The land of the Templars – part 1

Recently I have visited the region between the city of Tomar and the village of Dornes, in the central part of Portugal. The plan was to visit some of the famous monuments of the area, namely the ones dating back to the period of the Templars, that is, the 12th century. I also wanted to walk the trail around Dornes, the small medieval village that lies on the bank of the river Zêzere. The area is shown in the figure below.

Location of major landmarks in the area. Trail indicated by the blue line.

The very old Order of the Temple was established in Portugal around 1126, a few years before the country’s independence in 1143. At the time, the knights had a significant role helping the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, fighting against the Moors and expanding the territory towards the south. While the Order was extinguished by pope Clement V in 1307, in Portugal King Diniz transformed it into the Order of Christ in 1319, thus maintaining its patrimony. This important decision allowed the Order to establish its headquarters in Tomar, where they built the famous Convent of Christ. The nearby Tower of Dornes is also an interesting structure. I have decided to split this essay into two parts, the first one dedicated to Dornes, and the second one to Tomar.

The village of Dornes lies near the river Zêzere, about 2 hours drive to the northeast of Lisbon. I arrived early in the morning of 30th December, with the area covered by a freezing fog, and no soul in sight. No doubt, Covid and the cold were keeping everybody home. This is a mountainous region, characterized by forests and deep valleys. A large fire affected the area in 2017, and some of the effects are still visible when walking along the trail. Dornes has a very old history, dating back to Roman times, when the first fortification was built to protect the gold mining from the river. It also played an important role in the Christian reconquering of Portugal, when the Templar Knight Gualdim Pais decided to build the strong structure that we still see today.

Walking along the deserted streets, with the morning fog obscuring the river, it is not difficult to be transported 800 years back. The tower itself is unique due to its pentagonal plan. After a short walk near the river to admire the view, it was time to start the trail, which is indicated as PRZ1. Since it is a circular route, it really does not matter which direction to go, so I decided to do the trail counterclockwise. The first part is along the road leaving Dornes, but soon the path starts to climb the neighboring mountains. It is possible to spot the sunshine above the fog, and as the morning passes the fog starts to lift. Given the recent heavy rains, the forest is dripping with water, and green predominates.

Cold morning in Dornes.
Fog over the river Zêzere.
Branching out.
Small flower.

After a while the trail becomes more difficult, as it is clear that its maintenance has been overlooked. The path is covered with a lot of overgrowth, burnt tree stumps, and several signposts are missing at critical junctions. However, as the fog lifts, the views towards the village and the mountains are very nice and compensate for the extra challenge.

The fog lifts.

The trail keeps winding around and over the mountains and forests, until it arrives at a nice viewpoint over Dornes. From here, it is possible to appreciate its strategic location near the river. It is a beautiful view.

View of Dornes from higher up on the trail.
Dornes.

Returning to the village, I spent some time making some extra photos near the river, playing around with the reflections of the trees on the water.

Reflection.
Tower of Dornes.

In terms of photo equipment, I used my usual Fujifilm kit, consisting of a couple of cameras and lenses: one 24mm wide angle, one 90mm telephoto. This was flexible enough to allow different framing, according to the scenery.

Early morning in Odemira

The following are just some photos that I took during a morning walk in the village of Odemira, a coastal and interior municipality of southwest Portugal, in the Alentejo province. I had to go to Odemira to buy some groceries, but even in such occasions I always bring my small camera with me, the excellent Fujifilm X100V.

Along the drive between Longueira and Odemira, there is a familiar farm house by the side of the road, that I have photographed before. This particular morning was no exception, because the land was green and the sky a crispy blue with fluffy white clouds. The sun had risen about one hour before, so the light was still good.

The terrain was soaked with rain, but I walked up to the farm house for a more close up photo. Actually, there is a natural spring nearby where I go to fill up several containers of water for drinking.

Farm.
Farm.
Farm and moon.

I took the opportunity of simply strolling through the streets in Odemira. Clearly, Covid – 19 is ever-present, even thought people try to go on with their lives. Local cafés and shops are open, but business is slow. Odemira is the largest municipality in Portugal in terms of area, and has a small population; thus, social distancing is already practiced under normal circumstances. Still, people are very worried, because a large part of the inhabitants are old. Hopefully 2021 will be a better year.

