Leaving Cáceres we took the road north towards Salamanca, and then turned west into Portugal to follow the River Douro to Porto.
The route was planned using searchforsites.co.uk, an excellent resource where motorhomers can add stopovers and post reviews and photos of sites – a bit like TripAdvisor. The places we picked were all off the beaten track, in towns and villages that we would never otherwise visit.
The scenery along the route was really varied. Starting in Extremadura the landscape was predominantly oak trees with not much livestock – but come the autumn the fields will be full of ibérico pigs being fattened up on the falling acorns. Unlike the Portuguese side of the border, the Spanish oak trees hadn’t had the tree bark cut away for cork. As we moved north into the mountains, the oak trees gave way to evergreen pine forests, with lovely yellow bushes and lavender brightening up the roadside. Descending towards the Portuguese border, we drove across flat plains with lots of contented looking cattle, chomping away on the pastures. Into Portugal, and the Douro valley, and the scenery changed again – vineyards and olive groves stepped into the steep sides of the valley. It was a magical drive. Here is a look at the places we stayed:
Parque Natural de Monfragüe
We stayed on a lovely campsite, with the best showers ever! The weather was lovely and sunny so I went for a bike ride along a Vía Verde, a 24 mile round trip. The track had recently been laid and was deserted, the only other humans I saw were a Dutch couple from the campsite.
The park is home to lots of birds of prey, and we could see quite a few raptors circling in the air high above us. The only birds we could really hear though were cuckoos, and they didn’t shut up!
The next day the weather turned, as was forecast. The skies were grey, though it stayed dry on our drive to La Alberca. We parked up on a free aire on the outskirts of the village, high on the top of a mountain with a handful of other motorhomes for company.
We knew nothing about the village so went for a walk to find out, not expecting much at all (given that the next village along is a ‘pueblo más bonito de España’), so we were pleasantly surprised to find a medieval village where time had stood still.
The route to Vilar Formoso, just over the border in Portugal, took us down the other side of the mountain and, with the steepness, and the number of hairpin bends, it felt as if I were driving down Alpe d’Huez, the famous Tour de France climb. There was low-lying dense cloud, so visibility was only 100m in places, but we took it carefully and made it safely to the bottom.
We parked up at Ciudad Rodrigo, the last big Spanish town before the border, and went to see the old town, another ‘pueblo más bonito de España’. It’s contained inside the medieval walls and, like Badajoz, fell to Napoleon, only to be stormed by General Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). Whilst it’s quite picturesque, it seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis, not sure whether it’s a tourist attraction or a working town.
Back in the van, we stopped to fill the tank with diesel as it’s much dearer in Portugal, then we drove the 15km over the border to the aire, which is owned by the shop over the road. We popped into the shop to pay the €8 site fee, and it was a real Aladdin’s cave selling all sorts. The lady offered us coffees but we’d not long had one, so she offered us a port instead. It would have been rude not to, and it was very good! We bought a random bottle of Douro tinto to have with our dinner. We then went for a walk, but the sky turned black, so we turned back sharpish before the heavens opened.
Freixo de Espada a Cinta
The next stop was around 50 miles north, first of all along the country lanes, and then up into the mountains where the views were so good that we had to stop the van a few times.
As we got close to Freixo de Espada á Cinta, we saw a roadside poster announcing that a medieval market was taking place that day and the following day. Our initial reaction of excitement turned to concern that the aire might be closed to make way for the market. Fortunately the aire was on the outskirts of town and empty, so we were relieved. Not only was the aire free, there were also no charges for electricity or water, which is very rare. With the medieval market taking place as well, we decided to stop there for two nights.
The town centre was about 15 minutes walk, and sure enough there was a medieval market taking place in the two main squares, with stalls selling food, drink and craft items. It was very well done, with the majority of people dressed up in medieval costumes, and there was music and dancing too. We went into town both days and enjoyed watching what was going on.
Torre de Moncorvo
A short drive took us to another free aire at Torre de Moncorvo, high up on the hillside overlooking the town. Whilst there was no electricity to hook up to the van, Carol was pleased to find that there was a socket in the nearby toilet for her hairdryer.
As it was a very hot day, we spent the day by the van reading, and made the walk down into town after an early dinner, once it had cooled down. It’s one of those picturesque towns with not much to do, so after a brief wander round, and a glass of wine outside one of the bars, we took the long walk up the steep hill back to the van.
Freixo de Numão
Freixo de Numão is an unremarkable rural village further along the River Douro. As it was nice and peaceful, and only €5 per night including electricity, so we stayed for two nights.
The owner invited us for an early evening aperitif to taste his port. We tried both the red and white port, but didn’t buy any as it was only available in 5 litre bottles, way too much even for me!
Peso de Régua
Our final stop before Porto was Peso de Régua, a town on the north bank of the River Douro. The aire overlooks the river, and is great value at €3 per night including services. There’s not much to see and do, but we enjoyed a couple of walks along the river.
Tomorrow, we shall drive to Porto, and we’ll be staying in the area until Monday as we’ve finally got our van booked in with a Knaus dealer to have the USB sockets and a few other bits and bobs sorted out.