“As the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like the shreds of a burning curtain leaving rags of bright water that went on smoking and smouldering among the estuaries and around the many islands” Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning
Apúlia was a small fishing village with all of the gaily coloured boats parked at a safe distance from the rough sea that was pounding in fiercely again over the rocks. There were a couple of restaurants but they weren’t exactly what we were looking for so we walked along the beach to some windmills that were probably holiday lets during the summer but were all shuttered and abandoned today.
It was a busy little village and especially interesting were the houses with colourful tiled walls in bright blues, greens and yellows. There was one of those hardware stores that you rarely see in Europe anymore and a couple of old fashioned mini markets that are always a joy to shop in. Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and behind the tiled walls we could see that the houses were made of tin and through open doors and windows we could plainly see that the homes were simple and sparse. Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.
We left Apúlia but after a while the coast road disappeared into the sea so we were obliged to turn inland and pick up the main EN13 road to Esposende a few kilometres to the north. This part of Portugal is predominantly rural and agricultural and all along the sides of the roads there were vegetable stalls with local people selling their produce to passing motorists. And it looked good too and this must have been the season for potatoes, cabbage and onions because there were ample supplies of all of these. We crossed the River Cávado just south of the pine-fringed town and drove along the front looking for somewhere to eat.
We found just what we were looking for and came across a café bar on the seafront with tables on a terrace in a sheltered spot and in the full glare of what was by now a very warm sun. And then we discovered something else about Portugal that we liked very much indeed; compared with Spain it is very, very cheap indeed. With low expectations we ordered food from the menu at about €5 a plate and were surprised to be served with a quite splendid excellent value for money lunch, which together with a couple of beers and some glasses of wine came to less than €20, including the tip.
It was really very warm now and although the locals were still wrapped up I was down to my shirt sleeves as we sat and lapped up the January sun. After lunch we continued north to an edge of town beach, which was much like the others and had a nice little beach bar where we sat in the sun and a bottle of beer and a pot of tea cost a very reasonable €2. This place is on my radar to return to very soon I can tell you.
By now it was late afternoon and our thoughts turned to supplies for the hotel room and on the return journey we stopped again at Apúlia and bought some wine and beer to take back with us. As Portugal produces 50% of the World’s wine bottle corks it was difficult finding a screw cap bottle so we had to make do with a very cheap bottle of local red wine with a plastic stopper and we worried about what exactly it would taste like?
The sun was dipping now and we wondered if we might be fortunate enough to see a sunset and so back at Vila do Conde we pulled into the car park and made again for the beach that we had visited earlier this morning. And we were not disappointed because as the sun went down over the Atlantic horizon it filled the sky with a vivid red sprawl that was the equal of anything we had seen in Greece a few months earlier. It seemed late for a January sunset at nearly half past six but we didn’t question the fact and we gleefully took pictures and enjoyed the moment before finally returning to the Hotel Santana for the evening.
We booked a table for eight-thirty and then went to the room to try the wine, which was a little unusual but quite drinkable, a bit like a slightly fizzy Lambrusco and after a couple of glasses we went to the dining room and although we had booked they seemed a little surprised to see us. After an excellent meal in a restaurant overlooking the river and the illuminated Convent we were tired at the end of a day that had started very early and so we had an early night and hoped that the weather would hold out for at least another day.
“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Follow this link If you would like an explanation about sunsets.