At the top of sheer, vertical rock cliffs there is a lighthouse on a spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. Cabo de San Vicente – the westernmost point of land of continental Europe. This is Portugal’s Algarve. The name Algarve comes from the Muslims who conquered the Iberian peninsula in the 700s calling the area “Al-Gharb” – The West.
In the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator based his sailing school near here. It was from Lagos that Gil Eanes set sail in 1434 to become the first seafarer to round Cape Bojador in West Africa and for Vasco de Gama to discover the passage to the Indies. The voyages of discovery brought Portugal fame and fortune.
This land has been inhabited by many seafaring people including the Celts and Phoenicians in the centuries BC. Everywhere there are ruins of old forts and walled cities: Moorish, Roman, Medieval, and some of unknown origen.
We explored the Algarve from east to west, from Sagres to Tavira, almost to the border with Spain. The landscape changed from windswept high coastal plains in the west to rolling hills with shrubby trees, pasturelands, wheat fields and the fertile fields of crops, vineyards, and citrus orchards. From vistas of dramatic sea-carved cliffs to golden sandy beaches and charming river towns with outlying islands. There is much to love in the Algarve!
Picturesque villages, cobbled lanes, whitewashed stucco houses trimmed in pretty pastel colors, olive trees, citrus trees, bougainvillea – it feels Mediterranean although technically, outside the gates of Gibraltar, it is on the Atlantic Ocean. It could be anywhere – Greece, Italy, Mexico, yet in many ways The Algarve countryside reminds me of California. Dry brown rolling hills, bright blue cloudless skies, palm trees, intense sun – hot and dry.
So often we find ourselves comparing elements of our current location to someplace visited in the past, but here I immediately noticed something unique punctuating the skyline from the housetops, like chess pieces – a bishop or the rook. I call them chimney pots.
Many towns have been overdeveloped and have buried their charm in the concrete jungle of modern high-rises. Portugal was also hit hard by the past financial mess leaving projects in different states of incompleteness and abandonment. In many towns and villages the ocean is hidden behind hills or other buildings and in some oceanside developments the balconies of the condos look out onto other condos. The Algarve I don’t love!
If you know me, you know I don’t like traffic and I hate waiting at traffic signals. There are roundabouts here instead of intersections. They are well marked with signs and as long as one has a map, and knows which town is next along their route they can easily navigate. Sometimes there are 2, 3, 4 or even 5 exits from a roundabout and we have missed our exit more than once, causing us to circle around again, but it sure beats making wrong turns and having to turn around. I love them!
The roundabouts eliminate the need for left turns against oncoming traffic. Another improvement? Having pairs of gas stations – one on each side of the road! So ingenious! We weren’t aware of this yet and were signaling our intent to make a left turn into a fuel station when the car behind us beeped long on his horn at us propelling me into a state of panic and confusion as I simultaneously noticed the Do Not Enter sign just as we proceeded to enter. (We were just doing it like we do at home and I have no idea why we didn’t notice the station on our side of the street.) So, now we know!
We see so many foreign tourists it doesn’t even feel like we’re in Portugal. From the babble of languages swirling around me I can tell that many have journeyed from the northern climates (Brits, Germans, Dutch, Scandinavian) where their bodies are vitamin D depraved and craving sunshine!
In regards to languages, the Portuguese language is so different from Spanish. Our Portuguese innkeeper amazingly speaks German, Spanish, French, and English. Laughingly, she admits that the Portuguese have no trouble understanding the Spanish, and finds it incomprehensible that the reverse is not true. Apparently, to the the Spanish it’s all babbling and for me as well. There’s a lot of “sh-sh” sounds. Sometimes it sounds French or German, and sometimes a Spanish-sounding word comes out as clear as a bell.
Here are a few examples:
Cascais is pronounced “Cash-kaish”
Lagos is “LAY-gohsh”
The numbers 1,2,3 are not uno, dos, tres, but “um, doysh, traysh”
Pasteis de Nata is “pash-taysh de Nata”
There is no “ñ” letter. Instead the “ñ” sound for España and señor is the “nh” as in Espanha and senhor, castanho is kash-TAH-nyoo
The ç majes a soft sz sound, so plaça is PLA-sah and x makes a “sh” sound as is peixe (fish) PAY-shay. The j is pronounced, so igreja is said ee-GRAY-jah. And there’s a lot of strange changes, “mejor” is spell “mehlor” and naranja is spelled “laranja” and pronounced la-RAH-zhah.
We depart Portugal Monday morning, so next time I’ll Meet You in the Morning from the U.K.