Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts

Sunday, 22 November 2020

A trip to Las Hurdes and the waterfall of Chorro de la Meancera at El Gasto

We left  the finca early as it's a 2 1/2 hour journey to the tiny pueblo of El Gasto, literally the end of the road, a very winding and steep road.

Our aim was to do the hike between El Gasto and the powerful waterfall known as Chorro de la Meancera.

We were impressed by the effort spent on making the walk along the river accessible and safe, much easier than we imagined to reach such a remote site. We particularly enjoyed the well constructed
boarded walks suspended around the rocks of the river valley.


The views down the valley and up to the amazing crags were exciting before getting to the main attraction, the waterfall itself. The water seems to irrupt from a narrow crack in the crag and falls with mighty force for over 100 metres crashing into a pool before tumbling down the river over smooth rocks and ledges.

The day was sunny and warm, a wonderful place to linger and breathe in the surrounding nature but I would love to come back on a gloomy day with rain and possibly some thunder and lightening for a really gothic romance experience.

We walked back on the same route with fresh perspectives. 

On re-entering the village Manfred and Lucy headed off for a drink while I wanted to find some original primitive dwellings built of dark slate giving these Hurdes villages the name "pueblos negros" notoriously featured in Buñuel's  film "Tierra sin pan". Also wanted to find some natural honey, Las Hurdes has always been famed for its honey, one of the few products the inhabitants could sell for cash.

 When roads were built covering the original mule tracks over Las Hurdes it was possible to bring building materials and modern life invaded these remote villages, buildings were thrown up with hideous results, no reference to the nature of the terrain or natural building materials. But who can blame them?  They had been driven out of their hovels in these wild mountains by the deprivations of extreme poverty and hunger to work in big cities or further afield in France and Germany in the 60s and 70s. They returned with money to improve the dire living conditions but unfortunately they chose to build in an urban style with several floors using cheap materials which have not aged well, a pity. I was hoping to find at least some vestige of old dwellings, an important part of the history of Extremadura when life had been so diverse with traditions, cultural differences, costume and even dialects depending on the area. There were more old houses than I expected, all huddled together at the extreme end of the village next to the river. The alleyways between the ruins filled with weeds and rubble, a mule observed me from a stable that had no doubt once been inhabited by a family.

In the past it was recorded  that not only were the people here were so restricted that they could not make bread but also they built with no chimneys, letting the smoke from cooking fires escape where it could through the rafters and roof of slate slabs. I saw that none of the old houses had chimneys or even windows, just one primitive wooden door. A vision from the past appeared,  a woman sitting at her door with smoke billowing through her roof, she might have been 80 and probably remembers the time before roads, electricity and piped water when the only food was foraged in the woods or from tiny patches of cultivation by the river which were regularly ruined and flooded every winter, when the village was just this collection of old houses with no modern conveniences at all. 

She sat there quietly with memories of a life lived through amazing changes, it was as recent as  her parents generation that the bizarre and mysterious life of the people here inspired real horror stories of disease, incest, mental and physical afflictions and incredible superstitions..... See this post  

P.S. Found the honey, bought 500 g of the most wonderful tasting honey for €7.00, no label but straight from the bee keeper.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Staying at Cascais: a week by the sea and hiking in the woods of Sintra

It only takes 3 1/2 hours to reach the Portuguese coast at Cascais, Lucy and I hit the road, an easy drive to visit my sister, a long awaited re-union of sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers and daughters, remembering our mothers and grandmothers, all the family but especially the girls! ..... a familia!

The weather was really beautiful for fab walks with Vicky, Kate and Lucy along the cliffs and beaches further north of Cascais, Guincho, Adraga, Magoito and Azenhas de Mar.

A little stroll through Cascais


A day out in the fabled woods of Sintra. Highlight was a steep climb up to the Moorish castle ruins which dominate the skyline above the town with fabulous views of the Atlantic coast and to Palacio de Pena on another crag. Great views of the Royal Palacio and many eccentric 19th century houses.

Sintra was the inspiration for part of Byron's ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, about a young nobleman on the Grand Tour of Europe, in the poem it is spelled "Cintra" an antiquated spelling.

He was staying at Lawrence’s Inn, a popular hotel still open to guests today. At that time it was frequented by British visitors, many of them like Byron on a Grand Tour of Europe. It was run by Mrs Dyson who was pleased to settle her titled guest into his first-floor bedroom. Declaring his immediate admiration of the sweeping views across the hilltops and the valleys, Byron declared:

Oh Christ! It is a goodly sight to see.
What heaven hath done for this delicious land!

Captivated by an idealized natural world that could only be appreciated by men of sensibility, Childe Harold is a true romantic, awe-struck to find he has unlocked “Elysium’s gates”.

The Moorish castle had fallen into total ruin over the centuries until King Consort Ferdinand II restored the extensive outer walls and towers to serve as a romantic view from his amazing building project, Palacio de Pena started in 1838.  Originally the site of the palacio was a humble chapel where King Manuel I was said to have seen the fleet of Vasco de Gama returning  from the historical voyage of 1499 discovering the sea route to India, the spice route, thus making Portugal a rich and powerful country in the 16th century, to commemorate the event he built a monastery on the crag which fell into ruin until Ferdinand II chose the magical site for his new palacio and extensive exotic gardens. It is said that King Ludwig II of Bavaria based his castle Neuschwanstein on Pena copying the bizarre melange of styles, it is quite possible as the Ludwig and Ferdinand were related through the Saxe-Coberg and Gotha dynasty. 
Moorish, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque but also many alchemistic symbols as Ferdinand was a grand master of the Rosicrucian order.
Ferdinand and his second wife, a Swiss opera singer, welcomed many artists to their unusual home, among them composer Richard Strauss, who called it “the castle of the Holy Grail.”

Down in the charming town of Sintra the Royal Palace dominates the town, a delight to see it without too many tourists. 

The palace was shaped and influenced by the different artistic trends prevailing in each period from the 11th century under Moorish rule until the last Royal family of Portugal at the beginning of the 20th century. Gothic and Manueline architecture are particularly evident, also a very heavy emphasis on the Mudejar style – a symbiosis between Christian and Muslim art, all creating a magical atmosphere. 

I love the hidden corners in the gardens and patios; an old washing tank with relieves of a black servant scrubbing the laundry and another servant chatting, a fantastic lion sculpture above a pool and yet another pool at the café.

Finally the difficult decision of ordering coffee and which cakes at a wonderful pasteleria.

See this link for detailed history of the Moorish castle, Palacio de Pena and many other fabulous sites in Sintra and nearby

Altogether a super break, total contrast to our tranquil life at the finca. 


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