Tag Archives: Algarve

A Look Back at 2019

After a slow start to the year we finally got started in…

April

12 Cornwall

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning

May

Valencia Spain

I like Valencia and this was my second visit, it is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

June

Berlin Spies

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

Madrid Postcard

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

July

Skipsea Cornfield

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands

September

Algarve Postcard Map 3

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

In 2017 we travelled through Northern Portugal using the trains but this time we planned to go South where the railway network is difficult or practically non-existent, so this time we were driving.  Our plan was to visit the Algarve region and visit the towns and beaches of the south and west and then head inland to the historic towns of Beja, Evora, Estremoz and Elvas and also to spend a few days in Extremadura in Spain.

October

Corfu Map

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

December

Berlin Hoff Hause

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.  This time I liked it a whole lot better – I was right to go back.

All in all, a very good year!

Travels in Portugal, The Algarve on an Electricity Supply Box

A week or so ago I added a post about decorated electricity supply boxes.  This was a clever double box with a map of the Algarve region…

Algarve Map Silves Electricity Boxes

More of my Favourite Boxes, click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Astonishing how successful this is in preventing graffiti and to illustrate the point here is one that they missed…

grafitti

Travels in Portugal, Return to Algarve

Algarve map

We left quite soon after breakfast because we had a long drive ahead of us now back to the Algarve.

Once again we had a pleasant journey across the Alentejo region as we headed south along mostly empty roads gliding effortlessly across the wide open plains.  Compared to the Algarve it is a largely undeveloped region where hillsides are as important as beaches, Roman ruins are celebrated as much as golf resorts, rural vineyards promoted as well as luxury marinas – it is, I suggest, a more varied experience.

The Alentejo is also linked to many of the most important chapters of Portuguese history. It saw the birth of Vasco da Gama at Sines and the death of the ‘Holy Queen’ Isabel at Estremoz. It was at Atoleiros that the celebrated knight Nuno Álvares Pereira achieved his first victory in the battle for independence from Castile and it was at Vila Viçosa in February 1908 that King Carlos spent his last night before being shot down and killed by republican activists in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio the next day.

After an hour or so we left the flat plains behind as we began to climb steadily into the mountains that separate the two regions.  We knew when we passed into Algarve because the roads immediately improved and became busier as we entered the Portuguese poster region.

We planned to have an easy two days before travelling home and had chosen a rural location in a village called Vale Judeu quite close to the busy town of Vilamoura.  We were too early to check in so we went straight to the resort town for lunch.  We immediately wished that we hadn’t.  The official guide boasts that “Vilamoura is unlike any other Portuguese town, gone is the dilapidated charm, replaced with striking perfection, which is simply expected by the super-rich who frequent the marina.”

It is a modern purpose built tourist resort completely lacking in any sort of character.  We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror.  I should have carried out better research.

After arrival at the hotel we took a stroll into the village where we found the dilapidated charm that we like and instead of roving packs of British golfers in between golf courses found an untidy bar full of locals in between food courses so stayed for a while and had a simple lunch.

Portugal Cock

Close by was a restaurant that came highly recommended so after a quiet afternoon around the swimming pool we returned for evening meal.  We shared a simple starter of grilled sardines and a main course of monk fish stew with beans, both delicious.  We had walked eight miles today.

For our final day we made plans to drive east to the town of Tavira, the last big town on the Algarve before crossing the Rio Guardiana into Spain.  We were meeting my blogging pal Jo who I have been friends with now for several years through our web sites.

I was looking forward to Tavira.  In 1965 the artist David Swift who wrote a travel guide to the Algarve said this … “For my money Tavira is the most enchanting town of Algarve.  It stands on two hills on either bank of a river, the Segua which is crossed by a seven arched Roman bridge.  The hills are crowned with castles and churches yet from the middle green fields can be glimpsed in one direction and the sea in the other”.

Roman Bridge

Fifty-five years later I wasn’t expecting it to be quite the same as described but I was delighted to find that Swift would almost certainly have recognised the place that he recommended so highly.  A wide fast flowing river, steep hills, whitewashed shops and houses, terracotta roofs and cobbled streets and still with its thirty-seven churches and a ferry service to the beach islands to the south.  What a delightful contrast to the dreadful resort town of Vilamoura.

ilha_tavira-ferry_boat

We spent a splendid afternoon in Tavira with Jo and husband Mike as our expert guides and as we drove back to our hotel we were in agreement that Tavira is a place that we need to see some more of.

For our final night we returned inevitably to the same restaurant, Kim had a beef steak and I had a salted cod stew.  The Portuguese love cod and it is said that there are three hundred and sixty-five different recipes, one for every day of the year so I thought it was time to try one of them.  I enjoyed it, the fish was firm and meaty but maybe just a little too salty for my taste.  We had walked seven and a half miles today.