Walking by.
Enjoying the sun.
Over the Mira river.
Going up.

Another trail in the Odemira region of Alentejo, Portugal

With the ongoing Covid – 19 situation, and the concurrent confinements, I am lucky enough to still be able to go out occasionally and walk along some of the many trails near Odemira. These trails are part of the Rota Vicentina network, and over the past couple of years I have walked several of them and have written about the experience here in the blog.

In 2020 I had planned to explore the trails a bit further, in other municipalities of the southwest coast; unfortunately, the restrictions have curtailed the plan, so I have been circunscribed to the municipality of Odemira, where I have a house. Thus, it is still possible to travel and drive inside the municipality’s boundaries. As a result, I have been repeating several walks that I did in 2019, and this time I want to write about the trail around the village of São Martinho das Amoreiras. The first time I did this trail I wrote about it here:

When revisiting a familiar place it is difficult not to take photos from the same spots and of the same subjects. This second time doing the trail, the weather was far from being sunny, like in the first time. Early December, the weather forecast included heavy showers, which could provide a different feel and experience in the areas we were going to cross. The landscape is dominated by gently rolling hills and rural farms and small villages. There are green pastures and fruit orchards, that provide for the local economy.

Of particular relevance are the Arbutus (medronho), olive oil, and honey. The Arbutus is particularly attractive this time of the year, as the small trees are blooming and have plenty of the red fruits. Unfortunately, there are many abandoned and ruined farm houses along the way; as the older people pass away, there are no young ones to follow up this rural lifestyle.

Abandoned farm along the trail.
Fields and clouds.
Green and blue.

Approaching rain.

Given the large amount of recent rain, the landscape was different from one year ago, and there were more animals grazing in the field. Everything looked fresher, which was nice, following very dry Spring and Summer periods.

Grazing.
Close by.
Bird.
Food stock.

After lunch (quick picnic), the weather really closed in, with lots of rain. We decided to cut the walk short, after 9 km (of a total 13 km), because these interior roads are not very safe under such conditions, especially in the dark. While resting a little bit in São Martinho, I noticed some nice Autumn colours in the trees, and took a few shots.

Autumn colours.
Autumn colours.

On the way back the rain stopped, allowing us to enjoy the leisurely drive through a winding road that provided excellent spots from which to photograph the countryside.

Arbutus.
Along the road.
Farm house.

For this walk I used Fuji X-T3 and X-H1 cameras, fitted with the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and 90mm f/2 lenses. These were more than adequate to get the shots I found along the way. Light conditions for photography were changing quickly, with alternating dark and light patches on the landscape. Contrejour was common, and I exposed to preserve the highlights. Shooting RAW was a safeguard against such challenge, ensuring files were maleable enough to obtain a good result.

Autumn in Milfontes

Vila Nova de Milfontes is a wonderful place to visit the entire year. Considered by many as the jewel of the southwest Alentejo coast, the village hugs the northern bank of the Mira river, where it joins the Atlantic. It is famous for its pristine and picturesque beaches, which are part of a Nature Reserve. I have already written here many times about Milfontes, showing numerous photos taken during the 4 seasons of the year.

Milfontes is indeed full of interesting places that take on a different feel according to the season and the light. I was there recently in end November, and had the chance to make more photos during a break in the rainy weather. The Autumn light adds a different character to the landscape, augmented by the stormy clouds. A good general view of the village, estuary, and river can be appreciated from the bridge.

View from the bridge, looking West.
River and mountain, looking East.
Estuary. The small lighthouse in the distant promontory is also a good location for photography.

From the bridge, it is possible to make good photos, using both wide angle and telephoto lenses. The river slowly makes its way to the sea, and the distant mountains provide a nice background. The small fishing and recreation boats rest along the pier.

One other great location is further down the main road, in the small promontory where a small lighthouse is located. From there, it is possible to see the village and the surrounding beaches. On this particular evening, the light and the clouds were quite nice.

