Portalegre

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About Portalegre

The Northern Alentejo, Portalegre is an almost mythical region. Reality lies here, waiting to be unveiled, in the endless plains and mountains, in the water that entertains and cures, in the great open spaces in the midst of nature or in those built by man both for ancient wars and for peace. Authenticity lies here, in the nobility that our forebear’s lent to the stones of the dolmens and menhirs, to the armorial bearing of the manor houses and to the unique flavours generated in secret in the ancient convents and wineries. The truth also lies here, in the festival and the fair, in the music, the dancing, and in the local art, where tradition is maintained.

Photo of Portalegre

Another photo of Portalegre

What to do in Portalegre

The Cathedral, built in 1556, suffered profound alterations between 1737 and 1798 and exhibits beautiful tile panels and paintings. Three convents, São Francisco, Santa Clara and São Bernardo are also worth seeing: the latter, built in 1518, contains the marble tomb of its founder, bishop Dom Jorge de Melo, and is one of the most elaborate in Portugal. Museu Municipal displays from religious art to a wonderful collection of Portuguese ceramics, and Casa Museu José Régio (a well known writer who lived from 1901-1969) has various collections of religious art and folk art objects. You can drive from Portalegre to the peak of São Mamede, 1025 metres (3040 feet) high, along a winding road with fine views throughout the way.

Dating from Roman times and sprawling on one of these green slopes, it has preserved within its walls a remarkable patrimony: churches, fountains, mansions, Gothic doorways and the characteristic maze-like Judiaria (Jewish quarter), with its small white houses, cobbled alleys and a synagogue dating from the 13th century. Also worth visiting are the Baroque Church of St. Mary, the 18th-century Town Hall and pillory, the carved stone fountain of “Fonte da Vila” or the 13th-century chapel of São Salvador do Mundo (Saviour of the World). Within the walls of the Castle (now in ruins) which gave the town its name, the small chapel of Nossa Senhora da Alegria (Our Lady of Joy) exhibits splendid polychrome floral tiles from the 17th century.

Photo of the Cathedral of Portalegre

Photo of Nossa Senhora da Alegria

What to eat in Portalegre

The cuisine of the municipality of Portalegre follows the culinary traditions of Alto Alentejo: Tomato Soup, Potato Soup, Bean and Cabbage Soup, Dogfish with garlic, Sarapatel (offal stew), Offal Soup, Mashed Bread and Potato with fried pork, and lamb stew are some of the region’s typical dishes. In addition, of course, to the deliciously rich “convent” sweets.

Photo of Potato soup

Photo of sarapatel

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Montemor-o-Novo

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About Montemor-o-Novo

Between Lisbon and Spain, at the hub of the axis that connect the center and the south of the country, Montemor-o-Novo is one of the most traversed and yet least known places in Portugal. It is time to discover it, from the thoroughfare of cafes and restaurants and the beauty of the countryside that surrounds it, compliments and extends it. Montemor does not only surprise you by its unexpectedness.

Its enchantment is born from the simplicity through which the present is experienced, from the force of the past which it evokes, from the imagination which a first look arouses. Montemor is distinguished by the ancestral force of religious orders and rural nobility, expressed in beautiful 17th century manor houses, in several convents (some restored to provide new functions), in churches which display Manueline doorways, rich Baroque altars and unforgettable frescos and tiles. The memory of those times lives serenely with the present and integrates itself with it, as in the more modest houses which have a steadier history.

Photo of Montemor-o-Novo

Aerial photo of Montemor-o-Novo

What to do in Montemor-o-Novo

Convent of St. João de Deus, renovated to house the Municipal Library, the Historical Archives and the Municipal Gallery. To the right is the Crypt of St. João de Deus and the Parish Curch (Igreja Matriz). In the crypt you will learn about the dedication of Montemor to the saint, who was born here. In the church you will find the extraordinary beautiful original fresco which covers the vault of the nave.

