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.

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.