Jo’s Monday walk : Parque Florestal de Amarante

How about this for an entrance?

There are few things in life more lovely than a walk in nature. Add water to the equation and I’m completey ‘in my element’. Parque Florestal was right on my doorstep in Amarante. Who wouldn’t be tempted? The Saturday morning market lined the riverbank- just a quick peep, for it would likely be gone when we got back. The river is quite wide at this point and is spanned by some stepping stones for the fearless, as the water gushes past them. I was mesmerised by the rush of water but not so brave, or foolish, as I might once have been. We would save a closer look for later, and followed the path into the woodland beside a gently gurgling stream.

Stone benches were heavy with moss, the light through the trees scarcely bright enough to capture them.

Beyond the sound of gushing water, all was peaceful and calm. We had the place almost to ourselves, unless you count a grazing goat in a field blazing with sunlight. But I’m rushing ahead! Let’s enjoy the dappled shade and myriad of wild flowers.

The river flowed quietly beside us. Ahead we could see an overhead bridge, surrounded by forestry, with rocks studding the surface of the water. Beautiful, isn’t it?

And part way along this path, the most wonderful surprise. My only surviving uncle, in Poland, phoned to wish me ‘Happy Easter’! In Polish, of course. He speaks no English and I struggled to remember a few phrases in response. But it really didn’t matter. I was smiling as though he could see me, and he chattered on, as he does. A link to a wonderful time in my life.

Remember that goat? On our way back his owner appeared. I’m not sure if he was pleased to see us or not, but we saw so few people that morning that I smiled and waved anyway. The trail ended at a peaceful wooden deck, with a bench where you could sit and listen to the frogs and, just maybe, spot a river otter.

We retraced our steps along the riverbank to the cascades and the stepping stones, but opted to cross over the bridge and see them from the other side. My balance isn’t up to making the crossing the daring way.

In the evening we ate at Tasquina da Ponte, a very local little restaurant with wooden benches and great desserts, right by the bridge. The steps up to São Domingos were atmospherically candlelit, in readiness for the Easter procession.

It all looks so peaceful and calm, but what you can’t see are the rally cars, lined up on our side of the bridge. The closing ceremony for a weekend of racing was taking place, and the cars were revving their powerful engines late into the night. It all made for an Easter to remember, with one more episode still to go.

Another of those places I love to mooch around. Many thanks again, Sarah!

Faro’s old town: sights and impressions

Natalie has a few architectural treasures to share :

Weekday Walk: Exhibition Place

Lavender, or something sweeter? Drake takes us to Grasse in France :

Scents in the nose

I don’t think I ever saw a more magnificent display- thanks so much, Alegria :

Magnolia Alley Niagara Falls- Love at first sight

Teresa had such a good time in this city!

Day 3 in Prague

Last Day in Prague- Part 1

Join Alice for a nice gentle stroll, or sit a while :

Benches on the Halifax River

Say goodbye to Berto and Corna and the beach :

Bye-bye Langebaan (for now)

Listen to the sound of the waves with Mel :

Stretching My Legs in the Booti Booti National Park, Forster NSW

Or be an escape artist with Indra :

A City Escape

You might gather that I was smitten with Amarante. And there’s still another walk to take there, on a disused railway track. Join me next time and we’ll do it together. Meanwhile, have a great week!

First impressions of Amarante

We left Braga behind, after one more procession, viewed from the balcony of our apartment as planned. We were quite ready to move on to somewhere more peaceful. For me, Amarante, in the Douro region, provided just that. Settled very beautifully in a gorge on the Rio Tâmega, a tributary of the Douro, it has lovely walks on both banks of the river.

Driving from Braga took only 45 minutes, and our hotel, Casa da Ribeirinha, was situated right on the riverside. The car was manoeuvred up the drive, and there it stayed for 3 days. It was an older property, full of character, with views across the river to the church and former monastery of São Gonçalo– just perfect! I couldn’t wait to cross the elegant bridge and explore.

