"All aboard a houseboat in Portugal"
GUARDIAN - JULY 2011
I am not entirely new to boats. I've been on several cross-Channel ferries; I nearly killed
myself in a canoe on the Ardèche; I've spent time on a Turkish gulet (blissful); I've done
feluccas in Egypt; and I had a week on a barge on the Welsh border. I have discovered I
actually rather like boats: I like the portholes, compact kitchens and cooking on the
move. In fact I like boats so much I'm seriously considering buying one and making a
new life on the water.
So a recent trip to Portugal to spend a few days on a houseboat on an enormous
reservoir in the middle of nowhere was a perfect opportunity to test my "sea" legs. Even
better, this boat came with sunshine and a vast swimming pool, and without locks,
tunnels or horizontal rain (though I like all that too). The trickiest element, apart from
the chemical toilet (of which more later), was parking the thing, but then I find that
difficult in a Nissan Micra.
As my children grow older there are many joys, but one of the small sadnesses is that
they are not quite so easily pleased. Whether it's packed lunches, T-shirts, birthday
parties or holidays, they now have their own strongly held views. There was a time when
they were thrilled to spend a week with us anywhere – in a longhouse in Wales, on a
canal boat in Shropshire, at my parents' place in the Midlands. Now holidays have to be
carefully negotiated around friends, girlfriends, sporting events and parties. At home we
rarely spend all day together, just the four of us. And while I like boats, do they? How
would we survive on a cramped motorboat on a deserted reservoir?
But that was before I'd seen the reservoir. Alqueva lake, in the unspoilt Alentejo region
of southern Portugal, is the largest lake in the country, covering a surface area of 250 sq
km, 83km from end to end. It was created in 2002 after the majestic Alqueva dam was
built on the Guadiana river to irrigate the impoverished and arid Alentejo. Locals were
promised much from its construction in 2002. Something may still materialise, but
probably not enough, and not quickly enough for the poorest part of a country in an