Date: 11th March 2016
After a long, cold, snow laden Canadian winter, the prospect of thawing out in Portugal was pretty inviting. A change in family holiday plans meant my mother had flight tickets with no one to travel with, so I jumped at the chance.
Edinburgh to Faro takes just over three hours and, after a slight rental car mix-up, our destination of Carvoeiro was about an hours drive away. After a late night arrival, we woke up the following morning to clear skies, sun and panoramic views over the ocean. The town of Carvoeiro is small and picturesque, with narrow shop lined streets leading down to the beachfront, guarded on each side by high, sandstone cliffs.
This being my first trip to Portugal, the sight of white, painted buildings, terracotta tiled roofs and cobbled streets was everything I’d hoped for. The town clings to the steep coastline with plenty of vantage points to take in the expansive horizon. We soon discovered the fantastic local seafood, wine and the country’s national drink, Port, which was often offered after each meal. I feel its taste will always remind me of this place.
Being early spring, the temperature was a mild 17-21 degrees during the day, more than welcome after an average of -10 I’d come from in Canada. I was impressed with the abundance of greenery, something I’m not so sure is quite so apparent in the height of summer. It was clearly the ‘off season’ during our stay, with empty beaches and quiet nights in the restaurants, but as a relaxing, down-tempo trip, it ticked all of the boxes.
Cape St. Vincent and the town of Sagres are just an hours drive from Carvoeiro, and well worth the journey. The south-western point of Portugal, Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) juts out into the Atlantic and despite the sunshine, we were battered by high winds along with the odd shower.
Admiring the cape’s lighthouse, trying to hold my camera still against the wind, it felt like I was back on the Donegal coast. One thing it certainly shares in common is it’s popularity with surfers – Sagres was full of surf shops and the coast dotted with those brave enough to take on the powerful waves.
Pottery can be found everywhere along the Algarve, this store in Sagres with examples covering the entire building, making for an irresistible photo opportunity. I’ve never really been too excited by plates and bowls, but the variety, colour and quality of items for sale was impressive. I had to remind my mother of our baggage allowance, for once thankful that we couldn’t carry much else home on the flight with us. I think she’d have taken half the shop if she could.
The town of Silves lays just inland from Carvoeiro and is a site of historic importance. The town’s focal point, Silves Castle, offers panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and an insight into the local history. Exploring the castle grounds with the sound of cockerels and birdsong echoing off the walls, it was pretty easy to be transported to a different time and pace of life.
I could have spent hours exploring the town’s narrow, cobbled streets and houses; each building showing it’s own character with painted walls and hanging baskets.
One of the largest town on the Algarve, Portimão isn’t nearly as nice as the smaller spots along the coast. The town itself is built up with high rise apartments and hotels, which must be heaving in the summer months. The beachfront is however still impressive, with long, sandy beaches and sandstone stacks, slowly crumbling into the sea.
We were lucky with the weather on this trip; the sun shone every day, with the odd shower here and there. Hiring a car and exploring what else the Algarve has to offer is highly recommended. It would have been easy to spend each day in Carvoeiro, relaxing on the beach and sampling the local cuisine, but we managed this and so much more.
Our trip offered a great mix of culture, relaxation, fantastic food and nightlife. The off-season wouldn’t be for everyone, it wasn’t quite as hot and the bars not as full, but for my wee holiday with Ma Sweeney it was just right.