We have taken a house in Briantspuddle near Dorchester for a week for a family reunion. The house on The Green in Mistley is too small for ten of us so for all of us to be together this arrangement was thought best. And so it has proved. It’s the first time the Canadian and the English families have been together for a long time and how delightful it is to have them all round us in this beautiful part of the world.
Tony and I came down last week (14 July) the night before we were all due to converge here at Cornerstone Cottage, so that we could do a gigantic shop and get into the house to set things up the following day. This entailed an unexpected visit to of all places, Poundbury, Prince Charles’ venture into town planning just outside Dorchester; a somewhat Disneyesque sort of Georgian theme park,
where we put up at the Duchess of Cornwall Hotel. Neither of us are quite sure what to make of it. The project is not complete nor has there been time for any sort of patina of age or character yet to develop but Legoland did spring to mind. It was comfortable and served its purpose as across the square was a Waitrose (of course) where we filled a few trolleys with supplies in the morning.
The “heat dome” is upon us. Soaring temperatures that may not impress friends in South Africa, Australia or North America but in the low 40Cs are exceptional here. Fortunately we are a short distance from the pebbly and sandy beaches of the Jurassic Coast at Swanage and Lulworth, where a lot of time has been spent in the cool water.
I haven’t been here since 1986 when I came down to do a few scenes in the BBC’s TV movie THE HAPPY VALLEY, for Ross Devenish who was directing. The budget did not include exotic Kenyan locations and Swanage was used for the Kenyan coast.
The stay there afforded a visit to Corfe Castle which we introduced to the grandchildren yesterday; impressive place and the village is beautiful. We went to Worth Matravers for pasties and cider at The Square & Compass, a 17th century pub famed for its music nights and a jump off point for the walk to Dancing Ledge which we set out for after lunch.
I’m afraid I never made it in the heat though it
was only half an hour away, and Tony and I turned back and waited in the shade for the young to discover the ledge and clamber down to the water. Oh dear……age thou art shamed!
Durdle Door is another beautiful part of this coast just along from Lulworth Cove; another fairly steep haul down from the carpark but with the prize of Man o’ War Beach and its clear cool waters making it worth the climb. By now temperatures have dropped and a cool sea mist billowing in has changed the recent scorching weather.
One of the grandchildren, Jabe, is not with us. He’s driven to Portugal with his team and set up in a villa in Foz do Arelho about an hour north of Lisbon, for a month, and we are driving there to join him for a week via the Portsmouth and Bilbao ferry.
Today we say goodbye to our Canadians. They’re off to a wedding in a field near Exeter and we are driving via Allum Green in the New Forest for lunch with friend Jane B and then on to Portsmouth for our sailing to Bilbao.
But first of all a quick visit to Clouds Hill the isolated brick and tile cottage once the peaceful retreat of T. E. Lawrence.
That was then; this is now, today, Friday the 5th August and we are in San Sebastian on our way north from Portugal and home via The Netherlands.
The Brittany Ferries Salamanca brought us to Bilbao. Hull No. W0269, built in the China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai) Co. Ltd., and launched in 2021. Do they make everything, I wonder?
It didn’t feel new and it was chokka with screaming children on the first day of holidays after a pandemically long break. Interestingly the 7pm sailing from Portsmouth takes two nights to Bilbao so the effect was a rather noisy, mini-cruise. Unlike the afternoon sailings from Plymouth or Portsmouth which take eighteen hours over one night.
Pictures from Dover made us feel lucky until we realised that it is only the idiocy of Brexit that causes the queues, insisting on the perusal and stamping, by our Foreign Office, of every single passport, and in Spain exactly the same procedures delayed us in Bilbao where once upon a lovely time we were waved through.
Don’t start me going. I feel Rantz-in-my-Pantz itching! And soon we will be Trussed up by more idiocy in the form of Lizzy and her Looney-Toon plans.
But Bilbao thank heavens was a far cry from all that undignified clowning as we finally set off through the glorious Picos up to the searing heat of the Spanish plateau heading down past Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca, across the border into Portugal for our first stop in Viseu where we put up in a rather grand Pousada, converted from an 18th century hospital, now an hotel.
Pousada’s are the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradores which we have always found excellent in every respect. The difference between the two is that the Spanish Government are the ultimate owners of the Paradores while in Portugal the Pestana Group own the 44 historic conversions across the country along with their other, modern hotels.
It was 41°C there.
So, straight into the swimming pool we went, then lying exhausted in the shade, finally retreating to the air-conditioned sanctuary of our room.
Friends, they are not exaggerating. The heat is terrible and as we have driven across Portugal we have seen the tragic evidence of vast swathes of countryside reduced to cinders.
Be that as it may the drive down to join the family in Foz do Arelho was beautiful as we descended from the plateau down to the coast where temperatures plunged to a manageable 24°C and some cloud cover.
The Lagoon mouth at Foz do Arehlo
What a lovely week. Grandson Jabe has taken a villa – very modern and wheel chair friendly – for a month. There are plenty of rooms with views across the lagoon, a large garden and a pool. He’s fitted friends and family into weekly slots, meticulously worked out and very welcoming.
