Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Serpa - or how we mistook a lemon and walnut bun for a cheese pie.

Serpa to Seville, 120 miles. Aire Autocaravanas Sevillia. €12 per night, 2 nights.

After the previous night's pyrotechnics we woke to a damp morning. Being optimists we donned fleecies rather than cagoules and set off to explore the ancient town. A word of thanks to the really helpful camping receptionist who provided a  useful map, information about where to buy locally milled olive oil and assured us that we could take as long as we wanted to explore the town. No 'off by midday' rule here. 

Serpa is an interesting place, a grid of ancient whitewashed streets behind the old walls. Buildings seem to try to outdo each other in sporting over-designed chimneys on small single storey houses, with windows often decorated with fancy pale grey plasterwork and curly wrought ironwork. 

Ancient and beatiful - Serpa

I have many pictures of chimney pots - it seemed a good idea at the time.

Nice Fin de Siecle and Modernista window decoration - I get very happy about such things...

The main church is set on higher ground, up a broad sweep of old steps. You get a good view across the old town, and probably on a clear day, over the surrounding plain too. Not today, but at least the rain held off. 

Very lovely - the way the grey cobbled steps resembled a half-opened fan.

Ancient alleyways

The old walls are largely intact.

The aquaduct is an 17th century addition

It is a lovely place to wander around. When I posted some photos a friend commented that it looked 'lost in time . In a way that is true, and the backwater aspect of the place is was picked up even by the ever perky transatlantic styled Lonely Planet entry which talks about the main square being 'guarded by the elderly-folk'. This is something of a euphemism, in fact it becomes obvious very quickly that Serpa has an ageing demographic and many of the elderly residents look poor and seem quite depressed; a few appear in need of care, but seem to be left to wander about in a distressed state. This is in stark contrast to the families we came across in Lidl yesterday evening, stylishly dressed, their kids looking confident and happy. The last time we visited Portugal we became aware of an apparent divide between the older generation and the younger. Not just in terms of wealth, but in demeanour. Of course how much truth there is in this it is difficult to ascertain as a tourist, but that's the way it seems.
Good to see there is some interest in tackling the overt wealth inequalities in Portugal!

Aside from the beautiful old buildings and the elderly population, Lonely Planet is keen to bring to the attention of the doughty traveller the importance of ewes milk cheese hereabouts, becoming almost lyrical in its praise of queijo Serpa, and deeming the cheese pie produced from it a 'culinary jewel'. So a hunt for the renowned cheese pie supplemented Gill's original quest to find some locally pressed olive oil. Finding both at a shop in the main square, we added bread and pastries from another bakery we came across on the way back to the van. 

Cheese pride

Serpa has many bakeries - back home they would be called 'artisan' here, I think they are just..bakers shops.

Staues of the sheep that provide milk for the much hyped 'queijo' 
Fully provisioned for a picnic lunch we headed off towards Spain. In fact Spain arrived less than 15 minutes later as we approached the cluster of low hills that mark the ancient frontier. The area on both sides of the border is sparsely populated and the road little used. 

The grey hills of rainy Spain appear on the horizo

Eventually we found a layby and pulled over for a lunch break. Sadly, our much anticipated cheese pie was not to be. Due to some failure of communication with the baker our request for a cheese pie had been translated as an urge to sample lemon and walnut buns. So we had cakes from the place in the square followed by slightly different cakes from the bakers down a side street. It's fair to say lunchtime was all about cakes, and why not? 

Cake for lunch...

After passing a few straggling villages we arrived at a more substantial looking town called Cortegna. On the edge of town was a Mercadona supermarket which we fell upon as it stocks all kinds of goodies unavailable in Portugal, chiefly Greek yogurt and Hummus. 

Civilsation is...hummus.

Great supermarket (not sure about the big green bunny on the meat counter sign - no way you'd find that in Waitrose.)
We had not decided where to stop for the night. The biggest town in the north of Huelva province is Aracena. Campercontacts listed a free aire in the place, but the reviews were unenthusiastic, the most recent inferring that the area had been turned into mixed parking. This indeed proved to be the case, and the spot was none too flat either. 

Not keen on town mixed parking for overnight stops.

Aracena - nice castle,
We decided to press on to Seville. At least the sun had decided to shine and the road through the sierras passed through wooded country with yellow leaved birch forests, the first time we have seen a landscape with a distinctly autumnal look since leaving France three weeks ago. The villages hereabouts are famous for Iberico ham, and small factories line the road advertising the product. 

Autumn colour in the Sierra de Aracena

Each village had small factories producing Iberico ham
We reached the autovia to the north of Seville. Naturally our arrival coincided with rush hour. Though the traffic was heavy at least it kept moving. The aire Autocaravanas Sevillia is not far from the ring road and it is where we stayed two years ago. Familiarity helps when driving in cities. The forecast for tomorrow looks positively summery, perhaps we have finally escaped overcast skies and can enjoy a week or two of clear blue.



  1. Have to confess had a little chuckle at the cheese pie. We had a similar incident but filled with pale custard, totally messed with our heads.
    Look forward to Seville, our favourite city.

  2. Yes, Seville is an exciting vibrant place, I am wtiting the blog post about it at the moment, but its a bit long and rambling, its easy to find things to say about the city. I am not sure which of the cities we have visited has been our favourite, so many lovely places in S. Europe - perhaps Valencia stands out in the memory from 2014, Marseille last year, and Porto was a delightful surprise on this trip.

  3. You obviously don't have the demand in the Buxton Waitrose. Ours sells whole wild rabbits for £4.50, about a quarter the price of rabbit from our local Sainsbury's. Not Chinese either which is all we saw in Spain.

    1. It was more the big green bunny sign (same size as the sheep) that caught my eye. It's true, I just took a guess about lapine butchery in the UK, so am happy to stand corrected! Does Spain really import rabbits from China. That's amazing, can't Hispanic bunnies breed, well, like rabbits? Globalisation is a strange thing.