Vineyard camping & a Forest Fire
After Porto and tasting the many types of delicious ports, we just had to visit a proper vineyard and if possible a real Port cellar.
As mentioned before, the grapes for Port is not actually grown in Porto but along a specific area beside the Douro River.
We found a camping spot online where you can actually pitch your tent in a vineyard terrace! And when we discovered that the property was owned by a Dutch couple we decided that was a sign and that we had to spend the night there!
Our vineyard camping was in a small sleepy town called Regua. We were met by the kind Dutch couple and they showed us our own vineyard terrace where we could pitch our tent.
The view was beautiful! But during the day it is far too hot to be directly under the sun, so we left our exposed tent in search for a mini-cruise along the Duroro River to view the vineyard terraces that grace the hillsides beside the river banks.
Tip for those visiting Regua:
If you’d like to do a short cruise just to view the vineyards from the Douro river, like we did, there’s an hourly local boat that charges only 10euros per person. The trip will take an hour and you will travel only 5-10km along the river.
If you’d like to do a lengthier cruise, you can jump on the many lunch cruises but this can cost 60 euros per person or more and will leave at 11.30am.
If you’d like a luxury cruise there quite a few that have cabins, dining options and pools with sundecks but these will travel along the river and will pick you up at one city and drop you off in another. Some are overnight and some are just day cruises. Obviously, these will cost more than the other options mentioned above.
It was rather later in the evening when we arrived back at our vineyard camping. The sun was down and the 35-40 degree heat had dropped to around 20 degrees which is perfect for camping.
We pulled out our BBQ for a quick meal of roast vegetables and kebabs. But we were very careful as earlier on that day they warned us about cooking with open flames due to the ongoing drought and the dry bush.
We saw first hand how fast a forest fire can travel. While relaxing and munching on our dinner, we saw a pin-prick of light a few hills away. At first, we wondered if there was another camper having a BBQ. Within a few minutes we decided it was bonfire of sorts. And within half an hour it was obviously a large wild fire and sirens could be heard.
We were a little bit worried that it could reach our mountain as it was very bright and large against the dark sky, but our Dutch hosts explained that it was actually several mountains away and that it would have to reach another small town before it would endanger us.
This was quite reassuring, but still, we watched it for about an hour as it was our first time seeing a live forest fire and in the dark, it really seemed awfully close…
We finally got tired of the excitement of watching the fire and trying to guess if the fire department got it under control and drifted off to sleep in our cozy tent in our own vineyard terrace.
Hit and Miss with the Big Cities…
After Regua we thought to swing by Lisbon as we figured we probably should make an effort to visit the capital city of each country we visit, so long as it isn’t too far out of our planned route.
Lisbon was a definite “miss” for us. Perhaps, after visiting small towns with so much character and history, Lisbon just seemed too “modern” and too crowded. We hit traffic as soon as we entered the city and getting to “old town” took forever. After struggling with traffic for almost an hour it was clear that we needed to shed our luggage as it was hot and miserable trying to navigate strange roads with almost 60 kilos of extra weight and large boxes on our bike.
Since it was dry and we were only passing through, we decided to try out one of the many campsites by the coast near Lisbon and perhaps enjoy a bit of beach time.
Wrong decision! Campsites near Lisbon are like concentration camps. The campsite security seems so high that we were wondering if there was a large amount of theft and crime. The campsite was also walled in with barbed wire on top and there was a curfew as to when you couldn’t get in the campsite (at all) with your magnetic keycard.
We had to bring 3 separate IDs with us when exiting the campsite. One each for us and another for our motorbike. We appreciated the security, but with THAT much hoopla, we started to wonder about WHY so much security was needed.
The tent area was also organized like a refugee camp. You had a specific allotted square mapped out with wire that was your area. The “tent” folks also seemed to be the bottom of campsite totem pole. We were the furthest from the toilets, showers and running water and the closest to the loud communal areas such as the shops, the playground, the garbage area and the beach exits.