Confidently dominating the main square, the church of São Gonçalo allegedly marks the site of the hermitage of this 13th century hermit. A performer of miracles of healing, touching the saint’s tomb is said to guarantee a swift marriage.

We wandered upwards through the town, loving the dignity of the houses. Our reward for a stiff climb was a breathtaking overview of the church and cloisters, stretched far below. The smaller church of São Domingos, at the top of a steep flight of steps, was where the Good Friday procession was to start, later that day.

It was an unexpectedly warm day and we were glad to dip into São Gonçalo for some welcome shade. Despite the ornate decoration the church felt light and airy, the organ mounted high above us and the cloisters welcoming in the sunshine. I resisted the temptation to stroke the saint’s foot. One marriage is enough, isn’t it?

An irresistible cafe overlooked the river, a perfect spot for lunch, with a counter loaded full of inviting cakes, but I have my priorities and there was more exploring to do. Back at the bridge we opted for the left hand route, bypassing the market and dropping down to the footpath along the river. It proved a good choice, for we ambled through dappled shade, with rowing boats idling by the riverbank.

Rounding the bend beneath the road bridge, we were surprised to come upon a water slalom, disturbing the surface of the flat calm river. It was deserted, apart from a couple idling on a pontoon in the sun and, further along, a family fishing and dabbling at the water’s edge. An idyllic scene, it was time to turn back and do a little idling ourselves, on the roof terrace of our hotel.

Jo’s Monday walk : Bom Jesus do Monte

You remember lovely Rita? Not the meter maid, but the excellent tour guide who showed us around her beautiful city, Braga. When I was deciding where to stay, I thought about being outside the city and staying close by Bom Jesus do Monte. The prospect of waking up there in mornings full of birdsong was very appealing. But I wanted very much to watch a couple of the Easter processions, and returning to Bom Jesus late in the evening might not have been so desirable. And so we stayed close by the cathedral, and saved the Sanctuary for our last day in the city. And this is where Rita comes into the picture. She suggested that we might take a very pleasant walk along the river, following the signs for Bom Jesus, approximately 5 kilometres away. Sounds like the sort of thing Restlessjo would enjoy? Absolutely! For now we’ll ignore the fact that the Sanctuary stands on the summit of a very high hill.

There was very convenient parking for the car beside the river Este. What could be better? A whole different and beautifully relaxed outlook on a busy city. We crossed and recrossed the river, enjoying the reflections in the water and our ever changing surrounds. A tiny chapel with beautiful doors and a froth of ferns inside. Homes for stray cats. Allotment gardens, street art and azulejo panels.

It’s not very wide but the Este gurgles along happily, irrespective of football heroes adorning the walls and willows dangling in the water. The university campus accounts for the many sports activities on display, and we are regularly passed by joggers and cyclists.

A cluster of bright irises catch the light, and picnic benches loiter in the shade. We part company with the river and its clear signage, and wonder which way next. But there is only one way it seems. Upwards, following the road. Bus stops antagonise, with never a trace of a bus. We wouldn’t! Would we? Well, perhaps, if one just happened to roll to a standstill beside us… but temptation is never presented. I encourage the other half with the thought that a funicular can carry us those last crucial metres. And so it does!

And we look down on this amazing panorama of the city, spread before us. Surely we didn’t walk all that way? I am enchanted with the dark red camellia that blossom everywhere, and the magnificent swathe of wisteria. I had not expected that Spring would be so colourful in the north of Portugal.

The statues seem to point the way to the church and before it gets too busy we decide to venture inside. It is very beautiful, and the altar is like nothing I have ever seen, full of figures accompanying Jesus.

Out into the sunshine again, the gardens are equally dazzling, with grottoes, pools and beautifully trimmed parterres. We wander amongst them for a while, and then are drawn to a terrace with views down over the garden.

