There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Algarve (4): Random Delights

Two years ago, after our seventeenth trip to the Algarve, I posted The Algarve: Depredations and Delights about the changes we had seen since our first visit in 1982. Last year there were two posts, Eating the Algarve (to which I have just added a couple of updates) and Drinking the Algarve, looking at two of the region’s greatest pleasures. This year I was struggling for an idea.  After three days of sunshine – a new and unnerving experience for someone who spent the summer in England – my brain had slipped into holiday mode and a plan seemed further away than ever. One evening I was sitting in the garden after dinner dunking the last of my bread into the last of my wine – I realise not everybody does this, but it beats dunking biscuits in coffee – when I realised where I was going wrong. Unlike our other travels, the Algarve trips have no plan. We try to find somewhere new each year, but generally we drop in on old favourites as and when the mood takes us.

So this post has no plan, it is about random delights. I have selected five, none of them food and drink, which I found quite demanding. Maybe there will be five more next year.

Random Delight No 1 -   Praia da Albandeira

Neither of us are great beach goers, but as we stay in the seaside town of Carvoeiro it would be perverse not to visit a beach occasionally. Of the many little rocky coves along this part of the coast the Praia da Albandeira is our favourite.

Driving east from Carvoeiro you eventually free yourself from the sprawling tourist developments. The countryside, though, is hardly wild; large white villas stand in their own grounds surrounded by coastal scrublands, pine trees and figs.

Take the right turn beside the Caramujeira Winery. I am unsure if it is still functioning – I have never seen, never mind tasted, its products - but when I took this photograph I definitely heard pumps. The pool pump in the villa behind me was certainly running, but I thought there was a gentle throbbing from the winery as well.

The Caramujeira Winery, near Carvoeiro

From here a single track road leads to the coast.
The single track road to Praia da Albandeira
You may pass a small herd of goats and an elderly goatherd sitting in the shade.
Goats grazing on 'pasture' that only goats could graze
near Carvoeiro
After a couple of kilometres the road runs out of surface and arrives at a rough car park where wooden steps take you down past a small restaurant/snack bar to the beach itself.

Lynne on Praia da Albandeira

Praia d’Albandeira is not quite as empty as these pictures suggest, but it is never crowded - not in October anyway - as it takes a little effort to get there. Although Lynne says it shelves too steeply, I think it is a good place to swim.

Stop looking at it and get in there, you wimp
The water is clean and clear and it is sandy underfoot. In October the ocean is surprisingly warm and there are usually a few Atlantic breakers to play with, though not on this day.

That's better

Random Delight No 2  Our Garden

I stumbled across No 1, Vilas do Mar  (now on the Home and Away Website) in 2005 in the on-line version of Dalton’s Weekly. We have spent a week or two there every autumn since. I am not sure that I realised when I first booked it that it is the only one of the 10 two bedroom apartments in the block with its own private garden. The garden is one reason we keep returning.

The hedge is a riot of colour with a pinkish mimosa, a deep blue convolvulus and a bright orange flower I have been unable to identify.

Mimosa, Convolvulus and that orange flower
Hedge, No 1, Vilas do Mar, Carvoeiro
There is a sunny corner for morning coffee and a shady area for lunch when the sun is higher and hotter.

Convolvulus Tricolor

To Lynne’s right is a barbecue which we have never used but perhaps ought to, while behind her the pretty white flowers that look like blossom on the small tree are actually a plumbago shrub growing through it.

A sunny spot for morning coffee

The satellite dish is hardly scenic, but without it there would be no Merlin or Downton Abbey, which might be a shame.

Vilas do Mar, Carvoeiro
No garden looks at its best in the rain. Fortunately rain is a rare occurrence – but not entirely unknown.

2006 was not our best year in Carvoeiro

Random Delight No 3     Our Landlords, Malcolm & Tessa

The garden is maintained by Malcolm and Tessa, our landlords, whose occasional judicious interventions are leavened with a measure of benign neglect.

Malcolm and Tessa divide their lives between Carvoeiro and Essex (nobody’s perfect) and our visits did not coincide until 2008. Since then we have met up for dinner at least once, more often twice, each year. They are always good company, possess an insider’s knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of Carvoeiro’s many restaurants and have introduced us to live fado as well as first recommending Praia d’Albandeira.

Lynne with Tessa, Malcolm and a plateful of goat
A Vela, Carvoeiro
My friend and former colleague Brian retired in 2007, the year before me, despite being several months younger (I’m not bitter). During the course of a long and bibulous afternoon in September he recalled saying that he hoped his retirement would provide him with ‘ten good years’ before the onset of the inevitable decline. He was pleased enough with the first five years, but shocked by the thought that now only five remained. At the time I suggested he should aim for a rolling ten years; every day he gets up feeling well, the ten years starts anew.

