I was up before our wake-up call to shower and pack so that the porters could take our suitcases down to the coach while we ate breakfast. I always set my alarm for before the wake up call because I hate being jarred out of sleep by the blaring phone noise or mom’s travel clock. We leave by 8, for a drive through acres and acres of fields, some cultivated with olives, cork trees or umbrella pines (for pine nuts). Some had no trees, and as s result, the bushes had taken over and had grown nearly tree-sized oregano, rosemary and Bay bushes.
Our first stop was in Setúbal which is on the other side of the Arrábida Mountains at the mouth of the Sado River which is one of only two places in the world (the other estuary being the Shannon) where grey dolphins live. We did not see any dolphins, but it was really pretty driving down into the city. It was foggy in the mountains so we could not see down into the valley; it was like driving next to a sea of cloud. (João had to honk now and then to scare foxes off the road – or to warn oncoming traffic that he was coming since the roads were so narrow and twisty.)
In Setúbal we went to the market, where local farmers and fishermen sell their wares. I took so many pictures inside, but so many feature the backs of my tour family’s heads so I can only share one here. (The only thing I didn’t take a photo of was the meat section where the rabbits still had their eyes in…) However I will note that the inside of this market is tiled in the iconic blue and white painted tile or Portuguese buildings. So pretty. It was apparent that this little city owed its existence to the port – and to the sardine, since there was fountain in the middle of the central park that featured three sardines.
Mom and I bought a pair of Fuji apples here that tasted like they had been picked from the tree the day before. Then we drove for a while more and then stopped at a rest stop where I bought something to drink and enjoyed the cool breeze.
One of the wonderful things about taking a Trafalgar tour is that they have these beautiful ‘Be my Guest’ meals. Today we had one at a place called Monte Negro, where they raise Lusitano horses which were used for war and now only for dressage and bullfighting. We were treated to a demonstration of the horses and to a home-style meal in the ranch house. It seems that the horses are essentially left to be horses until they are three years old, when their training starts. The mares are never broken and trained, just left to roam the 200 acres and produce foals. We were shown three yearlings who were still a bit skittish around people and just did laps around the ring. Then there was a three year old who had just started his training who knew he was being admired. He leaped and frolicked and rolled in the dirt for us. He was very nearly white with blue eyes, a shade they called Isabel. The last was a stud called Verse, and the woman who owned and ran the place rode him around the ring to show off his paces. His neck arched beautifully and he seemed to know he was on display.
The other horses were so fast, all my photos are a mere blur. The resident dog, a Portuguese Mastiff named Madrid, made friends with everyone who came in, even my mother who isn’t really a dog fan. He was quite lovely and probably would have been happy to lie under the table while we ate. Pedro is obviously a dog fan and he spoke about them at length on several occasions. Apparently president Obama has a Portuguese Water dog. I loved his enthusiasm.
Then we drove through some more beautiful countryside to our golf resort hotel in Vilamoura; the Pestana Vila Sol. I link it because it was a beautiful resort. The last time we were here, it was spring and we were lulled to sleep by the song of a thousand frogs. We had a little time to freshen up before we went to dinner in the Marina. We went to this little place that served the traditional Cataplana, which is a seafood stew. Mom and I recalled that it seemed to consist mainly of fish and shellfish still in the shell, so we opted for the sea bass option this time, which was in no way disappointing. It was sp perfectly done I could just lift out the spine and the bones. Afterwards was an almond dessert and an almond liqueur that was served with a tiny wedge of lemon. It was so refreshing that I wanted to finish it off, but it was also extraordinarily sweet. Afterwards, we were given an hour and a half to explore the Marina and surrounds, which was just coming alive with the night life.