An icecream, gazing out over the city, prepares us for the journey back down. The more conventional way, via the steps. Commissioned in 1723, it took 60 years to complete the stairway at Bom Jesus do Monte. It is a pilgrimage site, Golgotha of Jerusalem on a grand Baroque scale. Each of the stairway landings has a fountain- the first symbolising the wounds of Christ, the next five, the senses, and the final three, the virtues. At each corner, chapels contain larger than life wooden tableaux of the life of Christ, leading finally to the Crucifiction at the altar of the church. Neoclassical in style, this was constructed between 1784 and1857 by architect Carlos Amarante.

It’s an impressive piece of work and we take our time, and then descend steadily through the wooded slopes.

He’s smiling, but we were actually quite tired by the time we had retraced our steps back to the city. And we never did see a bus!

Isn’t it strange that this wild extravagance of architecture was recreated years later at Lamego, in the Douro? It was on my itinerary, of course. And we certainly earned the cake.

Starting at home with an appreciative Sarah again this week :

A stroll around Tavira

A lighthouse and a lot of steps kept Teresa out of mischief for a while :

One step at a time

The gentle passage of time, in Paris, with Drake :

Golden evening glow

Terri says it with flowers :

Sunday Stills: Fabulous Seasonal Florals

Rosemay explains a little about the weather patterns in SW Australia :

Djeran Season: Star Swamp Walk and Banksias

At the other end of Australia, Carol instructs us on mangroves :

Beauty at Low Tide

Still in Oz, Mel leads the way!

Kicking up Autumn Leaves at Mt. Tomah Botanic Gardens

You’d have to agree that South Carolina is rather beautiful too. Thanks, Alice!

A Shoreline filled with Wildlife

Yay, Sharon’s ‘bagged’ another Wainwright!

Binsey

Starting where we finished, with Sarah, but the venue’s different :

In the footsteps of the Anasazi: Tsankawi

Where next? Not Lamego, just yet, but to a small town on the Rio Tamega, Amarante. I look forward to showing you around.

Braga, the bold!

Where to begin in describing Braga? It’s been in the back of my mind as an Easter destination for many years, but I had not really taken on board that this is Portugal’s 3rd largest city, and not a small place. In retrospect I might have chosen a hotel with parking, but the priority was to overlook the main street, so that I could watch a procession from my balcony. Which meant driving around town a time or four, but we did eventually find free parking. And a sight we found extraordinary. Some of the traffic lights in the city had a countdown system, so you knew how long your wait was going to be. At one, a young man walked out into the road, carrying his prop, and began to perform handstands and acrobatics as the lights counted down. With perfect timing and a cheeky grin, he righted himself and walked to the curb, holding out a cap for contributions, till the lights changed again. Don’t you love an opportunist?

Please open the galleries to read the captions:

That’s just one aspect of Braga! The religious capital of the north of Portugal, we knew we would find many churches and rich architecture. Stopping off at the Tourist Information office, we collected a map of the city and some good parking tips from the helpful and highly entertaining young man behind the counter. Did he know of any guided walking tours? And so we met lovely Rita! A young lady with a green umbrella, who very charmingly and informatively showed us her city. Starting from Porta Nova, she spent 2 hours regaling us with history and interesting facts. A graduate of Braga and a musician by profession, since Covid she supplements her income with tours. Such a pleasure to spend time with, opening doors for us that we certainly wouldn’t have entered otherwise.

After the tour we stopped off, on Rita’s recommendation, at the oldest cafe in Braga, ‘Frigideira’, where we sampled the pastry named after the cafe. It was a nice peaceful spot to relax in the sunshine and watch the world drift by… but not for too long. We needed to retrace our steps to take more photos.

One of my favourite parts of the city was the Santa Barbara gardens. It was the Wednesday before Easter and the flowers were in full and glorious bloom. As we paused to admire them we noticed a man scattering mini chocolate eggs into the clipped hedges. Barely had he finished when a small tribe of jubilant youngsters were set free by their teachers to hunt for them. Whoops of glee!