Beaches.
Panorama.
Clouds.
Golden light at sunset.

I never tire of Milfontes, especially off-season, where it is possible to enjoy the place without all the hustle and bustle of the summer. These photos were taken with two Fujinon lenses, 16mm f/1.4 and 90mm f/2.

Strolling in a rainy afternoon

Here in Portugal in the last 3 or 4 weeks there has been a lot of rain and some stormy weather, which is excellent to mitigate against the draught. The Covid-19 restrictions are still in place, but it is possible to travel outside of curfew hours. In the beginning of December there are a few public holidays, so I took the opportunity to spend a couple of weekends in Longueira, a small village near the southwestern Alentejo coast.

The weather was indeed rainy, which was not very inviting to go out and take photos, but that is what I did one afternoon. Bad weather is often a good opportunity to make different and interesting images. The sky was filled with clouds coming in from the south, and promising more rain. I decided to take a short walk around the village, along local dirt roads that cross rural fields and some farms. The brooding and menacing clouds would add some drama to my images. A few examples are given below.

Old house in the field.
Sheep.
Old farm.
Stormy landscape.
Menacing sky.
Raining.

My little walk took about 1 hour, and by the time I got home it was dark and raining a lot. Still, I managed to make a few interesting photos, featuring the dramatic sky as key element. So, next time it is raining, get out of the house and try to take some different photos. All the photos were taken using the Fujifilm X-T3 camera and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, a good option for rainy weather, as both feature weather resistance.

A night to day transition in Milfontes

Located at the estuary of the river Mira, Vila Nova de Milfontes is blessed with a beautiful natural setting. Here, the quiet river water reaches the Atlantic surrounded by tree-covered cliffs and golden sand beaches. No wonder that in the last 30 years or so it has become one of the most popular summer vacation destinations. In 2020 the summer was quieter than usual, due to Covid-19, but still there were some people around. Now, at the end of October, Milfontes has returned to the usual tranquility of the other 9 months of the year.

One very early morning (or rather late night?) I picked up my photo backpack and tripod and headed over to the village to make some night and sunrise photos. There are several interesting monuments and places that portray a different feel at night, and I wanted to capture that. The old church, the XVI century fort overlooking the estuary, and some architectural details, all make interesting subjects. Another highlight is the monument that commemorates the first airplane voyage between Portugal and Macau; on the 2nd of April of 1924, Brito Paes and Sarmento Beires took off from Milfontes in a risky endeavour. Two planes and 16,380 km later, they reached their destination on the 23rd of June.

Walking down the street to the river, I made photos of all these subjects, which at night display a different charater.

The old church around the corner
Chimneys
Brave pilots

The little square in front of the castle provides one of the most popular views over the river and the sea. At night, the illumination was provided by the artificial lights, which turned out quite nice on the water and the lifeguard building below.

Famous lookout at night

There was a low tide, so I walked down to the beach and made several photos of the boats and the landscape. Due to the low light levels, exposure times were quite long, resulting in subject movement on the boats and some good colour and detail in the cloudy sky.

Floating
The lifeguard building

The first light of dawn was appearing in the East. The clouds, sky, and fishing boats provided some really nice compositions. I was quite busy making a lot of photos during this period. Including a 15 minute exposure!

First light over the river
15 minutes

During this transition between night and day, the light was changing very fast, so every minute the landscape was presenting different aspects. These were typical blue hour light conditions, where landscape photographers need to work fast to catch the light at its best.

Breaking light over the distant mountains
Changing light and clouds

Looking over my shoulder I noticed the clouds in the sky turning into a fiery orange. This only lasted for a few seconds, but I managed to make a few photos. What a fantastic light that was!

On fire

Once the Sun broke through, the area became bathed with golden light and long shadows. Since the tide was low, I was able to walk under the coastal walkway. I made a few more photos, including the walkway itself, and the moored boats.

Perspective under the walkway
Fishing boat
Mira estuary

Once the Sun was shining over the area, several cats appeared to warm up. These are normally taken care for by the nice lady that ferries people across the river.

