The São Martinho das Amoreiras Trail – Odemira

Today I want to share another trek I did recently along the Rota Vicentina, a network of 750 km of walking trails in the southwest of Portugal. This time around, near the end of the year, my wife and I walked the 12.5 km of the São Martinho das Amoreiras circular pedestrian route, which is one of the recent additions to the vast number of trails. Like the one described in the previous blog post (Nossa Senhora das Neves), this one is also located in the interior of Odemira municipality. Although they share some common traits – the typical hilly and green rural landscape, with scattered farmhouses – the Amoreiras trail allows visitors to see some of the best products of the region, such as bread, honey, arbutus, and olive oil.

This is a scarcely populated parish (around 1,000 inhabitants), so tranquility is never far away. Still, you will see resilient people, mostly old, that keep alive the traditional ways of living, working in forestry, farming, and livestock. More recently, rural tourism/guest houses have opened, managed by younger people, offering visitors with the possibility of experiencing the region, offering a combination of activities, such as horse riding, star gazing, and, of course, trekking.

The trail starts in the village, and is easy to follow, thanks to the various signposts. Near the beginning, you can admire the main church in São Martinho, built in the 18th century, built under the auspice of the Order of Santiago de Espada. . Walking along the narrow streets surrounded by the typical low and white washed houses is a nice way to start the trek. After leaving São Martinho, the path quickly follows rural dirt roads and ways . There are numerous small farms with grazing animals and fruit orchards, limited by stone walls and creeks. Several of the older farmhouses have been abandoned and are in ruins, but the fields are still tendered to. Depending on the season, you will be able to see many birds, including a very special bird of prey: the Bonelli’s eagle. There are plenty of trees also, with relevance to old specimens of pines, cork oaks, cedars, and eucalyptus.

For us, there were several highlights on the trail, such as the windmills on the top of the highest hills; these afford magnificent panoramic views of the landscape. They are also good choices for a picnic lunch stop. It is wonderful to spend the day walking leisurely along this trail, winding up and down the green hills, surrounded by nature and tranquility. It seems unreal that the busier coastal area is less than 1-hour drive from here. These interior routes allow the visitors to get in touch with a way of living and cultural traditions that are increasingly rare. They offer a different perspective about the region, where communities are more isolated; the economic activities are a complement to the coastal ones, where fishing (and tourism) prevails. People are friendly and easy going, with the local cafés and public gardens serving as meeting points to warm up under the winter sun.

Human occupation in the area dates back to pre-historic times; this is witnessed by the nearby prehistoric Pardieiro Necropolis, a funerary structure that is 2,500 years old (Iron Age). The site holds several tombs, and some stone slabs were recovered, bearing samples of the first form of alphabetic writing on the Iberian Peninsula.

At the end of the day, if you are driving back towards Odemira, along the twisting N123 road, you will cross several other small and picturesque villages and farms dotting the landscape. Make sure to stop along the way to make a few more photos. This was another great trek in the interior region of Odemira, highly recommended. The link is provided below, for all the necessary details. Needless to say, I took a lot of photos along the trail, a selection of which I am showing below.

https://rotavicentina.com/en/trilhos/s-martinho-das-amoreiras/

Church in São Martinho
Green country
Farm house
Mushroom
Typical house
Small village
Secluded
From the top
Twisted
Abandoned
Panoramic view
Pardieiro necropolis
Pardieiro necropolis

Along the Nossa Senhora das Neves trail, Odemira

A few days ago my wife and I had the opportunity to hike along a recently inaugurated trail in the Odemira municipality. This trail is part of the Rota Vicentina, a network of 750 km of pedestrian routes, that includes several circular paths. Such is the case of this new trail, labelled as Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of Snow). For the logistical details, please visit the websites indicated at the end of the article.

This route of Nossa Senhora das Neves has a total length of 13 km, but there is the possibility of alternative and shorter distances, 8 km or 5 km. It crosses some of the most isolated and beautiful parts of this region, with a landscape that comprises fertile valleys and higher rocky hills. At the top of one of these hills, at around 200 m altitude, one can find the small chapel of Nossa Senhora das Neves, a quiet place that affords a 360-degree view of the surrounding area.

