Algarve Entrances

The entrances to many places across the Algarve are inviting, artistic and visually appealing, whether they are public buildings or private ones. In some cases the doorways are old and covered in a patina of paint, dust and other grunge. But mostly I find people simply ‘do up’ their entrances to entice and appeal, to draw you in either for a closer look or to buy. Then again, it may simply be because the owners want to give themselves the pleasure of arriving at a lovely, enticing entrance to their abode or place of work.

Here are a few of the spots that call to me.

1.  A lush, elegant water entrance

A lush, elegant water entrance

Right next to the Roman Bridge in central Tavira there is a row of townhouses, each of which has access to the tidal Rio Gilão. This one is particularly lush with huge succulent plants draping off the balustrade towards the water.
Each time I visit, I love to imagine a boat pulled up to the lowest step and an elegant woman making her way with aplomb from the small boat onto the even steps. I equally know that if it were me, I’d probably miss the step and drop like a stone into the river! But my mystical lady never does. She is graceful, accurate and dry each time she steps off the bobbing boat. What would your fantasy be about arriving by boat at these lovely stairs?

Patiently waiting for a friend

2.  Doggy dressed up door stoops

Don’t know what it is about the Algarve, but people sure do love their pooches. Sadly, far too many are ultimately abandoned to wander the streets. But there are a lot of lucky pooches who simply wait for their owner to arrive home, faithful and hopeful that company will arrive soon.

Another sweet little mutt

These are two of my favourite little dogs, each clearly anxious for company. Makes me wonder what it would be like to have such a greeting each time I come home. . . . And I’m not even much of a pet person! But who could fail to love these charming little faces.



3.  Portuguese cemeteries are walled in

Explore the local cemetery

When you drive by a Portuguese community and see a large, walled-in enclosure you are likely walking or driving by the local cemetery. Public cemeteries in Portugal began to be established in the 19th century and their current form has developed since then. Cemeteries at that time became a place where wealthy families could display not only their wealth, but their culture and commitment to the arts.

So it is always exciting to find the cemetery entrance and either sneak a peak inside or go in for a ramble around. You’ll be certain to find a combination of grave-sites with ornate headstones and marble enclosures as well as masoleums containing generations of deceased family members. These small buildings are often ornately decorated and carved, containing lots of wrought iron fittings, stained glass, stone carvings and gleaming brass, lace and linen interior trim.

More recent additions are plain, rectangular ‘high rises’ filled with small lockers for individual coffins. They certainly add very little esthetic value to the cemeteries but clearly are an efficient way to deal inexpensively with a large number of deceased. People dress these little ‘bird cages’ up in imaginative and often highly tacky ways. And yet the overall effect is one of life and vitality.

Do stop and take a peek. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can learn about a people in the way they bury and honour their deceased.

4.  My favourite hotel has a lovely entry way to its pool

What mystery awaits through this portal?

No matter how many times I walk past the entrance to the pool at Hotel Vilas D’Agua, I always enjoy the view of the ocean it presents, as well as knowing that a lovely, serene swimming pool is just out of view.

The modern, square arch contrasts with the traditional cobblestoned walkway. And the blast of bright white plaster against a cerulean blue sky seems to only add to the delight I experience.

I know there is a pool on the other side of this entrance, but to me it feels like a magical portal. You know, one of those entrances where you can make up a great story about what awaits you on the other side. What would your story be?

5.  How could you not be tempted by a restaurant entrance like this?

What an Invitation

I love to visit my friends Stefan and Lisa at Restaurante Rouxinol, just outside the Caldas de Monchique. Partly it is because I love the drive up into the mountains. Mostly it is because of the friendly welcome and great food and hospitality I know always await me.

But this entrance! Who wouldn’t be tempted upward to the patio by such a welcoming entrance way. It is a tight turn off the main road into Restaurante Rouxinol’s driveway, but as I leave my car and walk towards this inviting stairway I know that I will be well received. Each visit there are different flowers in bloom and sometimes the lemon and orange trees are in fruit. Other times the banana plants are bursting with lushness. You just never know. What I am certain of is a huge grin from both Stefan and Lisa, a bear hug and an invitation to sit, to enjoy, to refresh myself and to catch up. Now that is a special treat!

Chillin’ in Tavira

Tavira is a delightful city in Eastern Algarve.  I love to spend the day there, exploring its many churches, alleyways, restaurants and shops.  Make sure you take the time to discover this charming place.

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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.

Easter Sunday Alleluia Parade

Easter Sunday in Sao Bras de Alportel is a glorious, joyous occasion. The streets are lined with flowers and greenery, all lovingly done by the hands of local volunteers. I can only imagine how many hours it takes to lay down several kilometres of flowers in intricate designs. Men and boys carrying astounding floral arrangements parade through the streets and calling Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. It seems that they cluster in groups and they definitely try to out cheer one another. A form of non-violent competition, it seems.

Bedspreads are hung from windows to pick up good luck as the parade passes by. Thousands come out to view, eat goodies from market stands, buy balloons for the kids and visit with one another. After the parade there is music, more food and a true Portuguese party atmosphere. Definitely an event not to be missed. The parade starts around 11ish, but arrive early cause parking gets tight.