Warming up
Junior

Before I went back home for a well deserved breakfast, I took a few more photos of the castle on the top of the cliff. The light was great, and this is one of the obligatory compositions.

Castle
Shadow

Between mountain and river – Troviscais walking trail

Starting about two years ago, my wife and I have been walking along the circular trails of the Rota Vicentina inside the municipality of Odemira, Alentejo province. These trails are a wonderful way of getting to know the coastal and rural areas of the region, away from the more touristic places. This is a beautiful region located between the mountain and the sea, a singular Alentejo, as the local advertisement says.

With all the Covid-19 problems, and with the certain future lockdowns in Portugal, we have recently taken the opportunity to repeat some of these trails. Such is the case with this one, which takes us from the interior village of Troviscais to the river Mira, and back. We did this walk two years ago in November, and I wrote about it in detail here.

This time around the weather was sunny and crisp, following the passage of storm Barbara. Everything seemed fresher, and the colours more vivid, which was nice. Similar to the previous time, I simply carried a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, respectively the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and the Fujinon 90mm f/2. Due to my familiarity with the trail, I had in mind making some different photos compared to the last time, especially using the close focus distance in both lenses. I also made some long exposures using my Lee Big Stopper ND filter.

Along the trail after Troviscais
Abandoned house
Wide angle close up
Telephoto close up – Autumn has arrived
Mira river long exposure
Mira river long exposure
Mira river oyster beds
Mira river long exposure
Abandoned
Window in Troviscais
Door in Troviscais
Door knob in Troviscais

Walking this trail again was a wonderful experience; we crossed rural fields with cork oak trees, up and down gentle hills, with the highlight being the couple of km along the river margin.

Some black and white photos

Black and white photography is as old as photography itself. With the advent of digital photography, it is increasingly easy to produce black and white images using various types of software. In my opinion what makes a good black and white photograph still has to do with light and subject. Sometimes colour can be a distraction, so by eliminating it, we can focus the attention on textural details, shapes, moods, and feelings.

On one of my recent trails in the Rota Vicentina of southwest Portugal, I made a series of photos of the rural landscape. You can read about it here:

The weather was very nice, with plenty of sunshine and white clouds. Some of the cork oak trees are very old in this region, and they make for interesting shapes against the sky and surrounding landscape. Some of the houses were also interesting, with the typical strong blue and white colours of the Alentejo province. In several photos, I used a polarizer to enhance the richness of the colours even more.

Even though I was quite happy with the colour photos I made on that trip, I thought that some of them might also work in black and white. So, when working on the Raw files, I tried several types of conversions. There are many ways to convert from colour to black and white, but I wanted to keep things simple. In this case, I used the Fujifilm presets inside Lightroom, deciding on either the Acros or Monochrome presets, with a touch of red filter to darken the sky and enhance contrast.

Following are some photographs that I converted and am happy with. Next time you are out photographing, keep an eye for interesting subjects that might be suitable for good black and white images.

Skeleton.
On the road.
Primary school, Monte da Estrada village.
Earth and sky.
Door and cloud.

Between Moons in the southwest

Every landscape photographer knows that one of the best times to include the Moon in landscape photos is one day before the full Moon. On that day, the Moon rises around the same time as the Sun sets; this results in a nice light balance during golden to blue hour transition, because as our satellite rises, the landscape is still illuminated by the fading light of the sunset. As a bonus, the following morning the Moon will set around sunrise time, again providing an excellent opportunity for a good light balance. On the day of the actual full Moon, it rises after sunset, which means the landscape will be darker.

During my recent vacation time in the southwest coast of Alentejo, Portugal, I had the opportunity to photograph during the full Moon, so I made plans to choose a nice setting for such. Being familiar with the area, I chose to photograph the Moon rise in Odemira, and the Moon set in Milfontes. In Odemira I set up near the local windmill, which in itself is an interesting subject. By being located in an elevated area, I would see the Moon rising over the surrounding hills. Then, in the ensuing morning I would go to Milfontes to photograph the Moon setting over the river Mira estuary. I have already shared some photos taken during such sessions in my previous essay.

