“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm. A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood … was now abolished at a stroke” – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’
On Wednesday the weather was still excellent so we decided to drive west to the secluded beaches all along the coast on the way to Portimão.
First we drove to the pretty little fishing village of Carvoeiro, which is beautiful, especially when viewed from the hills on either side of the town, so we walked all around it and from the cliffs we admired the village layered with white-washed villas and buildings, which seem to undulate in perfect harmony with the natural rocky landscape. The beach was small but sufficient when there aren’t many people about to share it with and it was fringed with seaside cafés and restaurants and the homes of local fishermen whose colourful boats completed the picture postcard scene.
Before tourism this was a very small and intimate fishing village and in 1965 a foreign resident wrote about the place; “the mode of living remains essentially medieval”. Well, in 1986 it was a bit more modern than that but still very quaint and although I have never been back I understand that now, thirty years on, it has lost any resemblance whatsoever to its modest origins.
Leaving Carvoeiro we took the scenic coast road west that ran adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean along a ridge of rugged sandstone cliffs. All along the route there were beaches and secluded bays and after a short while we stopped at Praia Vale de Centianes, which from an elevated position looked totally idyllic in a Robinson Crusoe sort of way.
We parked the car by a stairway but found that about half way down it had been blocked off by someone who had wedged a fishing boat into a rocky entrance gorge that completely prevented people from passing. This wasn’t going to stop us however so we bypassed the obstruction by climbing down the cliff in a tricky little mountaineering manoeuvre before rejoining the steps, which wound endlessly down through the rocks until we reached an enclave surrounded on all sides by towering rocks. At the bottom was a perfectly secluded beach, which we had all to ourselves and we laid out our towels and lay in the warm November sun.
Not long afterwards we found out why the steps were closed because the tide started to rush in quite quickly and the turbulent sea was being funnelled in by the cliffs on both sides, which had the disturbing effect of intensifying the power of the waves.
Obviously the beach was dangerous in winter and the boat blockade was there for a good reason, which was to prevent foolish people like us from going down there. The sea rushed in quite quickly so we gathered our possessions and made for the steps and by the time we had reached the boat the whole bay of previously golden sand was completely submerged. That was a a bit too close for comfort so we decided that we wouldn’t risk any more deserted beaches and returned instead for an afternoon on the beach at Armação de Pera where we shared a beach with local men attending to their fishing nets and getting ready for work.
This was to be our final night in Portugal before we set off on the drive home so tonight we drove to the nearby town of Silves for an evening meal. Silves was once the capital of the whole district that was still referred to as late as the nineteenth century as the “Kingdom of the Algarve” and standing proudly on a hill the thousand year old town is practically the last urban area before the mountains of southern Portugal rise up dramatically like a wall behind it.
It was quiet tonight and didn’t look too promising until we found a pleasant little fish restaurant that was busy with local people and we interpreted this as a good sign. A man dining alone could see that we were having some difficulty with interpreting the menu and he offered us assistance with what little English he possessed and based on his recommendation we enjoyed a very tasty traditional fish of the day meal.
After dinner we drove back to Villa Estrella and had more beer and at some point in the evening there came the point where we had had far too much because we decided that we were enjoying ourselves so much, the weather was so much better than expected and Anthony couldn’t bear to leave without saying goodbye to the girls from Leeds so we foolishly agreed that we could probably manage the drive back in two days instead of three and we would rather like to have an extra day in Portugal.
Fuelled by excess alcohol, common sense was completely abandoned and although Tony claimed to be running short of Portuguese cash we calculated that between us we had enough Escudos to support us for the additional day. We were also encouraged because the map that we had, which to be fair was not an especially good one, suggested that the journey home was motorway all the way so this really shouldn’t be a problem at all! How naïve we were!
And that was how we came to abandon our carefully made plans and spend a fourth day on the Algarve. We drove again to Albufeira and Richard and I looked around the back streets once more and Anthony and Tony walked the entire length of the beaches, several times, looking for the girls from Leeds. In the afternoon we walked along a path on the top of the high cliffs to São João with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, which was a brilliant blue under the strong winter sunshine. Later we took up position at a table overlooking the beach and quite simply, just wasted the rest of the day away.
Anthony found the girls he was looking for and I think they were a bit surprised to see him on account of the fact that by about this time we should have been well on our way to Madrid. He arranged to meet them that evening and then we all returned to the villa to pack our bags so that we could get a good early start the next day.
We returned the empty bottles to the lady at the shop and again she invited us to buy as much bread as we liked and she looked rather disappointed when we explained, as best we could, that we were going home tomorrow so didn’t need any. I felt bad about that and I have always wondered if she managed to sell the additional supplies that she had obviously bought in especially for us.