The Sacred Side of Easter

I’m not a religious person and I choose to live a pretty untraditional lifestyle.  But I remain fascinated by religion, faith and the many ways in which people retain long-held traditions in our world.

One thing that I love about the Algarve is that its people seem to excel at maintaining a fairly traditional lifestyle in spite of that fact that they are swamped by tourists year in and year out.  That’s a theme that I am planning to explore in future visits.

But for now, I am reveling in the memories of my experience last spring of Easter in the Algarve.  Today’s post focuses on the night-time procession that happens on Good Friday through the streets of Silves, Algarve.  The faithful walk slowly along with litters carrying images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, beginning at the Cathedral and snaking their way through much of the historic district.  It takes a good 90 minutes to 2 hrs before the procession climbs back up the hill to the Cathedral.  What a delight it was to be present to so many people making their silent way to observe a 2,000 year old event that still holds meaning in their lives.

The Sacred Side of Easter YouTube Video

Saturday morning in Loulé

Fruit Stand Loule Market

Especially when I’m traveling I’m not the sort of person who lives a very structured life.  Routine and I don’t make the best of friends.  But there are notable excep

tions …and Saturday morning in Loulé is one of those exceptions.

Every time I’m in the Algarve you can find me in Loulé on Saturday morning because of the fabulous farmer’s market.  But over time I’ve discovered that there is so much more to Loulé than just the farmer’s market.  However, let’s start there.

Moorish Inspired Mercado Building

Right in the heart of town there is a huge market (mercado) building that houses fish mongers, butcher shops, small bakeries, fruit and vegetable dealers, pottery shops, café’s, florists, and a variety of other services.  Outside, local farmers arrive and set up stands selling an incredible array of local goods.  Fresh fruits and vegetables in season.  Home-made Piri-Piri sauce, fresh and dried herbs, breads, cakes, local honey and seasonal flowers are always available.  Cheeses, presunto (local air cured hams), chorizo and other sausages are for sale as is salt fish, candy and bedding plants.

Buying Bread

Whether you buy anything or not it is such fun to wander through the stalls, watching friends and family catch up on gossip, seeing what folks are buying, noticing what is fresh and in season this week.  People are alive and engaged, weathered faces and hands ready with a smile, a nod, a willingness to show off what they have on offer.  Nobody seems to mind having their picture taken.

Pottery of all designs awaits

I like to arrive early, stop at one of the local coffee shops and then saunter inside and outside of the market building while it is still fairly quiet.  As the tour buses start to arrive around 10:30 or so, I have another coffee and then head off to explore other aspects of Loulé.  That might mean walking half a block North from the main traffic circle and then heading East along a pedestrian mall to window shop in the many fashionable boutiques and shoe stores.  I’ll head back to the main street and then back towards the mercado, continuing West about a block past it.  By then there is usually a display set up on the sidewalk and into the courtyardand it is time for more shopping.  I suspect there is a schedule somewhere, but I love not knowing what I’ll come across.  One week it’ll be local artists selling their paintings, sculptures, cards and photographs.  Another week it’ll be antique dealers, still another it’ll be crafts people offering jewelery, knick-knacks, knitted goods, etc.  And sometimes it is local artisans selling breads, pastries, candies and other edibles.  You just never know, which is a big part of its delight.

Getting spring water

Eventually I’ll head towards the old castle, perhaps stopping in at the small chapel that might be open, standing agog, yet again, at how much elaborate design can be crammed into one tiny room.  Sometimes the street will be lined with local folks selling lotions, potions, hand made soaps and other goodies.  If not, it is fun to swing down this side streetscape exploring art galleries, the Moroccan Tea Shop and hanging around the 150 year old community water fountain to watch the locals come and fill up on fresh spring water.  Finally it is around the backside of the castle, through a small archway and onto yet another pedestrian walkway lined with shops of all kinds as well as pastry shops and cafés.

Fine Art Galleries

By late morning a party atmosphere has developed.  Everyone seems to be in a good mood.  A few street musicians are out and adding to the ambience.  It is a time to savour life, perhaps finding a nice patio on which to enjoy another coffee and from which to watch people be people getting on with life!

Finally when my legs are tired it is time to find a restaurant and settle in for a big Saturday lunch.  If you pick the right place, you’ll find yourself amongst local families celebrating the end of the week.  Be aware that the market closes down at 1 o’clock.  Be aware also that most of the Algarve closes down at 1 o’clock.  It can be difficult to find a restaurant that’s open.  When you find one and have eaten your fill, be like the locals and head home for a wonderfully long siesta, letting yourself lie back and re-live the vibrancy of the morning before you eventually decide what to cook with all that great food you couldn’t resist buying!

Inside Loule Mercado

There is so much else to talk about.  But that’ll be for another posting about Loulé!