Fado singer

On reflection perhaps we should take a good look at Malcolm. He plays tennis, swims in the sea, enjoys the fresh air, sunshine and all the good food and drink the Algarve has to offer and could give us both a good twenty years. Tessa is, of course, much younger. We should both raise a glass to Tessa and Malcolm, a delight and an inspiration.

Random Delight No 4      Flamingos

If you had asked me ten years ago if it was possible to see flamingos in Europe I would have said ‘no’, then I might have thought of the Camargue.

It was the (now long retired) Brian who told us about the Salgados flamingos in 2006.

Leaving the N-125 at Pêra and driving through the village you reach a roundabout on the minor road connecting the resorts of Albufeira and Armacão de Pêra. A small unsigned exit takes you into the sort of coastal scrub that used to be plentiful but has now largely disappeared beneath tourist developments. For a while the road points alarmingly at the gleaming white tower blocks of Armacão and it is better to lower your gaze to the nearby scrub punctuated with straggling fig trees and young olives grafted onto gnarled and venerable stumps. The road turns past a neglected looking vineyard and the remains of three long-disused windmills and then the tarmac stops. The left hand dirt road runs past the Salgados lagoon, a small track giving access to the water’s edge.

The depth of the lagoon depends on water management upstream, in 2008 it was completely dry and no water meant no flamingos. Since then, though, it has been full and this year we counted more than a hundred.

Walking across the dried up lagoon, 2008

The birds are not particularly cooperative, always preferring the far side of the lagoon. Normally they just mill around with their heads in the water, but occasionally three or four of them will line up and march purposefully forward their heads swinging from side to side in unison like a military vacuum cleaner unit.
Flamingos, Salgados lagoon 2012

The Salgados flamingos are largely white. The more usual pink colour comes from their food, and pink food is clearly not abundant here. However, when they stretch their wings the edges show black chevrons and the undersides are distinctly rosy.

Sometimes a small group take to the air. They are extraordinarily ungainly, their wings are too narrow and stick out at right angles, their bodies seem too small, their spindly legs and necks ludicrously long.
There are many more waders that I am unable to identify, plenty of seagulls, several egrets and occasionally a few white storks, strutting around on the whispy grass.

White stork, Salgados lagoon, 2008
At the end of the dirt road a board walk crosses the dunes to the long sweep of Praia Grande. It provides a good view of the lagoon as well as the forbidding bulk of Armacão de Pêra.

The Salgados lagoon from the boardwalk to Praia Grande

 Developers currently have plans to turn the whole Salgados area into a luxury hotel and golf course. The local council have agreed, but the national government has put the plan on hold pending a full ecological survey. The Algarve has many luxury hotels and golf courses and few wetland bird sanctuaries. If you would like to help preserve this one, please click on this link and sign the petition organised by Avaaz and supported by the RSPB and the equivalent Portuguese organisation. 

The forbidding bulk or Armacão de Pêra
Random Delight No 5      Azulejos

The production of Azulejos, tin-glazed ceramic tiles, has been going on in Portugal for five centuries.

You can find old ones inside and outside churches, as in this rather fine depiction of St Lawrence with the griddle on which he was martyred on the wall of the church of São Laurenço near Almançil.

St Lawrence with his gridle
You can find modern ones at the entrance to tourist developments, here in Monte Dourade, Carvoeiro….

The entrance to Monte Dourade, Carvoeiro

 …as municipal art commemorating notable citizens…..
A notable citizen, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten

….or just stuck on the walls of people’s houses.
Azulejos on the wall of a house in Monchique

The more you look for azulejos the easier they are to find. They are used for villa names and street numbers, and in Carvoeiro for street names.

Street name, Carvoeiro

We live in the Rua Cerro dos Pios – the small hill of birdsong – and it is aptly named. Pios means specifically the chirping of sparrows or the hoots and screeches of owls. Blackcaps sing lustily in our hedge while in the evenings it is usually possible to spot a little owl or two sitting on the telephone wires at the end of the street. (By little owl I mean athene noctua, the little owl, not merely an undersized owl).

Many things have changed in the thirty years we have been visiting the Algarve, but the popularity of azulejos is not one of them. You know you are in the Algarve when the sky is blue, the houses are white, the pavements have small rectangular cobbles and the walls have azulejos.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for giving tourists many reasons why Algarve is a must-see holiday destination. Now, more people have more reasons to book villas in Algarve and spend a glorious holiday there.