Have we found the longest stretch of beach in Europe? From the Sado Estuary down to the smoke-stacks of Sines there’s not a harbour or break-water for about 65km (40miles). A glorious uninterrupted beach backed by dunes, forest and a lagoon or two for good measure. Of course there’s the odd village and café along the way, but it’s all very low key and bemusingly under developed. I’ve probably said this before, but why do so many parts of Portugal seem to be so overlooked and why hasn’t anyone told me about this place before?
After looking for dolphins for 3.5 minutes at the entrance to the Sado, we drove south stopping at various beach carparks to ogle at the glory of it all. Despite the underdeveloped nature of the rest of the Alentejo coast including virtually deserted villages that looked a bit Wild West, the carparks and boardwalks with little foot level spot lights seem all very organised and annoyingly have signs with dog silhouettes and a red line through them. Pretty obvious in any language. The signs seem to mark a “Blue Flag” zone which is in front of the usual beach café and umbrellas which we presume appear in Summer. Some beach carparks provide an obvious opening in the fence with a path that takes you away from the Blue Flag bit with the café. We interpret this as the path dog walkers and smelly fishermen should take.
Speaking of smelly fishermen, I should add at this point that like much of Portugal’s coast, this area is beautiful but blighted by rubbish. Some you can blame on passing ships, but much of the rest is obviously left by beach fishermen. Beer bottles and bait boxes are a common sight. Beaches are very tidy in front of towns, but outside the town council’s area, they quickly lose interest. Perhaps it’s all tidied up before the summer season, but it shouldn’t have to be done. Some of the Portuguese I’ve spoken to about the beauty of their country, seem to have a common response. “The Portuguese don’t appreciate how great their country is”. This is perhaps a common problem wherever you are in the world. Some of the rubbish I used to see in so-called posh Surrey made me wander if we’d slipped back to being a poverty-stricken developing nation.
After wild camping in a couple of carparks down the coast, we found the perfect place to settle down for a few nights. A rough dirt and sand track right behind the dunes at Largo de Santo André. Wild, but still within sight of the village cafés! We also had our new Dutch friends Ferri and Anna as near neighbours for company, the odd glass of wine and heroic tales of saving hapless Hymers from disappearing into the sand.
Did we get bogged? No, not this time. A French couple with a similar aged Hymer who came bobbing and bouncing down the track cleverly found some of the soft stuff and became bogged up to the chassis in a matter of seconds. It took me, Ferri and a bunch of Germans a couple of hours to dig them out. It turns out this French couple had done (and finished) the Paris – Dakar rally years ago. What?! Maybe it was lost in translation, but his eagerness to floor the throttle in soft sand made me wonder what his role was in the rally. I was able to prove my manliness by unveiling the fold-out shovel and no less than four anti-slip mats.
Rallies aside, this place sets a new standard. The sound of the Atlantic, the mind-blowing sunsets, the sight of diving Gannets and the lagoon with early morning mist and layers of Alentejo hills in the distance. For our northern European readers, here is an antidote to the big freeze…