The High Cost of Roaming

Silves Town Square is a Delightful Place with Free WiFi

We all need to remember to pack our smarts when we leave on a trip.  I always think I do, and sometimes I’m surprised to discover that I only brought my brains – my smarts got left behind.  And nowhere is this more true than being aware of the high costs of data roaming charges for international travel.

Like on my recent trip to the Algarve.  Before I left home I downloaded a whole bunch of apps for my beloved iPhone.  I can now turn it into a flashlight, play a bunch of games, find free wi-fi spots, listen to CBC radio ‘live streaming’.  I even got an app that allows me to take pictures and then have them inserted into a map so that family, friends and clients can track my progress.  How wonderful!  What I totally forgot, despite being warned about the high cost of international data roaming charges, is that most of these apps use data transfer in order to function.  Duuh.

So I merrily explored the Algarve once again, vaguely aware that I was using my iPhone more than in the past but secure in the knowledge that I had all these new apps and had pretty much figured each of them out.  Roaming charges didn’t even register in my mind.

Now I’m not a stupid person.  I made no phone calls ‘cause they were $2.00/minute.  I sent no e-mail (but I did download my inbasket regularly, alas) and I was very prudent with my texting, using it only a dozen or so times at a cost of $.75/message.  My carrier had kindly reminded me to pay attention to these International travel pitfalls.  But I wasn’t very smart.

The penny never dropped that each time I searched for free wi-fi’s I was sending and receiving data.  The one or two times that I tuned into CBC Radio it never occurred to me how much data was flowing.  And that great picture taking/tracking app that I kept testing has been sitting unused since I got back 3 weeks ago.  Too much else to do.

My bill arrived yesterday.  My heart attack thankfully didn’t arrive, but the palpitations I received from looking at that bill are still echoing!  $600 in data roaming charges for a 2 week trip.  I doubt that I used my iPhone for more than 5 minutes a day.  Oh Lord, why didn’t I just go and pay €10/hr at an Internet café instead of trying to find something ‘free’, at a much higher cost.

So next time I’ll definitely remember my smarts.  I might even try to find an app that tells me how much I’ve spent in roaming charges!  My advice to you is put those wonderful electronic devices away.  Bring a laptop, go to an Internet café or one of the many town squares with free wi-fi, connect with people at home via Skype.  Enjoy knowing that you won’t receive any post-vacation surprises in the mail!

How do I find places?

While places in the Algarve frequently have street addresses, forget simply using a map and street coordinates to locate them!  I also don’t think you need to spend mucho dinero on the GPS units car rental agencies are happy to provide.

By and large you’ll find that using landmarks is a much more efficient way to find places than is a map.  It is also a lot more fun than working with a GPS.  But is does mean that those of you who aren’t terrifically visually astute are going to have to hone your skills.  But for those of us who are very visually oriented, locating stores, restaurants, homes and public buildings can be a lot of fun because of what you’ll discover en route.

An 'obvious' Algarve street market - very atypically large & easily seen

And here’s the reason.  Streets and roads are not signposted the way we’re used to.  For one thing, what signs exist are located down low to the ground, not high up on little metal posts.  For another, street names are often painted on or carved into stone or cement markers which can’t be seen in low light situations.  So it is easier to pay attention to landmarks.

Those of you who use my Gwen’s Guide to Dining Well in the Algarve will find that I use this landmark system to lead you to the restaurants I review.  The tour guides at hotels and even directions given by car rental companies all also use this process.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you are trying to make your way to the wonderful Saturday morning market (mercado) at Loulé.  Here’s how I’d direct you in:

Take the N125 to the traffic circle marked “Loule/A22” or take the A22 to the Loule West exit.  Travel North until you enter the town of Loule.  At the Cyclists traffic circle, exit right and proceed along to the stop light.  Turn left and you’ll immediately see cars parked up on the curb. After 2-3 blocks you’ll see the Market Building and farmers stalls on your left.  At the main Loule traffic circle with the fountain, you can take any of the exits and find parking spots. Arrive early, tho because parking is at a premium.

Or let’s say you are looking for the Modelo Shopping Centre in Albufeira.  Here’s how I’d direct you, assuming that you were coming from the East.

Take the N125 into Albufeira, always heading West at the Globe and Worms Traffic Circles.  When you get to the Swatches circle, go 3/4 round (or 270˚) and exit onto a service road.  Go 1 block West, get in the left turning lane.  As you turn left, turn right immediately into the Modelo parking lot.

It isn’t difficult to find places, but you have to be open to doing things differently than you’re accustomed to.  And you have to be awake and alert as you travel.

On the up-side, the Portuguese aren’t as up-tight as we are about arriving on time.  So if you get lost, don’t worry about it.  Actually, if you get lost, have fun with it.  Some of my best discoveries in travel, especially in Portugal come from the times that I got lost and proceeded down a road I’d never traveled before.  And then there is the luxury of going around in circles in a traffic circle while you make up your mind which exit to take.  When you are stuck at a 4-way stop and the guy behind you is honking, you have to make anxiety provoking split second decisions.  The beauty of round-abouts or traffic circles is that you can take your time deciding and you are slowing no one else down!

And let me know if you have special ways to find places in the Alarve!