During the summer months in Portugal, a good alternative to avoid the crowded beaches on the coast is to head out to the interior. In recent years, the popularity of fluvial beaches in the interior of the country has increased, as they offer a nice experience to those that look for the quietness of a rural setting. Far from the busy coastal beaches, it is possible to combine a visit to a historical village with a cool swim to mitigate against the summer heat.
One of such places is the village of Constância, that I have visited recently with my family, simply to spend a nice and quiet day surrounded by nature. This village is in the Central area of Portugal, and sits atop a small peninsula, nested between the rivers Zêzere and Tejo. Constância is rich in historical and cultural heritage – the first Iberian inhabitants have settled here, followed by Romans, Visigoths and Arabs. One of the greatest Portuguese poets, Luís de Camões, author of the Lusiadas, has lived here between 1547 and 1550. In more recent times, the metal bridge over the Zêzere was designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Parisian fame.
The fluvial beach is a nice spot to spend the day, swimming in the clear and fresh waters of the river or resting in its forested green margins. Before leaving, we decided to stroll around the village in the late afternoon. The village has many points of interest, from its pelourinho to several medieval churches and chapels. Consequently, there are many interesting details to notice and photograph, wandering around the narrow streets. It is well worth it to walk up the village until the top of the hill, from where a broad view of the Tejo river opens to the east.
For this day trip I only carried the small Fujifilm X100F camera, the perfect tool for such occasions. It was entirely suitable to take a few obligatory family snaps, plus the required documentary shots. I also quite like the Acros B&W film simulation, which I have applied during RAW conversion. I think it suited the historical feel of the place nicely.
During the first half of 2019, I have been photographing a lot inside the area of Odemira municipality in Alentejo. This is a region that combines a beautiful coastline and beaches, with more interior plains and hills. Thus, it is often described as a “different Alentejo”. Several reasons have contributed to these photographic endeavours: doing several of the various trekking paths; assembling a portfolio for an exhibit; attending more local events; or simply taking more weekends off. There are many highlights in the region of Odemira, and you can get a very good idea from this institutional video:
One of such highlights is no doubt the Santa Clara – a – Velha dam, located about 50km inland. Simply getting there from the coast is a wonderful drive, best negotiated in a leisurely fashion. This is not a land to be appreciated, and understood, at a social network pace. From the coastal road that stretches south from Milfontes, simply follow the directions to Odemira, Boavista dos Pinheiros, until you reach Sabóia. Along the way, you will pass rolling hills and farm country which, depending on the season, will be covered with fresh green grass and trees, blooming flowers, or golden and dry hay. Dotting this landscape, you will notice the conspicuous cork oak trees, some of them very old and majestic, plus grazing cattle.
Now and then, a road sign will seemingly point to nowhere, but by investigating more carefully, you will often arrive at a small village, with just a few houses. It is a great opportunity to spend some time with the locals and witness old and traditional ways of living. In Sabóia, the train station has a couple of beautiful painted azulejo panels depicting the nearby scenery. We are very close to the transition between Alentejo and Algarve provinces, but such border is smoothed by a succession of increasingly higher mountains to the south, culminating in the second highest peak in continental Portugal, Monchique (900m altitude).
After Sabóia, it is a short drive until the quaint little village of Santa Clara – a – Velha. It is worth visiting the small church, with its traditional blue and white facade, and walk slowly towards the river Mira, which winds its way under large willow trees. This village is the starting point of two circular walking trails, each about 12km long. One of them goes to the east, towards the dam, so it is a good choice when the weather is pleasant. Otherwise, it is another short 3km ride until the dam.
The Santa Clara – a – Velha dam was inaugurated in May 12, 1969, so this year marks its 50th anniversary. It was the largest dam in Portugal until the more recent Alqueva was built. It reaches a depth of 83m, with a total capacity of 485,000,000m3. The lake is a true haven of peacefulness and quiet, and a respite in the hot summer days. The only sounds that disturb the quietness are the ones coming from the wind rustling the trees, and the birds singing. It is amazing how quiet it gets. And dark too, which was one of the reasons I visited recently. Coincident with a new Moon, I shot a star trail over the lake. Having previously scouted the area, I set up my tripod with camera and lens facing north; the plan was to shoot for a total of about 1 hour exposure time, to obtain a nice star trail around Polaris.
