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!

Let the waters flow

Even in fog the vistas can be spectacular

This is my first Algarve trip in low season and it is definitely different. The locals are quite distressed because there has been so much rain. And indeed, it feels quite odd to be here without sunshine a major feature of each day. But fear not. Even with overcast skies for much of the time the sun can’t help but peek out with great regularity. And the temperatures remain in the high teens so a light sweater is all that is necessary to be comfortable.

On the up side things are incredibly green. Greener than I’ve ever seen the Algarve in my many visits. There are moments when I almost wonder if they haven’t scooped up a bit of Ireland and dropped here in southern Portugal!

I took a drive into the Serra de Monchique yesterday and was well rewarded for my troubles. The trip up to Foia was very interesting. I hit low-lying clouds about half-way up and continued the rest of the way in very poor visibility. When I reached the top I was within a few feet of the tourist information centre before it loomed out of the fog. Fortunately I knew the country road on the back side that I was looking for, although it did feel a bit intimidating to head downwards into countryside I couldn’t see. Never fear, though. Before long I was in sunshine, passing through old farmland, herds of sheep and tiny valleys of oak and citrus orchards. The small mountain streams were swollen with rapidly flowing water. I regularly passed waterfalls spilling off small cliffs. Quite delightful I must say.

So although the Algarve in January isn’t the warm, sunny place I’ve grown to expect, it has other delights to offer the intrepid traveler willing to get away from the beachfront. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience what I gather is a rare occurrence in these parts. Flowing mountain streams and waterfalls happen very intermittently and are experienced by few. Lucky me!