Monsaraz isa hill top village, some 200km east of Lisbon, near the border with Spain. We visited on our way back from the UK in our campervan. Monsaraz is a delightful place which attracts many tourists.
Monsaraz is just 150km away from Merida in Spain, the largest Roman settlement on the Iberian peninsula. Watch out for a future blog and video on Merida.
The lake you pass on the route in from Spain provided us with a very refreshing swim, on a baking hot day, prior to walking round the village. It seemed like we had the whole lake to ourselves. Except for a lovely French couple we met who were also enticed by the cooling waters of the lake.
Sintra is a place that is well worth a visit when you are in or near Lisbon. Situated about 30km from Lisbon it’s a delightful town situated within the hills of the Serra de Sintra. But be warned, if you are going with a caravan, the advice is, don’t!
We travelled there in our motorhome, 7.1 metres long and 2.2 metres wide. Whilst we managed on the tight, twisty roads, it’s not recommended. Our quest to find an overnight parking spot was an adventure, which culminated in a misty drive through the hills, then through a little village with about 15cm between the wing mirrors and the house walls. We couldn’t even get out to take a pic! Eventually, we found a secluded lay-by on a quiet road, shrouded in a thick mist. Very atmospheric.
We awoke to a fabulous view to the coast, a short distance away, and across the road was a royal picnic area! What an amazing find, what serendipity. The added bonus for us was that it was very near the Penn Palace, our destination for the day (see the video below).
Her Outdoors is involved with three Algarve gardening groups, the aim of many of the groups is to share their interest, experience, expertise and knowledge. Normally this involves visits to each others gardens (followed by lunch!).
One of the groups she is involved with is a Succulent Appreciation Society. They decided to visit our garden and do something a little different. by developing an area into a succulent garden. The quandary for her Outdoors was deciding which area to develop. See what they achieved in a couple of hours!
Excitedly, we rose at 6am to get ready for our day out. We’d heard about how popular it was, and that only 50 people were allowed in per day so that people were queuing from the early hours of the morning for the privilege. Not wanting to miss out and to avoid waiting for 7/8 hours, we got there for 7.30am and were relieved to find ourselves 16th in the queue. Success, we thought! But then we started to worry when other people started joining the ones in front of us! More on this later…
Our day out, you ask? To the O Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT) office in Faro to register our British driving licences before the Brexit deadline. (Apologies for mentioning B*****, but it’s a vital part of the story.) The implications of not registering driving licences include fines, being unable to drive and possibly having to take a driving test!
While in the queue, we had a panic when we realised that we had a vital bit of evidence missing, so had to dash off to a nearby kiosk for photocopies of driving licences and passports, returning just as they were opening the office. Once inside, we were given a ticket like the ones at the supermarket meat counter – quite apt really…) and readied ourselves for a long wait.
What became apparent was that one woman, who had ‘snook’ in the queue, somehow got a handful of tickets from the security guard who was issuing tickets, (apparently there because of scuffles previously because of queue jumpers…). We wondered whether she’d mistaken the IMT for a supermarket meat counter and was planning on having a BBQ, or whether she was an agent, getting tickets for her clients. It turned out to be the latter, not the fatter! Lots of looks and murmurings ensued from some of the disgruntled, but less than rebellious crowd, but no direct challenges. What a sauce that woman had – but not the BBQ type!
After 90 minutes of waiting patiently, our numbers came up. Her Outdoors (indoors for a change) was lucky, being served by a pleasant, friendly woman, I on the other hand wasn’t! I was served by a burly, surly woman who took to banging on the glass partition to suppress the noisy, increasingly rebellious hordes. She did this while chomping on her breakfast, avoiding eye contact typing one fingered and who returned my licence by throwing it at me. I have some sympathy for someone doing a boring, repetitive job but… It’s one of Portugal’s mysteries how a country full of such lovely, friendly people chooses some of the less lovely and friendly ones to work in the IMT/Camara etc. Or is it that British expats are losing their charm and welcomeness?
