Category Archives: History

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 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 satisfied that she had found a suitable crossing place.  In a previous life I am convinced that she would have been an explorer or the leader of a wagon train going west in America.  I wasn’t 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 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

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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

Thursday Doors, Odeceixa in Portugal

Odeceixe Door 02

Odeceixe is a village in the northern part of the municipality of Aljezur, in the Portuguese Algarve, lying within the Nature Park of the Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast. The village lies on the south bank of the Ribeira de Seixe, which at this point forms the border between the Algarve and Alentejo.

It has some very fine doors…

Odeceixe Door 03

Odeceixe Door 01

Odeceixe Door 05

Odeceixe Door 06

Odeceixe Door 04

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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, The Town of Silves

Algarve Castle of Silves

After a full day of no driving but plenty of walking today we returned to four wheels and planned a trip to the nearby town of Silves.  I had been there before of course so there were more comparisons to be made.

Silves was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and the most important city in all of what is now Portugal.  How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, plenty of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.

This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders.  In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.

Without the Moors the city became neglected, the river silted up and the city went into a long period of decline.  This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilizations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years.  Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now.  It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.

What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the  Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed.  What lies ahead for us I wonder?

Silves Street

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 thrusting magnificently into 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 my visit there twenty-five years before because from modern pictures he seems to be much closer to the entrance than I remember.

IMG_2666223

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.

Except for making sure we didn’t get too close to the edge and fall over this didn’t really spoil the visit to the castle and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements and through the gardens, discovering interesting 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 but rusting iron balconies and the window boxes overflowing with boiling geraniums, visited the cathedral and stopping frequently to admire the views and to conclude that Silves hadn’t changed a great deal in the intervening years since my first visit.

The storks were still there…

Silves Stork 01Silves Stork 02

After a couple of hours we made our way back to the coast.

Thursday Doors, Silves in Portugal

Silves Door 01

Silves Door 03

Silves Door 02

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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…