Many other photographic subjects of interest are available, from the mountain scenery, to some of the infrastructure of the dam. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to photograph, as the light is more interesting. For example, sunrise is quite nice looking to the east, as the light is reflected from the calm water. At sunset, it is worth to relax in the balcony of the local hotel, while admiring the view; in this occasion, the warm day was coming to an end, and the golden light was filtered by the haze, bathing the hills in a surreal atmosphere. Visiting this dam is no doubt an enjoyable experience, as it provides a stark contrast with the coastal region.
This is the second part of a three piece article that was started with the previous post.
A couple of kilometres South of Almograve beach, on the Alentejo coast, one can find the small and secluded fishing harbour of Lapa de Pombas. The harbour and its associated infrastructure provide support to the activities of a handful of fishermen, who brave the nearby ocean in small boats to help make a living. This small harbour is one of such locations that still exist along this coastline, providing a window into the hard-working ways of fishing, typical of days gone by. Other such fishing hamlets can be visited to the North, near Milfontes, and to the South, near Zambujeira.
When I am staying in the region, I often visit Lapa de Pombas, either for a simple relaxing stroll, or for photographic reasons. The place can be reached via a dirt road by car, or even better, by walking; this last option allows the visitor to appreciate the beauty of this rugged coastline, with its succession of small inlets and bays, where the waves crash against the cliffs. Along the way, it is also possible to see the coastal dune system, that has developed over geologic times in the area. Between March and June, patches of wildflowers bloom in the dunes, providing an added colourful backdrop to the scenery.
At the end of the dirt track, going down a small stretch of cobbled road, the harbour waits, with its half-dozen woodsheds, that house the fishermen’s equipment. Close to the water, at the end of a concrete slab, the small boats lie in wait. With their vivid colours, they provide an interesting contrast against the rocky background. After a while, it is clear why the harbour was built here, perfectly protected in this little cove against the rougher weather occasions. From near the water’s edge, the wood houses seem to be part of the landscape, disguised against the brown and green hues of the cliffs.
There are plenty of interesting subjects to photograph in this harbour, from the landscapes and seascapes, to the details of the boats and fishing traps, to the locals getting the boats ready for the next fishing trip, or negotiating the rocks at low tide to venture on foot into the best fishing spots. No wonder I got lost track of time walking around the area and playing around with several compositions. One familiar subject from previous visits was the local cat population, that just lies around leisurely, and are very friendly. They must have a good diet of fresh fish, as they are often the first ones waiting for the fishermen’s return.
On the way back to Almograve, with the approaching sunset. I stopped many times to take some photos of the seascapes, simply enjoying the spirit of the place, and playing with some long exposures, one of my favourite techniques with such subjects. In terms of photo gear, I am always surprised by the current options, particularly from mirrorless systems; they offer a perfect combination of high image quality, light weight, and portability for those like me who prefer to carry lighter weight gear. These photos were taken with the Fuji X system, namely just a couple of cameras (XT-2 and XH-1) and lenses (16 f/1.4 and 50-140 f/2.8). And a small travel tripod, of course.
As a final note for those who visit the area, this short trek is part of the larger Rota Vicentina, a network of trails that span the entire Alentejo and southwest Algarve coastline, totalling around 180 km. More information can be found here:
I recently took a few days off work and spent some time at my house in Longueira, in the Alentejo coast, during the first week of June. I had no firm photographic plans, but of course I packed my small backpack and tripod, just in case. Often I simply enjoy to see what opportunities come up my way, especially in areas that I know so well after many years of strolling around neighbouring beaches and hills. As it turned out, at the end of my short vacation, I realised I had photographed in a few new places (Vale Figueira), and other already known ones (Lapa de Pombas and Milfontes). Also, I managed to make some really interesting photos, approaching familiar locations from a different angle. I am going to split this set of locations into threee different posts, just to make them more manageable and organized. Thus, I will start with Vale Figueira, and how this new location (to me) proved to be worthile.
While driving from Milfontes to Odemira, a couple of kilometres after passing the turn out to Almograve, one sees a sign post indicating Vale Figueira, on the left hand side of the road. Taking the turn off, it is possible to drive until the end of the tarmc, which is replaced by a dirt road. After a while, the road ends, and it is necessary to proceed on foot. The objective here is to reach the river Mira and its left bank, as it snakes its way towards the mouth at Milfontes. Before reaching the river, the track crosses some farm lands, where the golden wheat is gently balanced by the wind, with scattered cork trees. It always amazes me this coexistence between a rural geography so close to the coast; we are maybe 10 km inland, and already immersed in the typical Alentejo countryside.
