This morning the clear skies and warm sunshine returned, much to our relief. After breakfast we tried one of the short walks around the hotel.
With Conway in the baby carrier on my front, and Sam carrying supplies on her back, we embarked on a little 2.4km trek in the morning sun.
The route took us out along the back road, around some winding corners, walking along the edge of a tarmac road, then off onto a dirt track. Every now and then a stray dog, or dogs, would shout at us, all but one seemed harmless, that one dog that scared us had an owner who quietened it, we had to walk straight past the howling mutt, and I was aware of Conway’s toes poking out the carrier. But it was just inquisitive, and loud.
The route continued, and we found ourselves besides fields of lime, orange, lemon and pomegranate trees. Every which way there were barren brown hills, earth and dirt rolling away down to the coast, the odd farmhouse and terracotta roof dotted amongst them. Conway quietly watched the world go by as we moved along, we just about broke a sweat, and then the route was finished and we were back.
We made the most of the sunshine then; swimming in the pool, playing in the jacuzzi, showing Conway all the bubbles, and we all napped together too.
With a sudden urge to get out and do things again, after two days of doing very little, we took the car out for the afternoon and drove East, towards the Spanish border.
We followed the A22 freeway and came off besides Altura – a lifeless tourist village with hotels and a nice beach. Conway was asleep in the car so we took turns to walk down to Praia de Altura and see the sea. We really aren’t beach people, and we’re happy to be staying somewhere characterised by culture rather than sand.
Our drive carried on, eastwards through Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Our research told us there was a large national park here, the “Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve”. We expected some obvious activities, some nature walks, some easy bird watching places. “We’re in the reserve now”, Sam tells me, still roads and towns all around us.
Driving north to Castro Marim, we entered the heart of the reserve – ancient salt pans, marshes in all directions, and buildings on the rocky fringes, but no way to get out and enjoy these things. Weirdly we expected trees too, maybe it was the green on the Google map, there were no trees, and there was no green.
At Castro Marim a modern yet empty visitor centre played a video for us. On the door a sign said “fechado”, but they were open – two guys sat watching television. They fired up the projectors and the 20 minute video showed us the town, the marshes and the heritage. But we didn’t find a bird hide or a nature trail. Clearly a government grant had been spent on all the wrong things.
Google and Lonely Planet said the reserve was closed on weekends, we’d stressed that we might miss out. It’s not closed, only this very avoidable visitor centre is shut. And there’s little to miss. As it turns out, there are birding opportunities, but you need a 4x4 to go off road on the tracks around the salt plans. Our little Fiat would only get stuck in the mud after yesterday’s rain.
Back in Tavira we waited for the restaurants to open at 7pm. On a bench near the car park Conway walked up and down, holding on tight, bouncing, he smiled at every passerby, he’s such an adorable little baby, and so sociable.
D’gusta was booked up, but tables outside were free. We reserved one with a high chair. We thought a screeching baby might have less effect on the restaurant ambiance out here, what we didn’t consider were all the cars going by – and their lights – which distracted Conway all night. With all the people, noise and lights he wasn’t happy sitting and eating.
The evening sky turned pink with twilight, and the crescent moon hung above us. The tapas was perfect; each dish tasted amazing, they came as they were ready, they came quickly and we could pick and choose while shuffling Conway between us. And despite Conway’s excitement, we had dessert too.
The goats cheese, honey and almond toast was divine. The beef was scrumptious. The gratin and tuna tartare were delicious. Baby even enjoyed a bit of the garlic marinated Algarve carrots.