Category Archives: Beaches

Travels in Portugal, The Algarve on a Beach Towel

When you need a map, a beach towel can be an option…

Algarve Map on Beach Towel

I snapped this one in a sea front shop in Carvoeiro.

Travels in Portugal, A Tourist Train and A Siesta in Odeceixa

Odeceixa Train

The accommodation in Odeceixa was in a wonderful position overlooking the Atlantic Ocean but it was two and half miles from the village and unless you like spending all day on the beach it was lacking in sightseeing opportunities.  Neither of us like spending a full day at the beach.

Getting to the village was relatively straightforward but parking at the beach was at a premium so I was reluctant to give up my spot for a couple of hours just in case it wasn’t there when I returned.

We could have walked I suppose but it wasn’t an attractive walk and it was along a narrow main road.  The easiest alternative way to get to the village and back was on a shuttle service on one of those pretend tourist trains which I dislike so much but as it was the only option to taking the car and risking the parking space I had to accept that this was the only sensible thing to do.  It was only a short ride and at only €1.50 return fare exceptionally good value.

Odexeixa Street 01

As the day got progressively hotter the time was approaching the afternoon siesta and we arrived to curiously deserted streets as though someone had declared a national emergency and everyone had left town in a hurry.  Across the narrow lanes abandoned laundry remained hanging on overloaded balcony rails, starched and bleached by the sun, occasionally a loose shutter kissed a window frame and a whispering pigeon looked for a shaded spot to spend the afternoon.  A bed sheet had lost its peg on a washing line and was dragging lethargically in the dust so I rescued it.

As we walked into the village it was so quiet that I could hear the paint lifting and splitting on the wooden doors, the gentle creaking of rusty shutter hinges, the squeaking complaints of rattan as sleeping residents shifted a little in their balcony chairs momentarily disturbed by the the faint crack of seed pods in the flower planters.

The concept of an  drowsy afternoon siesta is not something that I am unfamiliar of course with but I think that I can say that I have never before seen it so rigidly observed; not in Spain, France or even Greece but here in Odeceixa and across the whole of the Alentejo the entire place completely closed down for the afternoon.

Even the local statues were taking a rest.

Odeceixa Statues 01

The empty streets were decorated with lazy bunting as it seems there had been a festival the weekend previously which didn’t really surprise me because we have a habit of turning up in a place when the party is over or will be taking place shortly after we leave. Odeceixa was no exception to this rule.

Odeceixa Bunting

There was a steep climb to the top of the village which took us through empty streets, a sleeping cat in the middle of the road who was clearly confident that there was no danger, the church (closed) and the cemetery (locked gates) until we reached the top and the village windmill, which is no longer required for its original purpose but is retained now as a sort of heritage museum piece.  It was closed of course.  There were wonderful sweeping views from the top looking east to the farms and fields and west to the crawling river and the sea beyond.

Odeceixa Windmill

We returned to the bottom of the village through more empty streets until we reached the main square where the shops were closed but restaurants and bars were still optimistically on the look-out for customers.  In a side street we found a little place to our liking and sat for a while with a beer and enjoyed a light lunch.

Two hours in the sleepy village was just about the right amount of time, especially during a siesta and we took the scheduled return ride on the pretend train back to the beach.

We swam for a while and while Kim lay on the sand and dried off in the sun I impatiently walked the entire length of the beach in both directions. Twice. I am not one for long spells on the beach these days.  Later we sat on the balcony for a couple of hours then packed our bags ready for departure the morning before dining again in the seafood restaurant.  We would be leaving the coast tomorrow so naturally in a fish restaurant adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean we both ate fish again tonight.

Not a lot of walking today, only three and a half miles.

Odeceixa Roof

Travels in Portugal, A Wild River and A Cliff Top Walk in Odeceixa

Odeceixa Fish Statue

The soft sound of the rolling sea, no longer a lullaby but now an alarm call, woke me early so once awake I dressed and quietly left the room for an early morning stroll.  I left Kim to sleep on.  The beach that was busy yesterday was deserted now and I felt like Robinson Crusoe as I walked across the pristine sand.  The tide had washed away all of the footprints.  No Man Friday.

To the north of the beach and across the Ribeira de Seixe there is a cliff top with views both north and south and it was our plan today to take the path to the top.  At breakfast the owner of the accommodation told us that we would have to wait until the afternoon for the tide to go out so that we would be able to cross the river.

I may have mentioned before that Kim can be rather impatient at times and she was not in the mood right now to accept the guidance and she didn’t want to wait for the water level go all the way down to paddling depth so ignoring the local advice from someone who had lived here all of his life and knew well the tides and the flow of the river and  at mid morning marched us off to the beach to find a suitable crossing place.  I thought that she was being rather optimistic but I said nothing, I find this is best, and she pointed out that there were people on the other side and they must surely have crossed the river somehow.  She chose to ignore the obvious fact that these people had either swum across or were already parked on the opposite side.