I keep walking towards the river, while mentaly taking note of some interesting potential photographic subjects, like the larger cork trees, a few farm houses, noticing the shadows getting longer, as the day gets to its close. Approaching Summer, days are of course longer, so I know I can profit from the extra time. Sunset will be around 9 pm. After a curve in the road, the river Mira appears at the bottom of the valley, a indigo blue strip amongst the greenery of the trees and shrubs. From its Eastern bank, a succession of hills rolls up towards the sky; the Moon has already risen and is close to being full. I make a few exploratory photographs, framing the river, the hiils, and sky, evaluating the scenery. I like to photograph this way, at my leisure, absorbing what the Nature offers in terms of sounds, smells, colours, subjects, different elements.
By the time I reach the river, I already have lots of ideas to try, and I get into my natural flow of photographing. It is almost eerily quiet around me, apart from the occasional bird chirp, fish splash, or wind undulating the tall grass. I spent some time photographing near the river, and I return up hill, to photograph what I had enviaged before – the trees and the landscape. I attempt a long exposure of the wheat flowing in the wind, about 30 seconds, works fine. Right at sunset, I happen to spot an old abandoned house, seemingly guarded by a large eucalyptus tree, with the Moon in the sky. My final shot of the day.
The Fujifilm X100 series of cameras has been a great success since it first came in the market a few years ago. With its retro design and controls, plus the classic 35mm field of view, it looks like a camera from many decades ago. It is no surprise that has won over the hearts of many photographers, including mine. I was a user of the original X100, and over time I have tried their successors for several shots. Given its small size and high capability, the X100 series is a favourite of mine when to comes to always having a camera with me. Or when I wish to travel light, just documenting daily life. I recently had the chance to try the latest incarnation, the X100F, for a weekend.
It also happened that during said weekend I was going to a favourite region of mine, Odemira. I had made plans to attend the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Santa Clara a Velha dam, near the village with the same name. There were several activities planned, and I also wanted to make a small trek in the area, scouting for locations to shoot starscapes in the coming Summer months. I did attend some of the celebratory events, but because the weekend was very hot, I ended up not trekking much. I shot a few frames of the celebrations, including the students of viola campaniça (a traditional local guitar) and Phillipe (a local Belgian painter) teaching how to paint. On the way back I stopped at the village of Santa Clara a Velha for a short stroll. The town’s church is famous for its typical blue and white colours of the Alentejo. Then I ended the day in the town of Odemira, shooting a 16 frame panorama from the top of a hill.
I compensated for a couple of sunset and sunrise photo sessions in Cabo Sardão and Milfontes, two of my favourite spots. With just a small tripod and a set of neutral density filters, the small X100F makes for a perfect light companion to shoot the area. The first session was sunset at Cabo Sardão, a place that I simply love. I go there often during the year, but every time the feeling is different. This time the sea was calm, and there was just a light breeze. So, I simply set up the tripod, placed my 10 stop neutral density filter, and played with exposure times. The X100F’s operational speed is a step above the previous generations, and the little camera just begs to be used. The light of the sunset bathing the cliffs was fantastic. I spend more than 1 hour just experimenting. As I was packing to leave, I noticed a pair of seagulls framed against the colours in the horizon, so I grabbed one last shot.
The next morning, I woke up very early to catch the sunrise on the river Mira estuary, in Milfontes. I parked in the southern margin of the river and walked along the beach looking for interesting compositions. The tide was low, with the gentle waves lapping against the sand. I took a few long exposure photos just to run a few tests. Having just one focal length makes it necessary to try out compositions and work around the subject; a few steps forward or backward can make a big difference. As the sunlight was coming up, the small chapel in the promontory was bathed in golden light, making for a nice subject. Shooting against the rising sun also tested the quality of the lens; I have one shot that I am particularly fond of: a long exposure using the 10 stop ND filter, with the sun rising in the background. In the Spring, the dunes also make for good subjects, with the sand featuring patches of flowers, like the Armeria maritima, also known as sea thrift. At the end of the day, the little X100 series camera just got better, with the latest release, the X100F, being the best one until now. For sure it is a camera that I will keep, for the occasions where I want to travel lighter.
Milfontes is a well known village in the Alentejo coast. At the confluence of the Mira river and the Atlantic ocean, it is a popular Summer destination for beach lovers. As part of the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, it also offers year – round attractions, with its pristine landscapes, worth exploring along its many walking trails.
