Portugal was the first longer trip in 2016 (not counting my workshop on Iceland). It is kind of  strange that I did not visit Portugal more often in the past, as a very good friend is living in Lisboa. Maybe it dates back to the times I was focussing only on wildlife, whereas  landscape or travel photography was not important for me. Portugal was not even on my mental list for prime photography destinations.

This year however I was looking for a destination in early spring and after my usual check of the picture market I decided to travel to Portugal. Lisboa as a city is covered very well and quite often the quality of pictures available through the agencies is very high. The Alentejo however, especially landscape, and even the Algarve was covered astonishingly poor in numbers and quality of pictures.

After a research of interesting destinations a plan was made and a rough itinerary was buildt. Two and a half weeks should be enough for such a small area - I thought, but I was proofed wrong....... It would have deserved much more time!

My usual approach is at least three full days per location/interesting area to allow for bad weather, orientation etc. and I planned it like that. A bit of Lisboa in the beginning and the end, about 4 days Algarve (the rocky part) and neigbouring Costa Vicentina. The rest of the days was reserved for the Alentejo backcountry. In terms of photography, it should have been a balance between landscape - travel (cities, landmarks etc) and a bit of wildlife.

Christina was taking her early spring vacation and came along with me. We took the airplane from Munich to Lisboa and the means of transport for all places outside Lisboa was a rental car. All accomodation during the trip was booked only a couple of days in advance to allow good flexibility.

We had lots of luck weatherwise. For Portugal spring is one of the periods with regular rain, cold wind from the atlantic and cool to warm temperature. The sun is already very strong, do not forget your sun protection. Most of the time we had sunny but cool weather and there was not a single day without good photography, that is much better than I expected.

Overall it was a very successfull and pleasant trip!

The coast

Algarve - thats the synonym for portugal and coast. If you look on the map of Portugal the Algarve is only a small stretch of the portugese coastline and do not miss the rest! My goal was to cover a bit to the rocky, western part of the Algarve and the Costa Vicentina which is famous for its wildflowers, untouched  beaches and a coastal walk, which lasts several days.

The yellow - red rocks and sea stacks of the Algarve are, I must say, very pretty and photogenic. I invested just 1,5 days as I prefered the more remote places at Costa Vicentina and the party boats touring the sea stacks have been to much for me this time. All the same it is a very pretty area, with lots of good photo opportunities, but also with party boats and bus loads of day trippers. It is really worth while to stay there for a while, but choose the morning hours, when the alcohol level on the party boats is still low!

Cabo de Sao Vicente and the Costa Vicentina

At Cabo de Sao Vicente the Algarve ends, the coastline starts to point to the north and the Costa Vicentina with its nature park starts. The park is famous for its untouched coastal vegetation with lots of wildlfowers during spring. At the cape the lighthouse is a huge attraction, hundreds of people are waiting for the sunset, this was totally surprising, some even had a tripod! I expected some tourists, but not these numbers. At the final km's on the country road leading to the lighthouse you can buy everything from cheap chinese imports to local art, from german sausage to portuguese sweets.

All the same the cape itself is a very atmospheric place. For sunrise you are nearly alone, only some fishermen nobody else!

The Costa Vicentina and the nature park with the same name is much less visited and highly recommended. It can be accessed by dirt road or by walking the well marked coastal hiking path. The coast in this area is not sheltered and the lovely beaches have mighty surf. Not surprisingly this area is well known among the more experienced surfers. We had huge swell with mighty breakers, nobody was there and most parts of the beaches where unaccessable.

The vegetation was lush and the air was full of the scents of the blooming flowers. Wildflowers are everywhere but it takes some hours or days to find large untouched spots of flowers. But if you find these spots, it is absolutely amazing! Two days allowed us just to get an idea of the area! If you want to hike, these is a magnificent area for a spring vacation.

Alentejo - moorish quarters and atmospheric small towns

The small towns of the Alentejo have been again a big surprise. Nearly every bigger village or town has its usually well preserved castle and a labyrinthine old town dating back to moorish times or even older. It is hard to name my favourite place as they all have their special atmosphere, history and daily way of life.

The two "E's" Evora and Elvas, the three "M's" Mertola, Monsaraz and Marvao or maybe the lesser known Castelo de Vide, all deserve to be mentioned and visited. For me the most atmospheric place was Mertola located on a bend of river Guadiana.

I spent much more time photographing these small towns than planned or expected. It was fun to stroll with the camera through the old quarters, castellos and churches.

Portugal has its own romanesque and gothic style, often influenced by the vicinity ot northern africa, the moorish past and the age of discoveries. The interior of some churches are proof of this moorish heritage and not only experts can see the link. The typical blue tiles or azulejos are not only used to cover the exterior of walls but also like in Elvas to cover the whole interior.

