It was raining heavily as we made our way down the Palácio da Lousã‘s grand staircase, the wooded hills shrouded in low-lying mist. This was not good, not good at all. The thought of another drenching encouraged me to sink back under our sumptuous bed coverings with my new Kindle Paperwhite and forget all about our hiking plans.
As we’d anticipated, breakfast here was rather special, with lots of pastries, different breads, cereal, yoghurt (not the potted type), various flavoured honeys including rosemary and eucalyptus, lots of fruits, seeds, even my favourite Earl Grey tea. We lingered longer than was strictly necessary, not wishing to venture out until we were certain it had stopped raining for good.
All that banging of my toes yesterday had made me reluctant to walk in my proper hiking shoes again so I decided to risk wearing my six-year-old Tevas (brought along mainly for our evening strolls). They had proved comfortable enough in the past as long as I didn’t abandon my socks when they tended to rub my skin – today I would stick with socks. The great thing about backpacking is you always have your entire kit with you; if your first footwear/clothing choice proves a disaster, it’s easy enough to stop and change.
The hilltop wind turbines were barely poking above the clouds when we left Lousã on the old N342 road (the most direct walking route) Although the road wasn’t busy by UK standards, the lack of a pavement for much of the route plus a continual stream of fast-moving traffic meant the morning’s walking wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Gradually, the clouds lifted and by late morning when we strolled into Miranda do Corva the landscape was basking in hot sunshine.
In contrast to its traditional, historic and rather lifeless neighbour, the sprawling villas of suburban Miranda do Corvo immediately screamed out that this was a thriving, well-heeled kind of place. In fact, the wide tree-lined road leading into town put me in mind of a glistening Californian suburb. Having earlier ruled out Lousã as somewhere we might like to live, our spirits now lifted. In this wide-bottomed valley, the mountains were close but not oppressive. There were people out and about (we passed two carrying potted plants) – there was even a Lidl here. We picked up the pace, eager to see more.
Miranda do Corvo is home to just over 13,000 people and, from the number of people sitting outside the numerous cafes on the tree-lined Avenue José Falcão, a large proportion were out enjoying the sunshine. The Ribeira do Alhêda runs through the centre of town and is crossed by several level bridges, though in May there was little actually water flowing. We settled down, ordered two Somersby ciders on ice and enjoyed half an hour of people watching (and listening … for the first time in a while we detected English accents on a nearby table).
It was with reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from this lovely town, especially when it dawned on me that the promised level walking was anything of the kind. From the moment we left the riverside boardwalk, it seemed we were climbing and it was definitely too hot for hard hill walking this afternoon, especially as the first few kilometres were along the main road.
During our research of this region, we thought both Lousã and neighbouring Miranda do Corva were situated on a regional railway line but sadly this is no longer the case. An ambitious plan to replace the ageing railway with a modern metro service was abandoned in January 2011 at the height of Portugal’s economic crisis. The train service ceased to operate and the railway tracks were subsequently removed. Two sizeable towns were left without the old railway or promised metro service. At nearby Moinho, there are still signposts directing people to the abandoned station building, but now the platforms look over a trackless railway line (Harri later discovered we could have followed it for much of our early afternoon walking).
We wandered through a succession of villages, paused briefly to gaze at a line of agricultural workers in the fields, and ate lunch perched on the exterior concrete steps of a dilapidated house. At some point during the long hot thirsty afternoon, we decided to abandon tomorrow’s plans to walk the 40+ kilometres to Figuera da Foz on the coast and instead spend a few hours exploring Coimbra, travelling to the coast later in the afternoon by train later.
When we happened upon the Fonte do Calvo near Amalagués, we seized the opportunity to fill our water bottles, queuing up behind (yes, really) some local people who had arrived by tractor with large plastic containers. The track leading back up to the village was so steep we were glad of the extra water! Amalagués reminded us of some of the villages we’ve passed through in Madeira – or even Newport’s Ridgeway – in that its top-of-ridge location means there are superb views from almost all the properties.
In another village, a local man drove past on what looked like a homemade diesel tractor. We waved and called out boa tarde to him. Minutes later, he emerged from his home bearing gifts for us: six fresh oranges. Within minutes, a second villager was offering us more fruit, prompting Harri to announce that he felt like the man from Del Monte. We were beginning to suspect that local people thought we were pilgrims walking the Caminho Portugués rather than hiking-mad sun lovers.
We’d been able to see Coimbra for some time now, but we wouldn’t be walking into the city that was the capital of Portugal from 1131 to 1255 until tomorrow. Harri had pre-booked our accommodation and we were staying overnight at the Jantesta Guest House in the village of Palheira, just south of Coimbra. In fact, when we arrived at our accommodation I was a little concerned that this lovely, traditional hotel was located in a residential area with no facilities nearby, but yet again the generosity and kindness of the Portuguese came to the fore. Hearing that we planned to eat out, the hotel manager insisted on driving us to a local restaurant (he didn’t charge us for the door-to-door service) and even arranged for the restaurant owner to deliver us back to the guest house when we’d eaten. Of course, this did mean we couldn’t pop into the burger place a few doors along but the food was pretty good value with delicious starters and a decent turkey main course (we cannot, however, recommend the sliced fried eggs on chips, which was just too stodgy for us).
Walking in my old Tevas all day had also been blissful, with no complaints from my toes at all. Even so, I was very much looking forward to my day of rest tomorrow.
UPDATE: On June 2, the Portuguese government announced that electric buses would now be introduced rather than a metro railway system; this would be in place in three-and-a-half years from now.
If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Lousã to Coimbra (27.58 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.