Some of the best village ramparts in France
We changed our plans yet again today! We needed services and some shopping so drove a kilometre or so to the Intermarche supermarket on the edge of Elvas. Bless them for providing free motorhome services. Having dropped waste and refilled the water tank we then headed for Pingo Doce supermarket next door as we had not had a proper look around this chain before.
The original plan was to do all this and then go to the big C18/C19 Fort de Graça but in the end we decided to go and see the older smaller fort on the south side of Elvas. The Forte de Santa Luzia was started in 1642 and protects the southern flank of the town. It is on a hill a short way from the main ramparts but is actually connected to the main town by a 2km pedestrian tunnel so that supplies and people could move to and fro in safety. The first 150m of that tunnel have been restored and can be explored – I am glad I did not have to carry supplies through there as it was narrow and quite low.
We spent well over an hour walking around the ramparts and exploring the central redoubt with the small governor’s house perched on top. Great views all around. By the time we had finished and were back on Bertie it was quite late and we had still not had lunch (or even a coffee!!). We drove to the middle carpark at Fort De Graça on the otherside of town. This is a peaceful and fairly level car park half way up the access road to the fort. The top car park is quite sharply sloped and not suitable for Bertie for anything other than simple parking. There was another van when we arrived but that did not stay the night. We had a peaceful night and enjoyed the view back to Elvas with the floodlit walls.
We woke to quite mist start – Elvas had disappeared! However by the time we had got up and had breakfast etc the sun had risen high enough to burn off the mist. We drove Bertie up the last, steep section of road to the top car park which had great views but was defintely not suitable for sleeping! We were the only public vehicle there when we arrived!
This fort is much bigger than Forte Sante Luzia and is about a 100 years younger. It is built on a hill that is some 40m above the town and was thought to be of such strategic importance that they could not afford to lose control of these heights – hence this seriously strong fort was built. We spent three hours looking around – the walk around the outer ramparts is around a mile in itself! You can walk around the ditch within that ring but we skipped that! Then it was in to the next ring of bulwarks and ravelins – this walk was shorter but we did also explore inside the bulwarks which are full of (empty) rooms and you can walk around the fort entirely within these rooms beneath the second ring of defensives. In the centre is the Central Redoubt built on several levels. The lowest level which we did not see is the great cistern that stored all the rainwater that fell on the fort and was designed to hold enough water to supply the garrison for several months. The first level you can visit consists of two huge corridors (well long halls really) that cross the redoubt and make a cross shape. There are other smaller rooms in the quarters of the cross. The next level up contains a large number of smaller rooms that all interconnect around the dome above the crossing of the big corridors. The next level up is the roof of the redoubt on which is built the grand governor’s house and above that is yet another flat roof that makes an observation deck and is the last level you can visit. The views from this level are stunning indeed! Some photos below to give you an idea.
After lunch back at the middle car park we decided we did not have enough time to get all the way to Marvão but we could get to the aire at Arronches just 20 miles up the road and that would make for an easy drive the next day.
Arronches was perfect – a nice purpose built aire beside the river on the edge of this small town. Space for 6 vans but we had it all to ourselves. As we sat on Bertie we heard some rather loud engines racing and every so often a mud-splattered 4×4 would belt along the little road across the river and then over the bridge and up in to town. It sounded like a rally! Having a walk around the town that evening we found them all parked up in the main square having a bit of a shindig! The posters suggested this was a local event organised by and in aid of the local volunteer fire and rescue service (Bombedeiros).
According to Google Maps the main tourist attraction here is the Toy Museum so in gratitude for our peaceful nights sleep we felt we should go and visit this. It was a good walk across the town, through the old quarter with its narrow streets and past the fine church. The church door was open so we decided to have a look. It was a dramatic structure with a high stone vaulted roof supported by quite slim stone column. The lovely lady on the desk gave us a leaflet with some English info and a book that they had produced a few years ago made of photos of the church and lots of quotes from visitors book in past years.
Sadly the toy museum had a sign on the door saying that the museum would be closed today due to staff sickness! Never mind we had a good walk around the town and we had visited the Church.
Back at Bertie we wanted to fill up with water and empty our waste. The latter was fine but sadly the water point accepted our €2 coin but failed to give us any water at all! Grrr. We had both had hot showers this morning secure in the knowledge that we could refill this morning! Rather took the shine off Arranches.
First stop today was the Leclerc supermarket at Portalegre some 20kms up the road. We found this without trouble and refilled Bertie’s LPG tank. With the best diesel price we had seen for a while we also topped the diesel tank too and then did some shopping.
Finally we could head up into the hills to Marvão a place I have wanted to visit since I read about it in the Our Tour blog when I first dreamed of doing a long European motorhome trip. It was quite a short drive but quite a climb up as this town is built on top of a high ridge of rock that dominates the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park just east of Portalegre. I had seen the photos and I had read the blog but the reality was something else. The motorhome park is a bit below the town but even so it is high and has outstanding views both across the valley to Spain but also up to the walls of the town and its impressive castle. The parking is quite basic, the marked pitches are quite narrow and they slope quite a bit. There are services but the tap will not take a hose so we had to use a can to fill Bertie’s water tank. This last is a hassle as it means you have to remove the cushions from one side of the dinette, lift the flap above the water tank and open the vent in to the top of the tank and tip the water in from the can very carefully! Anyway this location is worth all that imperfection!
Today was dedicated to exploring Marvão town and castle. Totally amazing. We took loads of photographs even though we knew that these could not do justice to this amazing place. 2,800 feet up and occupying the whole top of this rocky ridge it commands enormous views in all directions. We visited the church of St James, the municipal museum, the castle and the old town hall. We also had a nice meal in a small restaurant with terrific views (it was the 41st anniversary of the day we moved in to our first flat together!). We also watched three Bonelli’s eagles soaring above us – glorious. Some photos of town and castle below – but you really have to come and see this and no photo will ever be good enough.
This is an amazing country – we have seen so much and I know we are skipping 80% of what it has to offer. If we get the chance to do a trip like this again I could happily spend several months just in Portugal and we could probably visit a different castle, dolmen, roman site or medieval town everyday and still get around them all!
Tomorrow we will cross the River Tagus which is the river that flows through Lisbon and then we are about half way up the eastern border of Portugal.