There are two recommended places to start the walk: one in the North near Ribeira do Seissal, and one on the South near Monte da Espada. I chose the latter because it is easier to reach via a municipal black top road that comes from the village of São Luis. Monte da Espada is a small and tranquil little village, really no more than several clustered houses and farms. From here, you will be walking in a northerly direction, along a dirt road. During the first kilometers, the road follows alongside agricultural fields, with abundant cork oak trees – some are very old and magnificent, attaining large sizes – fruit trees, and grazing cattle. This is the traditional combination that supports much of the local economy and population; unfortunately, it is being replaced by more intensive mono-culture of eucalyptus and pine trees, which provide a faster profit, but are also riskier in terms of preventing forest fires. Make sure you do not miss the well of Vale Figueira, on the right hand side of the path – it is part of several springs, tanks, and wells, that collect the water. In this well, you can read the verses written by the people to show their gratitude for such a gift of life.

In between the hills, lie fertile lands where rare plants can be found, such as the Centaurea vicentina, endemic to the region. All year round, many plants bloom in the fields. Winter is a good time to see two rare plants, the Portuguese heath (Erica lusitanica) and the tree heath (Erica arborea). After the recent rains, the land is green, and the weather was cooperative, with the sun peaking behind the persistent morning haze. The walking routes in the interior are less popular than the coastal ones, so we saw no other trekkers during the entire day. This results in a truly unique experience, with a complete communion with nature. The silence is only interrupted by bird song, the rustling of the wind in the trees, or by the cows and sheep.

After about 3 km, the path reaches Figueirinha, a place that is a rural tourism house. For those wanting a respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life, this is a perfect location to spend a few days exploring the region. We say hello to the owner, who was tending to the small orchard, and continue our walk. Reaching the northern end of trail, we turn right, and take a deep breath, before starting the steep climb towards the chapel. This can be seen from a distance, as it is perched on the top of a hill. After a few twists and turns, we reach the top, and stop for a well deserved rest. The small chapel is very simple, and next to it there is a wooden platform erected around a large tree, with a few shaded benches and tables. The legend says that the Virgin Mary once appeared on this hill, so the people built a little chapel at the bottom of it. However, one day the stones miraculously showed up at the top, so that is where the chapel ended up being finally built. There are also some older remains from what is likely a settlement from the Middle Ages. A special place no doubt.

After passing the chapel, the path turns southwards, winding up and down across successive hills, until it finally reaches a wonderful valley that is full of the famous Arbutus tree, or Medronheiro. The fruit of this tree has been used for a long time to make an alcoholic liqueur, or aguardente de medronho. Some local companies use it to make  chocolate sweets filled with this famous aguardente. Between October and November, the trees are in bloom, but we found a lot of them already bearing the conspicuous orange and red fruits. I can assure you that it is also quite tasty simply picked from the trees.

After a restful picnic lunch, we continued our walk, now descending to a flatter terrain, again crossing small farms scattered along the valley. In this part of the trek, we came upon the largest mushrooms we have ever seen, some reaching 30 cm in diameter. By then, the weather was closing in on us, with some heavy clouds and light rain, but soon we saw Monte da Espada again, marking the end of our trek.

Of course, I took many photos along the way, some of which I am sharing here. I am starting to assemble a portfolio of the landscapes of Odemira’s  interior, for a possible exhibit in 2020. But at the end of the day, I was quite happy to have discovered such a beautiful part of this region.

Location map. Trail is on the right hand side, in orange.
Location map. Trail is on the right hand side, in orange.

Persimmon
Persimmon

Near the starting point
Near the starting point

Erica lusitanica in bloom
Erica lusitanica in bloom

The small chapel of Nossa Senhada das Neves
The small chapel of Nossa Senhada das Neves

View from the chapel over nearby fields
View from the chapel over nearby fields

The smal chapel in the distance
The smal chapel in the distance

Mind the signs
Mind the signs

Mushroom
Mushroom

Mushrooms
Mushrooms

Arbutus
Arbutus

Really large mushrooms
Really large mushrooms

Sheep along the way
Sheep along the way

Approaching rain
Approaching rain

Small farm
Small farm

The well
The well

Overarching
Overarching

https://rotavicentina.com/en/walking/

https://rotavicentina.com/en/trilhos/senhora-das-neves/

Seasons come and go

Going back to the same place as the seasons change can be rewarding and an interesting experience. In the last few years I have driven across this farmhouse many times, normally on my way to Santa Clara a Velha damn, near Odemira, in the Alentejo province of Portugal. The land inside this farm is cultivated for cattle feed and has some excellent examples of the typical cork oak tree dotting the landscape.

