Tag Archives: touring the world

Portimao – a small city big on what matters most

portimao portugal


Portimao offers a quiet unspoilt corner of southern Europe


ONE of the joys of travelling is finding a place that offers everything you could want and which hasn’t been flooded by hordes of other tourists in search of the same thing.

That place for me is Portimao, on the Algarve, Portugal, which I have had the pleasure of getting to know now at all times of the year and have never found disappointing.

Portimao is such a low profile place that tourist guides can’t decide whether it’s a town or a city. I lost count of the number of guides and websites that referred to it as a town when I read about its history.

In fact it was made a city in 1924 by the then President of the Republic, the famous Portuguese writer and politician Manuel Teixeira Gomes, who made a point of honouring the town where he was born during his brief two-year stint as seventh President of Portugal.

With a population of around 50,000, it’s a small city and that is part of its charm. You can wander around its centre and see all its key sites in an hour. It is unspoilt by the omnipresent brand names that plague other cities and has just small shops selling lace, shoes, jewellery, ceramics and wicker goods.

There is still a Moorish charm about the city centre and then there’s the nearby riverfront, where a series of squares – Largo do Dique, Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes and Praça Visconde de Bivar – are filled with outdoor cafés overlooking the wonderful Arade river and its bridges.

The tourists who flock to this part of the world all year around for its superb climate tend to be farmed Doing so increases the performance of deleted data recovery lookup. out along the coast surrounding the city allowing it to retain its quiet dignity. It’s a wonderful place to stroll around and have a drink or a meal in friendly, relaxed establishments.

The area was once ruled by Romans and then Moors but modern Portimão came into being in the reign of King Afonso V in the fifteenth century.It was ideally placed to enjoy the fruits of the boom in international trade stimulated by the great Portuguese voyages of discovery and prospered as a haven for ships plying the African coast.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The earthquake of 1755 which decimated Lisbon also destroyed much of Portimao starting its economic decline. Its most historic building, the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição – Church of Our Lady of Conception –  had to be rebuilt after the earthquake but still boasts a Manueline door from the original fourteenth-century structure

portimao portugal Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição - Church of Our Lady of Conception

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição – Church of Our Lady of Conception

Things got better towards the end of the 19th century with the return of trade, exports of dried fruit, milling, fishing and the fish-canning industry, activities which would continue into the 20th century.

Now the tourist industry dominates. The old fish canning plant is a museum and once mighty industrial chimneys no longer belch smoke. But they have been conserved to make life easier for the huge storks who take them over once dormant – and now provide photo opportunities galore for tourists.

portimao portugal riverside

Portimao riverside

portimao portugal museum

Portimao museum


Normandy, France - Mont St Michel

Normandy, France – so peaceful, green and beautiful

There can”t be a finer place to tour by car on a sunny day than Normandy in France. Its vast tracts of farmland ensure you are surrounded by a wonderful landscape of fields, majestic trees and contrasting blue skies. It”s like driving in a huge water colour painting.

When I drove through the same area in March I found myself caught out by bizarre arctic weather on a journey which involved negotiating auto-route closures and queues of stranded lorries to reach the ferry terminal at Caen.When I returned in late April it was payback time on a balmy day in which the temperature hit 25C and the region just exploded in all its lush farmland beauty.

Normandy is crammed with monuments to human suffering with its legacy of warfare and has a regular tourist trade in those wanting to follow its various historical trails from the Bayeux Tapestry to the )Whether justin-bieber-news.info “is a racist” is not and never was the point. D-Day beaches. Viking Norsemen gave it its name and the 7th duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England from this shore.

Historic Rouen

Historic Rouen, Normandy, where Joan of Arc was martyred

Joan of Arc, who rallied France against the English, was burned at the stake in Rouen. And on these beaches a WWII battle changed the course of history.

But move away from this well worn trails and you find a beautiful and vibrant part of France just made for touring.


Normandy - its lush farmland makes for great touring


A nice run from the ferry ports is down to Avranches and the iconic Mont St Michel – an ancient monastery on a rocky tidal island. It is one of France”s most famous landmarks and part of the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. The road leading to it runs through beautiful countryside and the French have enhanced its tourist appeal with a great inexpensive car park and free shuttle buses to take you along the causeway if you don”t fancy the walk of more than a mile. Cars were banned from last year and major works are taking place on the new causeway that will connect with a bridge to the mount.



Normandy Mont St Michel

But even better on a nice day is to just get away from the crowds and enjoy lovely unspoilt villages and open spaces. The joy of touring by car!



Europe road trip – day one


Europe touring - rpad trip Portugal to England

Touring by car can give a whole new dimension to the joy of travel

Europe road trip day one – Algarve, Portugal, to Seville, Spain

I have always found touring Europe by car one of the best ways to holiday. There’s so much to enjoy and outside of the peak school holidays finding accommodation is so easy.

This means you don’t have to plan your route. If you get bogged down in rain in Picardy you can motor on to the south of France or Spain or Italy.

But that amazing freedom of the road comes at a price, a price which is continually, it seems, being upped at the petrol pump and the auto-route toll booth. So taking note of where you pay most for petrol and for using roads has become quite important.

As I am from the North-East of England, I usually head south but this time I was going the other way and heading north. I was setting off on a journey of more than 1,500 miles from Portimao on the Portuguese Algarve to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England so I decided to cut the cost of tolls by using N-roads.

