I have to pinch myself. Apart from the occasional paraglider landing nearby, we are practically alone on the beautiful sun-drenched white sands, staring out at an azure sea. We could easily be forgiven for thinking we are on some south sea island at the height of the summer, but it’s late November and we are on Portinho da Arrábida beach, a stone’s throw from the city of Setúbal.
Driving down into Portinho village was an adventure in itself, like a scene from a James Bond movie. His Lordship gunning the engine as we screeched down the narrow road along the cliff face, Her Ladyship squealing in fright beside him, convinced we were about to have a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle. (She hadn’t noticed that there is a traffic light system at the narrowest point in the road, so we were perfectly safe. But still.) Yes, just like a Bond movie. Well, except that our hired car wasn’t an E-type Jag. And His Lordship is a bit too ancient to make a convincing 007. And Herself is definitely no Bond girl. But you get my drift. In fact, we very nearly did a bit of drifting…
The village of Portinho is tiny and quaint, consisting of not much more than a few charming guest houses and restaurants. I thought this was a clever garden layout – an orange tree, with convenient orange juicer on the adjacent gate post.
When we finally got to Setúbal, a lot later than planned, food was the top priority. Her Ladyship’s eyes lit up when she saw that most of the restaurants were advertising a local speciality by the name of choco frito. Knowing her as I do, I bet she was envisaging a Portuguese equivalent of that great Scottish dish, deep-fried Mars bars. You should have seen the look of disgust of her face when she realised that this delicious sounding Portuguese delicacy translates into the – for her – far from delicious sounding ‘fried cuttlefish’. Priceless!
There was something for each of us in Setúbal. Her Ladyship was in her element, gazing at the huge cranes at the commercial port and watching the ferries cross the Sado estuary to and from Tróia peninsula. His Lordship enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets in the old part of town, admiring the many buildings that have been skillfully renovated, whilst also taking in the shockingly poor state of repair of those that still await renovation. And yours truly was happy as Larry down at the fishing harbour, chatting with some of the hundreds of gulls wheeling around the boats where the fishermen were sorting through their catch.
I never did get to taste the choco frito, but our evening meal just about made up for that omission. The Oldies found a funky, modern taberna which served petiscos, the Portuguese (approximate) equivalent to Spanish tapas. For once, both of them were happy. His Lordship (and I) got to try plenty of fishy dishes, whilst there were enough non-fishy delights to keep Her Ladyship from complaining. Well, no more than usual anyway.
Herself loved the cranes in Setúbal, but the big hit for me was the flamingos. We had heard mention of them while we were in town and His Lordship, thinking himself extremely clever, suggested we head out to Praias do Sado the next morning in the hope of seeing some of these magnificent creatures. These so-called ‘Sado beaches’ turned out to be just the name of a town, quite an ugly, industrial one at that, inland from the estuary. Not a beach in sight. ‘He’s done it again!’ I thought. Fair dues, though, to Her Ladyship. As we drove out of town, she spotted some long things sticking out of the marshes and yelled at Himself to stop the car so they could investigate further. For once, her not-so-beady eyes hadn’t let her down. It was indeed a flock of flamingos! As we approached on foot, they took fright and flew off. But at least we had seen some. Wow.
Emboldened by our success, we drove on to the beautiful Caldeira do Moinho bird sanctuary, hoping that we might see some more flamingos, but, alas, this is the only one we saw there. At least he didn’t fly away.
But what a thrill it was to have seen real live flamingos! How do I describe it? I suppose it must like when a human gets to meet a world champion basketball team or a troupe of elegant Hollywood stars. You can only stand there in admiration, staring up at these tall, splendid creatures.
I came back from Setúbal totally star-struck. And with a crick in my neck.