I joined the ‘Club Honda CBF Portugal’ Facebook group earlier this year, after buying my Honda CBF600. But this weekend I got to see why it is truly a club and not just a Facebook group.
A couple of times a year, club members get together for two-day group rides. This weekend was the second such ride for 2019 and I signed up for it as soon as it was announced. The event pulled together riders from across Portugal to ride together, view some sights and generally enjoy each other’s company. I soon realised what a great bunch of people are in the club.
I might have been the only non-Portuguese member to participate in the ride. I was certainly the only member who doesn’t speak Portuguese. I was also riding alone and didn’t know anyone else who would be there. Yet I was warmly welcomed and immediately made to feel at home and part of the club. Wonderful hospitality from a wonderful group of people!
The event started in two different locations, to better suit the groups living in the north and south of the country. I was part of a small group (5 bikes – 9 persons) from the north who started our ride near Porto. Both groups would meet up at lunch time on the first day.
The first stop for our northern group was to see the Shrine of Fatima. This Catholic pilgrimage site was the location of a reported apparition in 1917, when Our Lady of the Rosary was said to have appeared to three children who were tending sheep. A chapel was subsequently built on the site of this ‘miracle’ and, over the years, this has now become a huge complex to cater to pilgrims. There is the white Basilica (completed in 1951) at one end and a newer mega-church (Church of the Holy Spirit, completed in 2007) at the other end, with a huge open plaza between them to accommodate masses of pilgrims. Up to 100,000 pilgrims attend on festival days and as many as 1.5 million attended in 1967 for the 50th anniversary. As it was a public holiday when we visited, there were a lot of people visiting the site. Many were attending mass in the mega-church which was filled to capacity. Others were in a long queue to purchase and burn candles. Lighting candles in churches is common elsewhere, but here they don’t just light the candles, they burn them in a large fire-pit with gas-powered flames. Adherents were throwing in whole candles and even bunches of candles. Some had candles that were five feet tall. A few people were making their way along a path to the shrine, ‘walking’ on their knees whilst praying (mostly aided by knee pads). Quite an interesting place to visit.
We then headed to the village of Pia do Urso, where we were joined by the southern group for lunch at Restaurante Piadussa. This was the first of three 3-course meals that we would enjoy on the trip and quite an adjustment for me. Usually, when I am out riding, lunch means pulling a sandwich from my bike box and eating it somewhere outdoors, whilst I enjoy the view. Fifteen minutes later I am back on the bike and continuing the ride. So spending a leisurely two hours over lunch is certainly a different experience for me. This trip was more about spending time with the other members than dashing from point to point.
Following lunch, we took a stroll around the village, including the location that gave the village its name – Pia do Urso – a small body of water where legend suggests a bear would drink.
Next up was Grutas de Mira de Aire – a large complex of naturally formed caves that was first discovered in 1947. The caves are now well equipped with steps and walkways as well as highlight lighting. There are even illuminated fountains towards the end of the visit.
With the cave visit completed, it was time to head to our hotel for the night. The village streets of Torres Novas were closed off by barriers, to facilitate the 33rd annual Dried Fruit Festival (28 September to 7 October). Our accommodation – Hotel de Torres Novas – was situated on the edge of the town square, so we couldn’t have asked for a better location. After our dinner at the hotel, we had some time to wander around the streets to enjoy the festivities. There were market stalls selling dried fruits, herbs and spices, meats and cheeses, breads and pastries as well as other items. There was a stage with a live band playing. There were bars and food stalls. A lovely bonus for our overnight stay!
I enjoyed some craft beer whilst listening to the live music. I had a shot of Ginja (a local liqueur made from ginja berries), served in a chocolate shot cup, that you eat after drinking the shot. And I enjoyed some delicious freshly roasted chestnuts. A nice way to end the evening!
After breakfast at our hotel, we set off at 9.30am to visit the Castle of Almourol. The castle is built on a small island in the Tagus River which has been the site of various fortifications, dating back to the Romans in the 1st century BC. The current design dates back to 1171, when it was remodeled by the Knights Templar.
A boat provides visitors access to the castle and tickets are sold onboard. However, the small size of the boat and the frequency of its trips to the castle were not conducive to getting our group of about 27 people over there, especially considering that there were other visitors waiting on the dock for the boat. But there is a small bailey-bridge that connects the island to the mainland, so we walked across the bridge and up the hill to the castle. The bridge and part of the island become submerged when the river level rises. Unfortunately, when we reached the entrance to the castle we were refused entry. Tickets can only be purchased on the boat and the ‘gate-keeper’ would not let us inside.
After leaving the castle, our next stop was the Castle of Bode Dam which was constructed in 1951. The concrete structure is 402 metres wide and 115 metres tall, making it one of the tallest structures in Portugal. The Dam restricts the flow of the Zêzere River, creating the Castle of Bode lake. As well as supplying water to the 3 million residents of the Lisbon region, it also provides hydro-electric power.
Our next destination was the Cobra Restaurant in Vila da Rei for a long lunch.
Following lunch, we rode to the Geodesic Centre of Portugal. At an altitude of 600 metres, it provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. In addition to the marker for the centre of Portugal, there is an observation deck from which to enjoy the view. A small Museum of Geodesy displays some old geodetic instruments as well as some information boards.
This was the final stop of the tour, so we said goodbye to those heading in different directions and then seven of us (4 bikes) set off for the ride north towards Porto. At the conclusion of the ride, our northern group had covered a total of 502km. The bulk of that distance was taken up on the segments from and to Porto at the beginning and end of the ride.
It was an enjoyable couple of days. I got to see a few more places in Portugal and got to make some new friends.