“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm. A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood … was now abolished at a stroke” – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’
Part way through the holiday we hired some cars and did some sightseeing along the coast. On the first day we drove east to a small fishing village that I had visited eight years previously because I remembered that it was especially picturesque.
This was the pretty little fishing village of Carvoeiro, which, as I promised, was quite stunning, especially when viewed from the craggy cliffs on either side of the town, so we walked all around it and from the top we admired the village layered with white-washed villas and buildings which seem to undulate in perfect harmony with the natural rocky landscape.
The houses rose in tiers out of the caramel beach, sun blistered and pock-marked by the corrosion of the salt water with brightly coloured paintwork, green, crimson and blue and window boxes where even hardy geraniums were struggling to deal with the midday heat.
The beach was a delightful golden colour with pristine sand scarred but not disfigured by the tracks of the ancient tractors which pulled the fishing boats in and out of the sea. It was small and compact but sufficient when there aren’t many people about to share it with and it was fringed with seaside cafés and restaurants with indolent umbrellas providing welcome shade against the fierceness of the sun.
This was a wonderful place and down at the edge of the water there was no mistaking that this was a working fishing village that was a million miles away from the nearby tourist resort of Praia de Luz.
There were local people swimming in the sea and the beach was decorated with tiny fishing boats that had been working the previous night and were now just resting before going out again later. At the back of the sheltered beach there were fishermen’s houses that were built next to the beach and in some cases directly into the cliffs and I had a sense that inside men were resting before working again later tonight. In front of the houses were creaking wooden railings, disgigured and cracked, where the nets were left to dry and be repaired and tables where every day the previous night’s catch was assessed, sorted and prepared for sale.
I understand that Carvoeiro is a lot busier now so I am glad that I saw it as the fishing beach and community that has now all but gone to make way for holiday complexes and tourists, where fishing boats have been replaced by jet skis and pedalos.
Before tourism this was a very small and intimate fishing village and in 1965 a foreign resident wrote about the place; “the mode of living remains essentially medieval”. Well, in 1994 it was a bit more modern than that but still very quaint and although I have never been back I understand that now, twenty years on, it has lost any resemblance whatsoever to its modest origins.
When it was time to leave we decided to check out the guide book claims that this part of the coast has the best beaches on the Algarve. This is a claim that is made by every town and village along the south coast of Portugal so we made straight for the Praia de Marinha or the Navy Beach and so called because of the colour of the sea rather than any military activity.
Standing on the top of the cliffs rising in golden tiers out of the surf, erosion gnawed into arches, caves and grottoes and looking down to the sand and the sea it was difficult not to agree with the Algarve best beach claim and a lot of other people would be inclined to agree as well because it is included in the Michelin Guide as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in Europe and as one of the hundred most beautiful beaches in the world.
We stayed only to admire the view and to nod our heads in agreement with the guide book and then we made our way back to Praia de Luz, driving through the marina resort of Portimao without stopping even for a quick look, for a late afternoon of sunbathing and swimming in the holiday complex pool.