Silver Coast: São Martinho do Porto – Mosqueiros circular

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São Martinho do Porto, Leiria, Portugal
The beautiful lagoon at São Martinho do Porto was once much bigger

Just over two weeks ago, we packed our car and left everything and everyone we knew in the Algarve to drive up here to Portugal’s Silver Coast. We’re now renting an apartment in São Martinho do Porto, an hour north of Lisbon, which means we have a whole new area to explore.

Unfortunately, the  weather has been really unsettled since we arrived, which has put us off going out for longer hikes (though I did walk home from Caldas da Rainha on a whim last Thursday). In fact, after experiencing a  soaking in Foz de Arelho on Saturday, Harri opted to work Sunday when more rain was forecast and take Tuesday off instead.

Mosqueiros landscape, Leiria, Portugal
The view from the lovely house we viewed but will not be buying

We’ve also been doing a little bit of house-hunting, though it’s by no means certain we will stay in this central region. We viewed a pretty and quite unique property with an estate agent on Friday. We loved the property; however, one of my reservations was its rural location on the far side of the motorway. Harri insisted the village –Mosqueiros – was actually closer than I thought and, to prove it, he’d devised a 20-kilometre circular route from our apartment to the property and back for us to do today.

We set off at around 9.30am, with me bravely wearing my shorts for only the second time in two weeks. There was a distinct chill in the air as we followed the now-familiar sandy track which runs parallel to the regional railway line and past a field of grazing donkeys, but at least the sun was shining.

Donkeys, Sao Martinho do Porto, Leiria
Harri wondered if these donkey will be offering rides on São Martinho beach?

We walked through São Martinho do Porto in May 2017 during a hiking holiday and one of the main reasons for us returning two years later was the beautiful shell-shaped lagoon which stretches from São Martinho at the northern end of the bay to Salir do Porto in the south. The sheltered nature of the lagoon means it is popular with families who come to enjoy the wide sandy beach in the summer months.

Historically, the lagoon extended much farther inland to the port of Alfeizerão; however, by the late sixteenth century, the lagoon had shrunk moreorless to its current proportions and the port was forever cut off from the Atlantic Ocean. The flat agricultural landscape is crisscrossed with small streams and very much resembles the Gwent Levels.

We hadn’t gone far before we encountered our first dilemma of the day. Harri had plotted our walk beforehand; however, now we found that the track ahead – our proposed route – had metal gates across it and a big sign saying Privado. One gate was open and we were tempted to carry on regardless until a car appeared. We’d have needed to walk past a house too, and more often than not in Portugal country houses come with barking dogs, some of them alarmingly fierce!

Reluctantly, we opted to turn back, heading along the back roads of São Martinho do Porto in much the same direction as we’d just come from. Try to think of it as a warm-up for the big event, Harri advised, but I knew he was frustrated that a track  shown as a thoroughfare on the map had been ‘re-designated’ as private by the landowner.

Poppies growing alongside the roadside

It’s a very different kind of landscape here from the Algarve. When I stand on our rear terrace and gaze across the fields to the hills beyond I could almost be looking at Wentwood Forest, located to the east of Newport. In fact, since we arrived on the Silver Coast, the weather has been much the same as springtime in Wales, with plenty of cloud, blustery winds and rain. It’s not the Portuguese weather we’ve become accustomed to, that’s for sure.

After our impromptu lap of São Martinho, we were finally on our way. Unfortunately, our enforced detour forced us back onto the main road linking the resort to Alfeizerão so for the next ten minutes or so it was single-file walking with our wits about us. Eventually, we joined a wide track and could once again relax … and chat. Alfeizerão is a reasonable size village with all the facilities you need; the downside is that road with its constant flow of traffic between the motorway and the coast.

