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Portugal's beauty has inspired a lovely lady who shares from her heart some verses, celebrating the Portuguese experience.

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Guadiana River

For an extraordinary experience, take a drive up the Guadiana River from the eastern edge of the Algarve heading north. You will enjoy Portugal like it was, going back in time. This is a journey that reacquaints you with nature, from the warmth of the Portuguese terrain to the charm of the Portuguese people living in this region. Very few visitors take this route as there is no 5-star glamour. As a visitor, you become somewhat of an unusual attraction as you roam the villages on this romantic voyage up the Guadiana River. You will create a memory that is irreplaceable on this your Portuguese escape.

The Guadiana River forms a natural frontier between where Portugal meets Spain. Plan this as a full day trip from Lagos, heading out in the early am and arriving back late.

As you exit the A22 at Castro Marim/Mértola, just prior to the Spanish Border, resist the urge to drive to Castro Marim, and instead head north instead on the N122 towards Mértola. You now begin your the climb through windy roads leading you through rolling hills and mountains, past the Barragem (Dam) Odeleite and the picturesque orchards.

Take note of these highlights and our favourites, along the way!

Alcotim Town, Portugal

Alcotim - 1 hour stop: Exit the N122 enroute to Mértola at Alcotim via the N122-1. Look for the signs to this tiny town nestled in the foothills directly on the Guadiana River. It is quite impressive to walk along the riverfront and to gaze over at Spain, where a river and a language separates these two great nations. This is a good spot to stop in for breakfast an a local coffee shop, where you will be introduced to an unbelievably relaxed side of Portugal. Don't be in too much of a hurry for breakfast. The coffee shop owner stopped to greet the many patrons who stopped in for a coffee on the way to work. This slowed down his meticulous effort to prepare the tastiest "tosta mistas" (toasted ham and cheese sandwiches). An hour later we were resumed our drive north.

From Alcotim, you can head back on the same route to connect you with the N122 to Mértola. We instead chose an alternate route, crossing a bridge as Alcoutim and we continued up a tiny road heading north (or left), unsure of where this road was heading. This scenic drive took us for loops around the mountains and eventually connected us up with the N122 to Mértola, well worth the detour. We passed some very unusual spiny evergreens along the way growing in dessert like conditions. If you elected to take this alternate route, pull over after crossing the bridge out of Alcotim and look back for some spectecular views of the town nestled in the mountains with the Guadiana river in the distance.

Entering the Alentejo

Crossing the bridge over the Ribera (river) do Vascão marks the end of the Algarve province and the entrance to the Alentejo province. Just after crossing the bridge, pull over at the gigantic sign welcoming you to the Alentejo. Walk back over the bridge (mind the cars) and stop in the middle for a picturesque moment. Gaze down the the windy river that carves a crisp divider between the hills and mountains ahead. In July we were fortunate to see our first glimpse of fowering Eucalyptus trees with their most unusual delicate cotton ball like flowers.

Mértola, Portugal

Mértola 2 hour stop: It was 38 degrees Celsius as we reached Mértola with its picturesque castle which crowns this mountainous town surrounded by steep hilly inclines. The road into Mértola takes you across a very old and impressive aqueduct which crosses a large ravine and up the mountainside into the town. Above the aquaduct you are suddenly startled by the ominous castle looming ahead. I can imagine that it would have felt incredibly threatening as an enemy approaching Mértola, in ancient times.

Mértola is a great town to roam around as you make your way up and down the hillside roads. Residents take pride in maintaining their picture perfect homes. On this hot July day, the entire town was decorated with ribbons and flowers for their summer festivals. The long walk up the hill takes you past the white clock tower overlooking the Guadiana River, to the old church and finally to the castle. This lengthy walk, rewards you with some of the most scenic views of the countryside and the Guadiana River. At the top, we found an interesting mausoleum and an archeological site.

Tip: There is a clean washroom on the road up to the castle, so take advantage of it!!

Countryside along the way: Route all along the Guadiana River heading north is so picturesque. Roads are lined with eucalyptus trees and cactus trees which in July were bearing their cactus fruit. Also an abundance of pine tree grace the countryside. We noticed new plantations of pine saplings, aimed at building re-growth in areas damaged by forest fires.

Serpa Region, Portugal

Serpa Region: As you enter the region of Serpa, notice the cork trees throughout the rolling hills. Many of these cork trees are 10-20 years old with thick trunks and unusual shapes and knots. Cork trees that have been recently harvested have a fresh bright terracotta bark showing. As the period of time since the last cork harvest increases the colour of the remaining bark moves to a darker brown.