The actual admin part was quite straightforward, with only a smattering of Portuguese used and some gesticulating. I avoided using any rude gesticulations to convey my thoughts on the experience and was sent on my merry way with a withering hand wave.
To register your licence you should go armed with originals and photocopies of:
Afterwards, you will be given a paper that allows you to drive, albeit within Portugal. If the validity of the paper expires before you receive your new licence, all you need to do is to get up at 6am, queue for hours and… Happy driving!
In January and February the garden is full of colour, a time when we see the bottom meadow at its very best. While the top meadow has more varied wild flowers, the lower one is covered in almost luminous verdant green, speckled with dazzling little yellow flowers, the oxalis. I have a love/hate relationship with this persistent little plant which is almost impossible to eradicate. It’s a bully, not a comfortable companion to other less invasive plants and in fact, it’s having a high old time all over rural Algarve. But after getting used to parched brown earth one has to admit they do make a wonderful display.
This is the setting for our almond trees which are wearing their wedding dress again, albeit less showy than usual after Alan’s severe pruning last year. Then there’s aloe arborescens thrusting their red-hot-poker flowers heaven-wards while the anoenium’s conical yellow blooms provide a halo effect. You might be forgiven for wondering how crocosmia is in flower in winter but in fact it’s chasmanthe floribunda, commonly know as African flag which produces long tubular bright orange more open flowers all winter. Oh and the first poppy is in bloom, just to remind us of the feast of red to come.
Talking about almond blossom, and remembering that February is a romantic time of year, (we’ll at least on the 14th) I recently read a lovely tale about St Valentine and the girl whose sight he miraculously restored. When he was martyred, she planted an almond tree on his grave, or so the legend goes, thought to be the reason why the Almond tree is used as a symbol for love and virginity. Isn’t it wonderful the way nature, art and romance is intertwined?
We’ve just celebrated our third anniversary, it being three years since we embarked on our latest venture. We were warned by several friends that we could be in for a rocky ride. We didn’t expect it to be plain sailing, but neither did we expect three years later to be still having basic communication problems! And who do we have to thank: Loulé Camara? Our Architect? Our own naivety? Obviously I’m not referring to our marriage, (although we did get wed three years ago) I’m referring to our planning application for a bathroom extension.
We’ve been very happy since we moved to Portugal and have particularly enjoyed developing our garden. We wish we could say the same for our house. The main issue is that we have a very small bathroom: no proper shower and not even a full bath. Having lived in the Sudan, ‘Her Outdoors’ thinks what we have is luxurious, however not everyone likes the ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle. When family and friends stay, we want them to feel comfortable, hence our need for a modest bathroom extension and outdoor shower near the pool.
We employed an Architect to start the planning process in January 2016, thinking it would take probably a year to submit the plans and complete the build. However, three years on, we’ve only recently had our building project rejected, mainly because our annex is not connected to the main building. It seems that even with the best scenario, it’s likely to take at least another 12 months before we can start building.
So why has it taken so long you ask (well you might not ask, but I’ll tell you anyway!). One factor in the process taking so long is because we are trying to follow the ‘correct process’; find an architect, draw up plans, submit an application, find a builder etc. The ‘incorrect way’ is to find a builder, build, then employ an architect to draw up what has already been built. The final stage is to submit the project and argue the toss with the Camara, or get fines/penalties. Many don’t even bother with the final step. Submitting a project that is, fines or penalties are non negotiable! Getting planning approval is essential in obtaining an ‘Habitation Licence‘ which is vital if you want to sell your property.
Perhaps our biggest mistake was that we never met our architect. Because of the language difficulties, it seemed easier to communicate online. We did approach a number of Architects and went with a ‘local’ architect who had a good command of English besides being competitively priced! Or so we thought. During the course of the process we have discovered that he is currently based in the UK and that the business address he uses on official documents is from N Portugal. One of our prime requirements when seeking an architect was a local person, with experience of dealing with Loulé Camara as they are notoriously difficult to deal with!
