Monsanto to Castel Branco

The last day in the saddle dawned clear and warmly sunny! I did not need the beanie and within 10km had stripped down a layer or two of clothing. Whilst psychologically being the last day, one could argue that the sense of enjoyment of this ride was attributed in no part to that, nevertheless it was delightful scenery different from the ride across the plateau on the second day. I rode gently down from Monsanto in a delicious descent circling the mountain entering a green lush valley not too dissimilar from any of the rides in the Adelaide Hills. The predominant vegetation in the the region which I have cycled consists of olive groves and citrus trees especially oranges. I assume they are Seville. I continued to be amazed at the rampant eucalypts. My guess is that as in many countries including Brazil, they were imported as plantation trees for a quick growing source of timber and have now become “feral”, self-seeding everywhere so much so that at times I was cycling along for all the world on a country road in Australia, lined avenue like by eucalypts. 


yes the predominant vegetation is eucalypts


Monsanto at the apex! on my way down


About 10km from Monsanto at the beginning of the day was the village of Idanha-a-Velha. Once a thriving Roman town, my visit was thwarted by a snarling, barking salivating dog which followed me inches from my ankles (I was walking at this stage). In this village I came as close as I could to the wondrous storks which nest at the top of bell towers and other such structures. They are quite majestic to observe soaring in the sky. 


But even the storks could not placate the rabid dog, so this ancient Roman village was briefly explored till eventually I felt discretion was the better part of valour.

I have also come across a few expatriate british people who have settled in the small Portuguese villages and live an apparent life of sloth in cheap retirement. Permanently scarred by the Monsanto Irish Encounter, I now tend to avoid politics and resort to topics such as “what ever happened to the old fashioned English breakfast”? or “the exorbitant cost of crumpets”! Even such a benign statement I realised would be but grist for the Irish mill. Yes well, I hear her declare the current cost of a crumpet is contrived! Not only any America but that archetypal takeaway chain “McDonalds” who will not rest until every English crumpet has been replaced by a McDonalds hash brown. 

The other truly enjoyable aspect of the last day’s ride was that it was essentially flat and the last several kilometres were along a narrow quiet country lane with granite stone walls at times almost suffocating under bramble bushes. It was all rather English.

Then the ultimate reward was my fortuitous choice of a boutique bed and breakfast establishment a few kilometres in the countryside out of Castel Branco. I felt justified in choosing a 100 euro a night bed ( I was offered an upgrade to a suite for an additional 10 euro) as I had been positively Scrooge like for the previous nights. If Dr Kiley can get serious in Manhattan then I can get serious in Castel Branco.

The Quinta dos Cavelhos is a stupendous refurbishment of what I suspect was an old winery or country estate mansion. Pictures will show more cleverly than I can describe! It is remote and not really within walking distance of the town. Nestled amongst acres and acres of Olive Groves these were advantages at least to me. Finally a young local couple who lived on the property in an adjacent cottage were charming as hosts, we communicated in broken English or using Google translate. We drove into town for a Portuguese seafood bread soup which we took back to the Quinta and had a hearty meal around a roaring fire and I even had two glasses of local white wine. Carlos drove me to the train station in the morning.  


the outside


the bed



the bathroom


Portuguese seafood bread soup with Sandra and Carlos


breakfast for one


So these 6 days in the Beira region of Spain have been very memorable and it is an ideal region to explore on a bike. The planning was perfect. Amazingly it was cool crisp and sunny on the 5 days in the saddle and the only day of overcast drizzle was the rest day anyway! So I sat on the Portuguese roof of the world contemplating, practicing the Recorder and drinking coffee. The overall direction I believe was the way to go in other words starting at Guarda and ending up in Castel Branco rather than the reverse. In general when cycling along the open roads and on top of the plateaus, the wind was mostly a crosswind with, if anything a tailwind component, even when climbing too! 

The rented bike was excellent, the company based in the UK delivered it to my hotel in Guarda and I was able to leave it at Castel Branco! It was clean and well serviced although my one criticism, communicated back to them was that the brakes were not easy to apply! Fiddling and even a good dose of WD40 made a mild modicum of difference. The gears performed faultlessly at every change.

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