Lifestyle & Culture

Sarah Nagaty in Lisbon: Saving the weekend without breaking curfew and risking your health (or anyone else’s)

Mértola

The weekend is, for many people, the time they look forward to the most in dealing with the approaching winter blues, the daily stress of carrying out life under the pandemic and coping with economic challenges, which started last spring.

The problem is, Portugal is increasing restrictions due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases. Another 15 days of state of emergency started on Tuesday 24 November and will end on 8 December with possibility of renewal.

But there is a way to save the weekend, without breaking the rules and without putting your health, or anyone else’s, at risk.

There are now 191 Portuguese municipalities which are considered at-risk and which have to conform to the new curfew restrictions. This covers a lot of municipalities, of course. However, two relatively isolated, amazing getaways are not included in those lists: Mértola and Marvão.

Mértola

Mértola lies in the Alentejo region of Portugal near the Spanish border. It is located on a hill near the Guadiana river. It was an important political and commercial center during the Islamic period and is arguably one of Portugal’s towns with the most enduring Moorish heritage. The most incredible things about Mértola are its wild nature and hiking trails.

Being in the Alentejo, and particularly towards the south of the Alentejo, Mértola and its surrounding area are a bit warmer than Lisbon. Private rooms, houses, and rustic cottages in the area could not be any cheaper on Airbnb. You can find a deal for 160 euros for two nights for three or four people.

Marvão

Marvão is no less pretty than Mértola with beautiful hiking trails and scenery. The town lies in Portalegre and is only a few kilometers away from Spain. This hilltop village allows you to see the most picturesque scenery; after all, the village used to be a natural point of strategic defense during the reign of the Moors as well as after the Christian Reconquista.

Apart from the hikes and the views, the town has quite an interesting architectural heritage which stands witness to its rich history. Cozy houses for two people can be rented as cheaply as 60 euros per night on Airbnb or Booking.com.

The town is included in the New York Times bestselling book: “1,000 Places to see Before you Die.”

Nature and your mental (and physical) health

So, what can you do to save your mental well-being during the potentially recurring weekend lockdowns?

Pick a town which is not on the list of 191 municipalities undergoing the curfew, Marvão or Mértola or anywhere else you fancy. Go alone for a silent retreat or with people in your household (flat mates, family or a partner) in order to avoid socializing. Book a place in the middle of nowhere so you minimize contact with others, packing all your food and necessary items with you. And just lose yourself in nature.

Remember you will be helping the local community in those towns that are suffering immensely from the current measures. Moreover, you will be saving your mental well-being. Do you know that exercising is one of the few things we are allowed to do outdoors during the curfew hours? It is necessary, it is needed, and you might end up exploring a bit more of Portugal in the most peaceful setting you could hope for.

As of 27 November, restrictions include:

• prohibiting circulation of people from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends.

• Movement is prohibited between municipalities between 11 p.m. on 27 November and 5 a.m. on 2 December and between 11 p.m. on 4 December and 5 a.m. on 9 December. The more strict measures prohibiting movement between municipalities on those days are due to the Portuguese bank holidays on the 1st and the 8th of December.

Public health officials believe infection rates rise during the weekends with gatherings of friends and families both indoors and outdoors, hence the heavier restrictions during the weekends and bank holidays.

There is, of course, a general feeling of discontent among business owners and people working in hospitality with such measures due to the negative economic consequences of the new restrictions. People whose jobs are not affected by the new rules are also concerned about reliving something similar to the lockdown days in March and April.

To avoid getting stuck in the curfew, make sure you are traveling outside of curfew days (and hours!). It is tricky, but totally doable.

About the author:

Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for two years.

As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.

See all of Sarah’s Dispatches posts here.

See Dispatches’s Lisbon story archive here.

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