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!

Hiking Rocha da Pena

The walking path is clear even through rocky terrain

The Rocha da Pena is a fine outcropping of rock outside the village of Pena in the Algarve, perfect for the serious hiker and some serious hiking.  The smaller settlement of Rocha lies at the foot of the rock, and is the recommended starting point of the trail.  The trail is a circular one of about 7 kms.  It climbs up one side of the hill, takes you across the top and then down the far side to Penina (“little” Pena), before bringing you on the road back to Rocha.  I thought I’d walk for about an hour or so and see what progress I was making, and if slim, retrace my route.  But I had all morning ahead of me.

So off I set.  Unless you are pretty fit, this is an exhausting climb!  It’s 2 kms to the top and it took me about an hour.  But I didn’t get to where I thought I was going!  I had reached instead the North Belvedere.  The view was spectacular, across the valleys and hills to the north.  But over the edge was the unmistakable “X” indicating “not this way.”

Route markings are clear but can be missed if you're looking down!

The signage in general is pretty good, but not always.  I retraced my path looking for the turning I had missed.  I found it, but not before seriously considering forgetting the rest of the trip.  The path almost doubles back on itself, and you have to look around the clearing at the top of the main climb to find it.

The views are stunning & the cliff drops can be dangerous

But once found, you are on a wonderful path across the top of the Rocha.  Far from easy to follow for the first part, though it is comforting to see the markers.  You spend a lot of time watching your feet to avoid the many embedded rocks and stones.  The path is narrow and winding through scrub, with some small climbs and drops, but then you emerge on the top of the cliff, looking out south over the parking lot where you have left your car, and beyond to the Atlantic.  To your right you will see the Iron age defensive stone wall, and in front, across the saddle you will clearly see the wider path you will shortly be following.  Kind of neat.  You have struggled and probably sweated to get here, and there’s the clear path ahead.  Not a soul around (nor another human being) and you are on top of the world!

One still has to watch one’s feet, but there is little doubt which way to go.  It took another hour or so following my feet, including a side trip to the very top, to return down to Penina.  The way I went, anti-clockwise, is probably the best way to go, since the down slope is steeper than the way up: going down is always easier than going up!

The village of Penina from Rocha de Pena

It took me about 3 hours to complete the circuit, at a leisurely pace.  There is a lot to look at as you climb if you are interested in flora, fauna and rocks.  The more you look the longer it will take you.  I didn’t see much: watching one’s feet means that all you see is the ground.

Ahh, but the pleasure of a cappuccino in the cafe in Rocha when you get there.  But if you want to discuss the weather or politics with the cafe owner, your Portuguese had better be pretty good, since the owner speaks no English!

This guest post was provided by Colin Griffiths, a fellow Canadian. Colin is a Brit, living in Ontario, who recently enjoyed a month’s holiday in the Algarve, walking here and there, drinking the wonderful local wines and eating their super cheeses, and revelling in the early spring bird watching.