I am currently assembling a portfolio about the Odemira region, to be exhibited locally in May, at the Jose Saramago library. As such, I am selecting photos that portray the rich diversity on Odemira’s municipality, from its many beaches (the best in Portugal, as the slogan says) to the more interior landscapes.
While looking at the portfolio, I saw that I was missing some potentially interesting locations, such as the one overlooking the Furnas beach, on the South bank of the Mira. Such a spot offers great views of the popular Furnas beach and Milfontes village, looking North. So I planned for a sunset shooting session a couple of weeks ago. Being Winter, I had the place to myself, and so it was really peaceful; I simply love to being outside, and consider myself lucky to be able to experience Nature at tis best.
I walked a bit along the coast, exploring to the South, amongst hardened sand dunes, where water and wind had sculpted interesting shapes. There are always interesting photo opportunities, when one is willing to keep an open eye. As sunset was approaching, I set up my tripod and experimented with several exposure times and framings. As always, I like to keep things simple, so I only carried 1 lens for my Fujifilm camera, and that was the 23mm f1.4.
I kept shooting well until after sunset, into the so-called blue hour. In fact, while I was walking back to the car, I stopped a few times, and ended up taking a few more frames. At the end of the day, I suspect I will have a few more portfolio options; if not. then the experience was well worth it. As a landscape photographer, experiencing a place is rewarding enough for me. And Milfontes is certainly such a place.
Zambujeira do Mar is a quaint little village located a few km South of Cabo Sardão, in the Alentejo coast. Together with Milfontes and Almograve, it completes the trio of the most famous beaches in the Odemira municipality. Similarly to the other coastal towns in the area, during the Winter there are hardly any tourists or visitors around, which makes for perfect and quiet conditions to visit. During the Summer, the small village receives a significant number of vacationers, plus a dedicated crowd during one of the most famous music festivals in Portugal.
The principal attraction is of course the beach, secluded between rocky spurs, that provide protection against the often rough sea and northerly winds. The topography is familiar to those that know the area – the coast in the region offers a string of several beaches separated by cliffs of Palaeozoic rock formations of variable colour. While in Cabo Sardão to the North the dark rocks dominate, here the prevalent colour is yellow, which makes for a nice contrast with the blue sky and blue green water of the sea.
I am preparing an image portfolio of the most interesting locations in Odemira’s municipality, and I was surprised to see that I had very few photos of Zambujeira. I normally shoot more often between Cabo Sardão and Milfontes to the North. This was something I needed to correct, so I arranged for a short trip during the weekend. My plan was to take a walk between Zambujeira and Alteirinhos, the first beach south of the village. You can see the map for a simple location.
I wanted to photograph during golden and blue hours, that is, around and after sunset. The scenery is beautiful, and suitable for long exposures of the sea against the rough cliffs. It also helped that there were some clouds to provide some colour and interest in the sky. For this trip, I simply took my Fuji kit (Fujifilm X-T2 and Fujinon 14 f2.8 lens) and tripod plus Lee Big Stopper filter. My first stop was at the Alteirinhos beach, where I was surprised to find a waterfall; the tide was coming in, but I was able to set up my tripod and take a few shots, testing several exposure times to see how the water flow would come out. I then spend some time exploring different viewpoints from the beach, and was happy with the results.
It is easy to loose track of time, and sunset was approaching quickly. I made my way back to Zambujeira, as I wanted to photograph the village and the beach. I shot several compositions and different exposure times, well into the night, as the Moon had risen and was bright in the sky. I ended my trip simply seating near the small chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar (Our Lady of the Sea), at the top of the cliff, and looking West, into the ocean. A perfect way of finishing a wonderful photographic session.
In my previous post, I wrote about the beautiful walk between Almograve and Cabo Sardão, along the coast of Alentejo. Today, I want to take you a few km inland, on a journey around the municipality of Odemira. More specifically, along the back roads that hug the hills between Odemira and Sabóia.
This area of the interior is characterized by gentle rolling hills, dotted with old farms, where sheep graze amongst cork and holm oaks. Thanks to recent rains, the pasture is green and abundant. The road to Sabóia is quiet, there are hardly any cars on it; it is easy to fall into a driving rhythm that is in synch with the landscape. Driving along, I stopped many times, simply to slow down and experience the peacefulness of the place, slowly composing my photos. No need to rush!
