Dancing Flamingoes

Finally. On my most recent Algarve trip the flamingoes near Castro Marim and Vila Real de San Antonio came out to play! These large, exotic birds are a regular feature of the far eastern reaches of the Algarve. And yet, for me, they had remained elusive until this trip. They provide easy birdwatching for those of us whose primary purpose is shopping!

As an additional thing to do in the Algarve, I decided to break with routine and instead of shopping at the Loulé Market one Saturday morning, I headed east to check out the action in Vila Real. And what a treat that turned out to be. As I drove along the highway between the A22 and Vila Real, I spotted a small flock of flamingoes on the tidal flats. I got some nice pictures and then headed into town one very happy camper.

Algarve Basket Maker

Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Vila Real on a Saturday morning has quite a bustling, vibrant place. There’s a craft market in the central square filled with vendors offering hand made baskets, jewelery, linens, baked goods, honey, cork products and other goodies. Someone drove down from the Alentejo with a truck full of chouriço, presunto, cheese and olive oil. This added quite a festival air to the many shops with their linens and kitchen items spilling onto the sidewalks. I had heard that many Spanish folks came over for some serious cross-border shopping, and sure enough the sound of Spanish was heard everywhere. My fancy was also tickled as I watched folks rest on one of the many benches of the town square under a canopy of ripening oranges. For a Canadian, citrus fruit always seems like a marvel. And to think of resting in the shade of an orange tree seems downright magical!

Taking a Break Under a Loaded Orange Tree

There were also a couple of chestnut roasters offering this delightful winter treat at various corners. And a guy selling parakeets had a huge cage of pastel blue & green birdies singing up a storm. The kids were absolutely enthralled with his display. He even had a large green parrot that many adults seemed to get a kick out of trying to feed without losing part of their fingers to his thick, curved beak.

Down by the waterfront there was lots of action. A couple of groups of young sailors were racing down the river using the full force of a stiff breeze to try out their new techniques. And for the first time in several visits I saw a number of people working on their yachts and sailboats, perhaps getting them ready for the cooler weather of the winter rainy season.

After several hours of wandering about, savouring the sense of life this usually sleepy town has on a Saturday morning I decided it was time to head home. Imagine my surprise to discover that my flock of flamingoes was still there in the shallow tidal waters. This time I got a bit of video footage and became aware of their dance. They shuffle and skip lightly on their feet in the shallow water, stirring up the rich mud so that they can filter out the minute sea creatures that are their diet. Whatever they were eating, it wasn’t shrimp because these flamingoes were white, not pink, the colour of their features derived from the colouring of their food.

All in all a great Saturday morning. And while I missed the sea of vegetables, fish and other produce on offer in Loulé, I’ll definitely head back to Vila Real de San Antonio when I need a break from routine on my frequent Algarve trips.

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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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!