From here apart from relaxing we have explored the surroundings with visits to the market in Caldas da Rainha, where there was an excellent little museum in the Parque Dom Carlos I, the Museu Jose Malhoa, containing a fascinating mix of sculptures and paintings in a beautiful building on the lake.
Another excursion took us down to Cascais also a beautiful place though our main purpose there was to visit the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, purpose built to house part of her oeuvre and works by Eduardo Souto de Moura.
Much argument ensued among grandchildren about the paintings – too childish, primitive; nursery school daubs and the room dedicated to her protest against the cruelty of female genital mutilation appalled them. I don’t think they were hanging her best works, more probably her most controversial ones. Personally I prefer her more painterly, accessible pieces.
We managed, some of us, to get onto one of the small, coved beaches but the water here is no less cold than anywhere else along this Atlantic coast, the searing heat offsetting the shock entry!
Casa das Histórias Paula Rego
Back via Sintra to Foz do Arelho where the lagoon is calmer and warmer, a sand bar at the entrance protecting it from the crashing, dark blue coldness of the Atlantic.
São Martinho do Porto is another nearby attraction. Here there is an almost completely closed, large bay edged with sand dunes. It is all thoughtfully laid out with board walks extending almost the whole way round.
Óbidos was nearby too. A fine example of a walled town dating from the 13th Century though occupancy there dates back to the Romans and beyond. It’s one of the best sites in the Lisbon area to visit. From the high towers there are spectacular views all around.
Time to leave and head north.
Next stop Porto – after a night in the Pousada da Ria Aviero on the way. Built in the 60’s on stilts above the water on the Torreira Peninsula facing east across the lagoon, we couldn’t get closer if we tried. Sitting enjoying preprandial G’s & T’s, we watched for nearly an hour as shoals of Whitebait jumped in and out of the water – presumable evading other, bigger fish in the pond.
There is a small car ferry that connects the peninsula with the town of Aviero across the mouth of the lagoon. We decided to lunch there on our way north to Porto and were delighted by this Portuguese Venice with its canals, colourful houses and boats.
Now – Porto.
Three nights there at the eccentrically pretentious, over-designed and aptly named Torel Avantgarde Hotel on the Rua da Restauração. Facing south across the Douro with spectacular views and well situated for the old town, this hotel amused us with its contrasting pretensions but excellent service. We felt rather out of place – mutton dressed as lamb almost – as beautiful, rich, thirty-somethings, robe et bagages à la mode, filled the pool deck and the bar areas. No-one there had a Sainsbury’s shopping bag filled with Cotton-trader T-shirts and shorts!The entire hotel was painted in Farrow and Ball Vardo. A beautiful colour but in our completely under-lit room, rendering us blind, unable easily to read our books and requiring us to feel our way to the loo and using iPhone torches to find things – especially in the mini-safe – not practical in any way.
View from the deck of the Torel Avantgarde Hotel. But we loved it. It was so very over-the-top!
Porto is beautiful.
The obligatory (at our creakier age) Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour oriented us well neither having been here before. Though why I can’t imagine. It satisfies in every way. I mean the city not the hop-on-hop-off, though both did well.
Livraria Lello – The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World
The Douro and its steep sided banks dominates the town. Spectacular bridges span the canyon, for trams, pedestrians, cars and all. Funicular railways and cable cars help keep heart failure at bay. These days we make sure we always start at the top of everything, moving ever downward in our quest to ease over-heated, arthritic and, in my case, over-weight bodies. This strategy is vital in Porto, largely pedestrianised and very steep: like Madeira, Lisbon, San Francisco or, even Tamboerskloof!
There is so much here. Where to start? The food? Never a failed meal the entire time in Portugal. Lots of fish and seafood; probably our best evening was O Fado a restaurant serving traditional dishes with the added cachet of Fado performed beautifully by three musicians and two singers. The Portuguese guitar is one of my favourite instruments and always succeeds in making my hair stand up and a tear gather in the eye. Never understand a single word but it sounds so glorious!
Then there is the architecture, the river, the history; the brilliant Palácio da Bolsa, the old Chamber of Commerce Building and Stock Exchange built over 60 years completed only in 1910 though it functioned from 1850. The decorative detail is astonishing particularly in the so called Arab Room.
< View from the Palácio da Bolsa
The Stock Exchange floor
It took a while to get in so we sat outside the old Mercado Ferreira Borges with some beer and toasties. The city we were told is bursting at the seams. That we managed to get a room is a miracle; queues everywhere; reserve to eat out or stay with kerbside kitchens.
“My dear………the people!“
Mercado Ferreira Borges
Rather quaintly there are still two of the originally old tramlines running, numbers 1 and 18, which we used a few times as part of our heart attack strategy though it was nice to see that they are not only tourist attractions and used by locals too.
Below the Palácio da Bolsa is the old Gothic church of Saint Francis with baroque interiors, saved when the attached monastery was burned down in one or other civil war.