The Terreiro de St. João de Deus in Montemor is dominated by the statue of the saint and the facade of the Parish Church, In front, the magnificent Manueline Doorway of the Misericórdia Church. Here as well as the vein like tracery of the vaulting, (similar to that in the in the Our Lady of Visitation Church), the curious 17th century altar pieces on the side altars, the Sala do Despacho and the 18th century organ, fashioned by the hands of the Italian master D. Pascoal Caetano Olduvini, you can also admire an exquisite Pieta, a fine 15th century work of marble.

Convent of Salutation (Saudação), 16th to 19th century, considered to be the monument of greatest artistic value in the town of Montemor and its environs. If you visit the convent, curently the object of restoration work, take a look at the Portaria (entrance hall), clad in tiles dating from 1651, and at the Claustros (cloisters). Pass through the arch into the garden where you will find the church of St. James (Igreja de Santiago), the Torre da Má Hora or de Menagem (literally translated, Tower of the bad hour, or the Keep) and the Porta do Sol (gateway of the sun).

Explore the Castle at your leisure. Enter by way of the Porta da Vila (Town Gate), next to the Casa da Guarda (Guardhouse) and, with some care climb up the steps to the Torre do Relógio (Clock Tower). From this point on the walls you have a unique view of the ruins of the Paço das Alcaides which served as lodgings for various monarchs and where the Court used to meet.

There many more things to see in Montemor so come by some time you won’t regret it!

Photo of Igreja matriz

Photo of Convent of Salutation

What to eat in Montemor-o-Novo

The region of Montemor is also quite rich in what concerns to its traditional Gastronomy, with several river food dishes, some game meat and a special kind of cornbread: the “broa”. The pastry of the region is quite appreciated, with the conventual Tentúgal pastries, among other specialities, mainly based on eggs and sugar.

Photo of Broa

Photo of Tentúgal pastries

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Beja

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About Beja

The South (“Baixo”) Alentejo is a more arid region, isolating the Algarve from the rest of the country, but its coastline (to the South of Setúbal till Algarve) is awesome and a recent discovery for the Portuguese seeking unspoilt natural places to relax. Cities and villages like Serpa, Mértola, Alvito, Alcácer do Sal, and of course Beja were very important in the Moorish times and can be very interesting for the visitor.

In some places, like Beja, history reaches back to the roman times, when it became a regional capital under Julius Caesar. Moorish arquitecture is visible in the cobbled streets and houses of the old town, and a castle from the 13th century reminds us of the struggle to keep the enemies them at bay. The castle overlooks the immense flat area of Alentejo one of the most important agricultural regions of Portugal. Beja is the capital of this beautiful and unspoiled region.

Photo of Beja

Aerial photo of Beja

What to do in Beja

While resting on Roman fortifications, the castle of Beja was rebuilt by king Dinis in 1310. During the 16th century, certain improvements were carried out resulting in the Manueline features that can be seen. The most significant aspect of the castle is the imposing Torre de Menagem (donjon), now the symbol of the city of Beja, with its battlements and narrow walkway running around the tower. Inside, there are three floors featuring ogival doors and worked vaults. The upper floor is reached by a 183º spiral staircase. At the top, there is one of the best views over the city and the surrounding region.

The Sé de Beja remains open all day to the faithful and visitors, but its sober appearance, dimmed by the grandeur of the castle’s fortified walls which rise next to it, doesn’t let anyone guess the rich decoration that lies, protected, within its calm interior.

The original Church of Santo Amaro (Saint Amaro) dates back to the end of the 5th century, the time when the Visigoths were settling the region. It is a fine example of Paleo-Christian architecture in Portugal and the main reason for it becoming home to the Beja Regional Museum’s Visigoth exhibition. This valuable collection was put together by various archaeologists of whom Abel Viana arguably takes the highest profile. The museum includes pieces from the 5th to the 8th century and highlights the changes in architecture and taste that took place during the transition from Roman to Visigoth domination. The basilica underwent various changes in the 16th and 17th centuries, hence the interesting gothic and Mannerist features it now displays. Through to the 14th century, Saint Amaro day, 15th January, was popularly celebrated with cakes and sweet dishes in the shape of arms and legs in a call for the saint´s protection from diseases in these limbs.

