Whilst waking up in a Kings Palace may not be very Eco (although if I had to make an argument to the contrary I’m sure I’d be able to make some sound Eco justifications), it does feel very nice.  My first desire was to run out onto our overly large terrace, just to confirm that we were definitely here.  Confirmed, the tree’s loomed large, the two swans still swam in the lake, the air was fresh and the grounds looked even more spectacular from the morning light.  Thankfully it had rained during the night, we had heard that there was going to be at least one week of severe rainfall which wasn’t going to fit in too well with our itinerary.

With the morning already running away and a feast of a breakfast waiting downstairs, we threw on our clothes from yesterday, every minute left of breakfast counted and I didn’t want to miss another second.  Back to the Grand Hall a rather grand breakfast buffet await, including champagne, which unfortunately, I would not be able to indulge in due to the drive ahead.  But I did make up for it by  overindulging in sausage, egg, cakes and coffee, whilst wondering what it must be like to live like royalty.

The next leg of our journey was going to take us Coja, heading further inland towards the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, where we would spend two nights with our friend Hayley, who just so happens to be visiting her mum who lives in Portugal with her partner Richard.  First of all however,  we have the emergency extraction of Olof’s tooth to attend to and whilst the drugs have done a decent enough job it’s about time we got to the root of the problem, pardon the pun.

We leisurely take our time to change and admire the grounds for one last time before making our way back to the overly packed car with two bottles of the delicious Bussaco Tinto Reservado (one as a gift for our next hosts), the wine is made here and there are very few places from which it can be purchased making it even more special.  Just as we start to leave the walled forest it starts to rain.

Since our arrival into Portugal we have used mainly the toll roads, which despite making travel costly, generally makes for a rather dull and uninteresting drive.  From now on we were going to be the side roads as much as possible, this resulted in a 40 minute drive to Coimbra, skirting the edges of the city we parked up in the university district and and thanks to the excellent Alexandre Ritchie, one hour later, Olof appeared to be a much happier man.

It took a little over an hour to drive to the small town of Coja, where we had agreed a 6pm meeting point with Hayley, the whole rendezvous seemed a little strange given that we had last seen Hayley only a few weeks previous at our friends wedding in Chesterfield, now we would be meeting in a random small town in central Portugal.  Sure enough at 6pm Hayley arrived with Richard in his SUV and we skirted out of the town onto country lanes, then onto side tracks and up into the hills when I started to fear that my overladen small hire care wouldn’t make it.  We made it, to a pretty isolated spot, surrounded by forest, where we would have to wait for the morning light to get a real sense of where we were.  Making our way into the house we were greeted firstly by two parrots “Hola, hola” then Hayley’s mum, Margaret, who was ready to serve dinner.  The evening went by so quickly, obviously under the influence of wine as we shared the stories of our trip so far, future plans and learned a great deal about the past of our very interesting hosts.  We wrapped up the evening on the sofa with the dogs before making our way to the cozy caravan that would be our home for the next two nights.

It’s such a great feeling to start the day with ease, to slowly come to terms with getting up and then to make your way to the kitchen to freshly baked croissants, various Portuguese pastry delights and homemade jams.  We finished breakfast with sticky fingers whilst Margaret numbered the eggs that had just been collected from their chickens, it soon came to light that their hens were rather good layers and to say that there was a surplus of eggs in the house would be an understatement.  Today Richard was going to take us out for lunch, further into the countryside to a rural hotel by the name of Quinta da Geia.  We set off down the track, where Richard took a shortcut down a narrower and steeper trail which was starting to show wear of the previous nights rain, with my foot pretty much constantly on the break the tension in my entire body was eased as we joined an asphalted country road.  Small and windy the roads meanered for over 30 minutes, passing two picturess villages as we steadily climbed up towards a densely populated forest where perched on the side of the hill was the Quinta offering stunning views.  Up until yesterday I had only really experienced the landscape of the Algarve and whilst the beaches are beautiful I have always thought of Portugal to be dry, scorched and unappealing, now my view was changing, here we were at the green side of Portugal on the very edge of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela I was starting to wish we had planned some time to explore this Natural Park.

Lunch at the Quinta was delicious, gamey meats accompanied by fruity sauces and deserts that needed to be served with at least two spoons, I can understand why Richard visits this place frequently.

With full bellies we made our way back home, this time avoiding the steep track and whilst the sky didn’t look promising upon our return we took time to meet some of the animals on Richards small holding, first point of call was to visit the sheep & goats, taking the SUV we drove down the land, through a gate and into the woods to the feeding stable, it wasn’t long before the animals had sensed why we were here and soon we were surrounded by all but one very shy sheep.  The breeds that Richard had were stunning, especially the goats, who looked rather elegant with their shiny coats and long floppy ears.  Next stop was the chicken coup, which was also home to some ducks and geese, judging by the amount of eggs this brood were laying one can only assume they were a very happy flock indeed.  It wasn’t long before Olof started talking to Richard about Permaculture and sharing ideas about what else could be done with the land, Olof was in his element.

Back home we settled down to a good old English tea, sandwiches and finger foods in front of the TV hooked to the Great British Bake off, followed by the debates on Scotland’s independence at one point I could swear that even the parrots were joining in.

For our last morning we decided to make use of the eggs by the way of a large breakfast omelette and spent some good quality time with Hayley and her bundle of joy Stanley, exploring the grounds once more we discovered a bird aviary, said goodbye to the goats, sheep and chickens and prepared for our departure, making a last minute decision to squeeze Ponte De Lima into our itinerary, which had been highly recommended to us.  Although we had only been here for two nights, the warmth and hospitality we had received really did make us feel like we were at home, the stories we shared and the advise exchanged will serve as lasting memories and if Olof had his own way, perhaps our journey could have ended here already as he takes up the offer to buy a plot next door and work with Richard on the land!  But with only three weeks into the trip and so much more to learn and discover we have to say our fond farewells, with big hugs, a sloppy kiss from Stanley and two boxes of eggs we wave goodbye and make our way up the track, Porto bound.