On the second day with the car we planned to start early and some time before breakfast drive into the Serra de Monchique, the mountain range which separates the Algarve from the rest of Portugal and specifically to the mountain peak of Foia, which at almost seven hundred and forty metres is the highest spot in the range.
We drove directly north, climbing steadily all the time and then as we got closer we were obliged to leave the main road and take to a narrow paved track that weaved its way to the top of the mountain as the engine of the car complained all the way to the top.
At the top was a rather untidy radio telecommunications and radar base with all of the pylons and cables that are normally associated with this type of facility but we hadn’t driven here to see this and as we turned our backs on the buildings we enjoyed the panoramic views over the mountain countryside, the forests where wild European Lynx still live, a National Park and in the distance the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a delightfully clear morning so there was nothing to interrupt the natural panorama and being early there was no one to share it with.
The downside however was that for an August morning with the sun shining it was agonisingly cold as strong winds blew in from the sea and with nothing to stop them just blew right up the side and over the top of the mountain and most of us regretted not bringing warmer clothes. We wandered around for a while and when we could bear it no longer we retreated to the tourist shop and café and warmed up with a cup of coffee before making the return journey to Praia de Luz for breakfast.
Later that morning we returned to the cars and embarked on our second journey of the day, this time, on my recommendation (I had been there before) to the nearby town of Silves on the edge of the mountain range. This was a shorter journey and we drove through Lagos, Alvor and Portimao before turning north towards the previous capital of the Algarve.
To reach Silves there was a magnificent approach from the south as the road dropped into the lush green valley of the Rio Arade and then climbed through the ridges and boulders of the other side with all the time the magnificent spectacle of the red sandstone walls of the old Moorish castle undulating along the top of highest point with its defensive turrets piercing the sky above us.
This is what we had mostly come to see so we found a car park and made our way to the castle past the statue of Sancho I of Portugal and towards the main gate. Interestingly Sancho seems to have been moved and relocated since our visit there twenty years before because from modern pictures he seems to be much closer to the entrance than I remember.
We went inside and were struck by the fact that the Portuguese hadn’t spent a lot of the renovation budget on basic health and safety. The Castle was a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations below. I understand that it is a lot safer now however following a restoration process that was completed in 2008.
Except for worrying about my children disappearing over the side this didn’t really spoil the visit to the castle and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements and through the overgrown gardens, discovering fragments of history and reading about the Moorish occupation and the eventual Portuguese reconquest.
Outside the castle we walked around the narrow streets and the pastel coloured houses with their elegant iron balconies and window boxes overflowing with boiling geraniums, visited the cathedral and stopping frequently to admire the views before we took a vote on what to do next and the children conspired to outvote us and declared that we should return to the beach and the swimming pools of Praia de Luz.