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, 19 October 2013

The Algarve (6): The West Coast

The 130km of Portugal’s southern coast is a land of holiday villas and sun-kissed beaches where the season starts early and lingers long. October, far less crowded than July or August, can usually be relied upon for a succession of warm – occasionally hot - sunny days.

But the Algarve has a west coast too, 50km of it running northwards from Cape St Vincent. Mostly it is a nature reserve where the prevailing westerlies drive Atlantic breakers against the rocks. The beaches here are wilder and more remote, the haunt of seabirds and surfers - all the main beaches have their surf schools.

Surfers, Bordeira Beach, October 2013

We often spend a day on the west coast, this year in warm sunshine, but sometimes in biting wind. The information in this post is drawn from a number of trips, the first in 1982. The photographs, though, all come from the last eight years.

Cape St Vincent is usually referred to as Europe’s most southwesterly point. Most southerly or northerly are well defined, but southwesterly is not; if you head SW and keep going you end up at the South Pole. Nearby Sagres is further South, Lisbon is further west, but a glance at the map suggests it would be pedantic to dispute Cape St Vincent’s romantic if strictly unverifiable claim.
Cape St Vincent, October 2009

The cape is a high windswept promontory. There is little there except a car park, a food van boasting the ‘last burger before America’, a lighthouse and the remains of a Capuchin Monastery. Relics of the martyred St Vincent were brought here in the 8th century, but were removed to Lisbon in 1173.The monastery survived the loss of its relics, the vandalism of Sir Francis Drake in 1597 and the great earthquake of 1755, but was no match for the suppression of the monasteries that followed the Liberal Revolution of 1820.
Looking up the west coast from Cape St Vincent. October 2009

Nine naval encounters between 1337 and 1833 carry the name Battle of Cape St Vincent. The biggest, in 1797, was a British victory over a Spanish fleet in the French Revolutionary War. The British fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jervis who became the Earl of St Vincent for his troubles. Jervis (like this blog) was born near Stone in Staffordshire, where he is also buried.

The shelf-like promontory of Sagres, October 2009

 If Cape St Vincent is Portugal’s Land’s End, Sagres is The Lizard. Beyond the large village, which was established after the 1755 earthquake, is the Fortaleza. Cut off behind forbidding stone walls on a shelf-like promontory high above the Atlantic is the place where Henry the Navigator reputedly established his school of navigation. Vasco da Gama who pioneered the sea route to India (we met him in Cochin), Pedro Alvares Cabral who followed him to India, incidentally ‘discovering’ Brazil on the way – an eccentric piece of navigation - and Ferdinand Magellan, who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, all studied here. Despite his sobriquet, Henry never navigated anything anywhere, but he was, in his way, the originator of these great journeys. When he died in 1460 the centre of maritime studies moved to Lisbon and Sagres returned to obscurity.
The Fortaleza, Sagres, October 2005

In 1982 we simply parked on the coastal scrub and walked into the fort. Now there is an elaborate road system, a large car park and an entrance fee. What you get though, is much the same; an old church, a huge compass rose and a lot of atmosphere. You can even stand by a cannon and gaze across the bay to Cape St Vincent (or stand with your back to it, as I am in the picture.)

Cape St Vincent across the bay from Sagres, October 2005
8km North of Sagres is Vila do Bispo, the ancient capital of Portugal’s southwest corner and the place where the N-125 along the south coast meets the west coast N-268. When we first visited in 1982 the N-125 became smaller and bumper the further west you travelled and Vila do Bispo was an isolated oasis of civilization crouched on a rocky plateau and surrounded by dilapidated windmills. Now the N-125 is a major road and as former hamlets like Budens and Raposeira sprout holiday villas by the hundred and the tentacles of development creep ever closer, that air of isolation is fading. A 1990’s Rough Guide to Portugal described Vila do Bispo as ‘…a pretty little town with a lovely old church … [where] … nothing much happens.’ Despite the encroaching villas, that description remains largely accurate.
Vila do Bispo, October 2013

Dilapidated windmills can be found throughout the Algarve, though particularly in the windy west. Most are just stumps of brick and although a few still have their sails none, as far as I know, are in working order. Now, after a century or so of neglect, wind power has become important again and wind turbines dot the landscape, harvesting the energy of the prevailing westerlies.
Wind turbines near Vila do Bispo, October 2013

A line of windswept beaches Aguia, Castelejo, Cordama and others are accessible from Vila do Bispo on roads some of which are tarmacked. We have been to Castelejo, and maybe others, I remember photographing the surf school, but that was in the days before digital cameras and despite rummaging in the cupboards, I can find no photographic evidence.
Amado Beach, October 2005

Further north the beaches of Amado and Bordeira are also surfer’s beaches. They can be reached from the N-268 on sealed roads, but the road that connects them along the cliffs, despite its frequent viewpoints and boardwalks, has no tarmac.

