Sunday, July 10th Portugal.
Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 3381.9 (369.9 today)
Location, Camping Lamas de Minho, Serra da Peneda, Portugal
I’d worked out a cross-country route to the very north of Portugal which had an added advantage of passing through Spain on the way, the advantage being both to stock up on reasonably priced petrol (it’s about €0.20 more expensive in Portugal) and use my mobile to phone home. It also had the advantage of crossing a couple of mountain passes, something I was hankering for after my rather boring day yesterday.
Once again, though, I found that much of the ride never really got going, but the weather was fine – hot again – and there was both some lovely mountain routes and very picturesque villages along the way. So the lesson is: where Portugal is good, it’s very good! This was the N 228 from Trancoso, a picturesque walled town, to Lamego and the stages at the end of my route (more below). But the biggest surprise was the short section of the A24 autovia between Lamego and the turn for Vila Real (IP 4). This sweeps majestically along and over the valley of the Duero and a couple of its tributaries – all planted with the famous vineyards and seemingly impossible slopes. The road itself is new and it being Sunday lunchtime I had it completely to myself. Normally I hate autovias but this stretch really made the long cross-country route possible for me – eating up the miles in the middle section and giving a boost to morale, etc. The drag was that I couldn’t stop to photograph. But I don’t think I could have captured the grandeur anyway!
Moving on after a fuel stop, for both me and the bike, I had a lovely surprise passing over the Serra da Alvao, both the scenery and the ride being stunning, and on to Mondim, a relaxed looking ‘spa’ town where I was very tempted to stay, it having a nice looking campsite close to the town itself. I regret not doing this now (over a week later and a long way away), as I would have had a chance to experience some of the genuine Portuguese life – for all its loveliness La Toca da Raposa is a little Belgian enclave of its own, and where I was headed was a mountaineering camp, well away from civilization, although I didn’t know this at the time. As it was I rode around the town looking for the road out – eventually getting directions from the fire brigade – and was very envious of all the people who were by then milling around in the Sunday afternoon paseo mode, dressed in their Sunday best and enjoying tempting looking long drinks and ice creams in the pavement cafés while I slowly boiled in my suit, gloves and crash helmet – who’d be a biker!
But I had another unexpected treat waiting for me. I imagined that the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês would be a wild place, which indeed most of it is, but the valley around the town of Gerês itself must be Portugal’s version of Switzerland, although perhaps on a smaller scale, not dissimilar to the English Lake District. I entered the valley against the flow of homeward bound day trippers, which was rather hair raising going down the steep, windy and very narrow road, but was charmed by the lakes, beached and the small, though by definition touristy town. The route I had aimed for didn’t disappoint either – a tortuous climb to the heart of the Gerês part of the Parque at the head of the valley. At the top there is a plateau area of dense forest and there is a small toll to enter this. At the far end the now disused border to Spain and a fine plummet – back on fantastic Spanish roads of course! – to the remote villages of the Alto Indoso valley. There was a fair/market in the region’s ‘capital’, Lobios, and I was diverted down the side streets and had to ask for directions. Having spent a few days being quite mystified by the Portuguese language, which is close to Spanish on paper but sounds Russian in the voice, so to speak, it was even more strange to be given directions in an extremely strong Galician accent, which is very odd indeed; unless you have lots of Argentine friends as I have!
I expected to short hop over the relatively low mountains back into Portugal through pretty but nondescript countryside – more on the Galician landscape when I get there – but had a complete surprise once I crossed the coll; the real heart of the Parque Nacional is a surreal landscape of glacially eroded granite. I wasn’t prepared for this at all, having on purpose done no research about Portugal. So stopped to take more photographs while the sun shone – a good plan as it turned out!