Silves or otherwise known as Xelb by the Moors, was once the Moorish capital of the Algarve and even up to the 19th century had the grand title of 'Kingdom of the Algarve.' The town stood proudly, high on the hill overlooking grand palaces and lavish estates. The River Arade was the main route into the town and made it accessible for many attackers such as the Romans, Carthaginians and the Greeks. The Moors invaded in the 8th century introducing a wealth of architecture and new ideas such as irrigation for the dry, arid lands. It was only in 1189 that the town was seized by Dom Sancho I with some assistance from the English and the town was wrecked. Shortly afterwards, the Moors reclaimed Silves but it was too late to restore it to it's former beauty and grandeur. Most of the buildings were destroyed in the earthquaqe of 1755 and very little remains of the Moorish architecture although glimpses of it's former glory can be found in the grounds of the castle. Even so, this town is a cut above the others in the Algarve. It is still very regal and has a sense of mystery, it is one of my favourite towns to visit and I would recommend it to any tourist visiting the Algarve as it is a little bit different and has something for everybody.
How do I reach Silves?
This historical town is located in the Algarve in Southern Portugal. It is part of the district of Faro and it is inland from Portimao and Lagoa. The most direct route is to get on the A22 east/west motorway and exit at the Silves/Lagoa junction - head for Silves on the N124-1. It's a straightforward 15 minute drive.
For something more scenic, take the road from Portimao in the direction of Monchique and turn right at the Borboletta restaurant at Porto de Lagos onto the N124. From here you will see a myriad of colours of orange and green from the numerous orange groves, carob and almond trees growing in the surrounding valleys. The best time to drive is in Spring when the almond trees are in full blossom forming a sea of pale pink and white delicate leaves.
You can also take a boat trip up the River Arade from Portimao to Silves. My best friend who still lives in the Algarve does this trip regularly. She said, 'Whildt sitting on deck of one of the old sailing boats, with the breeze blowing softly on her face she could smell the sweetness of the oranges and the irresistible Algarvian smell.' Only the Algarve has this smell - pine, eucalyptus, oranges and smoke from the chimneys of the white washed houses in the valleys. She said she could just imagine going back in time and being a Phoenecian passing through but then she is a bit of a romantic. Alternatively, not as romantic, you could visit by bus from Portimao or an arranged coach trip possibly from any town in the Algarve.
Best Time to Visit Silves
Being inland Silves can get extremely hot from May until late September and as it is a hilly town can be uncomfortable for sight seeing. Winters are mild in the Algarve making it an all year round destination. Personally I would visit early Spring and in the month of October.
Silves (pronounced silvush) the Town
As we always approach Silves by road and park the car on the river front we usually take one of the many cobbled streets up to the castle. Although at the front of the town there is a mixture of fish, sea-food restaurants and snack bars open and the aromas of fresh sardines being cooked over a charcoal grill and prawns melting in garlic butter are usually too much for my taste buds so before starting up the steep incline to the castle and town I have to stop, sit and eat. From the front/main road, the town becomes a labrynth of streets; mostly Portuguese shops selling shoes, clothes, food, wine and spirits, as well as a handful of craft and art shops. Until a few years ago I would have described some of the shops as quaint and there was always one or two armazens (small old fashioned department stores) selling anything from the largest knickers to the smallest scewdriver but not anymore as Silves has suddenly become chic and sophisticated. Now some of the stylish shops wouldn't look out of place in Lisboa, the capital city. However, apart from the commercial and touristic side to the town it is habited by Portuguese and the houses that are lived in are very deceptive from the front facades as they look quite small but actually inside there are usually a number of cool, shuttered rooms leading to a top floor where you can sunbathe, watch the tourists go by or hang out the daily washing. Also, there are quite a few spectacular pieces of architecture in the town of Silves which I would like to tell you about seperately - so look out for the attractions to go with this journal.
At the western end of Silves the whole riverfront has been renovated. For a long time the area alays looked a bit scruffy and a bit of a wasteland. The Camara (council) suddenly decided it was time to regenerate and they have certainly made a good job. There is a play area for children which is perfectly safe as it is fenced in and the ground has been covered in soft sand. There is a football pitch and the municipal swimming pool is near by as well as a car park.
Silves council decided not to leave the elderly visitors or inhabitants out and as part of the regeneration project of 1997 decided to build an adult's play area. This is a series of trails where you can walk for a short distance and then stop at a wellness station to do some gentle exercise. I think it is a really good idea whether the old Portuguese will use it or not I doubt it as they love to sit and talk.
I have tried to cover the most interesting aspects of the town. Silves is not a beach resort but it is a very picturesque town filled with history, chic cafes, shops and seafood restaurants. There is a travelling market which comes every 3rd Monday of each month and before I forget there is an inside market which sells fresh fruit and vegetables and is a very colourful spectacle indeed. This is situated on one of the side streets leading up from the riverfront. You can't miss it as it is next to a liquor shop. Ooops! Nearly finished. Would I recommend this town - you bet. Muito bom!
Bienvendo ao Silves.