We decided before we set out to return to Mistley across Spain, through France and up to The Netherlands, to Otterloo, for the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Park De Hoge Veluwe and thence to Hoek for the ferry. Quite a drive, starting with the Douro River Valley to Zamora, a beautiful landscape despite the dry heat, the river edged with steep vineyards and quaint towns. We’ve toyed with cruising this but think that the road trip is better and a fraction of the price! Besides which you can get further up the river by car than by boat.
Palacio de los Condes de Alba y Aliste now a Parador
Zamora is on the Douro just inside the Spanish border. We are back to scorching heat, discouraging much exploration, while the pool in the garden of the Parador De Zamora beckoned – once the Palacio de los Condes de Alba y Aliste built in the 15th century on the site of an old Roman citadel.
Northward the next day to San Sebastian for two nights at the perfectly placed Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, slap bang on La Concha and a few hundred metres from the Old Town. When we were here last year for Tony’s 70th birthday and the Festival screening of Terence Davies’ Benediction, we so loved this city that we wanted to come back.
Friend Helen B was here in May and alerted us to the fabulous San Telmo Museum which we somehow missed last year. The permanent collection there is housed in the cloisters and church and emphasise Basque history. But it is the monumental Eleven Scenes of San Telmo in the Sert Canvases that grab most of the attention. Simply astonishing and very moving, they rather drowned out the special exhibition of the sculptures of Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida placed in the modern annexe of this wonderful place.
The San Telmo Museum
Ever northward. Cap Ferret next.
Thank you friends Laura T. and Sherri & David S-Mc for the heads up here! Two nights among the Pines that cover the dunes of this peninsula best explored by bike.
It’s very flat so we thought this a good place to revisit long lost skills, neither of us having straddled the seat of a bicycle since we visited Key West 30 years ago!
Similar terrain so we thought it a safe bet. So ashamed at our total ineptitude that we clumsily mounted the bikes out of sight of the hotel to wobble our way to La Maison du
Bassin where we were able to book a table for dinner – our dearest wish being to sample the famous huîtres, oysters or hooters of Arcachon Bay – before wobbling to the Plage de l’Horizon, Tony falling off at one point, nearly breaking a toe. The peninsula closes Arcachon off from the Atlantic and it is here in this bay that the famous oysters are found. We had a lot of them: all different, all sizes and all delicious.
Plage de l’Horizon
And we discovered, just round the corner from La Maison du Bassin, right on the beach, Chai Bertrand whose purpose is only to feed you oysters and shellfish.
Just for a night. A good thing too since our room at Le Grand Hôtel de Tours, next to the handsome railway station, was on the fifth floor, a garret, albeit well appointed but so hot as to be virtually uninhabitable as the management had neglected to switch on the aircon. We retreated forthwith and let the machine do its best, only returning at the end of the evening by which time things had improved.
Tours is another lovely town. I love the bombast of 19th century French architecture. So extravagant. We explored the old town, G’s & T’s in the Place Plumereau, a superb dinner at the Restaurant La Deuvalière on the, under the circumstances, aptly named Rue de la Monnaie and experienced shock at the level of the Loire which to all intents and purposes seemed to have ceased flowing.
The Town Hall & Railway Station in Tours
Ever northward the next morning via the dreaded Paris Périphérique where we almost succeeded in getting ourselves wiped out when we got stuck on a traffic island, to Ghent. Why is that everything has to go through Paris? The SatNav makes out that this will always be the fastest route yet it never is. The traffic was terrible and the slip road onto the A1 was closed without warning. The Peripherique lived up to its name as we went round in circles in increasing danger of a coronary!
But we finally arrived in Ghent, another beautiful city reminiscent of Bruges, with its canals, stopping at the Monasterium PoortAckere a few hundred metres from the historic centre: “Unfussy rooms in a humble hotel set in a former 13th-century monastery with meeting space”. Very peaceful.
A short two hour drive to our next, and penultimate stop, before the ferry at Hoek was in Otterloo where we met friend Maudje B-B for the express purpose of visiting the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Park De Hoge Veluwe.
This is without doubt one of the finest museums we have seen. It contains among many other things, the second largest collection of van Goch’s works in the world. It is set in this extensive national park and, horror-of-horrors, you are encouraged to traverse the park by bike, the museum itself being in the centre, hidden among the trees.
Maudje came from Amsterdam to stay the night and meet us for this event. Our hotel was literally a few hundred metres from the entrance where after we’d checked out, we parked up and ventured forth to the free bicycle park. They are traditional Dutch bikes, no gears and back pedal brakes. This time it was me who crashed, twice, despite the absence of other traffic of any kind. Grazed, bloody knees and feeling like a complete moron, I did manage to finish the circuit, visit the hunting lodge and finally arrive at the actual museum in vaguely one piece!
It was worth it. What a treat. We recommend it, friends, bikes and all. Put it on your list.
Just a ninety minute drive to Hoek from Otterloo.
For the night ferry to Harwich.
And home to Mistley in the morning.
30 days and 2,950 miles (4,747 kilometres sounds better!)
To-day is the 19th August and we have been home exactly a week.
Thanks friends all.
At no extra cost here are some added extras: