Foz do Arelho
The Lagoa do Òbidos has the reputation of being the most tranquil and beautiful Lagoon in Europe. So if you are anywhere near this area, don’t miss out on spending a night or two here, and make sure you get a chance to see the sunrise or sunset, because they are spectacular. Emma is parked up in the local camper-stop which is right by the lagoon, so each morning we are woken by the cockle pickers arriving and getting into their waders. They go out for several hours, up to their waists in water. One morning, Hernani gives us a bagful of freshly caught cockles and Sandra tells us how to cook them – no water or salt, just fry some onion and garlic, add the cockles and when they are all open, add lemon juice and fresh coriander. The cockles hold their own seawater, which mixes with the lemon juice to make a very fine tasting sauce. We’ve never eaten such delicious cockles!
We were told the lagoon had flamingos – sadly we didn’t see them…
On Christmas Eve, we joined the locals for a midnight bonfire on the central square, chatting with Sandra about her hopes and aspirations for this village. Having spent all her childhood holidays here with her grandparents, she has finally fulfilled her dream and moved from Lisboa to Foz where she found work with the local council, looking after the camp site and organizing events to benefit the community. She carries a lot of passion for this village and does not want it to go down the route of Òbidos (see our previous post on this), but instead be a clean and thriving place for the locals as well as for the kind of visitors who like the simple, natural beauties of the lagoon and the sea.
On the square right next to where the fire was, is a band-stand. Frank and I use it for a little practice. While we are up there, we are high enough to look over the wall across the road. We see a very impressive looking building in a well-kept garden, old splendour on a grand scale. There are some people in the Garden, and as the gate is open and Frank is ever curious, we go in and strike up a conversation with the owners.
Francisco the younger one (there are many Franciscos in this Family – every first born male is called Francisco) tells us that the house is 500 years old and has been the seat of his family for all that time. They are Counts, and a very large area of land belonged to the property until the revolution in the mid seventies, when land was taken off the noble classes and reapportioned to the poorer people. So in the lifetime of Francisco (the older one), the property has shrunk from 4000 hectares, to a few fields around his house. We are shown the inside of the house too – the whole of upstairs breathes the history of Francisco’s family. We walk through beautiful rooms with a view onto the lagoon, decked with furniture from across the centuries, filled with items, pictures and busts that speak of previous generations. Francisco (the older one) is the guardian of all these treasures. The expansive grandeur of previous ages has been shrunk and condensed into these few rooms that he inhabits as well as takes care of. This man has seen a lot of changes in his life, and the discussion over land is still on-going, with the village wanting to obtain more property from the family. I guess it’s not easy to assess fairly the point at which someone has come to the limit of their resources, when what is visible looks so grand. I remember this feeling from growing up in a Doctor’s household: people make assumptions about a family’s wealth according to their status in society, and it’s not always accurate. There is a quiet humility, paired with a gentle light in Francisco’s eyes that remind me a lot of my father.
The whole of downstairs has been done up to accommodate visitors. It is beautifully done. A large reception area with a vaulted ceiling has comfortable seats and sofas and a few tables to play games at. Leading off this long room are a number of large bedrooms which overlook the courtyard where peacocks peck the Earth under some very old plane trees. It is a great place to come and stay in Foz!
In the forecourt, I pick up the smell of horses, and yes, they have horses and a stable where they give riding lessons. Francisco (the older one) is a very experienced rider and trains horses in the Viennese-Spanish school of dressage. He learnt from his grandfather (who no doubt was a Francisco too). Unfortunately he is suffering from very painful hips, which has prevented him from riding for 6 months – or possibly fortunately for us, because Frank offers him a massage, which he gratefully accepts. The next day, he feels a lot better and we propose a riding lesson in exchange.
The horses are big and beautiful. I am allowed on Pharao, the ‘child’s horse’, the one for beginners. The other ones are very sensitive and if you can’t handle them right, you’re in trouble. I’m glad I’m on the beginner’s horse – even that one is much more sensitive than any horse I’ve ever ridden! The tiniest movement is a signal for him to go, stop, turn etc etc. Absolutely no pulling on the reins, that’s far too strong. Even when I think I’m not pulling, my signal is far too big. Often Pharao starts walking backwards when I only wanted him to stop.
I work very hard, Francisco is happy with my progress, and when I ask to stop, he still has more to teach me. I have to come back next day and the day after, to learn more. What a treat to be taught by such a master! Thank you, Francisco for your generous sharing! We are so pleased that Frank has been able to remedy your painful hip with his massage. Especially as it means we get a chance to see you in your element the next day, on the horse, showing us how it’s done properly! Except, we can’t see how it’s done – Francisco sits on the horse as if in a trance, one doesn’t see any movement of his hands or legs, and yet the horse performs all these very precise actions, like a dancer stepping to the beat of Fado, traversing the hall lightly trotting, with feet crossing over as in Tango. His connection with the horse verges on telepathic!
In fact, the subtlety of riding a horse in this way reminds me a lot of Tango. So after my last lesson, we give a little dance demo to Francisco, a small gesture of thanks for the hours of fantastic tuition. We leave Foz do Arelho feeling greatly enriched by the experiences we had here and the connections we made with the people.
To see more pictures of the beautiful Quinta da Foz, Francisco’s home and a great place to stay, click here
We will add a contact for the camper stop by the lagoon later.
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