I suppose this was our first taste of “urban” camping and we can honestly say that we didn’t enjoy it and wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps if you have your own fully-equipped campervan it would have been alright, but when camping with a tent, you want a view and feel like you are in nature.
We saw 3 campsites and they were all were this style and cost 30 euros or more (1,200thb) so we just had to bite the bullet and set up camp. We figured we could do it for one night and for the experience.
***Sorry we were too depressed to take pictures. But next time, we take pics of the good and the bad***
One plus, was that the beach near our campsite was beautiful. The water was a bit too cold to enjoy, but tanning on the white sand was relaxing. Do invest in some shade and wind barricades though, as the wind is fairly strong and there are no cute beach side deck chairs or restaurants like we always took for granted in Thailand.
And oh yes, let’s not forget the sea caves of Lagos! After literally fleeing the madness of Lisbon we headed to the famous Benagil Sea Caves in Lagos…
They are just as awesome as they look in pictures! We didn’t stay overnight in Lagos but we spent an afternoon there before we crossed the border into Spain.
It is high season so almost every square inch of the Benagil beach is taken and you must carefully navigate around folks sleeping and tanning in the sun lest you unintentionally kick sand on them.
BRING YOUR OWN SHADE and wear sunblock is the number one tip we must give when visiting Benagil beach. The sun is exceptionally bright and whatever little shade there is to be found will be occupied. The sand is also full of sharp shells, so if possible, wear closed water or dive shoes.
The water will be quite cold in comparison to the scorching sun, so be prepared to dive in and start swimming to warm up.
It is also possible to swim to the first and second sea cave, so no need to pay for the boats that charge 20 euros per person unless you want to see ALL 20 or so sea caves and interesting rock formations.
It’s recommended that you take a boat as the tides and the currents are unpredictable and quite strong so there have been accidents. But for us, we took the plunge and swam to the biggest and most impressive Benagil Sea Cave.
It is the closest to the beach so if you’re confident you can make the swim, go for it, as the swim is half the experience.
Some might prefer the boats as the water is quite cold but they don’t let you get off and stay and explore the cave, they just sail in…let you snap a few pics from the boat and then speed off.
In our opinion, it was more worth it to swim the 200 meters or so, rest and sun a bit in the cave and then go back to the beach. There were other caves to see, so if you want to see more than the 2 sea caves directly beside the beach, you will have take the boats.
Swimmers, beware of the boats especially at the mouth of the caves. I think they are a bit resentful that you didn’t bother to use their service so they aren’t very considerate if you are swimming.
The second cave is a bit further away, and more “boat” crazy, and quite a bit harder to swim to. So if you’re not a strong swimmer, I’d only recommend the first cave to the left of the beach.
Definitely a spot I’d visit again.
I love Spain! Spain has the comforts of a first world nation with the charm and price of a third world nation.
We found and enjoyed many things that would have cost double the price in Thailand or other “cheap” SEA countries.
But since we had both been in Spain before (about 6 years ago we took a holiday in Barcelona) we decided to check off a new country—Gibraltar…
Turned Back at the Border…
This was a bit of disappointment for me as I was turned back at the border due to not having a proper visa.
I can say I stepped into Gibraltar as I officially crossed the border before they decided to check us out and I got turned back…but I suppose that doesn’t quite count 😛
FYI: We learned that non-EU countries still need a visa despite having a multiple-entry Schengen visa. They will fast-track your visa if you have a multiple-entry Schengen visa, but you still need an actual visa stamped in your passport at the Gibraltar embassy or consulate before allowed entry.
This was very unclear when we researched about it. Most of the info said you can get in with a multiple entry Schengen visa, and we assumed this meant a visa upon entry, as there was no info about how you still have to go through with applying for a visa and then the visa is granted based on whether you have a multiple entry Schengen visa or not.
The only way you can freely enter Gibraltar, without a visa, is if you are an EU or UK citizen and/or if you have UK residency.
Basically, Gibraltar is part of the UK and follows their visa requirements.