Meadow, Sao Martinho do Porto, Leiria
We passed some beautiful meadows on our walk

The lush vegetation only confirmed my fears about the weather here on the Silver Coast. It rains … quite often if our own experience has been anything to go by. We walked on, passing through Vale de Maceira and through an underpass below the near-empty motorway. Like the majority of inland Portuguese villages, Vale de Maceira had a beautiful white-washed church at its centre and was deserted.

Our route now took an uphill turn as we left the fertile valley landscape and began to ascend the forested ridge. Our progress was slow at times as Harri struggled to decipher the poor online mapping in bright sunshine. We’d originally planned to follow a historic track to descend into a valley; however, it looked overgrown and unwalked so we decided to stick to the road. Now we’d left the populated areas, this second spell of road walking was far from unpleasant and we were heartened by the friendly greetings of the locals we met. Their properties were a mixture of traditional and modern, with many boastin small vineyards and lines of vegetables in their gardens.

Sao Martinho do Porto azulejo
One of the beautiful azulejos that are common in Portugal – we think this one depicts São Martinho

After stopping for elevenses on a roadside wall, we continued along the undulating road, stopping to admire the beautiful meadows full of wild flowers and poppies. There was a short section of forestry and then we’d arrived at the tiny village of Mosqueiros, where the only cafe looked closed and the road sign looked like it had been in an altercation with an articulated lorry and lost. The endless climbing had left me hot and weary; despite Harri’s protest to the contrary, it felt like we’d come a long way from the coast.

We headed along the dead end lane where the property was located and took another look at its exterior. The views across the neighbouring hills were extensive, the landscape not dissimilar to the Welsh countryside with properties scattered across the slopes. I’m sociable by nature and I knew I could never be happy living here, cut off from facilities and other English speakers. I’d made my decision. Harri’s plan had backfired and he was understandably disappointed, but agreed we both needed to be 100% certain before we committed ourselves to a location.

You never see a small (or indeed slim) cat over here

Frustratingly our route back ended up being just as convoluted as the one here. At my urging, we decided against retracing our steps; however, we really thought we’d done the toughest part of the walk. Not so. For the next hour, we seemed to be mostly climbing with just the occasional downhill section. Our route twisted and turned so much that I lost all sense of direction and was quite surprised when we reached the crest of a particularly steep hill to see the Atlantic Ocean down below. Harri had promised me a beer but we were learning that these little inland villages do not cater for passing hikers, even on sunny spring days. It was hard not to make comparisons with the Algarve.

At last we were heading downhill!

To avoid another huge detour, we decided to follow the road into Alfeizerão. As usual, there was a constant flow of traffic, so I was rather alarmed to see a lamb grazing on a grass verge next to a house. I wanted to guide him back into his field, but Harri thought we might cause him more alarm and inadvertently drive him onto the road.

The busy road through Alfeizerão is not the place for a lamb

The agent who’d taken us to the property on Friday had told us about Pão de Ló de Alfeizerão, a very famous cake that is only made in the village. Spotting a padaria, I wanted to try this sweet local delicacy. There was just one problem: I couldn’t remember what it was called. I hazarded a guess at bolo de Alfeizerão but the man behind the counter stared at me blankly. In the end, I chose a gooey looking slice of cake that cost 1,90. It turned out not to be Pão de Ló de Alfeizerão but the same incredibly rich eggy dessert that our Albufeira lettings agent Vicente introduced us to a few weeks ago. It’s too sweet for Harri but I love it, so I got to have the whole slice to myself.

Another delicious Portuguese cake … I’d eaten half when I took the photo

The remainder of our walk took us through familiar territory. We’d done a similar route on an evening stroll on our first week here. True, there are some pretty spots dotted around the landscape; however, I’ve yet to see anywhere that compares to those idyllic Moorish villages down south. It’s a shame as the strike by fuel lorry drivers and the lack of petrol in Portuguese petrol stations means our planned trip to Alcobaça this weekend will probably be put on hold. For everybody’s sake, let’s hope their demands are met soon.

If you’re interested in following all or part of our 25km route here’s the link.

 

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