Founded in 1927, the Rainha D. Leonor (Queen Leonor) Regional Museum is located in both the Convent of Conceição (Conception), home to its main collection, and the Church of Santo Amaro (Saint Amaro), where the Visigoth exhibits are on display. The main collection includes the Roman room featuring pieces found locally that date back to time of Julius Cesar and medieval epigraphy and heraldry including various tombstones and coats of arms. On the second floor of the cloisters, there is the collection that archaeologist Fernando Nunes Ribeiro donated to the city. It covers the entire span of history from the Bronze age through to modern times.

Photo of the Church of Santo Amaro

Photo of the Regional museum of Beja

What to eat in Beja

To say that the gastronomy of Beja revolves around bread, olive oil and herbs is to reduce it to less than its essence. However, the know-how is old and wise. The recipes were handed down through times and generations, sharing the secrets to extract the most of the bold flavours. To enjoy these pleasures is reason more than enough to visit this region over and over again. Trust us, one visit is definitely not enough. The best option: do as the Alentejanos – eat and drink as the seasons go.

The traditional cuisine is based on pork and lamb, olive oil, bread and herbs. The infinite combinations show the imagination and inventiveness of the people of Beja. Açorda, Lamb Stew and Dogfish Soup are just examples of dishes that are staples of this are. Beja has a sweet tooth that can be tasted on its pastries originating on the many monasteries and convents that once populated the Alentejo.

Photo of Dogfish soup

Photo of Beja lamb stew

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São Brás de Alportel

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About São Brás de Alportel

São Brás de Alportel, in common with much of the Algarve, was a settlement in Roman times and later inhabited by the Moors. It was the birthplace of Moorish poet Ibne Ammar in the 12th century.

It was also a popular retreat for the bishops of the Algarve somewhere for them to escape from the heat of the city during the hot summer months and during the 17th century an Episcopal palace was built for their use.(This has seen several changes of use over the years and is no longer in use by the bishops.)

Originally the wealth of the town was from cork production – it was the biggest cork producing centre in Portugal – and in 1914 it was made a municipality due to the economic importance of the area. Unfortunately, over the years, the cork production industry has moved to the centre and north of Portugal, leaving São Brás more reliant on tourism and crafts.

Photo of São Brás de Alportel

Another photo of São Brás de Alportel

What to do in São Brás de Alportel

São Brás de Alportel is a mix of old and new, with typical, low white Algarvean houses amongst the slightly dusty, grander merchant houses from its wealthy past. The area near the church is the older part of town and typically Algarvean with narrow, cobbled streets criss-crossing each other and small shops and cafes in between the houses. As you move further away from the church the streets widen and modern apartments take the place of the older white washed houses. There are lots of shops and supermarkets, banks, restaurants, cafes – everything you need in fact! A little further away again and streets of new villas and low rise apartments edge the town.

As it has expanded it seems to have lost any well defined central area and is a little difficult to find your way around. There are a lot of one-way streets and the usual lack of signposting! The historical sights in the Algarve are signposted in brown, but it took us a few circuits of the town to get to the main church! It is worth finding, however, as the area around is very pretty and the view from outside the church of the surrounding countryside is lovely. The current church was rebuilt after 1755 on the site of, probably, a 15th century church and extended somewhat in the 19th century.

A little further on is the pretty village of Alportel, and just a short distance up the hill from Alportel, on the right hand side, is the entrance to Fonte Férrea picnic area. Follow the road down and there is quite a large parking area next to the Fonte. It is a beautiful valley of pines, eucalpytus and oleanders and a series of pools of crystal clear spring water. There are picnic tables and benches and plenty of space to walk in the shade of the trees, or take a dip in the pools to cool off!

