The Salt of the Earth
A bike ride ends in mud and salt...
Last weekend Denise and I went for a bike ride. Truth be told, it was the many biking videos I watched on YouTube that first piqued my interest in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. So when we found a route on Bikemap which would take us through the Natural Reserve we hopped on our bikes.
We followed a paved bike path from VRSA north toward Castro Marim. We turned onto a rutty, dirt. and gravel road into the Reserve. When you enter at this point there is a sign showing the extent of the path. It appeared we could continue for several kilometers along the edge of the water. We passed what I believe is a bird-watching blind.
Along the way, we saw lots of flamingos and plenty of salt pans.
I would not recommend this trail on a street bike as it is quite rutty. But if you want to enjoy a quiet ride, birds, and unusual vistas it is a fun adventure. During our ride, we did see one other human (on a hybrid)…a Portuguese man visiting with his family from Ericeira. We learned that his wife and children loved the beach and he loved his bike!
At the end of the trail, we were deposited on a lightly trafficked road. We could have headed toward the beach (toward Altura) but instead we turned right knowing that this would take us through Mount Francisco and ultimately Castro Marim.
Floating in Salt
After a brief stop in Castro Marim, we headed back on the bike path toward our home. But I called Denise to stop as we passed Água Mãe. We had heard stories about this place. A golfing friend had commented that her holiday guests always made a point of visiting it. But frankly, we didn’t know any details. So we continued down another deeply rutted road to a parking lot filled with cars.
Frankly, I am not sure which of their businesses is the most profitable. They definitely produce artisanal salt using traditional methods. They offer their products (salt, salt mixed with herbs, and Salt Flower1) to both the wholesale and retail markets.
We keep alive the tradition of the production of Portuguese salt, which has always been recognized as high quality, according to ancestral methods that preserve all the mineral elements present in ocean water, providing us in the correct amount trace elements essential to human life such as magnesium and potassium. - aguamae.pt
They also offer tours of the facility and a spa. The spa offers floating baths in rich mineral salt water, application of saline clay, and exfoliation with salt flower. On this particular day, the spa was doing a very healthy business.
Most of the customers appeared to be enjoying the floating options. We saw a dozen or more people, nearly all holding hands as they relaxed for 30 minutes or more in the shallow pans (€8). A few also applied the mud which is rich in minerals and is believed to draw toxins from the body (an additional €8). I can’t speak to the therapeutic benefits but the people we spoke to insisted that one couldn’t believe how smooth their skin felt after the spa experience. They also have a small cafe and we found many people sitting on lounge chairs relaxing beside the shallow ponds.
Full disclosure: we are not the type of people to “indulge” in this type of thing. Denise is a nurse and even before Covid washed her hands several times a day. I on the other hand believe that germs are good for you…but not sure I am up to slathering my body in mud. I might drift in the salt bed though if I can find someone to hold my hand….
Next week: sorry but I have to rant, and the Portuguese are sports-crazy.
Salt Flower is collected daily, patiently, by the salt shaker on the surface of the salt crystallizers (tails), it consists of films of very thin crystals. Its delicate and accentuated flavor and its capacity for dissolution make it the favorite of the great international chefs. Being added at the time of consumption, allows for the preparation of unsalted dishes, maintaining all the juices and freshness of the meat, fish, and other ingredients.