It would not be unfair to describe the northern Portuguese village of Santa Maria Do Bouro as a one horse town. Small and remote, it is a full hour away from the nearest large city, Braga. Out on it’s own and swathed in a cradle of stunningly beautiful scenic overkill, it seems cut off in both time and space.
To be fair, there are two buses a day. During my four days there, I never saw a taxi. There were no discos, casinos or supermarkets. The entire village infrastructure consisted of one very good (and cheap) restaurant, a couple of ridiculously cheap cafe bars that served until around two in the morning, and a small local shop that seemed to open whenever the owner woke up.
But oh my, what a beautiful little place it is. Cobbled streets, houses with red terracotta roofs and walls of deep, dusky ochre that cast long, welcoming shadows in the searing heat of a mid June afternoon. Old women selling oranges by the roadside just outside of town, and flower baskets everywhere brimming with gorgeous colours and fragrances.
The pace of life here just instinctively slows you down to a kind of languid, smiley slouch. In my four days here, I did absolutely nothing, and yet it took me all day to do it. From walking in the lilting, deep ravines and half realised nature trails to a long, lazy hour and sometimes longer lunch at that pretty little restaurant, it was all going on here. Like Alice falling through the looking glass, I found my normal worldly routine completely inverted.
By day two, it no longer felt odd to go for a couple of fabulously frosty beers in the late afternoon, or to linger outside in shorts and a T-shirt until two in the morning. One night, I sat there entranced by the deep, rich glow of an intense forest fire that had flared up a few miles away. I could smell the smoke quite clearly. No one else seemed concerned, so I reckoned I was safe enough. But what an eye opener that was.
As for the locals, they accepted me with surprisingly open and easy grace. One night, there was a card game and all the seats outside were taken. Rather than interrupt, i simply stood to one side. This was obviously high drama.
So I was very surprised when one of the locals nipped inside, and brought out a chair for me. And no, there was no plug attached to it, either.
This simple act of kindness was typical. I left Santa Maria Do Bouro with a deep and genuine sense of regret, and with the sure and certain knowledge that I will certainly return there one day soon.
Yes, I suspect that anything more than a week there would be too much. But just to chill out, switch off from the rat race, engage with new people… surely that’s the greatest reward you can take from a break anywhere, and this small, unassuming little Portuguese gem did just that, and with charm, grace and a smile. Obrigado.