São Brás certainly seems to have survived it’s changing fortunes and recovered from the loss of it’s cork industry and is increasingly a popular place to live. With it’s lovely countryside position at the foot of the hills and proximity to Faro it is easy to see why.

Photo of Igreja São Brás de Alportel

Photo of Fonte Férrea Picnic area

What to eat in São Brás de Alportel

Nowhere in the Algarve is far from the sea so fish and sea food is always available, but in the barrocal region( between the hills and the sea) other, more local flavours are normally top of the menu.

In São Brás specialities include wild rabbit (coelho bravo) in wine, thick bread soup (açorda), roasted kid (cabrito) and wild boar (javali).

The strawberry like fruits of the arbutus tree, that grows in the hills all along the algarve and is distilled into liquors like medronho, is popular as a drink to round off a meal.

In and around São Brás are lots of restaurants offering a wide variety of food, pizzerias, chinese, international and local portuguese cooking.

Photo of Cabrito

Photo of Açorda

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Vila Real de Santo António

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About Vila Real de Santo António

Vila Real de Santo António is situated on the Rio Guadiana, which is the river that divides the Algarve from Spain. If you stand on the far eastern edge of Vila Real you can easily see the Spanish coastline and the bridge over the river that connects the town to Ayamonte in Spain. The bridge was built in the early 1990s and has made a big difference to the congestion in and around the town because people can now drive straight there instead of waiting for a ferry.

Vila Real is very easy to find your way around, because it is laid out on a grid system. The town was designed that way by the Marquês de Pombal who was keen to apply the latest concept of town planning after the sea had eroded all of the original settlements in the area at the beginning of the 17th century.

Photo of Vila Real de Santo António

Another photo of Vila Real de Santo António

What to do in Vila Real de Santo António

At the end of the 19th century the town was a major canning centre for sardines and tuna, and the port was busy with the ships that sailed the Guadiana. It was also the first place in the Algarve to have gas lighting (1886). It is still a thriving community based on fishing, agriculture and tourism.

The main road runs straight from Monte Gordo to Vila Real, and the Avenida da República runs along the front of the town, adjacent to the Rio Guadiana. The riverfront is attractively laid out with trees and water features and there is also a marina where you can watch the boats.

Vila Real has a large town square, ‘Praça Marquês de Pombal’, which is edged with orange trees and populated with low white buildings, shops, cafes and restaurants. Just behind the square there is a space called the Centro Cultural António Aleixo, which used to be the old market. Today it is used for temporary exhibits and events. There is also a museum, Museu de Manuel Cabanas, where you can go to see the works of a local painter and wood engraver.

In essence, Vila Real is a relaxed and peaceful town and ideal for anyone who likes the quieter side of life, or to escape the stresses from home. It’s beautifully quaint, with lots to see and do, particularly for those who like to potter around and absorb the local culture. Like Monte Gordo, Vila Real is also very flat, so is ideal for walking and cycling.

Vila Real has a lovely open sandy beach, which stretches for several kilometres uninterrupted towards Manta Rota, near to Tavira. Just be aware though, to get to the beach you do have to go down quite a narrow road, with some rather large speed bumps in it and very little space to manoeuvre, so if you are driving, it’s probably easier to park up where you can and walk the last stretch.

Photo of Praça Marques de Pombal

Photo of Centro Cultural António Aleixo

What to eat in Vila Real de Santo António

The local gastronomy of Vila Real de Santo António, and the eastern end of the Algarve generally, revolves around fish, sea food and pork. Tuna is especially important and most menus will include some tuna dishes, simply grilled, cooked with onions and tomatoes, in rissoles or on pizza!

Cataplanas (normally include monkfish, cod, prawns and clams) cooked in the sealed vessel to keep all the flavours in, risotto style dishes with sea food and or fish, straightforward grilled sardines with boiled potatoes or a salad or just some fresh bread there are endless variations in the restaurants.

