From Folkestone to Figueira (and don’t spare the horses!!)

Well, we did it! We rang the Eurotunnel and just like that, brought our crossing forward by a week. We were both very sad to cut our time with Matt and Lucy short but the risk of France going into lockdown was just too great. Without further ado we departed Devon and pointed the van in the general direction of Folkestone. We normally have a steady drive there and take our time. It’s not the greatest route as lots of sticking points, Stone Henge etc and the dear old M twenty(f*cking)five as its affectionately known!! We usually stop off at all of the bigger services en route and hang around with the lorries for 2 hours at a time with the intention of arriving at the tunnel around midnight and getting our heads down for a few hours in their Carpark before the 6am morning train. Unfortunately not to be on this occasion. After a somewhat tedious journey, being ‘held’ on the motorway for 3 hours whilst the emergency services recovered an accident, we were told by an attendant to go away and come back in 3 hours. Really? What a chuffin jobsworth!! We could see the Carpark. It was virtually empty! What was the problem? Back to The services we tootled then and remember, you have to pay for more than 2 hours or face a hefty fine. We were totally exhausted by that point and tempers were getting a little frayed. Oh well, guess it’s all part of the adventure!! We ate our pizza, almost too tired to chew, washed it down with a glass of red and adopted the f*ckitall philosophy. And so to bed … Four hours later we were back on the motorway and before you could blink, we had boarded the sardine tin to French France. Exciting!! We arrived just before sunrise feeling remarkably refreshed and enthusiastic all things considered. We decided to drive as far as we could that day and just make a run for the border. Saumur looked like a reasonable half way point and we know the Aire there. It’s a Camping Carpark one on Il d’Offard, an island in the Loire. It has water and electric hook up. It’s in a super spot, a short walk over the bridge into town. It was a good choice. The drive down was pretty amazing. The autumn colours through Normandy etc were just beautiful, it broke our hearts not to stop. We arrived late Sunday afternoon. The view of this delightful town, with its spectacular white Chateaux, from across the Loire was a welcome sight. France is not my favourite country for nothing. I hadn’t managed to shop on the way down as nothing was open. We’d had a delivery from Naked Wines though in UK so we were well stocked in that department. I trimmed the van up for Halloween with lots of tiny pumpkins and some spooky fairy lights. I prepped a Pork and Pumpkin chilli and banged it in the slow cooker. All very seasonal. At last, we could relax a bit. We enjoyed a stroll along the river at sunset then returned to base for a splendid smelling dinner and a nice glass of the red stuff. Heaven. We both slept like logs! Next morning, after reading nothing but doom and gloom on the Internet about looming lockdowns and the likes we made the decision, once again, to put in an even longer drive and just get over that border into Spain. Shame as we really wanted a couple of nights on the west coast at either Biscarosse or Soustans. That would have to wait. We couldn’t risk a border closure now we’d come this far. At least it was a fast and easy route. We used the toll roads for speed and convenience. We hit a bit of traffic around Bordeaux as you would expect but other than that it was a very good run. The weather turned inclement as we got to St. Jean de Luz so the beach would have been a no no anyway. I won’t lie, it was a long and pretty rubbish day for poor old Mark. Motorway driving is fast but boring. We crossed into Spain without issue and drove all the way to Torquemada. A total of 509 miles. Not a bad effort!! We pulled over the cobbled historic bridge into this small, quaint Spanish town just as darkness fell. We parked up and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The Aire is next to a beautiful old chapel. We’ve used it many times before. It’s a super little spot and all free. We were lucky to sit and watch two nesting barn owls hunting and feeding their young from the bell tower above the van as we ate our supper. Amazing experience. I rustled up a spicy masala omelette, mango salad and saag aloo. Comforting and Yummy. We woke up just before dawn. We made coffee and just hit the road. No messing. We had covered a fair few miles before the sun even came up. The whole area we needed to drive through, Salamanca, Caceres etc. , was by now in lockdown. Scary stuff. We were very conscious that we could get pulled and turned around but we took the risk and decided on the fastest route, crossing at Badajoz on the Seville road over into Portugal. Adios Espagna and Ola Portugal. As we drove through Extremadura and the wild National park of of Badajoz, I was lucky enough to see a Griffon Vulture. It landed at the side of the van clutching its newly caught prey. I was too slow to get the camera out. It sat literally in front of me with its wings fully spread. It was bloody magnificent. What a spot! Made my day. Would love to explore this fascinating area when Covid has taken its leave. We finally reached our first destination in Portugal. Evora. Travel weary but incredibly relieved. We made it!!

