Countries, Culture, Europe

When the Portuguese boat comes in

You’re fishing off the Algarve coast and The Scary One wants to know when the Portuguese boat comes in.

Or more where the toilet is.

The answer at the westernmost point in Europe is Madeira!

Safer then to indulge in the any number of fish outlets in Piscine Portugal.

Now sardines have become a go-to family meal dish for as long as we can remember on this island of ours.

And we probably take our links with Portugal, the home of the sardine, for granted.

But our love of this fish dish is just another link in the world’s longest-standing alliance, between England and Portugal.

The Old Alliance

Portuguese fishing men of awe: And calming seas

Dating back to 1373, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was formalised in 1387 when John of Gaunt’s daughter Philippa wed John I.

English and Portuguese nobility discovered they got on quite nicely and Charles II and Catherine of Braganza further extended the links.

And most notably brought tea to this island.

Now you may be asking why we’re bringing you this royal history lesson.

Well, possibly because of the day that’s in it with Queen Elizabeth celebrating her 96th birthday today.

But also because our Portuguese friends have been in touch with an update on their bounce back ahead of a busy year.

And they have flagged up these Algarve treats when you venture further afield than poolside.

Nine lives in the Algarve

And what’s on the menu? Fish, of course

■Take a boat trip in Ria Formosa Natural Park, a unique coastal lagoon in central Algarve, elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal.

Visit Cape St. Vincent, the southwest edge of mainland Europe, which is particularly spectacular at sunset.

Hike along some of Algarve’s key walking routes such as the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail near Lagoa, with views over the Benagil Cave. 

A window into another world: Of caves

Cycle on the Ecovia trail to discover the natural marvels of the region. Highlights include the birdwatching haven of the Alvor Estuary (and my old friends the spoonbill birds).

■And we all love a Sagres when we’re in Portugal but probably don’t take in the majestic cliffs of Sagres point, or the pretty coastal fishing villages of Salema and Burgau.

■Now southern Spain is rightly proud of their Moorish history but the North Africans were in the Algarve too. The Castelo de Silves is a great national monument to learn about the Moors.

You’ll want to get out on the water too. Take a ferry from Olhão to Armona Island or from Faro to the least developed and inhabited Deserta Island.

■Ah, yes, our sardines, or fresh seafood in Portimão, at one of the many riverside restaurants or in Olhão, next to Ria Formosa promenade. Head inland and try the stews too.

■But not forgetting the beaches. And the award-winning beaches like Dona Ana, Camillo, Meia, Marinha and Falésia beach.

That’ll keep you busy and I think you’ll agree that it’s all there when your Portuguese boat comes in.


Countries, Culture, Europe

Secret Algarve

Do you want to know a secret, do you promise to tell (it’s what Travel professionals do) well here’s a belter… Secret Algarve.

Now you might not be aware of this.

Portuguese secrets: Maria

But give a Portuguese a secret and they’ll keep it close to their hearts… they’re famous for it.

Which I discovered when I tried to get the Last Secret of Fatima out of Maria dos Anjos in Portugal Centro.

A desert island

Man is an island: Deserta

We’ve all got our memories of Algarve beaches and they still remember us in Cabanas…

Where our fellow guests told stories of that resort’s glassy sand.

Best then to go where the locals meet.

And in central Algarve that’s Ria Formosa which are on a series of barrier islands just off the coast.

The remote barrier islands are Barreta, Culatra, Armona and Ilha Tavira.

And they can be easily reached by ferry from Faro, Olhão or Tavira.

Our friends in the Algarve remind us that the Ria Formosa is a fabulous place for bird-watching..

Oh, we know, and have been beak to beak with the Algarve Spoon-bill in Quinta do Lago.

Fits bill: The Algarve Spoon-bill.

And paddeled too (the hybrid squash and tennis game).

Ria Formosa is also an important breeding ground for many coastal birds.

Such as oystercatchers, cranes, and flamingos, whilst also being a hotspot during the migration season.

Head to the deserted island of the aptly named Deserta.

And enjoy the day sunbathing, swimming and enjoying a long lazy lunch at local favourite Estamine.

It serves up fresh fish and seafood, among other genuinely Algarvian specialties from its solar powered kitchen.

And a mountain too

Rocky mountain high: Monchique

The Monchique mountain range is a chain of mountains found in the western part of the Algarve about 20 km inshore.

The highest point is the peak of Fóia which stands tall at 902m.

Picota is another notable peak at 774m high.

These peaks can be reached by foot, mountain bike or by Jeep with many tourism companies provide routes and services.

Reaching the peak of Fóia provides phenomenal panoramic views over the Algarve.

And when the weather is clear, you can see the Atlantic Ocean.  

To explore the mountains take a Jeep Safari Experience by Extremo Ambiente.

It includes sampling the local brandy Medronho, Melosa liqueur, honey and & wine. Mmmm

The tasting is organized by a sommelier with comparatives and tasting notes, with a pairing with cheese and Monchique cured meats.

Village people

Castle walls: Portuguese heritage


Go inland to visit small villages such as Aljezur on the west coast and Querença near Loulé in the surrounding Algarvian mountains.

Aljezur is in a river valley surrounded by hills with a cascade of zigzagging narrow streets. 

On one side of the river stands the old town, which was developed in the tenth century when the Moors first settled there.

The village is dominated by the ruins of a Moorish castlebuilt at that time which sits at the top of a narrow and very steep cobbled hill.

Not only were the Moors responsible for many buildings in the region, but also various legends and myths living among people even now.

More, More, Moor

Water view: Tavira

The village of Querença is one of the most ‘typical’ villages in the Algarve with clear signs of an Arab architectural influence.

The town is renowned for its rich traditional gastronomy, kept alive by local restaurants.

The village also distils the famous arbutus-berry brandy and produces a very popular variety of chorizo sausage, in addition to many other traditional products.

Visitors must try one of their wintry delicious stews (lamb, goat, chicken), finished with a “medronho” to warm up the soul.

Watch the sunset at Cacela Velha and then straight to the small alleys of Tavira old town for a gourmet tapas dinner.

Life’s a beach: With the Scary One

Cacela Velha village is situated on top of a hill with a view of the easternmost lagoon of the Ria Formosa.

The village has a beach known for its dreamy landscape and its fantastic sunset.

With sand that changes shapes according to the winds and tides.

In Tavira you will find a unique mix of traditional architecture.

With Moorish influences incorporated plus 37 churches.


Always a beach near by: In the Algarve

Alcoutim on the south-eastern border of Algarve is known as a hidden treasure in the Algarve.

This interesting river town is set among beautiful green hills.

Here you will find the perfect combination of history, nature, and tranquillity.

And you’ll be only a 30-minute drive from the coastal area of the Algarve.

The town is located on the Guadiana River, a river running the length of Portugal’s south-eastern border with Spain.

After meandering its way through some of the most picturesque landscapes, the river eventually spills out into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the border town of Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve.

For a thrill do the only cross border zipline in the world that starts in Spain, crosses the Guadiana River on a 720 m line and finishes in Alcoutim.

So that’s it out… Secret Algarve. Enjoy.