THEM THAR MOUNTAINS…Guarda, Belmonte and Monsanto.

imageOur last Saturday night in Afurada as the sun set over the Atlantic. We had a stunning fresh fish meal overlooking the Douro River- ‘ Cataplana’ the  traditional Portuguese fish stew. Fado music drifted across the river, as the bridge and the banks of the Foz do Douro lit up. Families had set up makeshift outdoor table settings on the footpath, and old fishermen were carousing in the boys only cafe, sternly watched over by the black widows from their window

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We then caught the bus to Guarda the highest town in Portugal. It sits atop the mountains to spy on those pesky Spanish and Moors. Established in 1197.

We were highly offended yet again to be instantly granted the Seniors discount, no proof required! What are they thinking?After a cool and drizzly week near the ocean, it was searingly hot up in the Sierra de Estrella.

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The owners of the Hotel Santos which was the best accommodation available, were eccentric. As it seems, is everyone else we have encountered in ‘them thar mountains’. We put it down to the long winters, as in winter it is blanketed in snow.

Very little English is spoken here and the locals insisted on these long verbose one-sided conversations in Portuguese. The owner of the Hotel Santos, a frail old woman insisted on lugging our suitcases, despite our objections while engaging in a long and complicated conversation which we clearly did not have a clue about. The hotel is built into the old castle walls, and the foundations on the inside appeared to be almost Roman.

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Later that evening we got lost yet again, while attempting to locate the Dom Garfo Restaurant which was highly recommended on the Old  Trippy. I am starting to hate google maps and smart arse millenials who can use them. Go in a SW direction down Rua de Gama. I have no idea where SW is and the streets are missing their signage. We arrived finally, and encountered another mountain weirdo. The owner immediately ordered us to wash our hands ( with sign language and a bit of pushing). Not only did we look like confused seniors but we also looked like we needed a good wash. And so the night disintegrated.

The only other patrons were an anal American couple who also shared some dismay at the unusual but garralous owner. The handwriiten menu in English did not match the Portuguese menu.. The enthusiastic antics of the owner and his long Portuguese conversations made ordering confusing. We had worked out that lula meant squid, and he was yelling LULA in my ear, because I hadn’t selected anything. Then the rest of the evening he kept rushing over to fill our wine glasses after every sip, with a maniacal grin on his face, while still rabbitting on in Portuguese to the confused 4 tourists.

The main part of Guarda old town is dominated by an intimidating and dark cathedral.

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Guarda has on old medieval town with a sizable old Jewish Quarter, the Judaria. It was mostly deserted and very weirdly spooky. Belmonte also had a secret Jewish population which was maintained up until the 1980’s with the traditions passed down verbally from mother to daughter. The Jews had moved to the more isolated regions of the Sierra da Estrela to escape the Inquisition. In Belmonte we stayed at the Pousada Convento de Belmonte.

 

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The Pousada had been built on the ruins of a 13 th century convent and had a stunning view over the now very HOT plains. It was a pleasant break from airbnb and we revelled in the luxury of a swimming pool while avoiding the quite scary wasps who had take up residence by the pool.

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We then started a dodgy part of our trip, relying on drivers to take us from one town to the next. We had no idea if they would be reliable or punctual, but it has worked out really well and so stress free. We met 2 American ladies over dinner at the Pousada who had got lost repeatedly even with their GPS and a 2 hour drive took them all day.! We no longer felt like the loser seniors who can not read google maps.

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Then finally we were driven to Monsanto…the Fred Flintstone town in our own foot peddled car.. Picnic at Hanging Rock meets early cave houses!

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