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

Southwest Alentejo in June – part 2

This is the second part of a three piece article that was started with the previous post.

A couple of kilometres South of Almograve beach, on the Alentejo coast, one can find the small and secluded fishing harbour of Lapa de Pombas. The harbour and its associated infrastructure provide support to the activities of a handful of fishermen, who brave the nearby ocean in small boats to help make a living. This small harbour is one of such locations that still exist along this coastline, providing a window into the hard-working ways of fishing, typical of days gone by. Other such fishing hamlets can be visited to the North, near Milfontes, and to the South, near Zambujeira.

When I am staying in the region, I often visit Lapa de Pombas, either for a simple relaxing stroll, or for photographic reasons. The place can be reached via a dirt road by car, or even better, by walking; this last option allows the visitor to appreciate the beauty of this rugged coastline, with its succession of small inlets and bays, where the waves crash against the cliffs. Along the way, it is also possible to see the coastal dune system, that has developed over geologic times in the area. Between March and June, patches of wildflowers bloom in the dunes, providing an added colourful backdrop to the scenery.

At the end of the dirt track, going down a small stretch of cobbled road, the harbour waits, with its half-dozen woodsheds, that house the fishermen’s equipment. Close to the water, at the end of a concrete slab, the small boats lie in wait. With their vivid colours, they provide an interesting contrast against the rocky background. After a while, it is clear why the harbour was built here, perfectly protected in this little cove against the rougher weather occasions. From near the water’s edge, the wood houses seem to be part of the landscape, disguised against the brown and green hues of the cliffs.

There are plenty of interesting subjects to photograph in this harbour, from the landscapes and seascapes, to the details of the boats and fishing traps, to the locals getting the boats ready for the next fishing trip, or negotiating the rocks at low tide to venture on foot into the best fishing spots. No wonder I got lost track of time walking around the area and playing around with several compositions. One familiar subject from previous visits was the local cat population, that just lies around leisurely, and are very friendly. They must have a good diet of fresh fish, as they are often the first ones waiting for the fishermen’s return.

On the way back to Almograve, with the approaching sunset. I stopped many times to take some photos of the seascapes, simply enjoying the spirit of the place, and playing with some long exposures, one of my favourite techniques with such subjects. In terms of photo gear, I am always surprised by the current options, particularly from mirrorless systems; they offer a perfect combination of high image quality, light weight, and portability for those like me who prefer to carry lighter weight gear. These photos were taken with the Fuji X system, namely just a couple of cameras (XT-2 and XH-1) and lenses (16 f/1.4 and 50-140 f/2.8). And a small travel tripod, of course.

As a final note for those who visit the area, this short trek is part of the larger Rota Vicentina, a network of trails that span the entire Alentejo and southwest Algarve coastline, totalling around 180 km. More information can be found here:

http://en.rotavicentina.com/

Location
Location

 

General view
General view

Fishing traps
Fishing traps

Low tide
Low tide

Rowing
Rowing

Transfer
Transfer

Fishing
Fishing

Boats
Boats

House cat
House cat

Work - life balance
Work – life balance

From afar
From afar

Sunset
Sunset

Secluded
Secluded

Looking down
Looking down

 

Southwest Alentejo in June – part 1

I recently took a few days off work and spent some time at my house in Longueira, in the Alentejo coast, during the first week of June. I had no firm photographic plans, but of course I packed my small backpack and tripod, just in case. Often I simply enjoy to see what opportunities come up my way, especially in areas that I know so well after many years of strolling around neighbouring beaches and hills. As it turned out, at the end of my short vacation, I realised I had photographed in a few new places (Vale Figueira), and other already known ones (Lapa de Pombas and Milfontes). Also, I managed to make some really interesting photos, approaching familiar locations from a different angle. I am going to split this set of locations into threee different posts, just to make them more manageable and organized. Thus, I will start with Vale Figueira, and how this new location (to me) proved to be worthile.

While driving from Milfontes to Odemira, a couple of kilometres after passing the turn out to Almograve, one sees a sign post indicating Vale Figueira, on the left hand side of the road. Taking the turn off, it is possible to drive until the end of the tarmc, which is replaced by a dirt road. After a while, the road ends, and it is necessary to proceed on foot. The objective here is to reach the river Mira and its left bank, as it snakes its way towards the mouth at Milfontes. Before reaching the river, the track crosses some farm lands, where the golden wheat is gently balanced by the wind, with scattered cork trees. It always amazes me this coexistence between a rural geography so close to the coast; we are maybe 10 km inland, and already immersed in the typical Alentejo countryside.