Odeceixa Beach

So we walked the length of the arc of the mouth of the river until Kim was finally satisfied that she had found a suitable crossing place.  In a previous life I am convinced that she would have been a jungle explorer or the leader of a wagon train going west in America.  I wasn’t nearly so confident but she sent me across first to test the depth and the current and after I had made a successful crossing she followed me over.

Odeceixa River

Once safely across and not having been swept out into the Atlantic Ocean we were no longer in the Algarve region because the Ribeira de Seixe marks the boundary with Alentejo, the largest region in all of Portugal.

We followed the path through a car park full of camper vans where people were sitting and enjoying the simple life and then continued to a steep path with shrubs and bushes on either side without flowers but with large deposits of tissue paper.  We wondered why this might be and came to the disagreeable conclusion that the bushes were the bathroom facilities for the camper-vanners simple life style.  We continued to climb but stuck to the middle of the path and watched carefully where we were treading.

A surprisingly short and easy stroll now took us to headland with magnificent views extending north and south and west over the sea as far as the horizon.  It had certainly been worth the effort.  We walked back the way that we had come across the cliff tops, through a pine forest, along the tissue trail and then once more across the river.

Odeceixa Walk

Having safely negotiated the river crossing for the second time we stopped now for refreshment at a busy bar near the beach and then continued our walking by turning in the opposite direction and headed south where thankfully there was no water to cross.

We walked for a mile or so but it soon became clear that there was little to see, the path stayed stubbornly away from the cliff tops and the views and the sand was soft and difficult to walk across in beach sandals so after a while we turned back and returned to the accommodation where after a swim in the sea we spent the rest of the day on the balcony enjoying the view over the Atlantic Ocean.

Odeceixa Tree in Sand

In the evening we dined again at the sea food restaurant.  Kim had Padron peppers and I had a simple tomato salad and then we shared a lobster, crab and prawn rice and I received instruction on how to crack a lobster claw from a helpful waiter.  It seems that you don’t just smash away at it because bits of flying shell can be a hazard to other diners and it has to be covered with a cloth before applying the hammer.  How was I to know, lobster is not a main ingredient of my regular diet.

We had walked seven and a half miles today.

Lobster

Travels in Portugal, Carvoeiro to Odeceixa

Bordeira Beach 02

We left Carvoeivo quite soon after breakfast.  We didn’t have a long journey ahead of us but we planned to stop a few times.  I had liked Carvoeivo, I wasn’t disappointed by the changes in the last thirty-five years but I was ready to move on.

The route took us past the busy cities of Portimão and Lagos but we stopped at neither pushing on instead to the resort town of Praia da Luz.  This is another in the string of old fishing villages that have turned to tourism to replace the tuna but what marks this one out is the incredible story of Madeleine McCann and it has become notoriously famous for the location of the alleged abduction and where a few English detectives, who probably can’t believe their luck at being assigned to the case, now spend their time on permanent vacation inventing new, ever improbable, leads that keeps them permanently sunning themselves at the  expense to the UK tax payer.  Every year when the funding is about to stop they come up with another unlikely lead which keeps them going for another twelve months.

Nothing will ever come of these pointless investigations until the parents Kate and Gerry finally have the courage to confess what they really know. No one knows who is protecting them from justice or why?

It is an untidy sort of place with nothing really to commend it, I stayed there with my family in 1994 but it really wasn’t worth a revisit.  I had high expectations of the next stop at the village of Burgau, I walked there from Luz twenty-five years ago and I remembered a dusty but charming fishing village with one shop and a single bar.

Then…

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and now (same shop I note)…

Burgau Algarve

It was inevitable of course that I would be disappointed and sure enough there are several more shops and bars, the fishing boats have gone and the beach is covered in sun-beds and parasols.  We stayed for a while but declined to find somewhere for coffee and carried on driving west instead.

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We should have skipped Praia da Luz and Burgau and visited the southernmost town of Sagres but we didn’t and I regret that and when we reached the far south-west we immediately turned north looking for a wild Atlantic beach.  We were driving now alongside the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park and although we knew there were unspoilt beaches there it was difficult to find a way down to them.  I suppose this is the whole point of a protected area of land and coastline after all.

Eventually the road strayed close to the shoreline at a place called Bordeira so we left the main road and made our way through the dunes to a car park and a wide sandy beach.  Every now and again we come across somewhere that has the WOW factor and this turned out to be a very special beach and when I get around to reviewing my top ten stretches of pebbles and sand then Bordeira is certain to squeeze in there.

Bordeira Beach 01

We struggled across the soft surface of the dunes sinking ankle deep in the energy sapping sand until we reached a welcoming beach bar where we stopped for refreshment before walking some more close to the rough sea where surfers courageously rode the waves and then returning to the car and completing our journey to the seaside village of Odeceixa.

