Elvas Portugal

7th July 2015

Leafiness, Life and The Secret to Happiness

The secret to happiness?
Happiness is a cold beer on a hot day. There you go. I’m a genius, on my way to Buddha-hood.

They have a particular fondness for trees in the Mediterranean towns and cities through which we have passed. Trees are treasured, pruned and nurtured. It is clear that they are nurtured thus for their shade, and to be in a Mediterranean country in summer you get to witness the wisdom of the city planners. Leafy tall trees line spacious wide avenues and plazas where people can walk, rest on benches, dip their hands in cooling fountains or refresh themselves at the bars that are spaced along and around the centre of these traffic-straddled areas. Some of the trees are familiar to me – the plain tree, some firs, elms, palms, figs, but many, many more, and I am left wondering at my lack of knowledge of their names. I am frequently amazed at how little I know. At this hot time of the year the air in these rural towns is redolent with fig, privet, lavender and other scents from trees and shrubs. If you can get over the ‘heat’ thing and breathe deeply, it is really lovely.

Role Changes
After a couple of unfortunate choices of places to eat we decide to change roles and now Rachel is ‘Tour and Walks Director’ and I have resumed my previous position from older trips as ‘Food and Beverage Locator’. It’s a question of the nose. Rachel has a superior sense of direction, leads us to interesting places and pushes me into really enjoyable long walks. I have a nose for places that provide good food, even though I can’t cook to save myself.

Buena dia – Bom dia
Cáceres – Badajoz (Spain) – Elvas (Portugal)

Elvas Portugal

It was prosperous and tidy-looking landscape from Cáceres through to Badajoz: Cork oaks, Olives, Oranges, Sunflowers, Wheat, and Rice paddies . . . hectares upon hectares under a deep blue sky and the town of Badajoz seemed prosperous, if not particularly ancient or interesting.

Arriving in Elvas was interesting – it is such an architecturally different style of fortress/citadel city.

Elvas - Bastion forts in Portugal

A local food and beverage kiosk; street cleaners – they consist of a large team of women – note the brooms

It has occurred to me lately, too, that all of these medieval hilltop towns were sited thus for two reasons: access to an aquifer – or a river at their feet, and their Line-of-Sight Defence system – where they were able to clearly see advancing armies out over the plains or rivers and thus prepare their walls for defence. It has also become clear that these cities were built in times that brooked no meek confidence in visiting tribes; visitors must have appeared as a challenge, a threat, and would therefore be greeted by a city in high defence mode – drawbridges drawn, supplies in place for a siege, and archers in place. Their line-of-sight defence strategy covering the lands all around would give them plenty of time to assess their visitor’s strengths – and weaknesses.

An aerial shot below of the small secondary fort just outside the main fortress city of Elvas (also star shaped). The Star shape was a favourite form of fortress design throughout the area.

Elvas - Star shaped fort in Portugal

Spain afire?
Elvas - after sunset

A section of Elvas’s old Aqueduct
Elvas Aqueduct - Portugal

From the vantage point of a castle’s keep we could see Spain in the distance disappearing into a russet, cloudy haze under the setting sun. The warm wind from that direction brought with it clues as to the opacity; we could smell wood smoke. Spain could be burning up as we retreat westwards, away from it. It could be intentional burn-offs, but I doubt that: the temperatures lately would surely forbid it. As the lights went on around the caste and its walls, the resulting combined effect of warm breeze, setting sun and smoke-hazed vistas out over the land was, however, magical.

By chance (being nosey) we met a renowned local potter who works in part of the old castle. He is also a poet. His work is unique.

Below: An African piece, part of his private collection

We also found a permanent bar within the castle’s compound and had a lengthy chat with the owner, a young man born in Angola. He is a retired professional football player, now a coach and bar owner. All his siblings have become renowned in the sport in Portugal. We watched and listened to Marissa sing her modern Fado on his computer, and saw some of his exploits on the field. On weekends they have Fado singers on the stage outside within the walls.

For those of you family who are not aware: my grandmother’s mother was Portuguese. Her name was Serafin Da Costa. This may go some way to explain my enjoyment of Fado music. I find it hauntingly beautiful and Marissa’s up-beat modern version appeals to me equally. Rachel prefers the modern Fado.


Portugese tile work
Elvas - tile work