Well our planned cycle trip to Fuseta from St. Luzia was obviously not meant to be. The puncture on my, supposed non-puncturing, Brompton tyre was irreparable. Thankfully we do have a set of new tyres with us but only one remaining inner tube. Don’t really want to chance a long ride with a dodgy wheel and it’s a fiddly old job replacing the damn things. So, we decide to cut our losses and scram on Sunday evening and get in the Monday morning queue at Manta Rota Motorhome Aire. This will be our last stop in Portugal before Castro Marim and we intend to stick around for a while. It’s only a few miles from the border with Spain and is our absolute favourite spot. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. There’s not a lot there and that suits us just fine. It sits on the edge of a beautiful white sandy beach and a small village with a pretty, historic town just a ten minute bike ride away. It’s massively popular with Motorhomers this spot and takes a bit of getting onto. The French tend to dominate it and many stay here from September, when it opens, for the whole Winter. That will most likely be our plan if we get to travel next season. Stay here and hire a car. You can do so for around €5 per day.
We arrive at the gate at around 5pm. The ‘completo’ sign is up as expected. We will just have to park on the road outside and hope that someone leaves first thing in the morning. Not ideal as we run the risk of the GNR moving us on. At around 7pm we are amazed when a van drives out and the guy from the office waves us in. What a stroke of luck, nobody usually moves on a Sunday except us!! We end up back in our old spot more or less from last year and go about settling ourselves in as the sun is disappearing. It’s a lovely warm evening and we are very glad to be back here. It’s dark as we get finished and we sit outside with the fire pit burning and candles lit and drink a bottle of wine whilst listening to the gentle lapping of the waves. The smell at Manta Rota is quite unique. You have the aroma from the many orange groves for a start. They have just begun picking so it smells really, well, orangey!! The almond trees are starting to bloom. On the rough sandy land surrounding the Aire, all the way to the nature reserve and lagoons, the bushes are thick with blossom. The town has huge flowering Poinsettia trees. I have never seen those before, they are spectacular. Wild flowers and budding cacti add to the heady scent, it hangs in the salty air, particularly at dusk. It’s intoxicating. If only it could be bottled! Instant feel good factor.
Next morning we are both up at sunrise and off down to the beach with the dog. The sky is already a brilliant azure blue and it’s looking like a beautiful day ahead. Good, I have a stack of laundry to do! Manta Rota actually has a lovely washer lady who comes around twice daily in her little van and collects your dirty laundry. It is delivered back the same day, pressed and smelling fresh for a ridiculously small fee. What a great service! I’m saving my bedding and tough to iron stuff for her, bless her. Back at the van we get the usual chores done and I set about making a batch of Olive and Rosemary Focaccia. I picked a load of wild Rosemary on the way from the beach. I’ve really missed my baking! It’s very easy this type of bread and can be prepared either in a small Motorhome oven like mine or a Remoska. You just need an electric hand whisk with dough hooks. I also have a set of lightweight flat digital scales which sit neatly in the kitchen drawer. Ideal for van life. The dough rises in no time in this climate. I always bring a supply of strong flour, white and wholemeal, from our local flour mill in Rowsley, Derbyshire but you can buy it at any supermarket over here. I cut the amount down from 400g to 350g as otherwise it rises too high in my tiny oven and sticks to the top. Weigh out 300g of strong white flour and 50g of Semolina flour into a basin. Add a 7g sachet of dried yeast, a teaspoon of salt and one of sugar and a good slug of olive oil. Mix in approximately 250ml of warm water and a teaspoon of dried mixed herbs or oregano. Mix well with the electric whisk on a slow setting. Keep going until the dough is elastic and forms a neat ball. Knead for a further 5 minutes by hand on an oiled surface. Rub olive oil around the basin, place the ball of dough back inside and cover with oiled cling film. Leave until the dough doubles in size then hand knead again as before. Add to an oiled bread tin this time, I just use an oblong oven tin about 3 inches deep. You can line the bottom with grease proof paper if you have it. It pops out a little easier. Stud the dough with your required flavourings eg. olives, sprigs of rosemary, red onion, sun blush tomatoes, whatever. Cover with the cling film again. When the dough has spread to fill the tin it’s ready to bake. Heat the oven and bake for around 25 minutes. Tap the underside, if it sounds hollow it’s done. Leave to cool then rub with sea salt and olive oil.
