Twelve months ago, on this day, MrB and I headed north into Alentejo for a short break. We had uhm’d and erred for ages over exactly where to go, but our shared desire to get to know the south east corner of Portugal’s largest region a little bit better won through. It is an area we had visited frequently over the years, but this would be our longest stay.
Little did I know then that a traumatic event just three weeks later would mean it would take me twelve months to share this adventure. Instead at the time I had to share it within a few weeks, had also expected that twelve months later we would be returning for a longer stay of a month or more. We loved the house, which apparently was once a pharmacy and also the village it is located in.
The name of the village is Alcaria Ruiva, located about half way between Castro Verde and Mértola. It shares the same name as the very large hill – Serra de Alcaria Ruiva. The hill is 370 metres above sea level, and 168 metres above the surrounding land, so it really dominates the landscape. It has a dense, typically Mediterranean vegetation cover and from here you will regularly see eagles, vultures and kites. We even saw a mongoose. All being well I’ll tell you more about the birding and the mongoose another day, today though I only have the energy and strength to share a few shots of the village and MrB, and to tell you a little bit about this place.
Within minutes of our arrival, and whilst I was still having fun exploring and unpacking inside, MrB was ensconced outside listening to the birds and the sound of the sheep bells. He looked so relaxed, and even more so when I appeared with two glasses and a bottle of wine. This was a place to sit, to relax and to watch the world pass by. Not that much passes by here.
Those are sheep bells you can hear, our closest neighbours. They look as bemused as we did when we spotted the cycle path (watch the video again!).
At its peak mid way in the last century the parish of Alcaria Ruiva had more than 3300 residents but there now less than 700 residents, of which only 91 live in the village itself. The primary school next door to our house has long been closed, and nearly everyone we saw was over the age of 40. A visible sign of the impact of agricultural methods becoming mechanised. However despite the depopulation this tiny very friendly village still has multiple great cafes. Probably because the parish council offices are based here. So if you also stay for a short break you will have plenty of choice, and of course Castro Verde and Mertola are only a 20 minute drive away. If you are like us though you’ll probably just want to chill out and enjoy what is available on your doorstep.
There are also public baths and toilets in Alcaria Ruiva, and as you will have spotted in the slideshow even a manual laundrette. Many of the houses don’t have space for a bathroom which is why the public facilities are still in use and available 24 hours a day. The village is therefore a great stopover if you are in a campervan. Just be aware though the surrounding land is owned by large hunting estates, and is completely unsuitable for overnight wild camping. Nor is it easy for walking, we discovered even unpaved roads can be suddenly closed off with temporary fences. We presumed because the breeding season was beginning, but we don’t really know.
Despite its proximity we never actually made it to the top of Serra de Alcaria Ruiva as none of the footpaths from the village seemed to get you there, well not without clambering a fence or two. However it didn’t matter as the views from the village are fabulous enough. MrB loved these Alentejo plains.
Our plan if we had returned was to have long chats with locals in the cafes and work out which paths were okay to explore. There is fantastic birding here, and we were confident a couple of people on foot sticking to paths across the plains wouldn’t disturb the wildlife too much. Sadly that plan won’t happen now. I do though hope to return with family and/or friends one day as it is a lovely place, and I’d like to explore Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana which is almost adjacent.
Now the next couple of photographs weren’t taken on this day twelve months ago but the following day when the sandstorm began to arrive. I had to include them as they show you our cottage from close up and afar. If you are thinking these skies look unsettled, they are nothing to what happened two days later when the skies turned yellow.
By the way I have decided that I will continue to pay the fees and keep this website going for at least another year. Not sure how often I will post, but given the number of photographs I took in our final month together last year there will be a couple more posts when I have the strength to look through the photographs and then find the energy to write. I also hope to return to Portugal. Unlikely to be this year, but hopefully in 2024.