When you need a map, a beach towel can be an option…
I snapped this one in a sea front shop in Carvoeiro.
When you need a map, a beach towel can be an option…
I snapped this one in a sea front shop in Carvoeiro.
We arrived at Faro airport as it was beginning to get dark and by pure chance managed to walk to our accommodation without making any serious mistakes. We settled in to our basic accommodation and the first thing that I remembered not to do was to change the time on my watch.
Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.
Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation. France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.
I got caught out by this several years ago when I first visited Portugal. When we landed in Porto I instinctively added an hour and thought nothing of it. During the visit however something puzzled me because all of the clocks seemed to be an hour behind and even at the railway station the displays said four when our watches said five. I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five. It turns out that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for almost two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six at night in January, why the restaurant staff were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, why the breakfast room was empty at six in the morning and also why it was so cold when we went out sightseeing in the dark. This, let me tell you was a most disorientating experience and one thing is certain, I will never make a Time Lord!
For my first meal in Portugal I had imagined grilled sardines or piri-piri chicken but there was an absence of restaurants at the airport site so we had to settle for a burger and fries in a nearby American diner which I have to confess was really rather good.
The following morning I collected the hire car from the airport but there was a problem because I had made a mistake with the start date. Here I was making sure I had got the time right regarding the issue of the hour but I had somehow managed to be a complete twenty-four hours out on the car hire and I should have been there the day before to collect it.
Anyway, we sorted it out, the car was still there somewhere waiting for me and after the staff located it handed over the keys to a street scarred Peugeot 305 we were soon on our way heading west away from Faro.
I had visited the Algarve twice before, the first time in 1986 on a road-trip with pals and then in 1994 on a family holiday so I was curious to see if the southern Algarve was anything like I remembered it to be.
The first stop was Albufeira which once had a thriving fishing industry but sometime in the 1960s turned to tourism and began a hotel building programme to attract visitors from Northern Europe. I remembered sitting on the promenade drinking beer and looking over a beach where there was still some working fishing boats to see. There is no room for boats on the beach anymore because today it was completely covered in sun-beds and parasols and flanked by bars and tourist shops.
Actually I didn’t find that it changed a great deal except that it was so much busier than I remembered. We stayed for a while, walked through the shopping streets of the old town through the tunnel cut through the rocks for fishing boats that no longer use it and down to the beachfront. On the way out we stopped briefly for an excellent light lunch and then left and continued west towards our destination, the seaside resort of Carvoeiro where we would be staying for three days.
In 1986 I stayed in the small village of Alcantarilha which I remembered as a single street dusty little place with one shop. Not so any more as it has grown into a big holiday village and I quickly abandoned any thoughts of attempting to find the villa or the shop. The villa I know is still there because I know the people who live there but I imagine the old shop to be a modern supermarket – ALDI most likely.
This was the shop…
My plan was to drive through Armação de Pêra which in my memory was a pleasant fishing village with a big sandy beach but from the main road all I could see was a string of tall hotels and a sprawl of holiday accommodation so I abandoned that idea as well and drove on to Carvoeiro and hoped that this may not have changed too drastically since 1986. But of course it had…
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…
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.
There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.
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.
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.
I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.
Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.
Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom. Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.
The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our previous travel took us to six – The Tower of Belém in Lisbon, built to commemorate the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, The National Palace of Sintra, the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, the University of Coimbra, the Historic town of Guimarães and the Historic Centre of Porto. This time we would add two more, the Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications and the Historic Centre of Évora.
Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.
When it comes to wine, screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme even in the cheapest bottles of wine.
My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964. Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.
In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand. The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain (even though they supported Nazi Germany), Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.
On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373. England (UK) and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.
We left the UK from a dreary, overcast Manchester Airport in late afternoon and in less than three hours later we were watching a glorious sunset from a hotel balcony in Faro in Portugal.
I like Portugal and I was glad to be back.
In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man called Gordon Pitcher who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets and, as the property was in rather a remote location, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about.
Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.
Late in 1986 he asked Richard if he would do the job for him in return for a few days rent free holiday at the villa and Richard agreed so long as he could take his pals along to help with the long drive back. So in October we made the arrangements and one Monday in November Richard, myself and our two friends Anthony and Tony flew from East Midlands Airport on a cold wet morning and arrived two hours later in the sunshine at Faro.
It was about thirty kilometres to the villa, which was in a small village called Alcantarilha so we found a taxi, negotiated a price and set off. Unfortunately the taxi driver wasn’t fully familiar with this particular part of the Algarve and he didn’t find Richard’s hand drawn location map especially helpful either so there was some confusion about locating the destination, which he only found at about the third or fourth attempt.
This was understandable because Villa Estrella was set back off the road with an entrance that was hard to spot and after that there was a short dusty track that led up past the swimming pool and around the back of the property to the car park and the entrance. And that was when we first saw the car that it was our responsibility to get back to the UK.
A mixture of shock and panic set in when we realised that this was a ten year old automatic Ford Escort, which, it has to be said was not altogether in the best shape and with its best performance motoring years a long way in the past.
Under the streaks of grime and dust it was a curious lime green sort of colour that was badly faded by the hot Iberian sun and with various minor dents and scratches and missing wheel trims that made the poor thing look rather sad and forlorn and quite frankly a more suitable candidate for a trip to the scrap yard than a demanding two thousand kilometre journey all the way back to the United Kingdom!
Thankfully the villa was in much better shape than the car and inside there were comfortable furnishings, a well-equipped kitchen and a sunny balcony overlooking the garden and the pool and a fragrant orange grove next door. It was a neat whitewashed house with a red tiled roof and brown shuttered windows and set in a slightly neglected garden with wild geraniums. We selected our rooms, changed into holiday mood, settled in and then all agreed that we needed alcohol supplies so we locked up and walked down the track and down the road a short way to the village shop that we had passed three times on the way in.
This was one of those fabulous old-fashioned shops that you used to find all over Southern Europe but sadly rarely exist any more due to the relentless march of the supermarkets that has swept them all away. I have never been back to Alcantarilha but I expect this little shop will be long gone and is now a Spar or a Pingo Doce.
In fact we wouldn’t have known that this was a shop at all except for a tatty blue canopy advertising Portuguese Sumol soft drinks and a reference to Mercado Braz A Taverna that was flapping over a single door that gave access to the mini-market.
Inside it was dark and gloomy and we all needed a moment or two to let the eyes adjust to the light. The place was chaotic and everything was piled on the shelves in a completely sort of mad way that made shopping a very random experience indeed. Vegetables, washing powders, dairy products, dried meats all thrown together in a most confusing manner that made it difficult to find the things we were looking for which to be honest was mostly beer!
In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man called Gordon Pitcher who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets and, as the property was in rather a remote location, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about. Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.