The Sat Nav had a bit of fun on the way in and took us through a busy part of town and down several tight, cobbled streets before dumping us in the middle of nowhere. Ha ha not funny!! I recognised a few landmarks thank goodness though and quickly got us to the Aire we know just outside the old town walls. it was so good to be here. It was warm, the birds were singing and that blue sky was absolutely worth the effort. Evora is special. The commercial bustle outside the historic walls often puts folk off but inside those walls it’s a whole different vibe. This is what you need to see. It’s the capital of the Alentejo Region and now has Unesco World Heritage status. It’s a gem. The architecture is incredible. The Gothic Cathedral, the Roman Temple of Diana, the Chapel of Bones to name but a few. Check it out under the name heading from our previous visit for all the info and pics. For you ladies, the shopping here is the absolute dogs. The shops are quite upmarket. Lots of labels but also some smashing smaller boutiques. I love it here. What did I buy? Glad you asked. A cabbage and four carrots that’s what. WTF?!?! We were hungry, what can I say!! All I could think about was the steak and kidney pudding back at the van!! I vowed to return next morning WITH credit card WITHOUT husband, for a proper browse. It never happened. I was gutted. We awoke to such a gorgeous day, all we wanted to do was get down to a beach. Poor old Dylan was desperate for a good run and we both needed a shower and hair wash. What to do? Tempting to call at Manta Rota first or even Albufeira but probably more sensible to get straight down to the western tip of the Algarve and Figueira where we intended to spend Christmas. We have a group of friends already down there and it’s a place we both love dearly. Matt and Lulu are planning to fly out to us, if by some miracle Covid allows. He will love the surfing down that end. It’s not a very tough decision. The road takes us on part of the Alentejo wine route. Its very scenic. It’s so great to see Kim and Marg, Di and Andy and Steve and Ali on arrival. Heather and Ron who we met a couple of years ago at Porto Covo are also here. We are among friends. It’s a great reunion. Quite emotional. We are made so welcome as always. Also pretty damn good to get reacquainted with this beautiful part of the world. Doesn’t seem five minutes since we were last here when in fact it’s exactly a year ago. Figueira is a tiny unspoilt village on the N125 between Lagos and Sagres. It’s sandy coves are absolutely gorgeous. It doesn’t get busy at all at this time of the year. The site itself has a relaxed atmosphere with many different nationalities. It’s incredibly friendly. One of our happy places. It didn’t take long to settle in. I still had several seashell windchimes from Manta which I made in spring. The Cyprus tree on our pitch was duly adorned, and the solar fairy lights wound around its branches. My beachy shell and pebble garden was reassembled. It felt like home already!! So we’ve been here two weeks now. We had a bit of a ‘socially distanced’ night out with our mates up at O Sabor de Alegria, a quirky little pizza joint up in the Village and a taxi ride over to Luz for cocktails and curry. We took the van over to the outdoor market at Lagos to stock up on fresh stuff and had a browse around the town. Other than that, we’ve just chilled. I’ve started making my Christmas Decorations. We took a hike up in the hills over to our ‘secret beach’ and had a picnic. The scent of wild rosemary and pine trees up there is quite a tonic. We had a cycle ride over to Salema, a fishing village a couple of miles away and then onto Boca do Rio, the next beach along. It’s damned hilly, nearly broke me on my little Brompton. That has definitely made my mind up on buying an electric bike!! Just need to convince Lord W now!! The days are warm and sunny. I’m always enthused on the cooking front when I come here because of the amazing fresh produce so I’ve been doing plenty of that. Morning swims (the sea is still lovely and warm), afternoon strolls on the sand, reading and painting. In other words, living our best lives.

Thank goodness we got out whilst we could. If seems in that short period of time that the World has once again gone stark raving mad. I am so sorry for our other travelling friends who are now in limbo, unable to escape, and also for those with businesses etc that have been forced to shut down once again. What a nightmare this all is. Not forgetting of course the seriousness of the Pandemic and that people are dying left, right and centre. I can’t even say with my hand on my heart, hurry up with the vaccine as I’m not sure I would take it if one was offered. I just want Covid to go away. Please?? With that my lovelies, I shall buzz off and leave you. I’m going to bake some lovely Focaccia bread now using wild rosemary picked on our walk. I’m cooking a simple Tartaflette this evening with a tomato salad. Please take good care of yourselves and stay positive. I am praying that things improve and for you guys in England, that Boris let’s you all out of detention for Christmas. I’m mentally banishing Covid to Mars (and Boris with it). Sending all our love from the land of sunshine, oranges and cheap wine. Cheerio for now xxx

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