Traveller's tale

In search of a bed in Portugal, Maureen Corrigan finds herself on a mountain's edge.

We are on a self-drive tour of Portugal. Six of us hire a nine-seater van. Lisbon to Fatima is not far but we take the scenic route. We want to see historic Sintra, visit the seaside town of Nazare and end up near Fatima, leaving for Oporto the next day.

Staying in a pousada - a converted castle, convent or palace - sounds magical and with darkness approaching, we look for signs to a Pousada de Portugal just east of Fatima. It's at the top of a mountain and as the road narrows, the gradient becomes steeper. It starts to rain.

On the last bend, the van wheels slip and the van slides back to the edge of the mountain, which has no guard rails and a long drop. There is oil on the road and every time we try to drive the van forward, it slips closer to the edge.

We take our luggage out and four of the six travellers get out. I stay with the driver for moral support. The four outside check the road for the least oily spot and we continue on.

The entrance to the pousada is an archway right on the road but our van doesn't fit under it. The steep cobblestone driveway is wet and slippery. One of our team walks up to the pousada's entrance.

''Gee, it looks really nice inside but this is the only way in,'' he says. There is nowhere to park outside. That is the end of our pousada stay.

We drive back down the hill to Holy Fatima to find an ordinary hotel. Over a late dinner, we are each thankful for being alive.

Each published writer of Traveller's Tale wins a Lonely Planet book. Send a 500-word story to travellerguide@fairfax.com.au with your address, guidebook choice and ''Tale'' in the subject field.

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