All the best plans can be laid to waste if weather does not cooperate. Fortunately, I was lucky, as the weather cooperated. I drove to Odemira about one hour before sunset, to take some photos of this nice village. The winding road twists and turns as it descends towards the Mira valley, with some good view points along the way.

Odemira windmill
Odemira windmill

I spent several minutes photographing the windmill and the village during the sunset. It is a nice spot that affords a 360 degree view, from the village proper to the rising heights towards the South, that culminate in the Monchique mountain at 900m of altitude.

Odemira dusk
Odemira windmill – the wind blows through the cones
Looking South, with the Monchique mountain in the background

Once I saw the Moon rising over the hills in the East, I started photographing it, with the camera firmly mounted on the tripod. I was glad to have a telephoto zoom with me, to provide compositional flexibility from my fixed location. Light levels go down very quickly, so keeping an eye on the exposure histogram is very important. Also relevant is to avoid exposure times that would blur the Moon, which actually moves quickly in the viewfinder!

Moon rise – first peak
Moon rise

During this period, I kept an eye on what was happening behind me, as dusk was coming over the village. I made some interesting photos of the windmill and the day-to-night transition.

Transition
Moon rise

After this good photo session, I called it a day and drove back home for dinner. Next step: wake up before sunrise to photograph the Moon setting in Milfontes. The following morning the coastal area was partially covered in fog. I wanted to photograph from the bridge over the river, as it provides an excellent view of the estuary and the village. Fortunately, the area over the river was not completely covered in fog, and the setting Moon was visible. I set up my camera on the tripod in record time, and started to shoot.

Milfontes Moon set
Milfontes Moon set
Milfontes Moon set

Towards the East, the river was still under the foggy shade of the mountains, enhancing the quietness of the place at this early hour.

Dawn coming
Dawn over the river

After such a good outing, I returned home for a well deserved breakfast. No matter how many times I photograph in this region, I never get tired of it. There is always something new, due to the changing light and the time of the year. Following the Moon in about a 12 hour period was a great way of showing the character of this singular region, from the interior to the coast.

Interior waters of Odemira

I am writing this short essay as a follow-up to my latest post “Rural summer dawn”. In the latter I wrote about a simple morning walk near my house to photograph the surrounding landscape covered in fog. Fog can add interest to a familar area, which was the case. However, it can also last for a while, which is not good if you want to go to the beach.

Being familiar with the local weather conditions, namely that coastal fog can last for a whole day, I suggested to the family a trip to the interior, to visit two fluvial beaches: Santa Clara a Velha and Pego das Pias. I also wrote about those two places before:

https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?m=201911

So, after preparing a picnic lunch, we drove to the first place, the 50 year old dam of Santa Clara a Velha, in the river Mira. Sure enough, a few kilometres into the interior, the fog was gone and we were greeted by bright sunshine. The large lake of Santa Clara is a wonderful and refreshing place to spend the day, and that is what we did. I made a few photos, none memorable, but I do like this one where I used the polarizer to enhance the vivid colours of the sky and water.

Santa Clara a Velha dam

In the middle of the afternoon we drove the short distance to Pego das Pias pools, another nice location for a swim. The Pego das Pias is a geomorphological feature carved over thousands of years by the Torgal creek, a tributary of the Mira river. The water has created a narrow gap in the hard rocks, much like a canyon. In the summer, the water level is low, but the evidences of flash floods are conspicuous.

Pego das Pias pools

The location is very scenic, with the quiet pools surrounded by the rocky canyon and many trees that provide plenty of shade. Several large blocks can be seen along the creek, reminders of the force of the water under flash flood conditions. I trekked along the margin upstream, to explore the area a bit more. The views from above are worth the effort, with plenty of green ferns and the famous “pias” – circular smooth depressions carved by the eroding waters.

Pego das Pias pools looking downstream
Water and ferns
Ferns
Dry creek bed
Boulders

Thanks to the coastal fog, we visited these two wonderful and quiet locations, which I can highly recommend. I look forward to coming to Pego das Pias after some heavy rainfall, it should be interesting.