Et voila! Smells heavenly! I’m doing a simple pasta to eat with it. Spaghetti with pesto, mushrooms, spinach and pine nuts stirred through as a side dish to olive chicken wheels. To make the chicken dish, you need olives (pitted, black or kalamati work best), a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and a splash of olive oil. Whizz through with a hand blender until you have a rough paste like a tapenade. Flatten the chicken breasts between two sheets of oiled clingfilm with a rolling pin (I improvise with a bottle of wine as I then have an excuse to drink it afterwards, like I need an excuse !!). Spread the flattened breasts with the olive mix, roll, then wrap tightly with oiled tin foil and twist the ends so they look like Christmas Crackers.
Either steam them for about 20 minutes or bake in the oven. I actually cooked mine on top of the fire pit/barbecue as it was lit at the time. Improvisation at its best!! When cooked, remove the foil and slice into wheels. Each one should make around 4 wheels. Very tasty and they look quite impressive. You can add Mozarella as you spread the paste on the raw breasts if you want them to be a bit more decadent!! It melts into the olive mix and oozes out when you serve them. Don’t forget to add wine. To the chef that is!! Cooking is thirsty work.
So now our little camp is all set up and we are very much at home. The bunting is hung, the travelling pot of lavender is in situ, my vase of wild flowers is on the table and I’ve already collected loads of beautiful shells and pebbles to paint. Now to make a few seashell wind chimes for my resident pine tree! I’ve already got a bag of lemons and a couple of bags of oranges hung there. It looks lovely. I like to make a little garden when we settle for a while.
The Gypsy children wander around the site daily selling strawberries and net sacks of the fresh, juicy oranges. You can get the huge ones or small, sweet clementines all for a couple of Euros. They are simply delicious. You can pick your own if you wander off the beaten track. Lemons are growing everywhere in the streets. The trees are bursting with fruit right now. Every van has a couple of nets full hanging from washing lines, wing mirrors,trees etc. They are so cheap to buy and the kids are grateful for the money. I’ve invested in a juicer this trip so I can have lovely, natural fresh juice every morning with my locally made Granola, thick creamy yoghurt and Rosemary honey. Mark and I are on the health kick at the mo so we’re eating well and running every morning. Only a couple of miles along the beach but it feels good. We eat great food all the time to be honest just too much of it and we do like our wine (no, I hear you say!!)
My happy place! As my pal Helen says, life is so much better in flip flops!
Valentines Day has crept up on us! I chuckle when I look out of my bedroom window on the morning of the 14th and see a card and interesting looking goodie bag pegged on my washing line! Romance is not dead! My lovely boy had, with the help of Marion and Tony, sneaked off to my favourite Portuguese Boutique in Armacao and picked up a gorgeous top I had been eying up when we were last there. He hid that well! I love it.
We make heart shaped toast and peanut butter for breakfast like a pair of silly kids then go off beachcombing for more shells. I’ve bought acrylic paints and stuff this trip so I’m painting up a few pebbles and making tea light holders. We’re going to stay in and cook tonight as we’ve booked a quaint little restaurant in town for dinner tomorrow. They have a traditional Fado night on, Ive wanted to go to one for ages.
The Fado is wonderful. I love it! It’s so full of emotion, I was mesmerised! There are 3 male singers and a female with a most impressive voice. It’s all a bit too ‘opera’ for poor Mark. He was sitting deafeningly close to be fair, the Guitarist was almost on his knee, but it’s a very enjoyable evening anyway. The food is great and the restaurant has a lovely, cosy, ambient atmosphere. It’s called A Proa. I can definitely recommend it. We’ll be coming back soon.
This Sunday, the monthly Gypsy Market is to be held up in the new town of Vila Nova de Cacela. You can pick up great produce and traditional pottery, local crafts etc. but it’s mostly about the street food and music. We really enjoyed it last year. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the site. Google Algarve Markets for dates and details. We decided not to eat there today as there was a bit of a cool breeze. Instead, there is an excellent charcoal grill, chicken take away back in Manta Rota. We pick up a tasty big bag full on the way home. We have bought a selection of olives from the market and some good red wine. A Sunday feast! No cooking for me today. The sea is roaring as we walk back to the van. We grab a last look at the beach. The big tides bring out the clam fishermen. The waves are so big they can hardly stand! Only the weight of their nets tied around their waist keeps them from getting washed out.