A more eerie atmosphere have the ossuaries you can find in the Alentejo. Nondescript from the outside, but inside they offer a glimps of the past which is very strange to us nowadays. We visited two ossuaries, which where in fact chapels with bones as ornaments and even some kind of mummies. As I mentioned a very strange sight.

But back to the bright and enchanted towns of the Alentejo during spring!

Alentejo - wildflowers in full bloom and Alentejo landscapes

My main reason to visit the Alentejo was originally not the towns but the landscape and the blooming wildflowers. Most parts of the Alentejo are farmed, you find often grain, olives, wine/grapes, cork oak, pine plantations and sometimes magnificent wildflower meadows. The rolling landscape is pleasant without any real iconic landmarks. It is pretty, sometimes very pretty, it is relaxing, but you have to take your time to find your spot. If you are looking for a Matterhorn like iconic Alentejo landmark you should choose another destination.

Take your time and soak up the spring light in the (sometimes) mighty cork oak forests or in fields of wild lavender and you will have a great time in the Alentejo!

Alentejo - neolithic monuments

When I studied the guidebooks I stumbled over the neolithic monuments in the Alentejo. I did not know anything about them and I was cautious as guidebooks exaggerate sometimes and the neolithic sites where mentioned in the books with just a few lines. All the same I definitely wanted to see some of them. During the travels to Orkney and Shetland and the Outer Hebrides I developed real interest in these monuments and in neolithic history. Moreover it is an intersting photographic challenge to cover these ancient "stones".

Again I was pleasantly surprised, some of the bigger sites can "compete" with much better and more  famous sites in France or the UK. The neolithic sites are spread all over the country and some are just a pile of stones and some are absolutely fascinating and atomspheric. Have a look!

 

 

Tomar - a sidetrack during a rainy day

Finally the spring rain arrived with full force and icy winds. It was the last day in the countryside and we just had to return to Lisboa for our final day before the departure to Germany. The weather was way to poor for landscape photography but of course good enough for "indoor service" ( I do not know how innendienst is translated...). A decision was made and a small detour to Tomar was planned. Tomar is already outside of Alentejo, but it is one of the most visited and famous sites in Portugal. The Convento de Cristo is a UNESCO world heritage site and without doubt a magnificent place to visit. But it is definitly not my favourite. Lots of people like it, for me it is kind of "soulless". I even got a bit bored taking pictures of the unique buildings, which normally does not happen when I am working on unique sites.

Anyway Convento de Cristo is a unique set of buildings and really unique in its style and dimensions!

and finally Lisboa - the capital

I do not want to talk much about Lisboa. It is a city full of atmosphere. Go there and judge yourself, you will not leave dissapointed. But do not be surprised, if you are not alone. Alentejo is quite often a quiet place, Lisbon is full of tourists and life. You have to queue to enter the major touristic sites, the typical old trams are crammed but you will like the city nevertheless!

 

 

By now you will have realised, that I liked this travel to Portugal a lot and that I am quite pleased with the pictures I took. Of course lots of things did not work out. I planned to stay some time at the white stork colonies on the western coast, but it just did not fit in my itinery. Basically there was no wildlife photography at all - this time. There must be reasons to come back and there are many!

Good food (and wine) and  friendly people, lots of interesting places and much better weather at this time of the year than in Germany.

Quite often people are asking, whether I have some recommendations regarding accomodation. The standard in Portugal is quite high and not a single place we stayed in was poor. But two are standing out in my memory, the Solar de Monfalim in Evora and the hotel rural Monte da Provenca near Elvas. Solar de Monfalim is a two star hotel in a medieval city palace in the old center of Evora. It is basic but full of atmosphere. Monte da Provenca is very different. It is a country retreat to relax in a rural atmosphere, but it is close to Evora and even not far from Marvao. At Monte da Provenca I regretted that this was a work trip and not vacation. I would have loved to hang around a bit and just enjoy the environs, maybe next time...

Yes, you are right, this is not Portugal. It is a stormy morning on one of the glaciers of the Vatnajoekull in Iceland. As usual I created a gallery of the favourite shots of the participants of my workshop. Remarkable pictures, have a look and give them the applause they deserve!

whats next?

Right now I am on vacation in Szentendre in Hungary. I really needed some rest after a very busy first quarter 2016.

We will have a booth at the Naturfototage in Fürstenfeldbruck and will present our upcoming foto workshops to very, very exciting destinations. We are in the final stages of the preparation, stay tuned or visit us in Fürstenfeldbruck. After Fürstenfeldbruck I will update my pages with the new program.

During May and June I will go to Frankonia  in Bavaria and probably to the coast of the Baltic Sea in Germany. End of June/beginning of July is dedicated to the Faroer Islands another exciting and little traveled place in Europe, which is hardly covered at all in my agencies.

 

Szentendre, Hungary April 2016