A trip to Northeast Portugal – part 1

A few days ago, I returned from a trip to Northeast Portugal, particularly to the region of Vila Nova de Foz Côa (VNFC). It was a family vacation trip, that I had been planning for some time; finally, during the Carnival holyday break, we managed to go there for a few days. I have family roots in VNFC, as my grandparents were from there, and I used to visit for vacations when I was a child. The trip was split into several days:

Day 1 – drive to VNFC (around 400 km), of course with a few stops along the way, in medieval villages (Belmonte and Marialva).

Day 2 – visit the Upper Paleolithic rock art sites in the region, which since 1998 have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Day 3 – drive from VNFC to Freixo de Espada a Cinta (FEC), visiting a few other old villages along the way, such as Castelo Melhor, Almendra, and Castelo Rodrigo.

Day 4 – drive back home, in part along route 222, that follows the Douro river and its many vineyards. A landscape that is also classified as World Heritage.

The entire trip.

This region of Portugal is extremely rich in history, with numerous cultural and landscape places to visit. It is characterized by several mountain chains that surround the Douro and Côa rivers and is close to the border with Spain. During February and March, the almond trees are in bloom, adding a beautiful character to the landscape. We were lucky that in many places, these trees were still in bloom; it is quite an experience to see the steep hills covered with the white blossoms. When the wind is strong enough, the flowers falling from the trees resemble snow.

Of course, I made a lot of photos, who wouldn’t right? I thought it better then to split this piece into several parts, following the several days, as indicated above. I will start with the first day of the trip, where the highlights were the medieval villages of Belmonte and Marialva.

Belmonte is located near Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in continental Portugal, in the Beira Baixa province. As many other villages in the region, Belmonte´s history goes back to very early times of Portugal’s foundation as a country. In fact, the establishment of Belmonte as a village was granted by king D. Sancho in the year 1211. Today, there are many interesting sites to visit, like the castle and medieval Jewish neighbourhood. This is also the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brasil in the year 1500. Arriving there at lunch time, we had a picnic and did some sightseeing around the castle and old town.

Belmonte – castle.
Belmonte – general view.

From Belmonte we kept driving North, towards VNFC, enjoying the nice sunny weather and the mountainous landscape. A few km before VNFC, lies another medieval village, Marialva. I remember stopping here when I was a kid, and even today Marialva is an invitation to a child’s imagination about knights and castles. The whole village is enclosed inside the castle walls. Its history goes back to Roman times, after which the Goth tribes occupied the region. In the year 1063 it was conquered by D. Fernando Magno and received its present name. The first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, granted it village charter and status (“foral”) in 1179.

Location of Marialva.

This entire region near Spain has seen quite a number of independence wars, and was never very populated. The first kings, attempting to attract people to the interior and sustain the conquered lands, offered incentives to the villages – granting permission to hold markets and offering lands. It is quite telling that today, in the XXI century, the current government is still granting incentives to attract people to the interior… some things never change.

Seeing Marialva’s castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by farms, is a very nice sight. It is possible to stop the car at the entrance of the village and visit it. Of course, the mandatory thing to do is to walk around and inside the ramparts. There are not may inhabitants today, and the few that we met were old people – this is a common thing in these small interior villages. The view from the castle over the surround landscape is beautiful, encompassing many kilometres in all directions, with mountain ranges and farmlands covered in fruit trees and granitic boulders.

We found a couple of old ladies that were selling some local products, including almonds and olive oil. I remember being a kid and breaking the almond shells in my grandparent’s house. I bought a bag of almonds, which are very good. After visiting Marialva, I left with the feeling that I was exiting a time machine. The eery silence at the top of the ramparts is a stark witness to the isolation of the place.

Marialva – view from the road.
Marialva – pillory square.
Marialva – castle.
Marialva – old friends.

After a few more kilometres, we finally arrived in VNFC, where we settled for the night. Not before doing a bit of walking around, bringing back childhood memories. The historical centre includes the church, pillory, and town hall. The first charter was granted by King D. Dinis in 1299. On the northern exit of the town, by the side of the road, is wrth to stop and admire the view towards the Douro valley. We rested there until sunset, simply admiring the view. The next day was going to be very full, with the visits to some of the pre-historic rock art sites.