Lynne and Bordeira Beach, October 2013
The village of Bordeira, as distinct from its beach, is several kilometres inland and on the other side of the N-268. Wrapped round the base of a low hill, Bordeira is a wonderfully unspoilt example of an Algarve village. There are no holiday villas here, just the old houses, well maintained and freshly whitewashed.

Bordeira, October 2013
This year we stopped for coffee in the village café where few concessions are made to tourists. Three or four locals had spread themselves and their Sunday papers (Portuguese tabloids are as lurid and fact-free as their British cousins) over the outside tables whilst the owner stood by the roadside skinning a rabbit. I am happy to report she carefully washed her hands before making our coffee.

Bordeira, October 2013
A little further on, a road running northwest from the end of the A-22 motorway joins the N-268. We often come to the west coast this way, winding through the low wind turbine crowned hills beneath the warm, fragrant pines, past eucalyptus and cork oaks, the bark stripped to head height.

The N-268 crosses the Ribeira da Cerca at Aljezur, the river splitting the town in two. According to the old Rough Guide I quoted earlier ‘… to the west of the river is the drab old Moorish town, straggling along the side of a hill below the ruins of a 10th century castle.’
Aljezur, October 2005
I have to take issue with the word ‘drab’. Making your way up through Aljezur’s charming old streets you reach the castle. There is not enough left of it to justify the effort, but the views over the old town....

Alzejur old town from the castle, October 2005
 across the countryside…
Countryside below Aljezur Castle, October 2005
…and to the sea beyond are ample reward.
A distant view of the sea from Aljezur Castle, October 2005

The ‘new’ town across the river was built 200 years ago as ‘the old site was an unhealthy, mosquito infected place.’ The mosquitoes are long gone, and the ‘new’ town is a bit dull by comparison.

Odeceixe is the last village in the Algarve. It sits below the road hunched under a hill topped with a dilapidated windmill. In the much restored village centre is a small coffee shop which sells a fine almond cake and what may be the definitive Portuguese apple cake, which may account for our repeated visits.
Odeceixe, September 2010

Keeping your nerve and driving through what appears to be a pedestrianised area but isn’t.......

The centre of Odeceixe - not really pedestrianized, October 2010 can follow a small road down the side of the valley of the little Ribeira da Odeceixe which for its last 20km forms the boundary between the Algarve and the Alentejo. At the end of the road is the hamlet of Praia de Odeceixe overlooking a large and often windswept beach.

Sometimes the sun shines, Praia de Odeceixe, September 2010

The river flows along the northern edge of the beach until it reaches the sea.

Sometime you need wrap up against the wind
Praia de Odeceixe, November 2008

Venturing into the Alentejo you reach Zambujeira do Mar, the only out-and-out holiday resort on this stretch of coast. We visited on a warm, sunny September day, but unlike on the south coast, the season was clearly over, the beach was almost deserted.....

Zambujeira Beach, September 2010

 and so was the town.
Zambujeira, September 2010
Here, having gone beyond the bounds of the Algarve, this post ends. The climate along the Algarve’s south coast is the most benign in Europe. The west coast can be warm, even in October, but the frequent wind means the climate here is ideal only for surfers.  Consequently the west receives far fewer visitors, but that does not mean it is not worth a trip.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Algarve (5): Mexilhoeira Grande and a Long Lost Cousin

This year’s Algarve trip (probably our 20th) involved an interesting and very pleasant new development.

Lynne is a keen genealogist and has traced the many branches of both our families back to at least the 18th century, some much further. Last November she was contacted by Ricky Cruz, another amateur genealogist, who had found names cropping up on her family tree which matched those on mine.

Ricky sent us family photographs of people she had been unable to identify, and we were surprised to see pictures of my mother as a child in the 1920s, my grandmother at various ages, her parents and grandparents.

John Lott was born in Llangyfelach, now part of Swansea, in 1799. He married a girl called Mary (surname so far unknown) from Llangadog in rural Carmarthenshire. They moved to the Merthyr area where they prospered, John becoming an agent for the ironworks and a tea dealer. They had three children, Hannah, born in 1826, John Jnr (1831) and Ann (1836). Hannah is my great-great-great grandmother, Ann is Ricky’s great-great grandmother, which, apparently, makes us 4th cousins once removed.

