February brought the first tour of the year for the Goldwing Clube de Portugal. The weekend event was based in Fatima and included visits to the Sanctuary of Fatima, the Area 5 air force base and the underground caves of Santo Antonio.
The town of Fatima lies 198km to the south of Porto, so we were able to ride there in a little over two hours. After checking into the Hotel Cinquentenario we unpacked the bike and trailer and were ready to enjoy the weekend.
We had some free time before dinner, so we took a short stroll to the town’s claim to fame – Santuário de Nossa Senhora de Fátima (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima). The Sanctuary is a significant Catholic pilgrimage site that has been established around the site of reported apparitions that occurred in 1916 and 1917. Three young children who were tending sheep claimed to have been visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. All three were subsequently awarded sainthoods and their bodies are buried within the church. Over the years, several buildings have been erected on the site, as well as a huge paved area to cater to the millions of pilgrims that visit each year.
The club weekend officially began with the Friday night dinner, but the main event was the group ride that started on Saturday morning. A group of 28 bikes gathered outside the hotel for the start of the ride (more would join us at lunchtime). We headed out in convoy towards Monte Real for a visit to Air Force Base Area No. 5.
Area No. 5 was officially opened in 1959 and has served as a base for the Portuguese Air Force since that time. Over the years, it has been home to several types of military aircraft but it currently houses a fleet of F16s – Portugal’s primary combat aircraft. We were able to ride onto the base and were given a tour of part of the facility. Whilst the operational F16s were out of bounds on the opposite side of the runway, we were allowed to get up close to some decommissioned planes in one of the hangars.
After the air base, we headed for lunch at the Restaurante Cova da Velha in Alcaria. We found other members waiting for us, who were unable to subscribe to the full weekend tour. Eating good local food is an integral part of our club events and, in Portugal, this often means that lunch takes 2.5 hours. I’ve now adjusted to this schedule and enjoy the relaxed pace of our lunches, chatting with friends at the table. We enjoyed a variety of meats and sausages, along with bread and olives, before the soup was served. Then came some tasty bacalhau (codfish) with potatoes and vegetables, followed by dessert. And there is always some Portuguese wine available.
With full bellies, we rode on to the final visit of our day. The Grutas de Santo Antonio (Saint Anthony’s Caves) are believed to have formed about 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period, but they were not discovered until 1955. A young boy spotted an opening that was then investigated by his father. That young boy is now about 70 years old and was our guide through the caves! The cave system is well illuminated, providing good viewing of the many stalactites, stalagmites and other rock formations. The guided tour took us along concrete footpaths, on a circular route through the various halls and chambers. Our guide pointed out various interesting formations and gave a narration of the development of the cave system.
After a full day on the road, we got back to the hotel in the early evening with some time to rest up before dinner.
On Sunday morning, the club held its annual general assembly. That was followed by a final lunch at the hotel before we all headed home in different directions. By the time we reached home, we had covered a total of 523km (325 miles) over the weekend. It was another enjoyable weekend with the club and we’re already looking forward to the next one in March.