“Mum!, the Bart Simpson picture on my pyjamas has turned into a zombie”. Hmmm. “Mum!, I’ve broken my leg”. Sigh. Not to panic. The scrape, scrape sound of nail file upon nail calmly came through the teenager’s bedroom wall. I was reading An Englishman in Italy’s blog www.englishmaninitaly.org and couldn’t tear myself away.
We were supposed to be getting our swimming stuff together to venture out in the 34 degree heat for a dip. My daughter emerged with leg intact wearing pyjamas so old they came to just below the knee. They’d been passed on to little brother but taken back in a fit of nostalgia. We have lots of fits of nostalgia now we’ve left England. Anything from home is sacrosanct. One thing we didn’t do at home though, which is one reason we have dragged ourselves halfway across Europe to live, is swim outdoors. Our little round pool would go up hopefully one rare hot day at the beginning of the summer holidays. We would look wistfully into it, and up at the cloudy, grey, sky every morning until it was taken down in September. We did become experts at insect rescue though because although I squash flies indoors with gay abandon, I cannot bear to see them drown, wiggling legs and gasping for breath.
Castelo Branco, on the other hand, is a great place to swim. It is inland. There is no sea. In that respect it’s a little like Switzerland, both making up for the lack of sea with stunning mountains, hills and ski potential. In summer the rivers of Castelo are dammed to make them deep enough for swimming in parts. Some have a café and a little beach for summer sunning. There are reservoirs for swimming and sailing, and a fabulous swimming pool near the centre of the city.
If you were to idle your way to Castelo Branco you would be generally unaware of all this. There are no advertisements, no signs to the river beaches. Maybe a little wooden, hand painted sign hidden behind a tree that could mean anything. I have no idea how we would have found any of these places without the help of friends and I know that after several years of livng here they have only recently found another swimming beach close by. But it was worth the wait. With a view of the hills above and eagles swooping by, often a stillness that comes on a hot day when you have the place to yourself, it is one of the best places to be.
The reservoir is ten minutes drive away from our village and fifteen minutes from the city, just off the A23 at the Lardosa turn off, then follow the sign to Barragem da Marateca. We come here all seasons, the children running around its shores playing pirates and Jedhi in winter, splashing in and out of the water with the dog, and swimming in the spring and summer. It’s a huge reservoir surrounded by heron’s nests with lagoon style areas which are fairly shallow though deep enough to swim. We won’t venture further into the lake than our little, rocky lagoon, staying safe from strong, hidden currents and sea monsters. Just in case.
After the river beaches and the reservoir there is one more, perfect place to swim. Hard to find, it is hidden away in the industrial/commercial area, between the Forum and Jumbo shopping malls. The municipal swimming pool in Castelo Branco is a perfect, clean and clear, blue gem. Last year we stayed at an apartment with a lovely pool, a generous host, and children for my own to play with, so we had no need to venture further afield for entertainment.
This year having only a balcony, we’ve been forced out of the village to drive around in search of the city’s pool, which we knew was out there. Somewhere. All winter I’d passed notices for the lagoa, where you can hire boats, and I knew the pool (piscina) was close by. So we drove around and around the area. Two or three times we went past the ‘Zone de Lazer’ which I thought was some sort of fun lazer place for kid’s parties and mentally started planning my son’s ninth birthday. We went in another circle and past the sign again. Oh I get it, leisure zone. Duh.
This was the best surprise. It is shaped like a lagoon so you can wade in to the warm water slowly. There’s a waterfall, and a small slide for children, it’s not too deep so if you want serious lap swimming or diving, this is not the place – although there is an indoor winter pool for that sort of thing which I haven’t yet explored. This is a pool to play in, no sand to get in your hair and mouth, you can sunbathe on the grassy decks, eat at the café, or just wade, splash, do water handstands, or gently swim around. We tend to play hide and seek around the columns which support the little wooden bridge.
You won’t miss the seaside if you come to Castelo Branco. Everything is here, you just have to look a little. Then again, the tourist board* may help and you can pick up a free map of the city.
*Tourist Board Castelo Branco, Praca do Municipio, 600-458 – just off the main square on the road that runs down to the station.