On Monday morning Marion and Tony arrive. It’s Tony’s Birthday on the 23rd, it could be a lively week! The little bar on the corner has re-opened. It’s a good spot to watch the sunset. I suspect we will be spending a few quid in there this week! They freeze the wine and beer glasses, love that touch.
The first thing Mr. Hennessy wants to do is get his paddle board out. It’s been a while. The sea is still a bit choppy after the full moon and spring tides so we walk down to the lagoon. It’s perfect down there. The weather is glorious, the birds are singing and it’s just idyllic. The water moves in and out of the series of salt lakes with the tide but it’s safe enough. We have a wonderful afternoon. It’s going to be another great sunset so we collect driftwood on the way back for a bonfire on the beach later. We hurry back to mix up a huge jug of Sangria, fruit and a bottle of fizz thrown in for good measure, grab beers for the boys and a couple of blankets. Back in the dunes, the sky is ablaze and there are just a few old boys fishing from the shore. We get the music playing and light the fire. Life is good. This is one of my best kind of evenings. Heaven.
Every day is a beach day at the moment. The weather is quite amazing, consistently good. We pull on our trainers and run as the sun is coming up just after 8am, along the waters edge. Back for breakfast, a quick cycle to the shops for supplies then return to the beach. Dylan the dog thinks he’s in heaven. He does love his daily sea bath! I need to go to the book exchange later this afternoon at the Tourist Information Office, I’m averaging a book a day, it’s ridiculous! I need to collect a train timetable too. The train goes from the new town and we are going to visit Fuseta that way as we missed out due to my cycle issues. There’s a very good market there on Saturdays. I have market withdrawal symptoms and need to buy fruit and veg and a slab of fresh Tuna for the freezer before we head into Spain as it’s far more expensive there.
I have decided to bake a cake for Tony’s Birthday. Whilst I do love to cook, I rarely make sweet stuff other than simple scones. I’m going to attempt a Chocolate and Strawberry Torte Cake! That could be a bit adventurous for a first attempt but sod it, I’ll give it a go!! What can possibly go wrong😬. Hey, guess what, it turns out ok! A little rustic looking but I’m reasonably impressed with my efforts. We cook up a celebratory full English for the boy and light the candles. There’s so much alcohol soaked into the sponge, I’m surprised it doesn’t go up like a bomb!! It’s good to start the day with a party! We’re continuing the celebrations with a barbecue on the beach later. See you guys again at sunset! Happy Birthday Mr Hennessy you legend you! What a guy.
We received very sad and shocking news this morning that our French travelling friend, Pierre, who we first met last year in Figueira, had passed away. Can’t quite process it. He was so happy and full of exuberance last time we saw him, only a few weeks ago. He’d been over to Morocco and had returned to Portugal full of beans. He was such a larger than life character, everyone loved him. He suffered a stroke and appeared to be recovering nicely. He unfortunately took a turn for the worse and later died in Portimao Hospital. He was too ill to travel back home to France. So incredibly sad and we’re so sorry for his lovely wife Ann left behind. Tragic. We really do need to live for today folks. His ashes are to be scattered in the sea at his beloved Figueira Beach at the end of the week. RIP to a lovely man.
On that melancholy note I shall wind it up. We are not leaving Manta Rota any time soon. I won’t bore you with lots of samey photos. Suffice it to say that Manta Rota is, in my opinion, Motorhomer’s heaven, particularly if you like the beach. I’m going to write about Cacela Velha, the old town separately as it’s so gorgeous it deserves its own heading. (You may have noticed I’ve had to cut my picture content down. I paid for a further year with WordPress as I assumed I’d get another 6GB media storage but unfortunately that isn’t the case so each time I post a picture I have to delete one from a previous feature. Not impressed!). Anyway my lovelies, hope you enjoyed reading. For those of you back in UK, I believe you’re enjoying some unusually good weather for this time of year. See! Told you I would send sunshine ☀️! Lap it up, buttercups! Much love to you all. Remember, we’re only here once, it’s not a practice. Do something, even if it’s only small, that makes you happy today. TTFN ❤️