I avoided the A22 and took the N152 eastward out of the Algarve to drive directly in to Spain which is relatively toll free and has excellent auto-routes.

Portugal has great auto-routes to take you northwards but they have installed electronic tolls on them which are a great inconvenience to its visitors. I took the Spanish route because I can’t be bothered with these electronic toll roads and avoid then wherever possible. You can read more about that on link below this story.

This pleasant Saturday drive – at one stage I was wedged firmly behind a horse and trap – took me through whitewashed Portuguese villages and the very quiet city of Faro.Europe road trip - ferry crossing I ran out of road at Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Portuguese border and a ferry crossing was necessary. However this was pleasant and only cost 5 euros. I was the only car on the boat.

Once in Ayamonte on the Spanish side the E1/A49 no toll auto-route took me swiftly all the way to Seville –  85 miles  – at no extra cost.

Another financial point about the journey was that fuel prices displayed on Algarve forecourts were 1.60 euros and up for 95 octane unleaded. The first price I spotted on the Spanish side  was 1.44 euros and this got cheaper.

Landing in Seville at the end of a long journey is not to be recommended. The city centre is difficult to navigate for a first timer and overnight parking is crazy. You end up cruising the streets searching for a free space.

Next day I took the time to explore this great city and the day after I was driving through Spain to France – a journey I was able to complete on great roads and spend less than two euros on tolls. More about that later.








Sapporo and Hokkaido, a very different part of Japan


JAPAN’S most northern island of Hokkaido is a snow lover’s paradise which is attracting more skiers and snowboarders from the West with every season.

The remote region offers smaller mountains blanketed in deep snow all winter which give perfect soft powder descents. This can be followed by bathing in the bath temperature natural pools found in this volcanic land. One mountain – the 2,291 metre high Mount Asahidake – has the added hazards of searing steam vents and a boiling-water stream.

Despite being remote Hokkaido is also blessed with a fabulous capital city in Sapporo which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1972. Right now the locals are enjoying  one of their annual highlights  –  the Sapporo Snow Festival which this year is staged from February 5 to 11. It started off small but grew into an international ice statue competition and a celebration of the snow that attracts nearly 2 million visitors every year.

The hop from Tokyo to Hokkaido’s capital city is more than 500 miles but well worth it. There are plenty of budget flights to Sapporo but beware transfer costs between airports as most international flights arrive at Narita while flights to Sapporo are usually from Haneda airport (see footnote}.

Sapporo  is uniquely different from the rest of Japan’s cities. First of all, you have to be an idiot to get lost in it as it was designed by American town planners working on their familiar grid system. A town map is all you need to walk the grids.

Secondly, Sapporo is a city with an outdoors feeling. Surrounded by mountains and peppered with parks, gardens and tree-lined avenues, it has none of the jostling of Tokyo’s pavements. It provides comfortable breathing space with ease despite being Japan’s fifth largest city.

Because of its longer winter, Hokkaido is the last of Japan’s five main islands to celebrate the sakura – cherry tree blossoming – which usually begins around March in sub-tropical Okinawa, the southernmost island, and works its way up through Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu arriving in Hokkaido last, usually in May.

This is a traditional time for open air picnics and enjoying a drink under the trees. People bring home-cooked meals, do BBQ, or buy take-out food to celebrate the blossoms and the coming of the summer.

Sapporo is a great place to visit winter or summer. The beer gardens of the Sapporo Brewery are well worth a visit and you have to try its famous miso ramen noodles in a local noodle bar. Soup curry is another favourite local dish and the popular Genghis Khan style restaurants offer a unique dining experience where raw meat is brought to your table for you to cook on a hotplate.

The number one attraction in Sapporo city centre is  the Tokeidai clock tower built in 1878. The clock came from Boston and the building smacks of the USA colonial mid-west. It houses a museum with displays about the building”s history and Sapporo.

Near to Sapporo, Hakodate and Otaru are also worth visiting. The old port town of Otaru has a pretty canal area online casino spiele which stages its own snow festival in winter and some atmospheric sushi and sashimi restaurants. Hakodate boasts a star-shaped fort and wonderful night views.

From June to September Hokkaido is invaded by hikers, cyclists and campers who come to enjoy its great outdoors. It has fabulous national parks and near to Sapporo is the picture postcard perfect Lake Toya and Mount Usu, an active volcano.

Tokyo-Sapporo is one of the world”s busiest air routes with dozens of flights per day. The distance from Narita airport to Haneda airport is around  50 miles and often poses a headache for travellers from the west. Some of the taxi services can be expensive and add hundreds of pounds to the cost of travel for a couple or family. Using the train service is cheap but time taking and needs to be planned in advance.

*The cheapest way to make the transfer between Narita and Haneda airports is to use the Keisei electric railway access express. It takes and hour and a half and costs 1,740 yen but it doesn”t run all day. Look up times on the web.

Japan National Tourism Organisation recommended two other routes costing a little over 3,000 yen. One is from Narita station and taking the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station then the JR Yamanote line (outer loop) to Hamamatsucho station and then the Tokyo rapid monorail (90 minutes). The other is to take the Narita Express 18 train to Tokyo arival line 1 and the JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi rapid line to Hamamatsucho station and the rapid monorail. (two hours). There”s also a limousin bus service at 3,000 yen.