Lake Alqueva with Amieira Marina


I
can’t drive a car, let alone a boat and once I even managed to crash
a vehicle which could only go 2MPH. So it’s a bit of a risk that I’ll
be embarking on a boating trip around the Great Lake Alqueva in
Portugal for the weekend. But it really is that easy apparently…



We
pull up to Amieira Marina on late afternoon in October with the hot
sun beating down on us. The 30°C
heat is most welcome after leaving a damp and chilly London a few
hours ago. We’d flown from Gatwick to Lisbon then drove two hours to
Amieira Marina on Lake Alqueva. We enjoy a beer overlooking the
harbour and then we are taken into orientation where we learn a bit
about Lake Alqueva and the boat which will be our home for the next
three nights.




Great
Lake Alqueva

Lake
Alqueva is
Europe’s
biggest man-made lake – and anyone can learn to drive a boat on it
in just one hour. You do not need any sailing experience, so that
dream can become reality.


After
a short orientation and briefing on the lake, we are shown to our
houseboat. Within 10 minutes of boarding the boat we have learned how
to stop, steer and dock our new home. It really is as easy as that
and even I have managed to master it during our short time onboard.
The boat is limited to 10MPH and sleeps up to two people, but there
are boats which can sleep up to 10 people.


The
Great Lake Alqueva is 250 square kilometres of tranquil water. Having
flooded the valleys cut through the land by two major rivers there
are inevitably shallow areas where the land was higher. Using a route
map on a GPS in the cockpit eliminates any danger. There is also a
sonar device which shows depth and obstacles in the water. The GPS
and sonar are incredibly accurate so even the most nautically
challenged can enjoy a trip around the lake in total safety.



Where
to visit

The
next morning off we went to discover The Great Lake Alqueva,
a
hidden gem overlooked by neighbouring Lisbon and the Algarve.


Our
boat was fully stocked with fresh meats, cheeses, plenty of fruit
juice and most importantly, wine.


So
made our way towards Estrela. The lake is surrounded
by
ancient villages, t
here are
9 villages in total around the Lake Alqueva, two of which are in
Spain, so there is plenty to explore and discover.



As
the boat can also be controlled from the top deck, we glide along
sitting up top with the wind in our hair with a couple of beers and
the hot sun beating down on us. As the lake is man-made the waters
are really still, so its perfect for those who suffer from sea
sickness as the journey is so smooth.


The
journey from each village varies, it took us over an hour to reach
our first village, Estrela and it was my job to throw to ropes to the
dock as I couldn’t be trusted to reverse the boat. Here’s a tip,
things move on the boat. Don’t do what I did and run out to do the
ropes and find out that the sliding glass door has closed during the
reverse…after you’ve run into it.



Estrela

Once
we are docked, with the help of a very friendly local fisherman, and
my head has stopped spinning we fire up the BBQ. We cook our mixed
grill, which was one of the freshly prepared dishes waiting for us
onboard on arrival. As we feast on our lunch all we can hear around
us is the sound of a cow bell echoing. It’s dead quiet and ever so
peaceful and the views are mesmerising.




Well
fed and watered we safely reversed out of Estrela, waving goodbye to
our fisherman friend and navigated our way to Monsaraz where we would
be spending the night.




Monsaraz

After
around three hours of sailing we arrive in Monsaraz, a must-see
village which has a population of just 70. The fortified town is
built on a rocky spur and gives a 360° view of stunning scenery. The
village itself is also undeniably beautiful, it has a preserved
mediaeval town-museum, a fortified castle and every cobbled alley way
brings you to more surprisingly beautiful views, fresh white
buildings or some of the stunning local artwork of the region.




We
spend the evening in tiny traditional Portuguese restaurant which is
bustling with locals from the small village. There’s one wall covered
in vintage radios and jugs on our table constantly being filled with
the restaurant’s own homemade red wine.



Our
table shares large bowls of chickpeas in a warm broth which we pour
over pork belly and sausages. Copious amounts of red wine wash down
the delicious traditional Portuguese pork and chickpea stew. We can’t
help but go for seconds as well as satisfying our sweet tooth with
Toucinho
do Céu. This

Portuguese almond cake literally translates as ‘Bacon from Heaven’.


When
we head back to our boat we sit on the top deck and stargaze. It’s
not every day we get to see a sky like this.


The
sky in this region is considered by UNESCO a reservation for
stargazing. As the night falls you can get a perfect view of the sky
and sparkling stars. The sky is completely cloudless and the moon
shimmers on the lake, creating a view I thought only existed on the
big screen. A fox runs past on the grassland behind us with the
fluffiest tail I have ever seen. This definitely confirms that I am
no longer in London.



Luz

Luz
is our last stop of the trip before we make our way back to Amieira
Marina and depart our houseboat the next morning.




Luz
is the only village to be submerged by the dam waters, and which had
to be literally relocated. A museum was created here, its collection
consists of objects from the inhabitants, and where all the memories
of the old village are recorded. This is the perfect opportunity to
grab the bikes off the boat and cycle to the village. 



Food
and Wine

Guests
can pre-order cooked meals from the Marina’s restaurant kitchen
which specialises in local cuisine – and wines! There are also
restaurants and supermarkets in some of the villages.


On
our first night we dined at Amieira Marina’s Panoramic Restaurant and
Bar. The restaurant gives a, you guessed it, a panoramic view of the
lake and serves regional food of Alentejo. Feast on dishes such as
the incredibly tasty Sheep’s cheese, Codfish fritters, Shrimp
rissoles, Chickpeas with Salt-cod and Octopus.


The
Alentejo region is the perfect place for wine lovers as it has the
best wines that Portugal has to offer. Alentejo is renowned for its
red wines, which are rich, fruity and easy drinking. The wines we had
in the local restaurants were so full of flavour, very affordable and
not a hangover was in sight.



But
what else is there to do?

Besides
drinking good wine, basking in the sun and enjoying complete
tranquility?


Bikes
and canoes can be loaded on to your boat. Water sport opportunities
include kayaks, ski, wakeboard and ‘banana’ tow. There is also
opportunities for hot air balloon rides, horse and carriage riding,
moto quad and kart cross rentals.



Guests
can also arrange tours and visits to the wineries and olive oil
factories, with tastings included.


Amieira
Marina is ideal for families and couples. It is a wonderful
opportunity to experience the peace and beauty of a largely ignored
part of Portugal. Tourism has made little impact here and life
continues much as it has for centuries.



How
To Get There

Flights
to Faro or Lisbon are all year around from most major airports.
Transfer time is around two hours.


(I am wearing a playsuit, not a top…)


How
Much Is It?

A
visit to Amieira Marina start at just £1,300 for a 7 night family
holiday for 4 people.


Boats
are available for 2 – 10 people.


I originally wrote this post for The Huffington Post, see here. 


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