Portugal’s second lockdown in response to the Covid pandemic in January 2021 had been a long time coming. In contrast to Spring 2020, when the Portuguese government acted swiftly and decisively, waiting for a second hard lockdown felt like being tied to the tracks as the train rumbled ominously and inevitably towards us.
The powers-that-be prevaricated before and just after Christmas, implementing a variety of measures which often felt arbitrary and self-defeating. Several weekends when 1pm curfews were put in place only gave rise to bottlenecking the supermarkets in the mornings and irritable shoppers who struggled to socially distance.
While shops, schools and restaurants remained largely open for business, we weren’t allowed to travel between districts unless it was for work. Our family couldn’t take advantage of outdoor spaces or beaches outside of metropolitan Lisbon. As we took what was intended to be a breath of fresh air in Monsanto parkland one Sunday morning in January, we did so alongside what felt like a significant portion of the city’s population. Our sole, judicious use of the Christmas travel corridor was in order to procure festive pork products from the Anglo-Irish butcher’s in a neighbouring borough. Christmas was low-key, but not devoid of chipolatas and as 2020 drew to a close, I was thankful for small mercies.
As the rate of infection and hospitalisations soared in the new year, it was clear that harsher restrictions were looming. In response, I did what any rational person would do in the circumstances and arranged to have a haircut severe enough to see me through what I realised would potentially be many weeks of confinement. When it was finally announced that the schools would shut at the end of January, I waited for the children at the school gates on a fittingly grey and damp afternoon. When they emerged, laden with school equipment and books, it was clear that the teachers didn’t expect them to return anytime soon. As we walked to the car, the children bickered over who was carrying the most. One wrestled with his rucksack and two 50cm rulers and the other struggled with a soggy and forlorn-looking art project. As I was in charge of another rucksack, two lunch bags and two games kits, I can categorically state that it was actually me, but decided to let it go, as I was in no mood for an argument.
That evening, we, along with every other parent in the land, were left staring into the abyss all over again. As lessons had been suspended for two weeks we contemplated possible scenarios: once again having to cajole unenthusiastic children into undertaking independent projects in between paid work, or quite literally leaving them to their own devices and surrendering them to an academic vacuum while we pressed ahead with business as usual. Contrary to expectation, the two weeks passed relatively productively and peaceably before online lessons were reinstated.
This lockdown does feel different though. The void left by last year’s photos of banana bread on social media have been replaced by near-silence; no one’s really talking about it. This time we knew what we’re letting ourselves in for and resigned ourselves to our fate, although life started looking less bleak in our house when I came across a tin of Quality Street that I’d stashed away for Christmas and then forgotten about. I simultaneously rediscovered a box of Mon Cheri liqueur chocolates, but kept this quiet. I reserved these for personal use during the moments of crisis I anticipated in the coming weeks.
We are better at confinement this time round. In a Pavlovian response, we all scurried to our individual work stations, only emerging for meals, tea or snacks. For a while, more or less constant rain scuppered any opportunity to take outdoor exercise in between lessons and work. Once it stopped, the aimless ambles recommenced, but if we’re honest, everyone’s fed up with the same old routes and scenery. We crave the variety and adventure of discovering new places that we once took for granted.
The real issue is that the restrictions in place are just so, well, restrictive. As a result, the most mundane tasks have taken on extra meaning and significance. Recent highlights for me were a trip to the recycling bins and purchasing emergency stationery. Our interpretation of essential travel has incorporated shopping for essential wine and in an unexpected turn of events, I’ve taken up jogging in order to take advantage of my right – now enshrined in law – to practise individual exercise. There’s no doubt about it, we are living through exceptional times.
Working online requires tolerance of unexpected events.One student, who works for a high profile consultancy company, participated in a Zoom meeting throughout which her 4 year old refused to leave her lap. During one of my online classes, the son of another student joined to announce live to the group that his brother had just done a poo. The same student related how her husband had accidentally dropped a mug into their goldfish bowl during their young son’s online contact with his nursery school teacher. The bowl broke and pandemonium ensued. The child started screaming while three goldfish thrashed around, surrounded by shattered glass, in a puddle on the kitchen floor. The fish were quickly rescued and transferred to a Pyrex bowl, but it seemed that one of the fish hadn’t survived the trauma. Just as the husband was about to dispose of the corpse, it miraculously came back to life and the unfortunate goldfish was reunited with its friends in the makeshift container. The next morning, my student found the same resurrected fish on the kitchen counter next to the Pyrex. It had clearly enjoyed its moment of freedom the day before so much that it had attempted to replicate the experience by leaping out of the bowl. Remarkably, it was still alive and was popped back into water, surviving its second excursion in a 24-hour period. The family has since bought a taller, sturdier fish tank.
The parallels are striking: we are all that goldfish, torn between the safety and sanctuary of our homes and our desire to escape. For the time being at least, we are similarly trapped, yearning to explore the world that exists beyond four walls, our goldfish bowl. We daydream of what lies beyond these confines and tread water as we wait for the day we can roam freely once again.
