If you’re camping in South Portugal, you have to try Camping Ingrina. You just have to. It’s most likely one of Europe’s last wild and truly natural sites. It’s not an official camping site, so you need to brush down a bit on your comfort expectations. But a hot shower is included.
We found the site more or less by accident. My navigation system indicated a camping site while I was browsing the area. And then, when driving through the area, a small road sign also indicated the existence of a campground. For the curious ones: from Raposeira, you take the road towards Praia Zavial and then, when you see a “camping” sign, take a right. You will pass a little village and then take another right turn right after the village. Don’t be discouraged by the rocky and dusty road – it is the right way. Just be careful as there are some bigger rocks, holes and bumps on the road.
When we stopped before the entrance, we were not quite sure whether this place was open at all. It looked open, there’s even a barrier at the entrance. We walked towards the reception and found a closed door, which made us more skeptical. We kept walking and decided to take a closer look. We saw some caravans that looked aged and abandoned. But we also noticed other caravans that indicated people were actually camping here. Finally, we caught a glimpse of tents as well and other buses. But most of them were sort of hidden away in one of the different areas of the site.
We walked back and now the reception was open. We entered and were warmly greeted by Manuel, the owner of the site. Right from the first moment, he made a very pleasant impression on us. He shortly explained the prices (6,50 € per person, that’s it) and told us we’re free to stay anywhere we like. We were so curious to find out more about this place that we paid and checked in.
When walking the site we already found a nice place we could stay at – close to the facilities and the bar, with a splendid view towards Praia Ingrina. We climbed back into the camper and slowly and carefully maneuvered to the position. On the way, we again saw some old caravans, and it seemed they were parked there for good. I started having the impression that some people don’t just camp but actually live there.
After we parked the camper we started to suck in the atmosphere. It was about 6 pm, the sun was setting and illuminated the site in a combination of road movie set, spooky and wonderful wilderness. The first impressions opened our eyes and souls so wide that we weren’t really sure where to put them.
In the days that followed, we found the answer: life at Camping Ingrina is so peaceful, simple, basic that unusual relaxation and cleaning of your mind is happening. One of the most important factors was the absence of distraction: apart from the (a bit oddly selected) music playing at the bar at night, there were no kids running around and yelling at some crowded pool, no loud talking of camping neighbors, no annoying people crossing your way. During the day, we often had the impression we were by ourselves and that’s also the way we acted: totally relaxed and comfortable. Certainly, other guests were also present, but we hardly noticed them as the atmosphere was so peaceful and natural.
Time stands still at some spots on the site. The facilities have seen better days, but you’ll get one warm shower (if you wait in line, you get to know somebody else), electricity in a creative and just slightly adventurous way and clean toilets. Another facility building is abandoned and has become a mixture of storage area and unintentional museum. At night, the more or less total absence of lighting – bring a flashlight or you might trip on the way to the toilet – adds to the overall impression of freedom.
One afternoon I talked to Manuel, the boss, about the history of the site. In 1984, he had the idea of creating a camping site in the middle of a dry and treeless empty area. For a while, it must have been one of the most popular sites in Portugal. Now, it’s a secret location for the curious ones and the “veterans” who’ve known about it all along. Manuel actually sold and bought the site back three times, that’s the kind of heart he puts into the site: all he’s got. He gets great support by his granddaughter Suzanne and Hawk & the other dogs running around.
Should I ever be in the area again, I will definitely pay a visit. Manuel is my personal last camping action hero.