Stopped at a gas station between Mértola and Serpa. This stop is a must as gas stations are limited on this route. Feel free to take advantage of the bathroom also.

At this point roads deteriorate, big time. They are in major disrepair with endless bumps and potholes. This does not really affect the drive other than it forces your to drive much slower, for fear of damaging your rental car.

Serpa Town, Portugal

Serpa Town: It is a little tricky to navigate around this ancient walled town, but worth every effort for this rewarding experience. As you enter Serpa, follow the signs for "Centro Historicos" and "Centro". This road will take you through some very very tight and narrow windy streets which will have you wondering where you will make it without leaving some car paint on the walls as you squeeze by. A small car will barely fit, but it "will" fit. You may have challenges with a larger vehicle, so be careful. You will even see cars parked on these spiny roads and there lies the challenge to squeeze by them. You then come upon an impressive arch in the town wall. Drive through the arch which takes you just outside the town wall and park along the wider streets here. We had no problems finding a spot.

Walk back through the arch in the town wall into the old town and follow the signs for Rua São Paulo, past the São Paulo hospital on your left to a plaza "Largo de São Paulo directly in front. Now, take note of a tiny little restaurant just ahead by another arch in the wall. This Restaurant do Forno is a "must" for lunch, for a traditional meal of the region. We ordered the special of the day which was "feijoida", a decadent stew consisting of a bean base with plenty of pork. The flavours of the meat permeate the beans offering your one of the tastiest meals of your holiday. The Feijoida was served in a very large terracotta bowl, providing more than a meal for the two of us. This meal along with the cover (bread, olives) and three bottles of water came to a total of 10.50€. The staff were warm and friendly and the restaurant sported a rustic decor, giving the feeling of being in a hunting lodge in an old Portuguese world era. This was one of the best Portuguese meals we have enjoyed.

To digest this decadent meal, take a walk back in time, through the narrow streets of this old town, shielded by the arched fortress. You can really start to imagine what life was like, and can observe how the current residents really to live a very unique and different life from those of us from the big bustling cities.

Serpa to Beja - Heading back to Lagos: As you leave Serpa, the landscape is suddenly adorned with seemingly endless orchards of olive trees. It is interesting to note that the restaurant in Serpa had very fresh and delicious olives. An exciting surprise was coming across fields upon fields of sunflower plantations. We stopped the car and climbed the bank to the level of the farmers field to take a closer look. To our amazement we saw nature in motion. The sunflowers were not standing upright, but twisted to face the location of the sun. We then passed rows of corn fields, the first sighting of corn for us during our Portuguese travels. The road from Serpa to Beja crosses the Guadiana River for yet another spectacular view.

Tips: Take note of the several tips below, as this excursion takes you back in time.

1) Start this journey with a full tank of gas, as gas stations are limited in this area.

2) It is not easy to find washrooms on this route so plan your water consumption accordingly. If you stop in a coffee shop for a snack or a drink take advantage of the rare washroom opportunity.

3) The interior of Portugal can be extremely hot in the summer months with little breeze, so bring lots of water, sunscreen, a hat and good walking shoes to navigate through the hilly towns. Plan on lots of breaks for a cold drink.

4) Banking machines are limited on this route and in towns that have them, the withdrawal limits are lower than the big cities. Visa is not widely accepted in these little towns, so plan accordingly. I was disappointed when I could not purchase some lovely unique earrings at a jewelry store in Mértola because of the unusually low limit at the local banking machine and the store vendor's debit machine was not working.

5) You can take a boat excursion up the Guadiana River from Monte Gordo, a little town on the Algarve coast close to the mouth of the Guadiana River. We have not tried this as we prefer to venture through the countryside and into the little remote towns nestled in the hills.

: From Lagos, drive east on the A22 4-lane motorway, until you near the Spanish border. Exit the A22 at Castro Marim (before the Spanish border) and head north towards on the N122 towards Mértola. Stop along the way at Alcotim, Mértola and Serpa. Return to Lagos from Serpa via Beja (N260) and Ourique (IP2). Just before Ourique exit onto the A2 South. Take the A2 South to the A22 (Algarve east west highway). Head west back towards Lagos.

Driving time from Lagos to Mértola exit: 1 hours-30 min.
Driving time from Mértola exit to Serpa with stops: 5 hours
Driving time from Serpa to Lagos: 2 hours-30 min.

: Parking is a unique adventure in each little town and we have had no problems securing a parking spot.

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