Volendam 

The day remained delightfully sunny and cool – ideal weather to cycle. Our hotel had the feel of a cross between a country club and RSL casino!  This is my bedroom 


As it turned out this Sunday was the annual village fair! The older male generation dressed in the typical black sailors pantaloons! The younger  generation in tank tops. Irrespective of age all were making serious efforts to finish the day inebriated. The village  is quite touristy.

beautiful petunias

Long weekend in Clare

The Riesling Trail Again!

About three years ago was the last time that I rode the Riesling Trail at that time it went from Clare to Auburn. I went with two overseas visitor from Germany and Brazil. We stayed at an onsite cabin in the Clare Caravan Park and had a great time. As I recall it was around autumn and the weather was mostly cool and sunny with one evening of rain.

The trail follows the original local train track. It was destroyed in a major bushfire I think in the 1950’s and was never resurrected and the freight was then transported by road. Many would despair of this outcome. However the ultimate benefit was that the train lines were removed and the track converted into a dedicated cycle and walk trail. It is quite unique. since my last visit it has been extended southwards to Riverton and is now 50 km long. 

This Anzac weekend 4 of us rented 2 cottages in Clare and spent out time cycling, walking and of course visiting various wineries and had a memorable much at Pauletts winery on the Sunday. 
It has been claimed that this Autumn in Adelaide has been one of the most spectacular as a consequence of a dry and cold start to the season. See for yourself!
G

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.

Sortelha 

 Another cut and paste. This is about 12km further on from Sabugal on the road to Monsanto.

“Surmounted by a castle built on a formidable crag at an altitude of 760 metres, Sortelha still retains its mediaeval appearance intact through the architecture of its rural granite houses.

Sortelha had therefore part of an important line of defence formed from a series of castles built on the borders of the territory, most of which were either erected or reconstructed on the earlier hill forts of ancient Iberian civilisations. The village´s name derives from the nature of its terrain, being surrounded by rocky escarpments in the shape of a ring (sortija, in Castilian), its walls also having been built in a circular fashion.

The great charm of this village is its evocation of a mediaeval atmosphere, with all the houses having been built of granite and generally consisting of just one storey. Their foundations have been built into the rock and follow the topography of the terrain. “

I was the only person there at 10am and I wandered into the medieval square to be greeted by two large dogs and a mangy cat. All were thankfully friendly and having sniffed my crotch then the pannier, they sat in the slowly warming sun and ignored me!

A word of warning: if and when you make this trip yourself  (and you should)  all medieval villages that boast a castle and a wall, in Portugal will of necessity, be perched on a granite mountain somewhere between 600 and 800m elevation with an access road that inclines on average at 11% and is cobbled for the last half a kilometre. Your just dessert when you have reached the top (surely walking) is a hot milk coffee and if the elevation gain is at or below 600m, one Portuguese Tart, if the the gain exceeds 600m, TWO Portuguese Tarts! 
  

  

  
 
   

yes it is snow!

  

 

Sabugal to Monsanto.

What a day! I think this is the best so far – a long day of almost 70km and ascending over the day 1200m until my final destination, Monsanto at 820m. Now when I state the “best” I mean that it was the “best ” in terms of hard work, aching thighs, fluctuating breathless and tortuous climbs! Why is it that the last 10km of ALL rides is agonisingly slow taking forever and the final destination is never around the next corner unless it involves a climb of 450m at an average incline of 9%? 

There is no doubt that pushing my loaded bike up such inclines has been a significant workout! The road to Monsanto was horrendous sometimes my Garmin claiming the incline was 14%… I was pushing and walking!

The village is absolutely incredible and I have fortuitously factored in a rest day at Monsanto tomorrow before the last leg. I am staying at the Taverna Lusitana, which has, obviously, accommodation as well! I have an individual “unit” built out of granite and it is quite special! I am sitting on the outside porch of the Taverna and feel like I am on the roof of the world. It faintly reminds me of the trek in Nepal all those years ago. The panorama is breathtaking, a crisp wind and clear blue sky. The sunset should be spectacular.

After setting out from Sabugal there was another historical village – Sortelha for which I have a separate blog post.


 

that “pimple” on the hill is my destination for the night!

 

eucalytpus trees are everywhere . almost a pest i suspect

There follows several pictures of the oldest “intact” Portuguese medieval village of Monsanto :

Including amazing panoramas ftom the hotel terrace

  
    
  

the terrace balcony of the hotel

  

the inevitable castle at the very top of the hill

  

my “suite” is the granite building straight ahead with the brown door