There are several interesting compositions and framings, but the one that has attracted me the most in this place is placing a tree in the foreground, and the house at the top of the hill in the background. The two can then be connected visually by the farmland in the middle, which makes for a natural link between them.

I have now photographed this place in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This small project has happened subconsciously, and only recently have I realized that I had collected a seasonal portfolio of this location. What changes the most in the land, whilst the tree and the house remain as more fixed elements in the landscape. During Springtime, the land is lush with greenery and flowers, which wane and dry out in golden hues come the Summertime. During Autumn and Winter, the fields are cultivated again, thus initiating a new cycle.

I like how these changes mark the passage of time, while the old trees are almost like guardians of the land, witnessing the endless seasonal cycle of life. Seasons come and go, but some things never change, which is comforting. So, give it a try, and run your own small project like this one, documenting the seasonality of a landscape or other theme that attracts you. Results and images are bound to be interesting and rewarding.

Spring 2019
Spring 2019

Summer 2017
Summer 2017

Autumn 2019
Autumn 2019

 

Pego das Pias – a magical place in Odemira

Located between the villages of São Luís and Odemira, right in the heart of the municipality, the Pego das Pias is a well kept secret of the region. It is a fluvial beach along the Torgal creek (a tributary of the river Mira) of great natural beauty, far away from any human influence. The first time I heard about this place, was when I made the Troviscais trail:

(https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?p=665)

To reach the Pego das Pias, the best way is to park the car near the bridge over the Torgal creek, along the national road 120, between São Luís and Odemira. From there, it is just a short 2 km trek on a dirt road. If you are lucky, and depending on the season, you will be able to spot some of the biodiversity of the region, well documented in periodic sign posts. The flora is the typical of the region, with abundant oak trees, cork trees, and ash trees. This dirt road follows alongside the creek bed, which is very dry. The area normally suffers from droughts, but lately this problem has become more acute. Hopefully the next few months will see some rain fall, to mitigate this issue.

In late October, the autumnal colors are visible. When I visited it was mid-afternoon, so the valley was already under the shade. This made for a nice and cooler walk, as the temperatures are still relatively high for the season. Some people were camping nearby, and even taking a swim in the cool water. The braver ones among you can climb to the top of the gorge and dive into the water below.

Throughout geologic times, the Torgal creek has incised a narrow valley into hard quartzitic ridges, thus creating a narrow gap, after which the waters are retained in a small lake. The name “Pias” comes from the small cavities  that have been excavated by the water swirling and eroding into the rock. It is a testament to the time that it took for these formations to appear. There are also  local legends that tell stories about the it, and add to the magical nature of the place.

For instance, it is said that a local farmer had a daughter that fell gravely ill; her father then promised to give an ox and some gold to a saint if he cured her. She was indeed cured but the farmer did not kept his promise. Has a result, the daughter fell under a spell when she drank the water at Pego das Pias. One other story talks about older times, when the Moors were running away from the Christians and hid a large treasure in the waters of Pego das Pias; which has not been found yet…

It is easy to imagine such tales when looking down upon the quiet waters and the surrounding rock formations, seemingly full of mysteries.   Right in the middle of the lake, there is a large boulder, like a giant rising from the water. Further up the creek, the gorge twists and turns, as it goes uphill. I will need to come back when I have more time and explore the rest of this beautiful area. This time around, I only took one camera and one lens (Fuji X-H1 and 35mm f/1.4), which proved to be adequate. But I want to come back with a wider angle lens.

Location map
Location map

On the trail
On the trail

Signs of Autumn
Signs of Autumn

Reflection
Reflection

The lake
The lake

Autumn lake
Autumn lake

The main lake
The main lake

Reflection
Reflection

Narrow gorge
Narrow gorge

Swimmer
Swimmer

Golden
Golden

Golden
Golden

 

 

 

The Fujinon XF35 mm F1.4 R lens in landscape use

I often go out in small photo walks with just one lens and no particular objective in mind. Since I prefer to use prime lenses, the one I decide to take in such outings is usually a focal length that I am used to. For this occasion it was the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, which provides a normal angle of view.