I keep walking towards the river, while mentaly taking note of some interesting potential photographic subjects, like the larger cork trees, a few farm houses, noticing the shadows getting longer, as the day gets to its close. Approaching Summer, days are of course longer, so I know I can profit from the extra time. Sunset will be around 9 pm. After a curve in the road, the river Mira appears at the bottom of the valley, a indigo blue strip amongst the greenery of the trees and shrubs. From its Eastern bank, a succession of hills rolls up towards the sky; the Moon has already risen and is close to being full. I make a few exploratory photographs, framing the river, the hiils, and sky, evaluating the scenery. I like to photograph this way, at my leisure, absorbing what the Nature offers in terms of sounds, smells, colours, subjects, different elements.

By the time I reach the river, I already have lots of ideas to try, and I get into my natural flow of photographing. It is almost eerily quiet around me, apart from the occasional bird chirp, fish splash, or wind undulating the tall grass. I spent some time photographing near the river, and I return up hill, to photograph what I had enviaged before – the trees and the landscape. I attempt a long exposure of the wheat flowing in the wind, about 30 seconds, works fine. Right at sunset, I happen to spot an old abandoned house, seemingly guarded by a large eucalyptus tree, with the Moon in the sky. My final shot of the day.

Location
Location

Branching
Branching

Layers
Layers

Slow
Slow

Reflections
Reflections

Cork tree
Cork tree

Thorns
Thorns

Golden wind
Golden wind

Old
Old

Hills
Hills

Countryside
Countryside

 

 

Fujifilm X100F – initial impressions

The Fujifilm X100 series of cameras has been a great success since it first came in the market a few years ago. With its retro design and controls, plus the classic 35mm field of view, it looks like a camera from many decades ago. It is no surprise that has won over the hearts of many photographers, including mine. I was a user of the original X100, and over time I have tried their successors for several shots. Given its small size and high capability, the X100 series is a favourite of mine when to comes to always having a camera with me. Or when I wish to travel light, just documenting daily life. I recently had the chance to try the latest incarnation, the X100F, for a weekend.

It also happened that during said weekend I was going to a favourite region of mine, Odemira. I had made plans to attend the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Santa Clara a Velha dam, near the village with the same name. There were several activities planned, and I also wanted to make a small trek in the area, scouting for locations to shoot starscapes in the coming Summer months. I did attend some of the celebratory events, but because the weekend was very hot, I ended up not trekking much. I shot a few frames of the celebrations, including the students of viola campaniça (a traditional local guitar) and Phillipe (a local Belgian painter) teaching how to paint. On the way back I stopped at the village of Santa Clara a Velha for a short stroll. The town’s church is famous for its typical blue and white colours of the Alentejo. Then I ended the day in the town of Odemira, shooting a 16 frame panorama from the top of a hill.

I compensated for a couple of sunset and sunrise photo sessions in Cabo Sardão and Milfontes, two of my favourite spots. With just a small tripod and a set of neutral density filters, the small X100F makes for a perfect light companion to shoot the area. The first session was sunset at Cabo Sardão, a place that I simply love. I go there often during the year, but every time the feeling is different. This time the sea was calm, and there was just a light breeze. So, I simply set up the tripod, placed my 10 stop neutral density filter, and played with exposure times. The X100F’s operational speed is a step above the previous generations, and the little camera just begs to be used. The light of the sunset bathing the cliffs was fantastic. I spend more than 1 hour just experimenting. As I was packing to leave, I noticed a pair of seagulls framed against the colours in the horizon, so I grabbed one last shot.

The next morning, I woke up very early to catch the sunrise on the river Mira estuary, in Milfontes. I parked in the southern margin of the river and walked along the beach looking for interesting compositions. The tide was low, with the gentle waves lapping against the sand. I took a few long exposure photos just to run a few tests. Having just one focal length makes it necessary to try out compositions and work around the subject; a few steps forward or backward can make a big difference. As the sunlight was coming up, the small chapel in the promontory was bathed in golden light, making for a nice subject. Shooting against the rising sun also tested the quality of the lens; I have one shot that I am particularly fond of: a long exposure using the 10 stop ND filter, with the sun rising in the background. In the Spring, the dunes also make for good subjects, with the sand featuring patches of flowers, like the Armeria maritima, also known as sea thrift. At the end of the day, the little X100 series camera just got better, with the latest release, the X100F, being the best one until now. For sure it is a camera that I will keep, for the occasions where I want to travel lighter.

Cliffs, wind, and sea - Cabo Sardão
Cliffs, wind, and sea – Cabo Sardão

Lighthouse at sunset
Cabo Sardão lighthouse at sunset

Guardians of the light
Guardians of the light

Mira estuary - Milfontes
Mira estuary – Milfontes

Long exposure sunrise
Long exposure sunrise – Milfontes

Armeria maritima
Armeria maritima

Silhouette near Odemira
Silhouette near Odemira

Odemira panorama
Odemira panorama

Celebrating 50 years - students of viola campaniça
Celebrating 50 years – students of viola campaniça

Phillipe's live painting lesson
Phillipe’s live painting lesson

Church of Santa Clara a Velha
Church of Santa Clara a Velha