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.

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!