VNFC – looking North.
VNFC – pillory and town hall.
VNFC – church.
VNFC – almond blossoms.

Cante ao Baldão – Odemira

Since a few years ago, the township of Odemira, in the southwest of Alentejo, has organized a series of cultural events called “Sonoridades & Sabores”, which can be translated as “Sounds & Flavours”. These events occur every couple of weeks between November and January, each time in a different parish. The idea is to preserve the local culture, in this instance a decades – old traditional way of singing. A few days ago I attended the event in the Reliquias parish, in a café of the small village of Ribeira do Salto.

The programme included “cante ao baldão”, an old and traditional way of singing “ao despique”, where several “cantadores” or “singers” challenge each other around a table, improvising and often replying to previous “provocations”. The singers are local people that come from the various neighbouring parishes, and have known each other for many years. “Baldão” means without any rules, so once the first singer starts, the others will follow, normally rising to the challenge. These tend to include personal stories, talking about honour, money, earth, water, hardships of rural life; in the end, they sing about life in this land that hugs the Southwest Alentejo and Algarve Sierras.

The group of “cantadores”, is accompanied by a musician that plays the “viola campaniça”, a musical instrument that is a regional example of the Portuguese guitar. In Odemira and nearby townships, the first historical record dates from 1916. This is also known as “viola alentejana” and is the largest of the Portuguese guitars. The same music – “moda marianita” – is played constantly during the event. The first singer will start the “story”, and after him, each one will continue, sometimes for hours. There are no breaks, and soon the group finds its own pace, while the player keeps adding the musical tones from the wire strings.

The “cante” is complemented by some typical local food and wine, fostering a feeling of familiarity between the singers and the assistance. The fare draws from local products, such as cold cuts, olives, and cheese. It truly is a special occasion, that brings the community together around the table, sharing stories, eating, and drinking. It is important that such heritage is not lost, as most of the singers are old men; I was happy to see that one of them was a teenager. Hopefully, these traditions will be preserved for the future.

It was the first time I have attended such an event, but I had a rough idea of what to expect, from published descriptions. This has helped when selecting what photo gear to bring with me. In order not to be conspicuous – the room in the local restaurant was small and packed – I only took my little Fujifilm X100F. This was the perfect choice for this occasion, as the camera is silent and has a fast-wide angle lens. I was standing halfway down the room, so I had a good view of the singers. I made a lot of photos, sometimes standing, other times just keeling in the cramped space between the chairs and the wall.

During the rest of the day, I also took photos of the local people, which are very friendly and welcoming. The older folk were proud that their traditions still lived on and were being passed to the new generation. I felt privileged to be able to attend such an occasion and look forward to participating in future ones. Below I point to a couple of links that have some historical background and references for this tradition. I also include a link with a short video taken with my phone.

https://www.facebook.com/1825621627/videos/10212846908087253/?id=1825621627

http://www.pedromestre.com.pt/v1/index.php/pt/gifts-2/viola-campanica

Location map of Ribeira do Salto. Other reference villages are indicated by the arrows.
The venue of the event.
A local farm.
Old friends.
Smiling with Tobias, the little dog.
Local crowd.
Viola Campaniça.
Getting ready.
Starting.
Cantador.
Younger generation.
His turn.
Going around.
Listening.
Feeling.
Dry throats after 2 and a half hours.
Night comes.

Brejo Largo beach, SW Portugal, with the Fuji XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens

It is nice to be able to visit the same location several times, be it within 1 year, or several years. In any case, there are many opportunities to record the seasonal effects in the landscape, together with the differences imparted by varying weather conditions. During Christmas and New Year, while taking several days off from work, I had the chance to (re)visit one of my favourite places – the beach of Brejo Largo, located only a few km North of the small village of Almograve.

It is possible to reach the beach by car, via a dirt road that starts a bit inland, in Longueira. However, since many years ago, my preferred way is to simply walk there, either from Longueira, or from Almograve. The first time I went to this beach was more than 30 years ago, with my brothers. Driven by “word of mouth” from some German tourists, we ventured from Longueira (our family Summer vacation spot) towards the coast, finding our way through rural paths, pastures with cows, and coastal sand dunes.