Did you spot the eggs? Later that same day, a rather special procession. ‘Burrinha’, Little Donkey, as it’s known, is one of the reasons I had come to Braga. A procession ‘for the people’, it started from Sao Vincente, a little way from the centre. We ate supper as the sun set, and found a place to absorb the atmosphere, just before 9.00. People bustled to and fro, looking for a good spot or meeting up with friends. Lights went on in the rooms overlooking the street, and curtains and bedspreads were dangled for decoration. The church glowed violet blue in the distance, and two white horses tossed their heads, waiting for a signal from their riders to start. A cast of Bible characters, including Noah and the Ark, Joseph and Mary and, of course, the donkey, paraded before us. With huge enthusiasm, waving and singing as they went, young and old represented their community. Finally all had streamed past and we followed along with the good humoured crowd, unable to reach home until the procession had completed its circuit of the city. A lasting memory, and a magnificent day!

So much I haven’t shared! And still to come, the other reason I went to Braga- Bom Jesus de Monte. I think you’ll like it.

Ovar, and an elusive church

So, we leave our friends in Óbidos and head north, on our way to Braga. We plan a lunchtime stop to see a church with a very striking appearance, Santa Maria de Valega, in Ovar. Except that it isn’t! We find the centre of Ovar without too much difficulty, and wander around, expecting to see a sign for the church. It doesn’t happen, but we quite like the place and settle down to eat on a quiet square. The Brazilian hot dog is extremely spicy, and we take a moment to Google the church, only to discover that it’s a few kilometres out of town. No problem! We can reroute.

Ovar has a reputation for its azulejo tiles, and we found some beautiful examples in this quiet little town. My friend, Andrew, had suggested a mosaic walking tour, but there was no time for that, even had we been able to find a working Tourist Information office. No matter! The real prize here was Santa Maria da Valego. Hidden in plain sight, in the smallest, most rural of villages.

The church opened at 2.00, and we had a few minutes to walk around the outside, simply gaping at what we saw. So much colour and pattern, as well as the blue and white traditional tiles to which we are used. The adjoining cemetery was huge and beautifully kept.

Construction of the church began in the 18th century, and lasted more than a century. The tiles which make it so remarkable were not added until the 1950s, and are the work of the Aleluia Ceramics factory in nearby Aveiro.

If we were impressed with the facade of the church, our jaws probably dropped as we were invited inside. I have rarely felt so in awe and yet joyful at the same time. The flamboyance of the colours coupled seamlessly with reverence for detail.

It’s never easy to capture these highly polished surfaces on camera, but I simply had to share them as best I could. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you in Braga on Monday.

Jo’s Monday walk : Óbidos lagoon

What could be better than a sunny walk round a beautiful lagoon, with old friends who are happy to share their joy in a new home? The forecast was for rain, so we felt ourselves truly blessed. Did you see my Saturday post? Óbidos is a lovely little town, but we had been reluctant to believe that our friends would make the move north from their sunny Algarve home. So, when we decided that this was the year to finally witness Easter in Braga, it seemed the perfect stop off on our drive. And what a welcome we received! They had worked hard on the new place and we were their first visitors. We felt very honoured, and they were determined to show us exactly why they had moved.

By pure chance we were staying at Casa de Relogio, the same small hotel in the town walls that we had stayed in 10 years previously, in a grey, cool November. Though we had loved the Medieval Fair on that occasion, the other half had gout and limped painfully around the cobbles. And believe me, those cobbled streets are steep! Looking out on the surrounding countryside, bathed in sunshine, we could hardly believe our luck. We dropped our bags off and went to meet our friends, who whisked us off to the local beach at Foz do Arelho. A lovely spot, we had to agree, but it was Palm Sunday afternoon and it felt like half of Portugal were sharing the promenade with us. There are always compensations, though, and on our return to the hotel we were just in time to witness the Palm Sunday procession pass below us, from the roof terrace, while enjoying a complimentary glass of Ginja!