In preparation for an early departure we packed before going to bed, I was quite glad actually, it is exciting to travel but it is nice to go home as well!

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Travels in Portugal, Boxes

In the Algarve the local council has come up with a good way to stop graffiti – they get there first with street art.  These electrical supply boxes are painted and suffer no vandalism.  How clever…

Portugal Boxes

Inspiration for this post came from my blogging pal Jo

https://restlessjo.me/2019/08/26/jos-monday-walk-carvoeiro-boxes/

 

Travels in Portugal, The City of Évora

Evora Street 01

We arrived at our accommodation way too early to check in so we simply abandoned the car and made our way towards the city centre across a wasteland car park and a punishing steep hill which lead to the Praça do Giraldo, the main square of the city and where brisk but expensive business was being done in pavement restaurants and bars.

It was rather pricey (well, I thought so) in the swanky city bars so we moved quickly through to an adjacent artisan square and a bar that was busy with local people enjoying good food so we found a table and ordered a simple lunch with prices much more suited to our budget.

Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history.  The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town.  During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584.  In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural center with a fortress and a mosque.

Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless in September 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.

Evora Roman Temple 01

With two days in Évora we didn’t plan do a lot of sightseeing today so after lunch we wandered through some colourful streets and collected pictures of doors and then strolled back to the hotel where we squandered the afternoon around the swimming pool and drank some beer and wine and played cards.

During the walk we had spotted a promising looking restaurant for evening meal, a simple, rustic sort of place popular with local people so we had no hesitation walking back there in the evening.  We enjoyed a medley of starters and the Kim had roast lamb Alentejo style once again and I had a salted cod with vegetables.  We had walked eight miles today.

Next morning after an average hotel breakfast we set off again into the city and before going anywhere interesting started, at Kim’s insistence, with a haircut because she complained that my thatch had become wild and untidy and I had to agree that she was absolutely right.

Shock over (the haircut an the bill) we went first to the a first-century temple, dedicated to the cult of Emperor Augustus and which unlike the rest of the Roman city has survived for two thousand years because five hundred years ago the structure was incorporated into a medieval development.  That building has gone now but the Temple remains.  It is not especially outstanding for a building of antiquity but remarkable simply because it is still there.

Evora Cathedral Roof

Close to the Roman Temple is the Gothic Cathedral of Évora and we purchased a combined ticket for the interior, a climb to the very top and to visit the cloister.  We made straight for the top where there were expansive views across the Alentejo and beyond, next we went to the cloister where there was a lecture from a cross Frenchman.

There were two sets of steps to the top and we started to climb.  Suddenly the Frenchman was ahead of us coming down.  He insisted that we were using the wrong set of stairs and that we should turn around and go to the bottom and let him continue his descent.  There was no official indication that he was correct but to avoid a diplomatic incident we did as he asked.  This however wasn’t good enough for him and he insisted on following us and giving a lecture on stair lane discipline.  He was wrong, he was definitely wrong and Kim told him so but that just provoked him to carry on.  I wanted to explain to him that I needed no advice from a Frenchman on lane discipline when they can’t even drive on the left hand side of the road, which is of course the right side of the road.

Evora Street 02

From the Cathedral we explored the narrow streets, stopped for lunch and then made our way out of the old city walls to see the Aqueduto da Água de Prata a six mile long sixteenth century aqueduct which once supplied water to the city centre.  Not as picturesque as the aqueducts of either Elvas or Tomar but impressive nevertheless.

By mid-afternoon we were tired of walking so we followed the city walls back to the hotel where we spent the afternoon at the swimming pool with a bottle of wine.

In the evening we returned to the same restaurant where there was an odd incident with an Eastern European lady diner who was dressed for a fine dining experience but finding herself in a rustic Portuguese restaurant with nothing on the basic menu that suited her she had a vociferous argument with the owner who eventually ran out of patience, invited her to leave and received a round of applause from all of the satisfied diners.

I had artichokes and cod stew and Kim had a salad and Portuguese slow cooked chicken.  We had walked nine miles today.  We had enjoyed our two days in Évora but tomorrow we would be packing up and heading back south to the Algarve.

Evora Roman Temple at Night

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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

Thursday Doors, Portugal

Beja Door 007

I spotted this door in the city of Beja in Alentejo region of Portugal and decided that it deserved a post all of its own.  I hope that you agree.  I was left wondering who this noble looking woman may be?  Perhaps she lived there some time?

Turns out to be the work of a Portuguese street artist called Daniel Eime (maybe) and there are lots of examples of his work everywhere in the country.

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 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

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