It’s 8.30am on a Sunday in mid June. The sun hasn’t quite cleared the roof of our house yet so we’re still in shade on our west-facing back terrace. The air temperature is morning dew fresh. I’m not wearing socks, but I am wearing long trousers and a light fleece whilst we eat a breakfast consisting of freshly squeezed juice made with sweet laranjas from the quinta’s citrus orchard; plum and cinnamon jam (the plums also came from the quinta), and croissants from Lidl (a reliable source of croissants although I don’t like shopping there). 100m away, the quinta’s sheep look at us with bewildered expressions, wondering why we are never the ones to release them from their overnight incarceration in the field directly behind our house. The sun breathes warmth into the grass, dragon palms and squat olive trees which fill the undulating space between us and the sheep. This is a playground for família Princesa. Tree stumps, small hillocks, and bushy perennials are ideal places for her three cute-as-buttons kittens to use as hiding places, spending endless hours ambushing each other from ‘obstacles’ in this natural assault course.
The seasons have changed. This hit home on Friday in the supermarket where there was a distinctly different vibe. People were dressed in full on summer uniform. There were telling empty places on the shelves where boxes of Sagres beer and sacks of BBQ briquettes should be. The Portuguese summer holidays are about to start. Formerly empty beaches will be rammed for the next three months as Portuguese from around the country descend on the area to enjoy a hot summer on some of the best looking beaches we’ve seen anywhere.
But spring seems to have come and gone without us even fully appreciating its presence. Maybe that’s because in central Portugal it has felt as though it has had multiple personalities.
March was categorized by warm days and cold nights. In the evening we still had to light the fire to keep warm. A mini road trip around the Alentejo across the Sado Estuary took us to empty beaches; people-free even though it was warm enough to sunbathe, warmer than the best summer day in Britain. A gorgeous room in a wine lodge in Alentejo had a sexy, modern stove and a supply of chunky logs. We looked forward to retiring to our room post dinner with some of the lodge’s wine to sit, snuggled up by the fire, looking out over a treetop sea. But could we get those logs to catch? Could we buggery. It was unburnable wood.
We decamped to Tenerife and La Palma in the Canaries for a significant chunk of April. Daytime temps there were on a par with Setúbal. Similarities in climate parted company after dark, the Canaries staying much more temperate when the natural light went out. We chose April to return to the Canary Islands as we know the threat of monsoon rains and sub-tropical storm level winds peters out in the islands at the end of March (sure enough there was a weather alert there for strong winds and heavy rain during the last week of the month). But in central Portugal the first couple of weeks of April were the dreariest of the year. We knew this because we kept an eye on the weather as the new Inntravel Arrábida walking holiday we’d helped design started at the beginning of the month. In a location where sunshine is the default setting it was bad luck, even though it was good timing for the land though as any dampening down of the countryside before the long, hot, dry summer kicks in is not only welcome, it’s essential.
The rain followed by the return of the sun resulted in an unmistakable feature of spring – an explosion of wild flowers in bloom. The displays here are something else; orchids, poppies, wisteria, jasmine, honeysuckle, wild iris, snapdragon, and perfumed cistus to name but a paltry few. Although from mid April days were mainly sunny, temperatures undulated.
In early May we walked in Arrábida in borderline summer heat, setting off early morning to avoid the hottest part of the day. Yet, a week later the temperature dropped and cloud and rain rolled in, lasting exactly the amount of time a friend was visiting Lisbon. We spent a fun, but cool and damp day with him wandering Lisbon’s streets before spending another wet day in Porto. Two days after that and it was so hot we could only spend brief periods on the exposed upper deck of a ship cruising the Douro before we had to escape to the cooling shade beneath deck.
We’d planned a hiking trip back to the north of Portugal for the end of May, but predicted temperatures were in the upper 30sC; crazy warm for walking. We postponed it for seven days; a wise decision as the mercury rose to almost 40C on two days during that week. And what was it by the time we took to the trails of the north? 16C. A plummeting drop of 20 degrees.
And that was that, the end of a see-sawing spring.