We knew when we bought the property that the pool wasn’t legal, but this is a common occurrence in Portugal. We were assured that the legalisation process would be relatively straightforward and negotiated a reduction on the price to cover costs. However, when submitting our building plans we discovered that the annex is also not legal and therefore we had to re-submit plans. We have subsequently discovered that some roadside walls surrounding the property have not been included in the project plans. So, more plans to submit!
Apart from realising how gullible we are, we’ve learned quite a lot from the process of buying a property and embarking on building plans. We now know the limitations of building in ‘RAN’ or semi-agriculture zones. We’ve learned that it takes over a month to get an appointment at the Council and that if the Camera official decides to take a holiday then the appointment is cancelled. We know that if we did it again we’d definitely approach it differently:
Get the full history of the property before you buy.
Check that the habitation licence reflects the property you are buying.
Don’t rely on your Lawyer to check all is in place.
Meet the architect before starting the process.
Check out the Architect’s credentials, past projects and experience of working with the local Camara.
Insist on regular communications and receiving copies of any letters etc from the Camara.
Attend any meetings with the architect and Camara officials where possible.
Make fee payments based on progress.
Now, where’s that bottle so we can celebrate… or rather commiserate with each other!
Being involved in walking football at Browns Leisure & Sports Club in Vilamoura, has become a major factor in settling into Portugal and also improving my health and fitness. Take a look at the following videos and you might understand why.
Fitness for Over 50’s Part 1 introduces some of the Brown’s characters and also explains how to get involved with either Brown’s Walking Football, or your local club. Fitness for Over 50’s Part 2 highlights some of the health and social benefits of regular exercise.
What links Bradford born Kiki Dee, with Winston Churchill, the Moody Blues, Rod Stewart and Bradford street cleaners? Read on…
November time and I found myself in cold, wet Bradford, West Yorkshire. Her Outdoors and myself visit Bradford every year, taking the opportunity to visit friends and family. But we usually go in the summer time, when the temperature is higher. Just a few degrees, but it makes a difference. Anyway, this visit I did by myself, hence my idea to explore the new(ish) city centre developments. Bradford has being trying to re-build an image that is constantly being tarnished. The city is trying to generate tourism to bring much needed income into the area, but also to draw locals back into the city centre for their shopping and entertainment needs.
A major new shopping mall development was started in 2004 but was halted due to the recession, only completing in 2015. The Broadway is an extensive new shopping mall that Bradford really (?) needed as they only had one city centre shopping mall, the Kirkgate Arndale Centre… that’s if you don’t count the Foster Square Retail Centre which is less than a mile away…. The city has an history of planning controversies but The Broadway was a huge embarrassment for the city, particularly as what was left for many years was an enormous hole in the ground.
Recently however, a local business man and developer has used a different hole in the ground to created an amazing new development, Sunbridge Wells. Billed as ‘Bradford’s best kept secret’, it’s a subterranean delight for beer and gin lovers, cave dwellers (errr… any out there?) and those that enjoy tradition, history and something different.
Like any country, Portugal, and particularly the Algarve region, offers a real mix of cultural festas (Festivals), traditions and events. These traditions are a result of Portugal’s historical influences over many centuries. Festivals include the Paderne Mediaeval Festival and Loulé Festival
What of Portugal’s more recent history, from post revolution 1976 to the joining of the EU and to the present day. The influx of expats from many of the EU countries is having a profound effect on the present day cultural scene, at least for expats. There are clubs for: gardening, language learning, culture, various hobbies and miscellaneous entertainments. Many of the clubs and societies actively seek new members and offer a warm welcome.
There are a number of choirs in the region and I have a French friend who has tried to recruit me for a Barbershop choir she sings with in Portugal. “Barbershop in Portugal?” I hear you cry. If you look around you’ll find most things to do in the Algarve, but Barbershop is not the top of the list for most people. However, I have had a very entertaining time recently producing music videos for Bella a Cappella, the Algarve’s only Barbershop Choir. Check them out!