depth and feel to my photos, thus really paying off for the early rise!
Shooting from my tripod, I soon entered in the rhythm of composing, relaxing, taking my time, while at the same time enjoying the light play over the rural landscape.
In the end, I consider this session as a success, and fully recommend this location for landscape photographers; within a small area, there are several subjects of interest, either facing the sea, or inland.
I have recently travelled to Muscat, Oman, on a business trip. On such trips, I always try to find some time for photography, especially in such an interesting location. I know the country very well, because I worked and lived there for a few years. Muscat, in spite of all the developments in roads and housing, still keeps its own special charm, so to speak. The city’s mountainous background, its old quarters and traditions, and the hospitable Omanis, make for a unique combination that keeps me coming back whenever possible.
On such occasions, when I can only dedicate a few hours to photography, I profit from my previous knowledge and go straight to the places that I find more interesting; like the Mutrah Corniche, and the nearby Souk. I also prefer to carry only a small camera and lens, to favour mobility and to avoid looking conspicuous. My approach is simply to shoulder the camera, mingle with the folks, wait for something interesting to happen, and shoot away. My Sony A7II and ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens allow me to do this in a most efficient way; the combination is light and reliable, goes unnoticed, and delivers time after time. After a while of walking in the souk, people do not pay me attention anymore. the lens’ aperture and manual focus rings allow me to pre-set the shot as I deem appropriate, so that I can concentrate on what is happening around me.
I leave you with some photos taken close to sunset and at dusk, in a pleasant February evening.
In a recent visit to the lovely village of Odemira (a place I often go to), which is located inside the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, I was lucky enough to be able to see the wind mill working. The municipality of Odemira invests money to maintain some of these old mills working; it is an old tradition, that is being maintained by a few men. One of these was operating the mill when I visited; his name is Jose Guilherme, and he was very kind and invited me to go inside.
His is an old family of millers, going back to his great-grandfather’s time. Unfortunately, this family tradition will die with him, since no one else in the family will pick up the trade. I always enjoy experiencing and visiting these places of tradition, and talking to the people that still use them. Mr. Guilherme told me that in a couple of hours, he had milled 50 kg of wheat, thanks to the strong wind and his expertise in operating the mill. He still has customers that take the grain to him for transforming into flour, that then goes into making the famous local bread.
He was gracious enough to let me take some photos, and I will be sure to give in some copies next time I am in Odemira. This is the type of experience that is still possible to have in the region, where the old traditions are still alive.
Equipment wise, I used my trusty Sony A7II, and the discrete ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens. I simply love this combination for this type of reportage shooting. I converted the files to black and white to convey a stronger feel of the place and the experience.