I simply walked around the area, trying to find the best vantage point to photograph a farm house surrounded by the trees and green fields. At the start of the trip, the sky was cloudy and grey, therefore not very interesting in terms of a typical landscape shot. So I concentrated on more intimate shots, of trees and grassland. The grass was particularly interesting, with vivid greens due to the rains.
My destiny for this trip was the small village of Sabóia, whit its interesting train station. Unfortunately, Portugal has not invested in the railways for a very long time, and that shows. The Sabóia station looks, and feels, like time has stopped; it has some beautiful azulejo panels depicting the village of Monchique in Algarve, and these are well preserved. But, similar to many other train stations in Portugal, it is deserted; I wonder what to do if I wanted to buy a ticket, as the building is closed…
The main building, and the surrounding supporting ones, are in dire need of a paint job, as a starting point. I walk around, no soul to be seen; nearby, I hear a tractor, someone is tending to the fields. Many houses in the vicinity of the station are abandoned. Looks like a ghost town…
On the drive back, sometimes the sun breaks the cloud cover, and I wonder if I am lucky enough to still have some more interesting light at sunset. There is this farm house that I have been trying to photograph at sunset for quite some time; maybe today I think? Sunset in December is around 5.30 pm, so I need to hasten.
And indeed I am lucky, during sunset, the light is wonderful, and I bag the photo I wanted. A nice and inspiring way to finish a wonderful day in this area.
The trek between Almograve and Cabo Sardao, which is about 8km long, is part of the much longer (around 180km) “Rota Vicentina”, or Vicentina Trail. I recently had the opportunity to re-do this small walk, and took a few photos along the way, of course!
The date was late December, just after Christmas, a quiet time, and as a consequence I was the only one doing the walk. Especially during Spring and Summer, it can be busy. The trail is an easy one, and affords great views of the coastal sand dunes, dark rocky cliffs, and the azure sea. The only sounds are the ones coming from the crashing waves, the sea birds, and the wind.
It often pays off to go a bit off the trail, and explore the small inlets and coves along the way. There are many photo opportunities along the way; I walked the trail in the afternoon and waited for the sun to set, to have some high quality landscape light. The scenery is beautiful, with dark rock formations emerging from the sea like menacing spurs, in plain contrast with the blue sea, white foam, and golden dunes. I spent some time playing with long exposures, to capture the interplay between the elements.
In some places, the dunes have been fossilized and display a rusty colour, thanks to the presence of iron oxide cements. In some other instances, the dunes are replaced by hardened calcrete soil, where the water has carved some round pot holes; in these, it is common to find some plants perhaps trying to get some shelter from the wind. Of course the birds are present all along the trail, particularly seagulls. In the distance it is also possible to see nests that belong to storks.
In the last couple of km it is possible to start seeing the lighthouse of Cabo Sardao in the distance, 70m above sea level. The coastal cliffs at sunset become enveloped in the winter haze, and the light in the lighthouse comes up precisely at sunset. It looks tiny in the distance, like a beacon marking the end of my journey.
The Arrifana beach is one of the most famous in the Vicentina Coast of southwest Portugal. It is located close to the historic village of Aljezur. Thanks to its configuration in a crescent shape, protected between two rocky promontories, the beach offers some great waves. No wonder there are several local surfing schools that are active all year round.
Arrifana is one of my favourite beaches in Portugal; I visited the first time in 1988, and fell in love with it. To arrive at the golden sand, one has to descend along a hair pin road; it is a slow approach that allows great views of the beach. The entire coast south of Aljezur is dotted with (still) peaceful and wild beaches, all the way until the Cape of Saint Vicente, of Age of Discoveries fame. The coastline is made up of rugged tall dark cliffs, in sharp contrast with the sand and deep blue sea water. Due to its general exposure to the Atlantic, it is normal to have some rough seas and strong northerly winds.
I recently decided to make a small trip to Arrifana, scouting for new possible photo locations, taking advantage of the increasing number of trekking routes in the area. Also, in early December, the place is much more quiet, and the light has a different character.
On the beach, I only had for company some surfers, and their nice dogs. Great place for a picnic, reading a book, and strolling around beach combing! I took some nice photos, using my trusty Fujifilm X-PRO2 and small 23 f/2 lens, a perfect combination for such relaxed occasions. At the end of the day, from the northern view point near the old castle ruin, I took a few shots that later were assembled as a panorama. I also came back with ideas for future trips in the area, that are in the plan for 2019!
Happy New Year, full of health and photo opportunities!