Having recently spent a weekend in the Alentejo coast near Almograve, I simply carried one camera and one lens with me. I managed to take a short walk in a very familiar area, between the beach of Almograve and the fishing harbor of Lapa de Pombas, about 2 km long along the top of the cliffs. I wanted to take advantage of the low tide at sunset, to explore the small rocky inlets and pebbly beaches that can be found along these two locations.

Almograve is a starting point for one of the legs of the Vicentina trail that links to Cabo Sardão first, and then to Zambujeira do Mar. So it is very popular with trekkers, but they do not spend much time exploring this stretch of coast, which is a pity. Within this 2 km, if one descends to the sea, it is possible to find many interesting subjects, from the more generic landscapes, to more detailed aspects of rock textures and geologic features.

Normally, a normal lens is not the first choice when shooting landscapes, coming after the typical recommendation to use a wide angle lens instead. And that is fine, as I personally find that any lens from wide angles to telephotos can be used successfully for this genre. But I also think that a normal lens can facilitate a more natural angle of view on the landscape, without the exaggeration of distance between foreground and background (wide angle), or the magnified/compressed relationship resulting from a telephoto.

Along the way, there are several narrow sandy trails that are used by fishermen to go down to the sea level. Some of these are easier to negotiate then others, so due care is required. But the effort is well worth it, because once down near the sea, the cliffs are often made up of spectacular folded rock formations. These are a testimony to the the massive tectonic forces that have shaped the Earth, in this case during the Palaeozoic Era, hundreds of million years ago.

I spent the time until sunset carefully composing interesting frames of numerous subjects, such as craggy vertical rock surfaces, veined by mineral fractures; folded rocks; isolated plants clinging to the scarce soil. During and after sunset, I concentrated on the colorful clouds and water reflections, plus some rocky silhouettes. It is surprising the richness of subjects that can be found in this small area.

I find the small Fujinon lens perfect for such photo walks, providing a highly versatile tool for experimenting around. I found myself playing with depth of field when photographing a close up of a small shrub, with the cliffs behind. It is really simple to change the aperture on the dedicated lens ring, and this ends up providing a more tactile connection with the lens. The lens has high quality optics and provides an excellent starting point during processing of the RAW files later on. I only applied normal white balance, color and contrast adjustments, and the images came out really well.

The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (courtesy Fujifilm)
The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (courtesy Fujifilm)

almograve_25_10_19_10_net

Rock skin
Rock skin

Fractures and veins
Fractures and veins

Folds
Folds

Folds
Folds

Rock textures
Rock textures

Folds
Folds

Folding panorama
Folding panorama – 12 vertical photos

Lone blur - f/11
Lone blur – f/11

Lone blur - f/2.8
Lone blur – f/2.8

Colorful beach
Colorful beach

Colorful sky
Colorful sky

Castles of rock
Castles of rock

After sunset
After sunset

 

Returning to familiar places – a challenge

What to do on a Sunday afternoon on a rainy day? Get out of the house and take a photo walk – even if you end up in a place you have visited many times before! This is what I did recently during a weekend in my quiet little house in Longueira, Alentejo coast. After lunch and some lazying around with my cat Jonas, I decided to pick up my photo backpack and head out to the coast. The weather was not very inviting, but I am always optimistic and hoped for some respite and clearings close to sunset.

I often head out without any pre-determined goal, ending up being rewarded with some nice surprises and good photos. So why not this time too? I decided to make it simple and only packed my 2 cameras (Fujifilm X-T2 and X-H1) and 2 lenses (16 f/1.4 and 90 f/2) – this is normally my go to kit for landscapes and exploring around. The wide angle suits the way I “see” landscapes, and the telephoto allows me to isolate details in the cliffs and some nature close-ups. Added a small tripod and a few filters for long exposures, and I was all set.