‘Papas de milho’ is maize flour cooked with water (corn mush) and often combined with small clams (conquilhas), chouriço or toucinho (smoked bacon) and is a popular dish across the Algarve.

Gaspacho soup as a cool ‘starter’ on a hot summer’s day is just as much a part of the menu in the Algarve as in it’s neighbour, Spain.

Photo of gaspacho soup

Photo of papas de milho

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Vila do Bispo

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About Vila do Bispo

Vila do Bispo is a small town 22km to the west of Lagos and the centre of the municipality which includes towns such as Sagres, Budens and Raposeira. It is a pretty town with the older, typical Algarvean houses clustered around the 16th century church, and then expanding westwards with newer, more modern, buildings around the cultural centre and municipal building. You will find everything you need for your stay, there are two banks, an ‘Alisuper’ shop for groceries and plenty of places to eat out. There is a bigger supermarket, ‘Ecomarche’ on the main N125 at Budens just a few minutes away by car, which is open every day of the year.

In February 1992, Vila do Bispo signed a ‘twinning’ agreement with Nishinoomote, in Japan, in recognition of the fact that Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Japan in the 16th century. The square between the cultural centre and municipal building was inaugurated in 1998 and called ‘Praça de Tanegashima’ (‘Tanegashima Square’) to commemorate the agreement.

Photo of Vila do Bispo

Photo of Praça de Tanegashima

What to do in Vila do Bispo

Vila do Bispo is only a short distance from the coast, the nearest beach on the western atlantic coast is Praia do Castelejo (a favourite with surfers) and the beaches at Sagres are only about 8km. Between Sagres and Burgau, along the southern coastline, are many more quiet beaches which are well worth finding if you want to ‘get away’ from it all. The beaches of Ingrina and Zavial are the closest and apart from being popular with surfers both also have a beach bar / restaurant if you just want to enjoy the view!

There are many places to explore in the vicinity of Vila do Bispo and it is perfect for walking. A large band of the western Atlantic coast from Sagres to Odeceixe is part of the protected Costa Vicentina park so there is plenty of scope for birdwatching and enjoying the multitude of different plants and flowers along the way, springtime is ideal and the colours are amazing.

It might be quiet but there is still plenty to do around Vila do Bispo: golf, diving, Blo-karting, surfing, horse riding are all available nearby and if you want to visit a waterpark or Lagos Zoo for a bit of family fun, then Slide and Splash is about half an hour away and the zoo is even closer.

Vila do Bispo is perfect for families and couples who just want to enjoy the sunshine, a few meals out and generally relax into the Algarve way of life.

Photo of Costa Vicentina

Photo of Praia do Castelejo

What to eat in Vila do Bispo

Fresh fish and seafood feature highly on the menus and are presented in numerous ways: grilled sardines, simply cooked prawns, Feijoada de búzios (Whelk and bean stew), Arroz de mexilhão (mussels cooked with rice), Lulas cheias (stuffed squid),Moreia Frita (fried eel) and fish stews with a bit of everything!

Lamb and pork are always popular and during the hunting season (October to December), hare (lebra), wild boar (javali), and partridge( perdize) feature on the menu.
Vila do Bispo is particularly known for the local delicacy of ‘perceves’ (goose barnacles).

Desserts include arroz doce (rice pudding), queijo de figo ( fig cakes shaped like little cheeses) and pasteis de batata doce (sweet potato cakes).

You can finish with a glass of medronho (a local spirit distilled from the strawberry like fruit of the arbutus bush).

Photo of arroz de mexilhão

Photo of Lulas Cheias

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Loulé

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About Loulé

The beginnings of Loulé are uncertain, some historians putting it as far back as 400BC, but others say it’s origins are Roman. It is a fact that when the Arabs invaded the Algarve in 715, Loulé was already an important town. It has been a part of Portugal since 1249 after the Algarve was recaptured from the Moors and in 1291 King Dom Dinis established the Algarve’s only medieval fair in Loulé, a sign of the wealth of the region.

