Travels in Portugal, Carvoeiro from Fishing to Tourism

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“By the end…it was clear that  spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  It became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”  –  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

In 1970 following the breakup of the Beatles, George Harrison released a solo album called “All Things Must Pass”. I remember that at the time there was much debate about whether this was a lament for a lost past or a celebration of future opportunity.  I suppose it all depends on your point of view.

All Things Must Pass

When I first visited Carvoeiro in 1986 a single dusty road led to centre of the village and the beach front and on the sand itself was a curious metal structure and a circular sign advertising Nivea Cream.  There were wooden frames for drying fish but no sun beds or parasols, there were cafés for local people but no cocktail bars, there were fishing boats but no pedalos. Today, after only thirty years or so, there is a long tarmac road through modern holiday developments and hotels, tourist shops, restaurants and the inevitable ‘Irish Bar’.

I mentioned my previous visit to our host Isabella at our accommodation and with a theatrical sweep of the arm declared that all of the built up land all around was once open fields, she sounded sad about that but I am sure she wasn’t because now she has a thriving hotel business.

Once settled in we walked to the beach which was still busy in the late afternoon sunshine and then took a path away from the sand up past the holiday apartments and the bars and made our way to the top of the precarious cliffs, a route which took us past rows of abandoned fishermen’s houses that are destined sometime to be demolished and replaced with more modern apartments.

Carvoeiro Then and Now

In this picture I have in the background the old fishermen’s houses today, run down and decrepit, by contrast in 1986 they are still occupied and there is a grand old house on the top of the cliff which is gone now.  The beach is bigger because the Council demolished some cliffs to get more sun bed space.  The black and white picture is about one hundred years ago and I do not feature in it!

This is a process that is inevitable, people can’t go on living in one hundred year old houses without basic modern facilities but it is still a shame to see their slow process through decay towards demise and eventual final collapse.  What I did find sad was the graffiti that was daubed on the walls and doors, such I shame I thought that people can’t let old buildings crumble and fall down with some sort of dignity.  No one would go into a care home and spray-paint an old person – would they?

Carvoeiro Graffiti

At the very top I looked down on the crescent beach and the busy seafront behind it, it had certainly changed but not beyond recognition and I still liked it.  I thought about it this way; if I had not visited Carvoeiro thirty-five years ago then I would have known no difference.  Someone visiting for the first time today and returning in thirty-five years time might say ‘yes, it is lovely but you should have seen it in 2019, it was much better then’

Having walked west we now returned to the beach and after a short break set off in the opposite direction where a wooden boardwalk took us half a mile or so along a cliff top walk along sandstone cliffs sculptured into columns and caves by the erosion of the sea.  There was opportunity to take various steep paths down to the edge and explore the caverns and lagoons that had been carved out of the rocks, I made my way down into one of the caves where people were swimming but I declined to join them because the rocks were razor sharp and in just a few minutes my feet and knees were bleeding from several tiny cuts so we retired to a beach bar where I could attend to my injuries over a glass of beer.

Carvoeiro Cave

After an afternoon beside the hotel swimming pool our thoughts turned to evening meal but before eating we returned to the beach to catch the sunset.  I remembered fishing boats on this beach but there were none here now, there are no fishing boats anymore because the fishermen have all abandoned the hard life of the sea and earn their living these days taking boat loads of people to visit the caves all along the coastline which at about €20 a person for a thirty minute boat ride I suspect is much more lucrative business.

All Things Must Pass”.

We found a traditional sort of restaurant, Kim had spicy chicken piri-piri and I had mixed fish rice, a sort of risotto and with the food a jug of house wine and a beer, we had earned it, we had walked almost eleven miles today.

For an account of how tourism replaced fishing then read Norman Lewis – “Voices of the Old Sea”

Carvoiero Cave 02

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

29 responses to “Travels in Portugal, Carvoeiro from Fishing to Tourism

  1. In twenty or thirty years, St Ives has gone through exactly the same process as all the interesting shops turn into shops with massive mark ups and huge profits…surf shops, art galleries with pictures painted in Taiwan and imported and above all, food outlets. Traditional Cornish pizza, Cornish burgers and so on. And like Carvoeiro, it just isn’t that interesting any more, although the fisherman still remain.
    JC had it covered: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a very interesting read, Andrew, I enjoyed the contrasting photos in time.

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  3. Love the cave photos, Andrew! Poor feet 🙂 🙂

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  4. It is nearly always those of us that turn up and go that want the past to have been kept!

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  5. You have put your finger on why we are so fortunate to live beside a National Park. The cave photograph is splendid

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  6. Oh, loved the different images of a place at different times

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  7. Interesting post Andrew, I note your reference to ‘the inevitable ‘Irish Bar’.’ We can never see the attraction. Would rather go somewhere more local/authentic.

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  8. I like the before and after pictures. As for the injuries, a nice glass of beer cures many things I find.

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  9. Thats a very nice post and the pics co-ordinate with time so well. It will be nice of you if you can please check out my blog and can follow it.😊https://athoussandmiles.wordpress.com/

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  10. Hiking down the PCT last year I was running into 15-20 people a day and I kept thinking ‘Where are all of these people coming from?’ I was remembering when maybe I would run into two or three people on a day in the wilderness. Or none. I like the way you travel back in time, Andrew. It’s hard not to feel a touch of nostalgia. There are still lonely, remote locations with a strong feel of uniqueness. But they are fewer and fewer. –Curt

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