As you know, we have been housesitting in the Portugal countryside, to be more precise approximately 7 kms from Ourique, heading inland, for the last few weeks in September. Our first housesit in this intriguing country, though not our first visit. The laid back and friendly atmosphere of the countryside, has been a pleasure, so too has our interaction with locals and the animals under our care. Which for us has included many hours spent wandering around the neighbourhood and further afield.
The two characters we shared most of our walks with were Bob the Dog and his best mate Indy Elsa and funnily enough, the four felines [Nugget, Flossy, Bailey and Tiggy] declined to join us. Though, Tiggy was already on her usual three-day trek that did last much longer than average, which we were told is quite common for her to do.
This has undoubtedly been one of our most unusual housesits.
Mainly due to the freedom that Bob and Indy are allowed. Both are rescue dogs with a disadvantageous start to life; they now enjoy the freedom of the countryside when they get the urge to wander, which occurs a few times a day. Now, what’s also intriguing is that they won’t go off in the morning without their carers okay, even though they do have access out of the property when it suits them. Now when it comes to listening to commands, their ears are not usually tuned into voice commands from humans, let alone ones with a kiwi accent. Though their ability to return when it suits them and they do arrive back usually around mealtime, with more times than not it’s when the desire for sleep takes hold. Unless they decide to walk 4kms to visit friends, then a car is their usual mode of transport home instead of their four paws.
Our usual morning walk is down a dusty gravel road, in the background, the sound of cowbells, occasionally there are bellows from the bulls or quieter calls of the lambs to their wandering mothers further afield all remind us that we are indeed in the countryside.
The combination of dusty gravel roads and washing on a wireline flapping in the breeze is reminiscent of walks down a few country roads of my childhood. Minus the scraped knees from falling off my bike or tripping up, thank goodness.
Further down the road and around a few corners, was a flock of sheep with two dogs as their protectors. Not a usual sight on a sheep farm. Even more unusual was the bell around the dog’s neck as well as a few selective sheep.
The countryside surrounding Ourique is dry and barren, obviously due to the lack of rain. One area that was a favourite for Indy and Bob to wander off to is the water reserve, which is situated not far from home. Let’s hope for the people here when the rain does arrive that it doesn’t come all at once.
What does seem to survive without too much water and can be still harvested are the cork oak and the olive trees. Now the cork oak trees are the ones that have fascinated us while we have been out walking the dogs. As with most people who have visited Portugal, we have seen an abundance of cork products on sale throughout the cities and smaller communities where tourists are likely to be wandering.
Portugal’s National Tree – The Cork Oak
Although the ancient Greeks and Romans knew about the value of cork bark, it was seen as a viable product to be harvested commercially in Portugal about three hundred years ago. The cork itself is stripped off the tree from Spring into Summer. No tree is ever cut down for cork production, which makes it a very sustainable product.
The photograph above is a common tree that we have passed on our walks and is situated along the side of the road.
Some more cork facts:
- The average cork oak tree produces one tonne of raw cork which equates to 65,000 stoppers.
- 340,000 tonnes of natural cork stoppers are produced each year.
- One particular tree in Portugal, known as the ‘Whistler Tree’ because of the many singing birds attracted to it, is said to be 212 years old. With an estimation that this tree has produced more than 1,000,000 natural cork stoppers.
- Natural cork can maintain its full sealing capacity for more than 100 years owing to its elasticity and the waxes and fatty acids in its composition.
- Portugal produces more than 50% of all the cork in the world.
- The number written on a peeled cork oak refers to the year it was stripped, e.g. “9” refers to “2009.”
- With the best quality cork comes from the south of Portugal (Algarve and southern Alentejo).
- Cork oak trees store carbon to regenerate their bark, and a harvested cork oak tree absorbs up to five times more than one that isn’t.
There is something beautiful about the cork oak trees. Not only do they provide shade for stock and are an environmentally viable product, it’s their vase shape, and contrasting dark colour trunks amongst the arid dry landscape is where their beauty shines.
From the dry land to places near the ocean is where we headed to have a few breaks from Homebase. We were very fortunate to have use of a car while here which we used to explore some of the smaller seaside and inland towns near to us. As we have a rule not to drive too far while housesitting as we leave the more extensive exploring for our time off in between housesitting.
Here are a few places we enjoyed visiting all within an hour drive away:
Ourique – Grocery shopping and a walk to see some street art, plus a workout for my gluteus maximus.
Albufeira – A spot of sea air and an enjoyable walk along the beach and streets.
Beja – This small town is one place we would have loved to spend more time exploring. It is the most authentic Portuguese town we have visited in this district. We had a surprise treat of street art around a few corners, plus many other buildings of interest scattered around the place.
Then there was Villa Nova de Milfontes the pinnacle of all our outings in this part of Portugal. It was a pleasable mixture of history and the wild Atlantic sea, what more could we ask for? I shall write more about that outing at a later stage.
As a side note before I finish off writing about our housesit.
“The little house on the Prairie” is up for sale. Interested? Or just curious, check it out. UPDATE: It has been sold, and the family are now located back in the U.K.