Fast forward to the following day, a swift shower caught us out but, by the time we’d had coffee, blue was creeping back into the sky. Raincoats at the ready, we set off for the shoreline opposite to Foz no Arelho, the lagoon at Óbidos. Nothing could be further removed from yesterday’s bustling promenade. In the distant past the lagoon is believed to have extended all the way to the town but, nature being prone to rearranging shorelines, today you need to drive there. The lagoon has an approximate area of 6.9 square kilometres and is surrounded by beautiful pine forests.

I seemed to be fixated on the roped fence which kept us from straying from the path, but the lagoon was flat calm and peace itself. We watched in fascination as a couple of divers bobbed to the surface, unsure for what they were fishing- clams, cockles, mussels, shrimp and green crab are all found in these waters, along with octopus and eels.

Rounding the shoreline we came upon a bridge. A few families had joined us by now, getting the youngsters out to burn off energy. Snippets of conversation, mostly in Portuguese, drifted to us through the silence. Nature was all around us, sublime in her beauty.

The lagoon is affected by the tides, a sand bar helping to mitigate the force of the Atlantic, just around the bay. We were hopeful that the restaurant at the end of the trail would be open but, it being a Monday, we were a little unsure. Huge smiles wreathed our faces as we toasted each other and the future, before setting off back around the trail.

A gentle breeze had started to blow and some youngsters were practising their kitesurfing skills in a shallow area of the bay. We watched for a while and chatted to one of them, who assured us it was great fun, if a little tricky at times. The landings certainly didn’t all seem to go to plan.

A family pootled about at the water’s edge as we made our way back to the beginning of the trail. Still fixated on frayed rope. The distance was about 8km there and back, but there are numerous trails through the woods if you wanted to explore further.

We could definitely see the attraction of the area. Can you? Here’s to friendship and many more meet ups.

No place like home, so I simply have to start with Sarah. Such a shame we didn’t meet :

A Spring walk by the sea in Faro

It’s no secret that Drake loves Paris, but his photos of Mont St. Michel are very enticing too!

City spring time

Partly at sea

Teresa definitely has a love affair with Prague. It looks stunning!

Day 2 in Prague

Loving the wildness of Carol’s latest share :

Namesake

While Janet shares the magnificent flowers of the torch cacti :

Monday walk….Here today, gone tomorrow

I really enjoyed a little reminiscence with Anabel, from her lovely part of the world :

Border Break 5: monumental walks

But Rupali was much closer, celebrating Semana Santa in Alicante :

Colours I enjoyed during Easter week

I feel sure I’d enjoy a walk in Suzanne’s company in this beautiful place :

Weekend Walks – 4th Avenue, Tauranga

And I think there’s something special about dogwoods, despite their name. Happy walking, Robin!

A visit with the dogwoods

If you really like a challenge and you’re in Maggie’s part of the world?

Chester Lake – Headwell Lakes Hike including Fortress Summit

I know some of you are going to bemoan the lack of cake! Hilary stuffed us full of her incredible curry, and there was dessert but I was too tired (or inebriated) to take the shot. Have a good week, all, and I’ll be back soon.

Easter Sunday

I’m far from home on this Easter Sunday, but I know exactly what I’m missing. A beautiful celebration of life in São Brás de Alportel. I know my friends will have a wonderful time there.

What to wish for today? World peace? Who wouldn’t wish for that? To family and friends everywhere, may you share peace and joy this Easter. I’m thinking of you.

Jo’s Monday walk : Fonte de Benemola

This is such a magical time of year in the Algarve. Wild orchid time! Give or take a couple of weeks because it’s not a precise science. Luckily for us we were being led by a lady who’s something of an expert in flora and fauna, and her timing was spot on!

Some days are simply exuberant. The weather had been a little ‘mixed’, but the skies were clearing and heavy rain had guaranteed that the ‘fonte’ would be brimming. And so it was!

Stopping to eye up a rusted pump, I smiled at the shadows created through the single remaining wall of a ruin, before stepping out into bright sunshine. The path was damp and a little slippy in places but so worth the effort. The play of sunlight on the water through dappled shade was almost ethereal. Newly created ‘stepping stones’ give access to the opposite bank.