Soon!!! Sometime soon we will need something to shake off the cobwebs from a long confinement and reconnect with the natural world once again. A break from all those screens and domestic routines of daily life will be much needed. In these troubled times of ours, we need a place that is open to the elements, has fresh air and is wild enough for us to feel the muscles in our legs stretch once again. Fortunately, Lisbon is quite possibly the best-located capital city in the world and is surrounded by nature.
Here are 10 of 50 we have chosen – all off-the-beaten track places are well within an hour’s drive from the centre of Lisbon and an alternative to those places we all know that are certain to be full of people once things start to relax.
1. Granja dos Serrões and Parque da Segueteira
The standing stones found within the parish of Pêro Pinheiro are unlike anything else in the region and well worth a visit – these weirdly sculptured rocks look otherworldly. Segueteira Park in the village of Maceira contains two of the most interesting examples, one of which is known locally as the ‘Elephant rock’ due to its trunk-like structure. The rocks are just above an ancient spring, which is steeped in local folklore.
2. Arriba Fóssil da Costa da Caprica
This protected coastline between the popular seaside resort of Fonte da Telha and the Albufeira Lagoon is one of the most interesting in Europe. Popular with walkers and birdwatchers, all along the coast are rocks and formations of stunning beauty showing how the sea has progressively pulled back over millions of years, producing such magnificent coastal scenery. The cliffs here are among the most important examples of sedimentary rock strata in Western Europe and as have been a protected area since 1984. These fossil cliffs are evidence of the former coastline and around 10 million years ago the sea reached the very top of the cliffs, which have been progressively eroded over time.
3. Boca da Inferno, Cascais
Portugal is blessed with many stunning sea caves, particularly in the Algarve: although most are difficult to access, often requiring a boat. Boca do Inferno is different as it is a short walk from Cascais marina. When the swells are big and the tide is high, massive waves crash into the cave and surrounding cliffs, causing jets of water to shoot up in spectacular style, which is a truly impressive sight.
4. Praia da Samarra, Serra de Sintra
Praia da Samarra is a stunningly beautiful beach that has everything nature lovers would want. It is an unusually narrow beach that faces northwest, with cliffs on both sides offering shelter from the prevailing winds. The beach has a stream (Ribeira da Samarra), which is at its deepest by the mill and then flows into the sea, enhancing the beach’s natural beauty. Praia da Samarra is rich in fauna and flora and has been popular since pre-history, with evidence of a human presence for over 4000 years.
5. Ponte Romana, Rio Lizandro
Following the well-trodden trail beside the Lizandro river, leads walkers through the untouched beauty of the wild valley, and plenty of spots for picnics and adventure. The highlight of this walk is the so-called Ponte Romana that is the ideal place to stop and take it all in. For those who want to make this trip into more of an adventure then the waterfall – Cascata de Armés is a 25-minute walk but well worth the effort. Following the river north from the Ponte Romana will take you to the village of Cheleiros and its equally ancient but impressive bridge.
6. Lapa da Santa. Margarida,Serra da Arrábida
Close to the golden sands of Portinho da Arrábida a short walk down some steps will take you to a mysterious hidden cavern containing a tiny chapel and some remarkable rock formations. There’s a very special atmosphere in the cavern which was used as a natural shelter well over 30,000 years ago by early human communities, possibly even by Neanderthals, at a time when the sea lay 60 metres below the present level. The cave, which has access to the sea, has witnessed human activity ever since.
7. Lagoas de Sintra
Starting at Convento dos Capuchos there is a 5.5km linear walk which offers some of the best trails in the whole of Serra de Sintra. You enter a forested trail from which connects two of Sintra’s best-known attractions – the Convento and the Palácio de Monserrate. The trail leads to a number of small lakes. The first of which is the picture-perfect Lagoa dos Mosqueiros. Going down the hill will take you via more lakes. On the way. look out for the wooden sculptures hidden in the woods.
8. Espaço Interpretativo da Lagoa Pequena
Freshwater streams flow into the lagoon, creating three basins that have a maximum depth of 15 meters. The tidal conditions in combination with the constant flow of fresh water make it ideal for migratory birds. The lagoon, in fact, is a National Ecological Reserve and is popular with bird-watchers. There are wooden walkways that take you to some of the best spots to observe the birds.
9. N379-1, Serra da Arrábida
The stunning scenery along the N379-1 makes it one of the most beautiful roads in Portugal. It’s probably because of its breath-taking beauty that it was selected as a backdrop to scenes in the James Bond film, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. It is also one of the most fascinating natural regions in Portugal with a clear Mediterranean influence: it features a micro-climate and unique habitat for rare wild flowers, ferns and wildlife.
10. Cascata de Fervença
Sadly, one of the most beautiful and photographed places in the region is still used as rubbish dump! It’s not difficult to work out who the perpetrators are!!! After the rains, Fervença is truly spectacular and is well worth a visit. Hopefully this waterfall will get the same attention Anços received and become a place for families to unwind and see the full force of nature. It ought to be the perfect place to shake off the cobwebs from a long confinement.