Loulé is an interesting town some 16km to the north of Faro. The landmark church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade a modern dome shaped building reminiscent of a space ship can easily be seen on a hill, just to the west of the town, from the A22 motorway. It is a large town with all the usual amenities you would expect to find, a great selection of shops, numerous banks, art galleries, swimming pools and sports pavilion to name but a few!

Photo of Loulé

Photo of the market of Loulé

What to do in Loulé

Loulé is famous for it’s Saturday morning gipsy market (at the end of Rua da nossa Senhora da Piedade) and there are trips available from most resorts in the Algarve if you don’t have a car. It also has a really good daily market in the Arabian style market hall on Praça da República (open every morning except Sunday).

In the middle of this small square is the main church of Loulé, Igreja de S.Clemente and to the left of the square is a small, peaceful garden, Jardim dos Amuados (Garden of Sulks), which is an ancient Arab cemetery

From the back of the church follow Rua Matriz, turn left and you will arrive at the market building, you can’t miss it! Make sure you get here in a morning, while it’s open as the selection of produce is excellent, there are all sorts of treats to tempt you apart from all the fresh fruit and vegetables!

Loulé castle (13th/14th century) built on an area previously settled by the Romans, is just a short distance down the road from the market on the left hand side. From this approach it isn’t very obvious that it is the castle as, through the arched gateway, you see the whitewashed walls of the ‘alcaidaria’ ( which was the living quarters for the castle commander and his garrison) surrounding a small courtyard and no visible signs of the castle walls. Across the courtyard lies the municipal museum, next door to which are some steps leading up to the remaining section of the castle walls.

The three remaining grey stone towers and short walkway between them are well preserved and apart from giving a great view of Loulé it does also give a taste of the historical heritage of the Algarve. (There is a small charge for visiting the castle)

A little further along the street from the castle is the Convent of Espírito Santo which also houses the municipal art gallery.

Photo of Igreja de S. Clemente

Photo of Loulé Castle

What to eat in Loulé

This area of the Algarve offers a wide range of recipes that use the local produce as much as possible. Dishes like Galinha cerejada (cherry chicken) so called because of the colour of the chicken, carne de porco com amêijoas (pork with clams), feijoada de javali (bean stew with wild boar), lebre com feijão branco (hare with white beans) as well as some of the more familiar like frango no churrasco (barbecued chicken) and various bacalhau (dried salt cod) dishes.

Starters often include spicy sausages (enchidos)- sometimes served flaming, and fresh goats cheeses, marinated carrots and, of course, olives and fresh bread.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the Portuguese love their cakes and desserts! Arroz doce (sweet rice pudding), Bolinhos de massa de amêndoa (little cakes of marzipan) in various shapes like fruits, vegetables, fish and flowers, Pudim de amêndoa (almond pudding), Bolachas de mel (little honey cakes) and figs stuffed with chocolate or almonds are all typical

A very sweet treat is a Dom Rodrigo – a mixture of ground almonds, egg yolks and sugar and wrapped in silver paper. Of course figs and fresh fruits are normally offered as well!

Photo of galinha cerejada

Photo of Dom Rodigro

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Aljezur

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About Aljezur

Aljezur is about 30km north of Lagos on the N120 and is situated in a lush, green, fertile valley, an area well known for it’s sweet potato crops. It is built on either side of the river that runs through the valley, the old town being on one side and the new town on the other. The remains of a Moorish 10th century castle can be seen high on the hill over the old town and the views from there are fantastic!

In the 18th century the old town was rife with malaria and the Bishop of the Algarve wanted the people to move across the river, to get away from the disease, so the ‘new’ town was built. However a lot of people stayed put, (malaria has long been eradicated) so Aljezur now is a town of two halves.

Photo of Aljezur

Photo of the view from the castle of Aljezur

What to in Aljezur

The old town is built on the side of the hill, with the main street running parallel to the river and numerous small cafes on either side of the bridge.