John Lott (1799-1872)
This is probably John L, but it might be someone else;
whoever it is I wouldn't cross him

Photographic evidence suggests our two branches of the family were in contact until well into the last century but then lost touch… until Ricky’s email.

We learned about each other in a series of emails. Although Ricky is technically a generation older than I am (hence the ‘once removed’) we are the same age. She was also a teacher (it is something of a family failing) and in the 1980s, when Lynne and I were broadening our horizons by teaching in the USA and Sudan, she did the same by taking a job in Portugal. I do not know if she had intended the move to be permanent, but once she had met and married Zeca the decision was made. Ricky and Zeca now live near Mexilhoeira Grande, which, as fate would have it, is not only in the Algarve, but less than 30 minutes from our regular Portuguese base in Carvoeiro. They kindly invited us for lunch.
Zeca, Ricky and 2 of their several dogs

Their house, which Zeca built himself, is a few kilometres north of the village, where the land starts to rise from the coastal plane into the Algarve’s gentle green hills. Their terrace commands a sweeping view over rich farmland to the seaside resort of Alvor, with the silver sea shimmering in the distance.

Zeca and Ricky's house, Mexilhoeira Grande
What John and Mary Lott would have made of this first meeting of two of their direct descendants is anybody’s guess. Sun-dappled terraces beside private swimming pools were something of a rarity in 19th century Dowlais – indeed they still are.

Me and my fourth cousin, once removed

I imagined them sitting beside us, him in a three piece suit with a high, tight collar, and her in shawl and bonnet, looking on with bemusement and complaining about the heat.

I am not sure what they would have made of our lunch, either. Carapau are small fish whose firm sweet flesh lifts easily from the bones; we ate them with an octopus salad. ‘Ych a fi, I wouldn’t put that in my mouth’ was the reaction* of my grandmother (and Hannah’s great-granddaughter) to the thought of eating octopus. There are times when even the Anglophone Welsh resort to their discarded native tongue.

John and Mary might have felt more at home with the chicken that followed, though Zeca’s home grown piri-piris might have left them gasping for air.

For those of us there in body rather than just spirit, it was an excellent lunch, and the wine flowed freely (though not for me, I had to drive).

We talked of our families, the Welsh, the Portuguese and the English and pointed out that Ricky (actually Erika) not only shared an unusual name (though not spelling) with my sister, but also a distinct physical similarity.  By the end I think old John and Mary would have thawed – difficult not to in the Algarve sun – and would be quite comfortable with, maybe even proud of their descendants.
Zeca picks us some piri-piri

Later we strolled through the land surrounding the house. In addition to at least three varieties of chilli (a selection of which are now (22/10/13) drying in our kitchen) Zeca has a vineyard, though he replanted** it last year so it is not currently producing.

Zeca's vineyard, Mexiloheira Grande

He showed me his winery and the remaining 200 litre barrel from the previous planting which he plans to broach at Christmas. ‘I make wine just like my grandfather did,’ he said, ‘so I know exactly what goes into it.’ I did notice, though, that he had an electric press to do the job his grandfather may well have done with his feet.
Zeca's winery

They have olive trees; the harvest starts next month and they will send their produce to the local olive oil cooperative.

Carob trees in the foreground, olives behind
Mexilhoeira Grande

The carob harvest is half complete. Despite the use of carob in many Portuguese desserts and its popularity as a chocolate substitute in the health food industry, the wholesale price is too low to make it worth employing pickers, so they are doing the job themselves, as and when they have the time and the inclination.

The carob harvest - so far

I had expected to have lunch and be driving home by 3, in the fact it was nearer 7 when we left. After a pleasant day in idyllic surroundings (oh, I know, even in paradise there are taxes to be paid, septic tanks to be emptied, etc, etc) we took our leave promising to keep in touch and meet again. I am sure we will, Ricky and Zeca are good people – of course they are, they are family.

John and Mary Lott may have struggled with the ideas of carobs and octopus, piri-piri and olive harvests - or maybe not. Perhaps we should not underestimate them just because he would be 214 and she 211. They may well have been as adaptable and open to new ideas as the brood they spawned.

*She said this in the early 1960s, 24 hours after eating octopus and saying how much she enjoyed it, and ten seconds before being told what she had had for lunch the previous day.

**Wine buff information. The vines are Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional - the usual Portuguese favourites