We arrived there about mid-afternoon and I was surprised just how many cars and camper vans were parked close to the beach.  This place was very popular.  We found the accommodation and lucky for us there was allocated parking.

I confess to being a little shocked, the room was in a local restaurant overlooking the beach, it was simple, it was basic, it needed decorating, it was remote and I immediately wondered if I had made a mistake and that three nights might be two too many.

After a walk to a local bar we spent the afternoon on the balcony of the room.  There was no denying that this was an idyllic location overlooking a wide sand beach which was busy but not overcrowded.  Almost all of the people on the sand and in the surf seemed to be families with young children and it seemed to me that everyone seemed to know how to look after it.

On the sand leave only footprints…

Leave Only Footprints

We allowed the afternoon to tip over into evening and we waited for the sunset to end when the burning sun dropped suddenly and finally into the sea, darkness fell and we enjoyed a fine meal in the restaurant, Kim had fish soup followed by Tuna steak and I had Algarve shrimps and grilled sardines.  We had walked four miles today.

There was no modern air-conditioning system in the room so we slept with the windows open with the gentle sound of the sea and the tide as a lullaby which was much nicer than the monotone hum of an electric motor.

Odeceixa Sunset

Travels in Portugal, The Trouble With Social Media

Benagil-beach-and-Benagil-caves-as-seen-from-a-boat

We returned now to the coast with a plan to visit the beach at Benagil, quite close to Carvoeiro and try and find a sea cave that has recently become a popular tourist attraction.

As we set off we had no way of knowing just how popular and it turned out that finding it was not actually that difficult because it soon became clear that every other visitor to the Algarve had chosen the same day to do this.  Parking the car was impossible, getting onto the beach was a nightmare and the whole place was horribly over-commercialised with people pushing and shoving to book a place on an over-priced boat tour.

The Benagil cave is a wonderful natural wonder that has been destroyed by tourism. It is in many guide books as one of the top ten things to see in the Algarve. The problem with visiting somewhere that is very popular is that it is very popular. Even relatively recently this place was a secret known only to local fishermen and villagers, now it is an Instagram bucket-list destination.

Beautiful places have always been fashionable with visitors of course, but the rise of social media means that even the most hidden of hidden gems doesn’t remain so for long. And while in a bygone age visitors would flock to wonderful attractions simply to admire them, now these delights are merely the backdrop to the irritating selfie feeding thousands of social media pages as once secret places are discovered, revealed and overrun.

It is an issue that I struggle with, beautiful places shouldn’t be exclusive but people who visit in their thousands should surely pay more respect and try not to turn it into a Disney World experience.

This is the Benagil cave but we didn’t get to see inside…

Benagil Cave

… and the sad fact it would be most unlikely to see it like this because inside would be swarming with visitors off of the boats lining up to get close and get the selfie.

The Irish artist Patrick Swift lived for a while in Carvoeiro and in 1965 wrote an early travel guide to the Algarve.  He refers to Benagil only once and describes the place as remote and medieval with no roads in or out of the village, he makes no mention of the cave.  He makes it sound really nice.  Just like Norman Lewis in Catalonia at the same time he would be in for a shock if he saw it again today.  There is an ALDI supermarket close by now!

My blogging pal Gunta on her site ‘Movin Ondrew attention to this problem in a recent post – ‘Tourist Madnesswhich is well worth a read.

At Benagil it is not just the place itself that is spoilt but here the local economy has been irreversibly changed and there is no going back – there are no fishing boats anymore because the fishermen have all abandoned the hard life of the sea, discarded their pots and nets and earn their living these days taking boat loads of people to visit the caves.  Tourists are easier to catch than tuna.  Guaranteed income.  Soft hands instead of callouses.  Regular hours instead of the night shift.

It was a shame not to visit the cave but there were plenty more along the coast which haven’t yet attracted the attention of the Instagrammers but I fear that it is only a matter of time.

So we returned to our accommodation in Carvoeiro where we spent what was left of the afternoon in the garden and around the swimming pool. This was our final night on the south Atlantic coast of the Algarve as tomorrow we were heading west so we did some souvenir shopping (pottery ladybird garden ornaments) and after a final walk to the beach, empty now except for a few hardy stragglers as the sun faded away and then choose a restaurant for evening meal. I had a salad and a cataplana, a sort of fish casserole and Kim had prawns followed by chicken kebab. We had walked seven miles today.

Not the Benagil cave but one close by…

Carvoeiro Rocks

Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde

Cave Houses of Guadix

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

Cuevas El Aguila in The Gredos Mountains

 

Travels in Portugal, A Bit of Nostalgia

Some pictures from a previous visit to the Algarve in Portugal in 1986

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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…