Always great to be back in Paradise!

I haven’t posted in ages . . .and that does not mean that the Algarve, aka Paradise, has not constantly been on my mind. It has been a busy year for me with many projects. And now I’m back in glorious Algarve for several months and am anxious to continue my explorations, to renew acquaintances, to discover anew as well as refresh & renew myself. Oh yes, and to write …write more restaurant reviews, finish my second Portugal food scenery book ‘Deciphering the Portuguese Menu’ and to finally get posting more on this blog.

Let’s start with a quick overview of my busy first week back. It has entailed several lovely meals, drives into the countryside, getting my kitchen stocked with essentials and treats, visits with local friends and spending time with some Canadian folks whom I’m meeting for the first time here in the Algarve, although we’ve been in correspondence for a long time via e-mail back in Canada. Funny how life works, sometimes, eh? You need to travel half-way round the world to connect in ‘real time’ with folks who live, quite literally, just around the corner.

Last Sunday I drove back into the hills near the village of Alte. The almond trees are in full bloom and I found one that had its trunk split, its branches fallen to earth, ladened with blossoms as the tree tries a last ditch effort to save itself. I was blessed to have captured this short video of the bees busy taking advantage of a bountiful source of nectar for honey making. I get there were nearby hives driven to madness with such a rich harvest of sweet almond nectar from which to create even sweeter honey!

My grilled swordfish steak, accompanied by freshly chopped garlic and boiled potatoes

My grilled swordfish steak, accompanied by freshly chopped garlic and boiled potatoes

A couple of days later I met up with some fellow Canadians for lunch in Fuzeta. Randy, Diane and Gwen are visiting to know the Algarve for the first time and are all thrilled with what they are discovering. The purposely chose an off the beaten track village in which to stay and can’t say enough good things about the folks they are renting from, the beauty of the landscape they’ve seen, the warmth of the people they’ve met, the quality of the food they’ve eaten and their overall experience here. These are 3 very seasoned world travellers and they can’t believe how great a time they’re having.

We lunched on fish. Swordfish steak for me, mackerel for the other Gwen and a white fish similar to sea bass for Diane. We were too busy yakking to remember to write down the name of the fish she selected! Ah, the joys of meeting friends on the road. Randy chose pork for his lunch and was very happy with his selection too.

It isn't often that you get two Gwens in the same photo!

It isn’t often that you get two Gwens in the same photo!

Next day these hearty explorers headed to Lagos for an overnight stay and were keen to get out to Cape St. Vincent. So I drove West and surprised them as they walked into town from the train station. I packed us a picnic lunch and after they found their small guest hotel we headed west, stopping en route at my favourite beach – a small, little known spot down a bumpy dirt track. I don’t provide directions, so don’t ask! It is mine, mine, mine – except for the campers who surf there. Surf was up, tide was in and we have a fabulous meal of cheese, bread, wine, strawberries and a bean spread I make.

Then it was off to the wild headlands that is Cape St. Vincent. Once again, it did not disappoint with its vast vistas of thundering sea against steep, wild cliffs, and miles of low growing scrubby vegetation. We were too early for the spring flowers and wild herbs that in a few short weeks will enliven the scenery with colour and fragrance. But we did see a few of the bright white, rose-like Cistus shrubs already in bloom. A promise of glories to come.

Diane jumps for joy as she explores this small but perfectly formed beach

Diane jumps for joy as she explores this small but perfectly formed beach

Tomorrow I am off on my weekly pilgrimage to Loulé farmer’s market. Can’t wait to see what’s for sale. It looks like early asparagus is available, plus broad beans and fresh winter peas. I’ll also likely buy myself a stash of farmhouse piri-piri sauce, a simple mixture of oil, ground chili peppers with a touch of lemon juice, plus a big bag each of local oregano and bay leaves. I plan on many tasty home cooked meals next week.

Stay tuned for more explorations and adventures. I’ve got a long list of people to visit on this trip, interviews to carry out, new places to explore, foods to talk about and activities to partake in.

Old men yakking it up - the act of 'geezering' is popular worldwide!

Old men yakking it up – the act of ‘geezering’ is popular worldwide!

A Visit to Alte

Alte's Church dominates the town square

Call me ornery, call me a snob … and sometimes call me just plain stupid!

I drove through the hill village of Alte (pronounced alt, located north of Loulé) many times and because I’d seen it in tour books described as ‘the prettiest town in the Algarve’ I decided to ignore it.  I mean, how can anyplace that makes the major tour books and is so glowingly described be of interest to a self-proclaimed specialist in ‘off-the-beaten-track’ Algarve?  Well, one day I decided to stop and see what all the action was about and realized I’d been being a stupid, ornery snob!  Sigh.  …again.

The main road that runs through Alte doesn’t really let you see its delights.  And it is quite a delightful little place.  Sure there are a couple of interesting looking pottery shops.  And the cemetery looks like it’s worth an exploration, sitting perched on the side of a broad valley.  But beyond that, Alte certainly doesn’t look that picturesque from the highway.

Let art and your mood entice you up and down these pretty streets

But if you head up-hill at the traffic circle on the western edge of town, you quickly discover an absolutely delightful little place with cafés spilling out onto the street, at least one great pastry shop, an attractive church and lots of meandering, narrow streets.  Parking isn’t easy, even in the off-season so you’ll need a bit of patience.

Enjoy a break in the shade

There’s a small mercado located on the left as you enter the village.  It is a long series of covered stalls with a fun mosaic.  Alas it has never been open on any of my visits, but one of these days I’ll make it when it is filled with fruits, vegetables, fish and meats.

Medronhos - the main ingredient in a fiery drink

In the meantime, this is a great place for a wander; a fun place for poking around, soaking up the sunshine and watching the locals go about their business.  If you like to drive, press upwards on some of the streets and you’ll have the joy of wondering how sharp an angle your vehicle can handle, plus the pleasure of seeing what the backside of the mountain looks like.  On one fall visit I was fortunate enough to find a number of medronhos (arbutus trees) bushes in full fruit.  What a find.

The pastry shop near the mercado makes wonderful almond treats and has a lovely balcony where a few lucky people get to gaze over the valley while sipping coffee and munching on almond crescents.  Yummy.

And it is just about the prettiest place I’ve been in the Algarve.  Great spot to while away a couple of hours doing not much of anything.