O Olho – the Eye

A dell fit for fairies, because what came next is purely magical. We had been watching the grass verges in hopes of sighting wild orchids, which thrive in this damp environment, and suddenly they were there in abundance. The bee orchid, quite hard to spot initially, and the naked man, flaunting his finery for all to see. We peered at them from all angles, amazed at the ingenuity of nature.

And then we were on our companionable way, trading reminiscences and memories, yet keeping a watchful eye, greedy for orchids.

The hills rolled away, and in the distance I thought I could see the outline of Rocha da Pena while, close at hand, vivid pink rock cistus lined the trail. Chunks of rock littered the grass, as though forgotten in a giant game of jacks.

No shortage of plants to admire, nestling in the woodland shade. Before we knew it we were back at the parking.

Fonte de Benemola, PR16, is a relatively short 4.5km walking trail, off EM524 between Tor and Querenca. For beauty and variety it’s hard to beat at this time of year. No cake! It’s not easily available in this location, but I do have a rather special share.

Chocolate fudge, anyone? Not my birthday any time soon, but this weekend we paid a visit to a lovely couple, in Obidos. The fudge is one of many memories we shared, from their days in the Algarve.

Prague twinkles like a star at night. You’ll enjoy it with Teresa :

Tour of Imperial Europe

I do love a river! And so does Anabel :

Border Break 4: Tweed and Teviot

Terri’s doing her best to keep us fit. Let’s get walking!

Fitness Friday: Five Popular Ways to Track your #Fitness Progress

Are you ready for Mel’s next adventure? Here goes!

The Great Ocean Walk, Victoria – Day 1

Feel the heat with Sarah, in colourful Costa Rica :

A short (hot} walk around Guiones

The Pyrenees make a fabulous backdrop :

Salty sand walk

Carcassonne! It looks forbidding but it’s always been a dream of mine, Drake :

History turn green

Helen is always so upbeat and cheerful! The English countryside obviously agrees with her, despite the grizzly tale :

Combe Gibbet, Gallows Down & Ham Village

I don’t plan to be around the blog much in the next couple of weeks. I’m fulfilling a long cherished dream to be in Braga at Easter, and to travel a little in the north of Portugal. Take good care till I’m back!

The neighbourhood

It finally happened! On April 1st he took possession of the keys to a house, and we were hot foot to see what he’d bought. Of course, we’d seen photographs and had a few expectations, but nothing compares with the pride and joy of owning your first home. A place you can put your stamp on. I remember it well from my own first venture, long years ago.

The property, in Chapel Allerton, had belonged to an elderly gentleman and had been adapted to make life easier for him, but looking at the steep curve of the stairs it was hard to see how he could have managed. It’s a house for a much younger person, with a family. There’s plenty of work to be done, but the rewards are visible in the handiwork of some of the neighbours. First job was to lift the living room carpet to inspect the floorboards. In good condition, it was decided to sand and varnish them. So easily said, but a lot of effort and choking dust. While much of this went on I took the youngster to explore the neighbourhood.

Naturally we spotted a few colourful electricity boxes. By my standards it was extremely cold, but the youngster skipped ahead, eager to share his findings. Spring was undoubtedly in the air, pink and white magnolia illuminating the skies. A swing dangled from one sturdy specimen, evidence of the young companions we hoped to find. On the High Street, planters dazzled, jewel bright, and a book shop promised hours of pleasure. At the supermarket we selected chocolate eggs, for that all important first Easter egg hunt in the new house, and returned to help with the work. Further down our street we spotted a ‘Peace’ tree, hung with small coloured eggs, and a gardening neighbour pronounced us ‘welcome to the street!’ A new beginning, full of hope. And a ladybird on a bedroom window.

A postscript : returning home, myself and husband have tested positive for Covid. It had to happen one day and I wouldn’t have missed the above for the world. We are fine and hope to be able to resume normal life at the weekend.