The first thing we do on crossing the border to Portugal from Spain’s Badajoz is take a wrong turning, as usual, on the ring road and end up in a camper stop on the outskirts of Elvas, a Unesco world heritage site. We were heading for the mountain road to Juromenha where there’s an ancient fort guarding the border between Spain and Portugal and the great Guadiana River which marks it.
As often happens, we’re rewarded for our inept navigation. Before us is a triple floored, giant aqueduct. There’s a fort on the hillside and a white church in olive groves as well.
I have a dear nephew who used to cry ‘not another place of interest’ when his parents took him sight-seeing.
And I feel a bit the same today, so instead of the heritage sites in Elvas, we’re after a bit of moody solitude.
The N373 is a Roman road, dead straight, never once curving round hills, but going in a determined fashion up and down them. It’s not just edged with poppies, but as my excited squealing reveals, there’s whole fields of red petals, ancient vines, wild olive, holm and cork oak trees. The undulating landscape bursts with life.
Seán squeezes the van down a cobbled village street in Juromenha. The squat white houses edged in primary colours, sport giant mushroom chimneys. Interested stares from drinkers on the bar’s terrace trace our progress. I don’t think many campers come this way. We park up by a vast field of chamomile, with the vivid blue of chicory on a hillside in the distance.
The air smells of chamomile too and the tiles outside the house bordering the parking space paint a picture of rural life.
A forbidding fortress is being restored, its plaster cupolas and turrets speaking of its North African ancestry.
When the fortresses came under Christian control, Dom Dinis added to them to make them impregnable guardians of the River Guadiana below, the border between Spain and Portugal.
It’s walking trail heaven here. So many trails radiate from the village. It doesn’t take long to get off the usual tourist network in the inland Alentejo region, which stretches down to the Algarve in the south. The Alentejo Interior has a low density of population, is largely rural, has excellent wines, ‘black pork’ and an excellent network of walking trails.
We walk down the steps to the river, watch the giant egrets. A viper slithers off into the aloe-vera and a stonechat sings his pebble-bashing song beside us. Even the common mallow bindweed is beautiful here, with its delicate pink flowers.
A small ferry stands idle, which when running, takes visitors over the Guadiana’s wide river to the landing stage in Spain.
Our drive to Evora on the N373 takes us past Alandroal’s castellated Medieval castle and Redondo’s round towered one.
We end the night at Parque de Campismo de Evora, where, thanks to a kind Mancunian, we are advised to park by the meadow.
“The best pitch on site,” he says.
And he’s right. The sun sets and paints the grass seed-heads peach as they sway in the breeze.
After cooking up some of the famous Alentejo pork, we fall asleep to a peacock’s cry.
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