Two blokes on a boat: What could possibly go wrong?
| 27th November 2016
‘Fancy being a captain of your own boat?’, I said to the other half after reading the pitch for our next travel review.
The opening line from the super PR-lady got me hook, line and sinker. Although I laughed at the thought of two blokes on a boat with absolutely no experience on water, trying to navigate our way across Europe’s largest man-made lake (253 KM, no less) in just three days.
‘How hard can it be?’, we thought to ourselves. Only for it to dawn on us after accepting the offer that our approach to boating wouldn’t be too dissimilar to that of the Titanic before it hit an iceberg and sank.
The Great Lake Alqueva is situated between Lisbon and Faro, close to the Spanish border – and nowhere near icebergs, thankfully.
Controversial in its day the construction of the Alqueva dam saw local villages swallowed up by this new lake. However, its immersion brought much needed water, hydroelectric power and tourism to this higher blighted region.
We drove for 2 hours to Amieira Marina. This is where our journey by boat would begin. The marina opened in 2006 but has rarely been visited by guests from the UK.
We arrived at sunset one Friday evening. As we came over the hill and drove down to the marina by car, the stunning scenery and setting looked like a picture-postcard.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. The water was calm and the warm glow from the sun was shimmering on top of the lake, while the sound of the softness of the water lapping against the boats made it feel like it was the Riviera. It was simply serene.
We were given a short orientation and briefing on the lake.
‘Look out for sunken windmills, or under water hills’, said the tutor. The Titanic came to mind once again!?
We were assured that if we followed the ‘approved green route’ using sonar and the GPS then we would be just fine. And it really is that easy!
A huge amount of thought from the owners has gone into the seemingly difficult task of taking people who have never helmed a boat before and making them equipped to handle on this huge lake.
We were shown to our house-boat: A 36ft long, 12ft wide, Nicholas Quattro. This is where we would stay for the next three days.
There are a fleet of boats available at the marina that sleep two to 12 people, each with a shower room, fully-equipped kitchen, living area, bedrooms, sun deck and barbecue, as well as safety equipment and GPS navigation technology.
The boats themselves are compact and don’t move at great speeds – limited to 10MPH. You don’t even need licence to drive the thing.
The Quattro was fully stocked of supplies available from the restaurant and onsite shop. You can pre-order and meals are prepared and ready for you warm up using the stoves and ovens on-board. You can cook, eat and drink as you wade through the water.
The route is yours to plan and go as far as you like. The lake crosses the border into Spain at its furthest extremities – but that would take at least a week to cruise. We only had 3 days, which is enough for a long weekend.
There are nine villages in total around the lake. We made our way to towards Estrella which took around an hour from Amieira. Once docked, we watched nature and the world go by on the deck of the boat. We also went for little swim, trying not to scare the fishes away from the local fishermen.
We drank wine as the sun’s hot rays shone down on us. Bliss – there was moment when we thought we might have won the lottery!
We navigated our way to Monsaraz where we would be spending the night at a jetty under the stars. It took around three hours of sailing to get here from Estrella.
Monsarez is a beautiful medieval village fortress set high upon a hill overlooking Alentejo plains and the Alqueva reservoir. The view on a clear day is simply stunning.
There must be less than a hundred people still living here where pretty much nothing terribly exciting happens. It’s a very sleepy village, peaceful and there are no cars in sight.
Its cobbled streets and alleys are whitewashed and red-roofed houses feels like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s relaxing to wander around here.
Although still full from the food and drink that we had been consuming onboard throughout the day, we spend the evening in tiny traditional Portuguese restaurant.
It was a rustic little place with good food and homemade wine.
We head back to the boat and as night falls, the sky is still and bright with stars. The taxi driver informs us that the region has reservation status for stargazing.
The next morning we continued on to Luz. We used the bikes that were loaded on to the house boat and we cycled into the village after docking. The daytime emptiness here hides a unique story.
When the reservoir was planned the government faced a tough decision. The old village of Luz was below the proposed water-line of the planned reservoir, but the benefits that the project would bring were such that the village could not be spared.
After consultation with the villagers the authorities undertook what is considered to be a unique resettlement plan: they rebuilt Luz a couple of kilometres away on higher ground.
Thankfully the memories of old Luz, and of the whole process of moving a village, were captured on film and can be seen at the excellent museum at the edge of the village
This was the was last stop before heading back Amieira Marina. In the evening, we had a barbeque on the back of the boat before departing the next morning.
Boating in on Alqueva Lake, is an immensely pleasurable experience, but it’s the eeriest of feelings cruising leisurely over the top of a once-vibrant village now completely submerged by water.
The Great Lake Alqueva is normally blessed with ideal weather. Locals say October is one of the nicest months to visit. It’s not too hot – around mid-20s – not too windy and not too crowded. It’s a great time to visit a great place.
A visit to Amieira Marina start at just £1,300 for a 7 night family holiday for 4 people.