Fortunately, I wasn’t put out too much, as there is an awesome beach just 100 meters from the Gibraltar border. I rented a beach chair, had a cold mug of beer and dug into my book and made a few lady friends while Stefan visited and climbed around the Rock of Gibraltar.
Check out our video footage here:
Back to Spain, our first stop in Spain was a gorgeous town in the mountains called Ronda.
It has its own massive bull fighting arena and fabulous views everywhere we looked. Sadly, we weren’t able to go in the arena because it was getting renovated in prep for the proper bull fighting season which is in September.
It was like we were thrown into a fairy tale. There was an old castle ruin, rustic cafes, bakeries and butchers from times past and all the surrounding towns are full of quaint white washed houses to protect against the bright heat of the sun.
The sun was very bright and hot (we needed to wear our Polaroid sunglasses almost the whole time) but the wind was cool so it was a pleasure exploring the town and riding the small winding country roads to visit the neighboring White Pueblos (White Villages)
The weather was so perfect we decided to camp again instead of checking into a hotel or apartment as we had originally planned after the disaster in Lisbon.
This time our campsite was owned by a friendly French woman and for the same price of 30 euros (this is the average “high season” price) we had a comfortable spot for our tent with some shade from the trees and free access to the campsite pool and sun deck.
It was so nice, we decided one night was not enough and stayed an extra night so that we could explore the surrounding towns a bit more.
We were enjoying being in the mountains so much that we decided that we would visit Sierra Nevada—also known as the Alps of Spain.
The terrain in Sierra Nevada is breathtaking and completely different to what we’ve seen in our travels so far. In the winter, it’s covered in snow and perfect for skiing and in the summer it’s like a dessert with rock cliff faces and mountains and it’s hard to imagine that it could even possibly snow!
The roads are downright awesome to ride on and we were happy to have chosen this out-of-the-way camp spot on one of the highest points of Sierra Nevada. The first time we drove up, we were a bit wary of all the blind and sharp turns but by the third time, we felt like locals and could enjoy the ride.
Our camp host was the friendliest guy you’d ever meet. He spoke like 10 words of English but he was so expressive we communicated just fine.
We had planned to pitch our tent but since his camp ground wasn’t full (we suppose winter is the high season) he let us stay in one of his wooden winter cabins for the same price as a tent pitch.
We stayed only 2 nights but we felt completely at home. There wasn’t a soul in site host for miles around besides our friendly host and from our cabin you could see the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Check out our video for an idea of where our cabin was:
We were sad to say goodbye to our mountain cabin but we wanted to see the Old City of Toledo and my time in the Schengen Zone is fast finishing so off we went.
Toledo Time Capsule…
Toledo is a city that seems like it got stopped in time. It is so beautifully preserved it’s easy to imagine that it looked the same thousands of years ago.
It also holds a unique history as one of the only cities the three major religions co-inhabited peacefully.
You can see Christianity, Judaism and Islam merge beautifully in the old preserved architecture and even now, in the modern-day residents and culture.
Our first dinner was in an authentic Arabic restaurant. The portions were small, but delicious, and the ambiance was on-point.
We checked in an old apartment built directly above the maze of Roman bath tunnels just recently discovered in 1986. Our rooms were on the third floor (which meant climbing 6 flights of stairs!!) and never did our gear seem so heavy! But at least we got in our workout everyday 😉
The challenge of Toledo is the excruciating heat (40-45 degrees) throughout the day and the steep and narrow roads. It is also easy to get lost in the maze of small streets and hidden paths.
I have no idea how folks in the olden days got around without GPS.
After a while the cobbled streets and endless stairs going up or down started looking the same. And not all roads meet up and they certainly aren’t “straight” so if you think you are going the direction of home by a different path or “following gut instinct” you will most likely NOT end up where you wanted—we learned that the hard way on many occasions and again got a workout in 😉
Toledo is built on a hill, or perhaps a few hills to be exact, and it has a moat around it and gives the impression that it is still “fortified” with large gated arches adorning its different entrances.
It is certainly a must visit if you are planning a trip to Spain.