It’s amazing how different everywhere looks when the sun is shining (and you’ve had a good night’s sleep). Our route out of Ferreira do Zêzere was far prettier than our walk in, and by the time we’d left the town behind we were agreeing it wasn’t such a bad little place after all … even if it wasn’t nestling on the water’s edge like nearby Dornes.
The scenery was far prettier today, with lots of wooded areas, grapevines, distant views of the mountains and even a field of sheep. Harri had warned me that we’d be walking along roads until we reached the shores of the Castelo de Bode reservoir, but really there was so little traffic we might as well have been walking through a park. Having expected a region full of traditional farms and dilapidated outbuildings, we were a little taken aback by the number of beautiful, pastel-coloured villas with gorgeous gardens dotted around the landscape and wondered how many were lived in year round?
It was warming up nicely by the time we’d reached Paio Mendes – the only village we’d be passing through all day – and we’d have happily stopped for a cold beer had we been able to locate a bar … or a single person to ask directions to a bar. The whole place was strangely devoid of life as we munched our elevenses outside the white-walled Igreja de São Vicente. Across the square, a dilapidated single-storey building was shouting out for restoration, but it seemed new-builds were more popular in this neighbourhood.
We reached the reservoir three hours after setting off and immediately recognised the village on the far side as Dornes … except it wasn’t. Oh it was Dornes alright, but despite giving the impression of standing on the opposite shore the village is actually located on a peninsular which juts into the water on our side. This, of course, explains its proximity (by car) from Ferreira do Zêzere (and all those misleading photographs).
Overhead, the clouds were beginning to roll in and, rather than glittering invitingly under the sun’s rays, the snaking stretch of water before us looked murky and sinister. Harri was fascinated by the sudden appearance of GRZ waymarks along our route. A little research revealed that the letters stand for Grande Rota do Zêzere. This new 370-kilometre route follows the Zêzere river from its source in the Serra da Estrela to its mouth in the river Tagus in Constância. Although we’d been unaware of its existence, we would be following the GRZ route for the remainder of today and most of tomorrow.
We left the water’s edge for a while to climb a horrendously steep ‘shoulder’ of land. During the puffing and panting (just me), we promised ourselves we’d stop for a quick snack once we reached the reservoir track again. Unfortunately, no sooner had we started scouting for somewhere to sit, the heavens opened on us. Within minutes, we were experiencing a downpour of biblical proportions. Concerned about our electronic equipment – and there’s so much of it these days – we set our rucksacks down on the road and rapidly checked everything was safely packed away in waterproof bags.
We were soaked within minutes and didn’t take much notice of a white van that passed us, until minutes later it reappeared and pulled up alongside us; the driver was offering we two drowned rats a lift. Two hikers, one spare seat … it probably wasn’t legal but at that point all we cared about was getting out of the rain. It’s amazing how the kilometres whizz by when you’re in a vehicle. Within a few minutes we were pulling up outside the Solar do Zezere, where we had booked a room for the night. It was only then that we discovered our Good Samaritan was actually the owner of the guesthouse.
Our room was spacious with beautiful soft furnishings, wrought iron furniture and a veranda with an amazing view over the reservoir (and another little peninsula). Unfortunately, all we both wanted at that point was a hot shower and the boiler wasn’t working properly. Harri, brave soul, opted for the cold shower, while I stood underneath the wall heater shivering. We were taken aback to learn that we were the only guests tonight and, as such, would have the sole use of the kitchen, dining room and television lounge to ourselves (the owners didn’t live on site). If it had been warm enough for a dip (and we hadn’t been so wet on arrival), we’d have had the outdoor pool to ourselves too!
By early evening it had stopped raining so, after several cups of tea, we ventured into ‘town’ via several hundred metres of boardwalks. Despite it being a Saturday night, there wasn’t a lot happening in Foz de Alge … we later learned there are only 34 permanent residents here, which might explain the absence of people in the campsite restaurant or the local bar. (A few days later we also learned that the Eurovision Song Contest was being broadcast tonight … and that Portugal’s Salvador Sobral had won it for the first time in the country’s history.)
We’d bought food in Ferreira do Zêzere so we decided to pop into the bar for a few beers, then head back to the ranch to cook. We were a little taken aback when the barmaid – a woman around 40 – pulled up a chair and joined us at our table. Despite her friendliness she spoke no English. Maybe it was time to practise our Portuguese. An hour later, we’d discussed children (she had none), the village (it was she who revealed the tiny population), our parents (and who was still alive) and our proposed route around Central Portugal. When our limited vocabulary failed us (as it inevitably did), she listened patiently and when she’d worked out what we were trying to say she’d write the Portuguese word on a sheet of paper she’d brought from the bar. The bill for four bottles of lager came and an hour’s language tuition amounted to just 3.20 euros.
Have I mentioned recently how much we love Portugal?
If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Ferreira do Zêzere to Foz de Alge (26.5 km).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.