Having been unimpressed with our accommodation we decided that we were not going to be put off the area by this and decided we would explore.
On Sunday we walked in to Albufiera. Although the physical area is still narrow and cobbled the place has been ruined by pizza restaurants, Irish bars, all day breakfast places and shops selling blow up water toys. There is one nice church but that is about it. The Square area is surrounded by restaurants which could have been charming but had taken the other route and catered to the ‘Benidorm’ tourist. We did stop in one restaurant and ordered cataplana which was indeed very tasty but we were the ONLY people eating anything local at all. It was during the day and we didn’t see any anti social behaviour but it was like a British seaside place with all the usual tat. Any fishing village charm had been lost a long time ago.
PONTA DE PIEDADE and CABO DE SAO VICENTE:
Monday we chose to go westwards from Abufiera towards Lagos and Ponta da Piedade.
We drove out along the A22 westwards until Lagos and then brown signs took us to the Ponta da Piedade It was beautiful, amazing rocky coast with weathered outcrops and caves. The sea was a wonderfully clear blue/green, the sky blue and then a perfect little sailing boat bobbed about on the sea. It was a truly picture postcard view and there were very few other people to spoil our photos or view. We walked all round the area in the sunshine enjoying the sea air and view before we headed for the little cafe near the car park.
The menu offered a good selection of local fish and seafood . It was a delicious fresh meal served by a delightful waitress in the fresh air with a nice outlook.
After our delicious lunch we drove on to Cabo de Sao Vicente which we understood to be the most westerly point in Europe. We arrived at the point along with 4 buses of tourists, mainly German and one full of Japanese. Despite the crowds of people and the strong winds we were able to walk to the various view points and enjoy the cobwebs being blown off by the brisk Atlantic breeze ..
THE EASTERN ALGARVE;
We decided we would like to explore the Cork producing area of the Algarve .We set off towards Faro and then inland from there to find a delightful small town of Sao Bras de Alportel The lady in the tourist infornation told us that to see the cork factories you had to do a tour and she handed us local maps and pointed us in the direction of the place where they organised the tours. It seemed to be a one man operation and he offered various tours of the cork route lasting a full day or one shorter 3 hour tour which began in the museum down the road and cost 12 Euros.
We did not really want to wait for 2 hours to go on a 3 hour tour so we headed for the museum in Sao Bras de Alportel and paid 2 Euros each to go in. One half of the museum was about the French time in the area with costumes and history which was quite interesting but the other half was about Cork production and the history of cork in the area. There was a short and very informative visual film .After the film the lights came on and we wandered around the exhibit which had captions and displays explaining the history and the growth and decline of cork and its changes in production and use over the years. It was excellent.
We managed to find cork oaks with the cork harvested. Apparently cork oaks cannot be harvested until they are about 25 years old and then they cannot be cut again for another 9 years so as the cork is cut they put the date on the tree – this year’s cut trees will have a 9 and last years’ had 8. When the cork is first cut the tree underneath is an orange colour which gradually changes over the years to brown then the bark gets greyer and rougher and thicker until it is harvested again when it is rough and thick cork.
We found harvested cork oak trees with numbers, piles of harvested cork as well as neatly baled cork. It was really a lovely drive following the cork route from Sao Bras de Alportel to Parizes and back again through the hills of the Eastern Algarve.
SILVES, MONCHIQUE AND FOIA;
Our visit to Silves was a little tense as we drove up to the castle and then were not sure how to get out as there are only tiny narrow cobbled almost vertical roads leading off from there. We went down one and back around and up another even narrower alley scraping the wing mirror on a wall but managed to get out otherwise unscathed. There are no directions at all and lots of no entries but it really does NOT make it clear how tight it is down the alleys or give your directions as to which are the wider more accessible roads but having safely escaped out of the scary area we parked just below the castle and walked back up.
It was a lovely old Moorish castle built in a dark red sandstone on the top of the hill in the town(2 Euros entrance) which dates back to the times when Silves was the capital of the Algarve. There was also an old church or Cathedral with a very fine Manueline doorway which was very attractive and typical of the region.
We set of for the mountains of Monchique and the spa town of Monchique. The drive was a steady climb along twisty through tree lined roads passing through olive groves and citrus trees. Most of these trees are mimosa which must look lovely when they flower but we were too late for this although we did see a huge variety of colourful wild flowers.
Unfortunately the day we drove up was not that clear but if I am honest the views were not that stunning anyway. We drove through Monchique and up to Foia which is the highest point in this mountain range and is 902m above sea level. We had read that the views were stunning but we were very disappointed. The top was a mess of telecommunication towers and a radar station and was really quite ugly. The view looked over Portamao and to the sea but quite honestly it was quite ordinary. This was not the stunning view we were lead to expect and so after taking a few photos of the wild flowers we headed down again.
We had planned to eat lunch up in this area at a local mountain restaurant where chicken piri piri, local kid or wild boar are specialities but the restaurants we passed either had a couple of tourist coaches parked outside or looked completely empty and rather uninteresting so we changed our mind and decided to head towards the coast to enjoy another fish or seafood meal.
We headed for Carvoeiro which is within the Lagoa district where they produce red, white, rose and fortified wines. It is possible to visit local vineyards and sample the produce but we did not venture to the vineyards. We did however find a very pleasant restaurant where we enjoyed a cataplana even tastier than the one we tried in Albufiera in that it was a creamier sauce and the pork was not on the bone or fatty so we were happy with our choice.
I’m not sure that I would come back to the Algarve, it was nice to enjoy sunshine and some of the beaches and coast line areas are lovely but I felt the whole area lacked something; It might be that we were put off by our awful accommodation and initial impression of Albufiera on the Sunday . Having said that, everyone we have met and had any contact with while we were in the area was delightful, helpful, pleasant and the standard of English put us to shame. I think that it is the rather tasteless touristy areas with all day breakfasts, Irish bars and souvenir shops which make some areas look like Skegness or Blackpool that put us off and once that hit then it required a huge effort to get beyond that and discover little gems like Sao Bras de Alportel and Silves. I know that a lot of people love this area and I leave you to make up your own mind while sharing my opinion of the area with you.
Thank you for reading and I trust I have not caused any offence, this is my view of the area as I experienced it in May/June 2009.