I parked the car at the small fishing harbour of Lapa de Pombas, and started my walk from the sign post indicating the Vicentina Trail, towards the South. Regardless of how many times I am in this area,  I always enjoy being close to the sand dunes, the sea, the cliffs, in summary, unspoiled Nature. I snap a few shots here and there, looking for new angles in familiar subjects. As we are in mid-October, the days are already noticeable shorter, with sunset around 7 pm. The cloud cover starts to dissipate, and some clearings start to appear. This allows me to take a few shots of the low angle light hitting the cliffs and the fossilized sand dunes, with their erosional patterns and textures.

In one of the locations, the sand dunes are covered by  craggier rock formations that have been eroded into sharp corners, so it is necessary to pay attention while walking. The rustier colour of the land perfectly complements the blue azure of the sea and the white foamy waves. Several sea gulls float around carried by the soft breeze.

The last time I walked this part of the trail was earlier this year, in January (https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?p=693). At the time, I wanted to make some photos for my May exhibit (https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?p=752), notably a photo from a rock arch that is located along the way. Then, I only had a 23mm wide angle lens, and even though the photo turned out fine, I wanted to come back and use a wider angle. The best place to frame the arch is right at the edge of the cliff, so the room to maneuver is not much. Of course a zoom lens would have worked too, but I prefer primes.

Keeping an eye on the light conditions, I noticed the Sun would probably come out soon, as it was descending towards a narrow clearing between the clouds – I literally scrambled down the sand covered rocks of the cliff, set up the tripod and proceeded to make several shots, both with and without a long exposure setting. I had to work quickly, because the Sun was indeed playing hide and seek with the cloud cover. For a couple of minutes, it burst through, illuminating the cliffs and sea, which was perfect. I was confident I had managed to get some interesting photos.

As a bonus, as I was climbing back to return to the trail, I noticed a small snake basking in the sunshine. I approached carefully and used my 90 mm lens to make some close ups; later on I found out that it belongs to the Rhinechis scalaris species, which is common in Portugal.

On the way back to the car, I simply enjoyed the walk along the trail, making a few more photos of the sunset and the coast line. This is simply a magical place, and after the Summer bustle, even better to visit and enjoy.

Small fishing harbour - Lapa de Pombas
Small fishing harbour – Lapa de Pombas

Small fishing harbour - Lapa de Pombas
Small fishing harbour – Lapa de Pombas

On the Vicentina trail
On the Vicentina trail

Rusty dunes
Rusty dunes

Small fig trees in the cliffs
Small fig trees in the cliffs

Along the trail
Along the trail

Oceanside
Oceanside

Eroded dunes
Eroded dunes

The Arch
The Arch

The Arch
The Arch

Cabo Sardão far away
Cabo Sardão far away

Small cove
Small cove

Small snake
Small snake

Odemira remembers Amália Rodrigues

It is probably not very well known, but Amália Rodrigues (1920 – 1999), the greatest name in Portuguese Fado, had a small house in the coastal village of Brejão, Odemira municipality, in the Alentejo coast. In the 1960’s, when Amália was already famous, she visited this part of the country searching for a place that would offer her some tranquillity, away from the limelight. The story goes that she stopped her green and golden convertible car in the quaint village of Brejão, which is located a couple of km from the coast. She entered the local café enquiring about properties for sale. The café owner happened to have one for sale close by near the beach of Seiceira. After visiting the place, she fell in love with the beautiful and secluded small beach and bought the land.

During the following years, she built a house near the edge of the cliff, overlooking the beach. It took longer than normal, but then one must remember that back then, public networks for commodities like electricity and water were not available. For many years, this house was her refuge, a place where she and her husband could rest. She is also well remembered in Brejão, where she made many friends in the local population. Today, the house and surrounding property belong to the Amália Rodrigues Foundation, and are part of a Rural Housing Tourism unit.

To celebrate her 100th birthday anniversary, a series of initiatives were recently kicked-off in the municipality and will last for several months. One such initiative was an open house day on October 12th for the public to visit the house and have a glimpse of the artist’s life. The house holds several mementos of Amália, including paintings and photos, but the simplicity of the décor is striking. I made a few photos, as they were permitted. However, the real asset is indeed the quietness and tranquillity of the location; the only sounds are the ones carried by the wind, such as bird songs and the waves from the beach. The day ended with a Mass celebrated in the garden, with the participation of Fado singer Ana Valadas. It was truly a unique experience, listening to Fado in such a beautiful surrounding.

