In May we visited the UK, in June it was Italy and as I write this blog, I’m planning a return to India in October, but it is while you think about one holiday that others from the past creep into the small corners of your mind.
Having been to Portugal several times it is fair to say we are not impressed. Logic says you can’t be disappointed with a whole country, there are areas that are beautiful and some not so, but we feel having given it a fair chance it hasn´t quite come up to muster.
In the Algarve, we booked the Oura View Beach Club in Albufeira. It was clean, the views lovely, but like the area outside the complex, tired. Seemingly locked in the 1970s, many premises were closed, although happy hour signs flourished, indicating in this area, you are more likely to hear English, than catch a snippet of the native language – similar to home.
Having hired a car, we visited Faro the capital of the region. It is far from a bustling metropolis but the old quarter has an old-school charm. There are no ‘sites’ to speak of but the storks that nest on church spires and chimneys are interesting. Dining in one of the cities family-run restaurants offers a sharp contrast to the Algarve resorts, where I found prices extortionate, but in the ‘cidade velha’ you can eat well for €10.
To the north of Faro is Loulé. Once again, not much for tourists, but we found the Nossa Senhora da Piedade (church) interesting, it looks like a spaceship sitting on its hill. We also enjoyed the market but as it wasn´t the weekend we missed the famous ‘gipsy’ market.
One day when the weather was particularly bad, we drove from place to place and spotted what we thought was a winemaking demonstration. It turned out to be the local firewater; nonetheless, it was fascinating to see the old machinery and the slabs of cork retaining the shape of the trees waiting to be turned into corks for the bottles.
We found Alte nestling at the foot of the Sierras a delightful village with its whitewashed houses lining the narrow streets. We saw the famous springs, although at the time we didn’t know they were famous. We wandered the picturesque area around Fonte Pequena (little spring) with its bridge crossing the stream, a series of waterfalls and local resident ducks. There is also a pretty, walled garden dedicated to Alte’s famous poet, whose name I didn´t know and now can´t remember!
Finally, after another day of grey skies and drizzle, the sun put in an appearance and there was no denying, it made Silves look good. The town is dominated by a Moorish castle, the largest in the Algarve. A stroll along the riverbank through the cobbled streets takes you past the ‘Cruz de Portugal’ to the castle and the gothic cathedral next door. Silves’ plaza, with gardens and ponds, features eastern looking figures, and numerous cafés offering lovely river views. We decided it was the best place we had seen during the week, or was that simply because the sun was shining.
Portugal is nice, not spectacular and the pace is different, similar in some ways to its Spanish neighbour but lacking the vibe. I was looking for the gems but sadly the ones we found didn’t really sparkle