One of the places you should visit is the castle. Entry to the castle ruins is free, and the views are absolutely amazing!

Cross the river to the ‘new’ town and the first thing you see is the 18th century church, Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Alva, at the top of the main street. Next to the church is the town square with shops and cafes around it and space to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the town, broken only by the bells marking the hours as they pass!

Aljezur is only 10km from the nearest beach, Praia de Monte Clérigo, a short drive through wonderful countryside and with spectacular views of the Western Atlantic coast as you approach the beach. In springtime the roadsides and the clifftops are covered in flowers of all colours and with all the foliage and grass fresh and green it really is quite a sight to see.

Aljezur and the villages and countryside in this corner of the Algarve are quite different from the more hectic south coast, there is no hustle and bustle. You can see farmers ploughing their land with an oxen and a hand plough as they have done for centuries, take a walk along the cliffs or a stroll on one of the beaches and you might not see anyone unless it’s a surfer or someone fishing from the rocks.

If this appeals to you, then now is the time to visit as there’s no saying how long it will stay like this!

Photo of Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Alva

Photo of the castle of Aljezur

What to eat in Aljezur

The gastronomy of Aljezur is based around the rich variety of fish and seafood available from the western atlantic seas and also rabbit (coelho) and wild boar (javali) during the hunting season. Perceves ( goose barnacles) are a particular delicacy and you will often see signs outside of restaurants “Há perceves” telling you that they are on the menu today!

The main crops are sweet potatoes (batata-doce) and beans which will form the basis of many of the local dishes. You will even find desserts made from sweet potato. To accompany the meal you can have local wine made from grapes grown in the Aljezur region and a small glass of the locally produced medronho to finish.

The restaurants use the readily available local produce and there are typical dishes from the Aljezur area that will be found on most of the menus. Places away from the busy tourist centres also tend to have earlier closing times, so don’t leave it too late if you want to eat!

Photo of perceves

Photo of Batata doce

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Olhão

Posted by Ravcom in Algarve, Destinations, General, Portugal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

About Olhão

Olhão is a major port and actually the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It is full of character with Moorish-style houses,an influence from the commercial links with Africa. Although Olhão only really became a town of note in the 19th century, it was first mentioned in 1378. At this time it would have been a very small fishing settlement of a handful of people, living in huts made of wood, reeds and straw on the beach. By 1679 it was important enough to need the building of the fortress of São Lorenço to defend it from pirates.

Olhão is a town of many ‘faces’, if you approach from the fishing port side it looks, and is, very industrial and, unless you are particularly interested in fishing boats and warehousing it doesn’t look very attractive. However, around the corner from the dock the road runs along the water front and there is a long, very pleasant, paved promenade with cool gardens to escape the heat of the sun.

Aerial photo of Olhão

Photo of Olhão

What to do in Olhão

There are two market buildings side by side along the water front, which are a ‘must visit’ for the huge variety of extremely fresh fish and sea food straight from the port and the vast array of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Olhão is well known for it’s fish market, in particular and if you haven’t got anywhere to cook some yourself, then try one of the numerous local cafes along the roadside nearby, you won’t be disappointed!

The market halls are surrounded by pavement cafes and it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the view of the boats moored along the water front in Olhão Marina and the sand spit beach ilhas of Armona and Culatra just a short distance off shore behind them. We have enjoyed lovely afternoons in Olhão, where we walked along the water front and through the gardens, sat outside a jazz cafe watching the boats, people cycling around and local people going about their day.

Next it’s time to venture into the historic heart of Olhão and the easiest road to follow is directly across from the gap between the market halls. Here, many of the buildings are the elegant merchant’s homes with wrought iron balconies, carved stonework and tile decorations and are such a contrast to the busy port area of Olhão. At the centre of the town at the end of Avenida da República, in the Praça da Restauração, is the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, built in 1698 with contributions from the fishermen when it was the first stone building in Olhão. It’s a very graceful building with a baroque facade and somehow quite a surprise!