I also had the chance to visit the beach, which today is called “Amália’s beach”, of course. Nested between the cliffs, a small stretch of golden sands is bathed by the incoming waves of a deep blue sea. No wonder that Amália chose this place as her personal refuge. The weather this day was wonderful, with a balmy early Autumn Sun, and some wispy clouds. Unfortunately, the day was ending, but for those with more time, this beach lies along one stage (between Cabo Sardão and Zambujeira do Mar) of the Rota Vicentina, a series of walking trails totalling some 180 km along this Natural Reserve of Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast.

I still had the opportunity to walk a little bit around the area, scouting for future visits. I made a few photos of the beach and cliffs, and at the end of the day I simply enjoyed the sunset. Which, in this part of Alentejo, never disappoints.

Amália's house
Amália’s house

Amália's house
Amália’s house

Amália's house
Amália’s house

Amália's house
Amália’s house

Amália's house
Amália’s house

Painting detail
Painting detail

Painting detail
Painting detail

With César, her husband
With César, her husband

Some portraits
Some portraits

Small adjoining house
Small adjoining house

Open air mass
Open air mass

Fado singer Ana Valadas
Fado singer Ana Valadas

Way to the beach
Way to the beach

The beach
The beach

The beach
The beach

Map  - red circle indicates location of house and beach.
Map – red circle indicates location of house and beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night photography in Santa Clara a Velha

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to carry out a night photography session in a reasonably dark area near the village of Santa Clara a Velha, in Odemira municipality (southern Portugal). A few months ago, when I walked a trail between the villages of Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia, I passed through a ruined windmill at the top of a hill. The place afforded a clear and nice view to the North, over the rolling landscape. At the time, I made a mental note about returning to the location during the Summer, for some start trail and night shooting.

Fast forward in time, and I went back on the night of 30th August, during New Moon. I arrived at Santa Clara a Velha around 8 pm, parked the car, and took the trail up the hill, to the windmill. I had packed a small chair, plus a light dinner and a flask of hot tea, which proved nice to have a few hours later, as the night settled in. I wanted to arrive at the location before night fall, to facilitate setting up the tripod, camera, and lens. I had with me the Fujifilm X-T2 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, plus a head lamp. At sunset time, I took a few nice photos of the village down below, and even happened to catch a lone biker coming up hill in his mountain bike. Other than that, it was a very peaceful night from then onwards, with only the sound of birds and crickets as company.

I proceeded to find the North and frame the ruin of the windmill in the lower right hand of the composition. My plan was to have a nice rotating star trail around the windmill, centred on Polaris. I manually focused the lens, set at f/2, and left it untouched for the remaining of the night. The plan was to use the interval timer plus T mode of the camera, to shoot about 1.5 hours total exposure time. This means 181 photos at 30 seconds each. Finally, my ISO was 1600. To me, part of the fun to do this type of photography is being out in the Nature at night and enjoy the star rich sky in a dark location. In the meantime, as the temperature was dropping, I took a few cups of hot tea.

After shooting the star trail, I also took a few series of shots of the Milky Way: 10 in total, for later stacking. I was packing up my gear when I noticed the Pleiades rising on the East, so I took another series of photos. There was some light pollution, coming from the nearby villages and a main road in the distance, but I was happy with the results. After a good session, I was confident that I had some good images to work from, so I returned to the car. Before leaving the village, I made a few night shots of the church, which was illuminated. On the way back, I also stopped at the train station of Sabóia; the place had an eerie feeling about it, very different from the daytime.

In terms of image processing, I have used Sequator to stack the photos. In the past I have used Star Stax, a good programme too, but Sequator has a couple more useful options, like the ability to separate the “land” from the “sky” part of the image.

