Our Time at Vila Real.

Sunday 25th January 2015

Our first impressions of Vila Real were overall good ones and they were mostly of the town and the Marina area. The town was reconstructed after the infamous earthquake of 1755 which destroyed Lisbon and was rebuilt on a grid system with low-rise buildings, so it had a certain charm with its white walls and tiled pavements. It also had a good selection of shops including the usual store which sells everything you could possibly think of and lots of linen shops. I don’t know why there were so many linen shops but we did read that the town is popular with the Spanish who hop over the border for bargains. Portugal is still cheaper than Spain apparently. Oh, and for all you fellow motorhomers out there, it also has a Lidl within walking distance of the Aire!

There is a Marina just down from the Aire with a promenade running alongside which extends to the outer limits of the town. This area is very pleasant but walk outside of the town limits and it’s a different story.

The Marina just down the road from the Aire at Vila Real.

The Marina just down the road from the Aire at Vila Real.

Looking across the Marina towards the town.

Looking across the Marina towards the town.

The very pleasant promenade extending from the Marina to the edge of the town.

The very pleasant promenade extending from the Marina to the edge of the town.

Perhaps the shabby state of some of the buildings, in particular the Hotel Guadiana seen below, should have given us a clue about how this town was struggling.

The Hotel Guadiana now for sale, had seen better days.

The Hotel Guadiana now for sale, had seen better days.

On our second day here, we walked the length of the promenade which we had sort of got the impression would take us down to the beach but it didn’t! The promenade ended and we were confronted with a traffic island, straight on took us in the direction of the beach or so we thought and turning right took us….well who knew where!

In our wisdom, we went straight on and soon wished we hadn’t. The barking, chained dog should have given us a clue as most dogs in Portugal seem to be vey placid and laid back. We passed ramshackle buildings and what amounted to shanty-town like structures for want of a better word. There were remnants of the once thriving fishing port here but now only a shadow of its former self. We passed what looked like a club house for the fishermen’s association with some signs of life, there was music playing and men coming and going. But after that, things deteriorated. There was a shell of a building in which we could see what appeared to be squatters with obvious signs of habitation.

By this time we were feeling distinctly uncomfortable, so we did an about turn and in the words of Ross Kemp, ‘We decided to get the hell out of there!’. Needless to say, I didn’t get any photos, you will just have to use your imagination! As time went on and we became more familiar with the place, our initial fears were probably a little too strong. I think there is always a time of transition when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory and the only yardstick you have is experience of your own culture. If this had been a similar area in the UK, we wouldn’t have set foot in it, but here it is different, less threatening I think.

Anyway, in order to reach the beach you either had to walk or cycle down the road running parallel to the river. We walked there several times during our stay at Vila Real but it was always a bit too far to really enjoy it.

On our first visit it was a cool and windy day so I hadn’t taken my camera. I did have my phone however and took the shots below.

Stormy skies looking West along the beach at Vila Real.

Stormy skies looking West along the beach at Vila Real.

Dunes border the beach here.

Dunes border the beach here.

More stormy skies!

More stormy skies!

As you can see from the photos below, it did brighten up while we were at Vila Real, even warm enough for t-shirts!

We were always ready for a rest after the long walk to the beach but at least as the weather improved it felt as if we should actually be there!

We were always ready for a rest after the long walk to the beach but at least as the weather improved it felt as if we should actually be there!

The sunnier view West with the small resort of Monte Gordo in the distance!

The sunnier view West with the small resort of Monte Gordo in the distance!

So the question is, would we stop here again? Well yes, despite the obvious drawbacks, such as the distance to the beach, it does have a lot of pluses. It is good to have such a selection of shops so close by and is an ideal stop-off place while you get your bearings.

The only other negatives were that there were quite a lot of long-stayers here who were making the Aire look a bit like a gypsy encampment with washing pegged out in full view of the quayside, tables and chairs left away from the vans and suchlike. There were also a group of fairly, how can I put it without causing offence….very determined French motorhomers who were constantly vying for the best position at the front of the Aire overlooking the river.

On the day we were leaving, the shenanigans were bordering on the surreal. In fact if the theme tune to Benny Hill had been playing while about a dozen or so vans were doing some complicated manoeuvres to position themselves, I could have videoed it and submitted it for broadcast….it was very entertaining indeed! We just didn’t want to be part of it.

  1. hi there,
    we were at san Antonio just before you leaving on the 21st january. the placed was packed when we were there, mainly French who were always in groups moaning about something. remember a café up by the main square where we had the biggest and best piece of cake each with coffee for less than 5 euros. bought plenty of linen products as well. we thought the same about the aire as you did.

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