Today, the path has changed a bit, due to alterations in the land occupation, but it still retains the same characteristics as before. Some parts of it, especially near the coast, are signposted, as they belong to well established walking trails. You can actually make a nice circular trek of about 8 km, connecting Longueira, Brejo Largo, and Almograve. I never tire of walking in this area, appreciating the local tranquility and beauty. In this late December time, some of the fields still have unpicked sweet potato, but not many; no doubt they will be picked soon, as this is an important produce for the local economy. Other fields are used as pasture for cows and sheep, or planting corn.

In several isolated pine trees, it is possible to see nests with storks – gone are the days where these birds would migrate to Africa to spend the Winter time in fairer climates. There is even an unique species of stork that nests in the sea cliffs all year round. From Longueira to Brejo Largo the distance is around 4 km, an easy walk. After about 2 km you will pass the last group of houses, and the path will continue between a small pine tree forest. The terrain will also become sandy, as it enters the coastal sand dune system.

The sound of the sea and the waves is quite clear, brought by the wind. It is a sunny but cold December afternoon, with a clear and blue sky. I am thinking that such sky conditions will not be very interesting for photography, and will have to adjust accordingly: limit the sky area in the compositions, and make the best use of the side light. I am now hoping for some mellow light filtered by the sea spray, right at sunset time. We shall see.

Photographically speaking, I only took my Fujifilm XH-1 with the Fujinon 16-55 f/2.8 zoom lens, plus the tripod and Neutral Density filters for some long exposures. All in my small backpack, plus water and snacks. I have also packed another jacket, as I will be back only after nightfall, and I know the temperature will drop significantly by then. By now, after using this system for 1 year, I am so familiar with it, that it feels like second nature. Being weather resistant also helps to provide some degree of confidence when using it in the beach. There are lighter combinations in terms of camera and lens, but I really like this one: both camera and lens are robust, and perform really well. I am almost always in Aperture Priority mode, and low ISO, on the tripod.

When I arrived at the beach, the tide was rising, with the waves reaching almost to the bottom of the cliffs. Thus, I decided not to descend into the beach, and stayed at the top of the cliffs. Looking at the light conditions from the clear day, and with only about 1 hour until sunset, I had to work quickly. Being familiar with the area, and already with several framing ideas in my mind, i quickly entered into my shooting routine. I tested a few long exposures, and saw that the sea was giving nice results; in the northern part of the beach, there is a large geological dike intruding into the schist, which makes an interesting subject. This dike runs parallel to the coast, but unfortunately it was already covered by the incoming tide in the beach proper.

I made a few more shots looking south, and then quickly walked the rest of the way, to photograph the beach in the opposite direction. I was completely alone, with the exception of a couple of walkers that were doing the trail. In the summer, the place will be busier… Keeping an eye for the sunset, I noticed the light changing very quickly, becoming softer and more “golden”. I found interesting foregrounds along the cliff edges, including the typical low lying shrubs buffeted by the wind. It was an interesting colour combination composed of the dark rocks, the greens and goldens of the vegetation, and the hazy blues of the ocean and sky.

I remained on the beach until after sunset, and then slowly made my way back to Longueira. About half way through I saw a good possibility for a few more photos, as the Moon and Venus were already bright in the blue hour sky, and the fog was starting to cover the low lying parts of the landscape. There was a horse roaming about, which I managed to get into one of my photos. I arrived home well into night time, but it was well worth it. As a final bonus, the windmill in Longueira had its Christmas decorations on, so I took a photo of it, as a final frame for this session.

Brejo Largo beach – volcanic dike
Brejo Largo beach – looking South
Brejo Largo beach – mellow light at sunset
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – wind blown
Brejo Largo beach – sunset
Brejo Largo beach – after sunset
On the way back – Moon over fields
Fields, fog, and horse
Fences and fog
Christmas decorations – Longueira

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Santa Clara – a – Velha Dam – 50 years old

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0ZqjNZ8o7w

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.

Location
Location

Church
Church

Trail
Trail

Mountainscape
Mountainscape

Fluvial beach
Fluvial beach

The lake
The lake

Morning
Morning

View
View

First light
First light

Morning quiet
Morning quiet

Start trail
Start trail