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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Holidays: The Algarve, Portugal

The sheltered bay shimmered in the brilliant sunshine. The golden sand called out and I obeyed. As I sank into its warm caress I felt a displacement in my soul. Begone, hard labour, for now is the summer of my content. Mmmmm... holidays.

Yep, it was good on that little beach, Praia do Castelo. Whisper the words in case others may hear and spoil the perfection. The sea was cool and the sun was scorching. The miniscule pebbled sand-stones were abrasive, but not in a bad way. The waves gently pushed me inland before slapping me like wet seaweed against the shore. It was awesome.

Our monstrous villa was a wonderful excess. Sleeps eight but housed just us four for the week. And its shining glory, besides the private pool, was the barbeque. Every day was barbeque day. Steaks, piri piri-marinated chicken, red Portuguese sausages and of course the humble burger. All this with accompanying fresh local salads and washed down with copious amounts of Super Bock and Sagres beer. Mmmm... beer.

So, the beaches and the villa kept us happy. Then there was the rest. Well, nothing much was open, despite the blazing sun and the fact that the place was teeming with tourists. Some of the waterparks and zoos were open but we just never got the time to try them out. Another week might have done it. We did make visits to Loule, Oura, Albufeira, Silves and Portimao, however.

Oura - Whilst searching for Albufeira centre we happened upon this little place and parked up. It was getting dark and the pubs and clubs were buzzing - mostly with the humble English tourist. We partook of the atmosphere and the beer in a few pubs (one had a live band playing English/American pop 'covers') before being dragged down a side alley by a local to a wonderful little bar. Free shots were set up and the night settled into a mix of good conversation, drinks and DJ'd musicology. We were occasionally interrupted by the odd chav on a bender but mostly it was incredibly pleasant.

Portimao - A short drive down to this bustling city whereupon we were spotted by a local chancer who helpfully showed us a parking spot and then demanded compensation for his efforts. This happened in several places and we eventually grew tired of it and soon saw through the charade. We worked out if you parked away from the centre and fled the car they couldn't come begging for euros. We were greatly disappointed to find no evidence of boat trips and so settled upon combing the sweeping beach, Praia da Rocha, for a good spot to bathe and paddle. After a good soaking we headed for the port itself and a further attempt to locate some trips up the river or along the coast but there really wasn't anything - as we'd been led to believe. The charter boat office was shut up and there were no departure times anywhere to be seen.

Loule - We visited on market day. We got there about 11:30 and made a quick sweep through the throng but there was so much to choose from we decided we'd shop just before leaving, so made our way into the centre where we found a very pretty fountain. There wasn't much else about so it was back to the market and lo and behold they were all but packed up! The market was shutting at MIDDAY! There were no signs to warn of such an early closure. We quickly went round the stalls but left disappointed again after spying a few fish and the odd bit of veg not worth haggling over. The hypermarkets would have to feed us for the week!

Silves - It really is a pretty place. The slow walk up to the castle took us up some lovely avenues and the castle itself was a very attractive sandstone terracotta. An accordion-player lulled us round the battlements and many photos were taken. We had a quick lunch in the nearby cafe before heading back.

Albufeira - Simply the most godforsaken place on the planet. It's worse than Reading at festival-time. Hundreds of English tourists touting you tickets for things you don't even understand. They just shout at you "Are you British?" "Want to buy a ticket?" "Come and eat in my restaurant". It's downright scary. Even the beach was being refurbished and the only sign of any watersports was a banana boat lying unused in a shed. We braved a cafe and an open part of the beach but decided our villa with its pool and barbeque was a much better place to enjoy the sunshine.

So, all in all, we had great company, a great villa, and a great selection of beaches, including Praia da Gale, Praia da Sao Rafael and Praia da Coelho. Gale in particular was very picturesque with a split beach; one side was sheltered and the other was wide and open.

I'll leave you with the best night of them all...
Castelo's Restaurant Por do Sol. Steak On A Stone. Sea Bass. Bottle of cheeky white. A lot of Aguadente (Firewater). And Liverpool squeezing past Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. Magic.
© Johnskibeat

Click here for my report published in the Algarve Beach Life online magazine...

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