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.

Public Art in the Algarve

Metalwork Palm Trees - Vila Nova a Cacela

Art in public spaces is not something I’ve encountered a whole lot of as I’ve traveled around the Algarve. However, on my January trip I did come across an impressive sculpture in a tiny little hamlet called Vila Nova de Cacela.

I had parked my car at the edge of the hamlet and wandered down to the fortress, enjoying the warm, sunny weather and then the incredible views out to sea and over to the Spanish border. It is easy to see why around the turn of the first century (yes, around 1,000 AD) a fortress would have been built to warn of maurauding pirates. It was subsequently well used in the centuries when the Moors and Christians passed control of the area back and forth. But sadly, like much of the Eastern Algarve, the original fortress was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and subsequently rebuilt at the turn of the century.  Still, it is an impressive structure to our modern eyes. And unless the ground opens up and swallows the cliff upon which it rests, the views are stunning.

Next to the fortress is a lovely old parish church. As I came around the corner of the fortification and headed towards an opening with more views of the water, I came upon two lovely metal sculptures of palm trees that filled a quiet, sunny courtyard. No one else was about; I had the place to myself. As I stood appreciating the way the huge metalwork trees graced the spot, the church bells peeled out the hour.  All in all, a delightful few moments when nature, history and art combined to give me an experience I had not expected. That this moment occurred in such a tiny hamlet seemed to make it all the more special. I can guarantee you that only the tiniest fraction of visitors to the Algarve even know about this place, let alone these graceful sculptures.

Now Vila Nova de Cacela is not the only place I’ve encountered public art in the Algarve. But it certainly was the least expected art experience I’ve had. That’s what I like about wandering around on my own. I never quite know what will be around the next bend. It isn’t always as gorgeous as this hamlet and these sculptures, but it gives me the thrill of discovery each and every day that I set out to explore!

Look below for some of the other public art pieces I’ve encountered in my travels. I know that on my next trip I’ll be conscious about seeking out even more of them to tell you about, because I know they are out there waiting for me to turn a corner and discover them.

Algarve’s Gentle Eastern Shores

I recently spent two more glorious weeks in the Algarve.  Only this time, I moved east, staying in the delightful town of Tavira.  My days were spent exploring the town, the back country, the waterfront and, of course, the many fine dining opportunities that abound in the Algarve.  Off-the-beaten track Algarve continues to be what calls to me.  This recent trip helped confirm, yet again, just how much diversity is packed into this tiny region of wonderful vistas, friendly, gentle people, great food and culture, fabulous beaches and good shopping.

Sunset near Tavira

The coastline feels more gentle because you are pretty much behind the barrier islands of the Rio Formosa in this part of the world.  Beaches are broader and backed by sand dunes rather than cliffs. The food feels more traditional, but perhaps given that it was the dead of winter many restaurants were offering all kinds of stews. There are several very small fishing communities that are still highly traditional and are delightful to spend time in. Boardwalks along the waterfront are much more popular in this part of the region.

And the countryside, oh my! The almond blossoms were just coming out when I arrived and were at the peak of perfection during my visit. And there are sooo many of them. In some places, there were white and pink blossoms as far as they eye can see.

Unfortunately, there are also some depressingly overbuilt and congested tourist traps in this area too.  And it was scary to be driving the back hill country only to encounter the massive up-scale golf courses and gated housing communities that have sprung up as ugly blots on the rural landscape.  But I suppose that tourists must be attracted in whatever way possible.  Sad to see, though.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks, folks as I document my most recent discoveries.  Great art galleries, public art displays in unusual places, villages, restaurants, country drives will all be featured to help make your visit to the Algarve an amazing and rich one.  Or perhaps even to tempt you to visit this wonderful gem of a destination tucked away in the southern-most reaches of an equally delightful country.

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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