The building behind the church, on the other side of the square, is the Compromisso Marítimo the fishermen’s mutual society, which was founded in the 18th century, it is also home to the Olhão city museum. In a niche above the doorway is a statue of Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary).

 

Photo of Nossa Senhora do Rosario

Photo of Compromisso Marítimo

What to eat in Olhão

The gastronomy of Olhão is bound to be mainly based around fish and seafood. The lagoons of the ilhas provide excellent nurseries for clams(amêijo), cockles (berbigão) and oysters (ostras), and the sea provides an abundance of fresh fish. Olhão was one of the first major canning areas for tuna and sardines and the fishing fleet continue to land their catches every day at the dock.

There are so many ways of preparing the fish and many of the recipes come from the fishermen. Arroz de lingueirão (razor clam risotto), lulas com favas (squid with broad beans), chocos com tinto (cuttlefish in their ink), amêijões (clams) lightly cooked in wine and garlic the variations are endless!

Desserts are various delicious combinations of almonds, figs, eggs and oranges, whether incorporated in a feather light, moist sponge cake; figs stuffed with almonds; or little sweet marzipan cakes shaped into fruits and vegetables, there will always be something on the menu to spoil your resolve!

Photo of Arroz de Lingueirão

Photo of Lulas com Favas

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Castro Marim

Posted by Ravcom in Algarve, Destinations, General, Portugal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

About Castro Marim

Castro Marim has, historically, been an important town because of its position near the banks of the Guadiana and its proximity to the coast. The remains of the first settlements in the area date from about 5000BC and it is thought likely that at this time the town was an island surrounded by shallow waters. For thousands of years it was a port that offered shelter to the ships that sailed the Guadiana collecting metals and other wares from Alcoutim and was also connected to Lisbon by a Roman road that ran parallel to the river.

Photo of Castro Marim

Photo of Reserva Natural do Sapal

What to do in Castro Marim

The remains of the castle in Castro Marim, (which dates from 10th to 12th century), stand on one hill overlooking the town and the Fort of São Sebastião on the opposite hill, with the houses of the town in between. From the castle you can get a great view of the river, the salt pans (which are an important part of the economy of this area) and the sea in the distance.

Castro Marim is a town of typically Portuguese houses and quite wide streets and a lot of the area around is quite flat, making it ideal for bike rides or walks. It seems a very ‘laid back’ town…no hustle and bustle, just people going about their daily tasks and stopping to take an occasional break at one of the local cafés.

A large area of land (some 2000 hectares) between Castro Marim, Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo António is the ‘Reserva Natural do Sapal’ (the salt marsh nature reserve), which is home to some 153 species of birds, including storks, avocets, sandpipers and flocks of flamingos. There are also more than 400 plant species and various reptiles, amphibians and mammals. There is a visitors centre at Cerro da Rocha which can provide guides to itineraries.

It is still possible to see some of the traditional crafts such as lace making and basket weaving in this area of the Algarve.
If you want to stay somewhere a little different, with wonderful countryside to explore, and relax into the Algarve way of life, then visit Castro Marim you won’t be disappointed!

Photo of the fort of São Sebastião

Photo of Reserva Natural do Sapal

What to eat in Castro Marim

The gastronomy of Castro Marim uses the produce readily available – fresh fish from the sea such as bream (dourada) and sea bass ( robalo), simply grilled and served with seasonal vegetables; prawns, often cooked with garlic, wine and probably a dash of piri-piri and served with fresh bread.

From the river there are plentiful supplies of fresh water fish: lamprey, eels (enguias) and mullet (taínha), and from the land dishes including pork, broad beans (favas) and peas (ervilhas).

Delicious desserts using combinations of the traditional Algarve favourites of almonds, figs, eggs, honey, sweet herbs and cinnamon finish the meal, and of course a glass of medronho!

Photo of Tainha

Photo of Dourada

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