Location
Location

Lone biker
Lone biker

Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha
Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha

Night time
Night time

Looking up
Looking up

Star trail
Star trail

Church
Church

Eerie
Eerie

Attention
Attention

Too late for passengers
Too late for passengers

Boat trip in the river Mira

Last month I finally managed to take a trip that had been in my plans for quite some time. I am talking about the boat trip that goes up the river Mira, between Milfontes and Odemira. The river Mira, one of the least polluted in Europe, springs in the serra do Caldeirão in Algarve, and runs its course for about 130 km until it reaches the Atlantic in Milfontes. It is one of the few Portuguese rivers that flows from south to north. Along its course, the waters are captured by the Santa Clara a Velha dam, as I have written in a previous post.

This part of the river between Milfontes and Odemira is around 30 km long, can be navigated by boat, and is part of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. During the summer months, two boat tour companies organize such trips, going both ways, up the river, and down the river. I opted to take the option of going up the river, starting in Milfontes. The trip takes about 2,5 hours in total, in a small boat that can carry 6 people.

We met André (from Bture), the skipper, a young and pro-active fellow, a bit before departing time, at 10.30 am. The schedules are dependent on the tides, so going upriver means profiting from the rising tide. After everybody settled, we started our trip with a short detour to see the magnificent view of Milfontes from the river – the highlights are the beaches (the morning was cloudy and somewhat cool, so not many people were around), and the 16th century fort of São Clemente, with its ramparts rising almost from the sand.

We were soon passing below the bridge, that was built in the mid-1970’s, thus facilitating the communication by road between the two margins; at its time, the bridge was a key element of fostering the development of the entire coast. Before that, the closest crossing point was in Odemira proper, 20 km away. Not to mention the locals of Milfontes themselves, that had to cross by boat. Today, crossing by boat is still a fun experience, and Dona Maria has a small boat just to do that. After the bridge, the river keeps winding in quiet and smooth sections, and we cross several fishermen in their boats. It seems a busy morning, but then, this river has abundant fish, like sea bass and corvina. There are also many species of aquatic birds, that André is happy to identify.

The sky is still covered in clouds, but this is not bad, as it makes the trip a bit cooler during this late July morning. The river continues to meander between gentle hills covered with cork oak trees, pine trees, and eucalyptus. Here and there, a few isolated houses can be spotted amongst the greenery, normally associated with small wooden piers. We pass a few abandoned salinas, old tracts of trapped water that in the past would produce salt by evaporation.

The silence and quietness are impressive, and we seem to simply float above the water. The boat’s engine is the only sound we hear, but even then, it is not that loud, because we go at low speed. About halfway along the trip, André suggests opening a bottle of wine, accompanied by some typical cheese from Alentejo: what an excellent idea! As if agreeing with us, the sun finally breaks the cloud cover, and we now seem to glide surrounded by the green and yellow hills, plus the sky reflected in the water. The margins are abundant with reeds, that hide the odd small bird. After another gentle curve, we spot a present-day oyster farm, it was reactivated in the 1980’s and it is still lucrative.

The morning rolls along at a slow rhythm, and the river gets narrower as we approach Odemira. After a final curve, we finally see the village in the distance, with its houses climbing up the hills, painted in the typical white facades with blue and yellow stripes. We dock in the small pier, and it is time to say goodbye to André and our trip companions. There is now some free time to have lunch, and after a couple of hours, a taxi transportation is arranged to carry the participants back to Milfontes. André will wait for the tide to reverse, and will make the trip downriver now, with a new set of passengers. It was a great experience for me, being able to know and see the region from a different perspective.

I took a lot of photos with my small and trusty companion for such occasions, the Fujifilm X100F. I can see a lot of potential to make this trip again, perhaps more dedicated to bird watching, which requires a different photographic kit.

As a final note, I leave you with a few links for your reference.

Boat tours:

https://www.bture.pt/

http://www.riveremotions.pt/

Bird watching:

http://www.avesdeportugal.info/sitestumira.html

Natural Park Alentejo and Vicentina Coast:

http://www2.icnf.pt/portal/ap/p-nat/pnsacv

Milfontes
Milfontes

Milfontes
Milfontes

Milfontes
Milfontes

Milfontes
Milfontes

Where is my signal?
Where is my signal?

Abandoned
Abandoned

Arriving at Odemira
Arriving at Odemira

Location_Mira_River
Location map

Water, land, and sky

 

A day in Constância with the Fujifilm X100F

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.

River Zêzere
River Zêzere

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância - church
Constância – church

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Location map
Location map