C is for Cacela Velha

There are far more important C’s in all of Portugal than this tiny smudge on the map.  There’s Coimbra, Castelo Branco, or even famous Cascais on Lisbon’s doorstep.  I’d love to visit all of them, but for me this personal C has to be about Cacela Velha (Old Cacela).

The fortress, Cacela Velha

How does a tiny village on the cliff edge of the Algarve, Portugal’s most touristy spot, cling on to the old days and keep faith with its roots?  I’m not sure that it can be done.

When we first came to the Algarve 8 years ago I had been avidly reading any and every book I could find to seek out the best places to visit.  The Rough Guide mentioned Cacela Velha, saying I should get there quickly before it was completely ruined.  I needed no second invitation.

The location has certainly helped to keep Cacela Velha unspoiled,although the bulldozers lumber not too far away.  The nearest bus stop is on the E125, the old road along the Algarve, and a couple of kilometres walk along a twisting narrow road.  In this era of the car that is very little deterrent.  It sits above a beach which by Algarve standards is woeful.  Still you only have to see it to fall in love.  It is a photographer’s dream.

There is now proper parking where once there was scrubby grass, and a piece of “modern art” has appeared in the little square beside the castle walls.  I can live with this, but please, that’s enough!  It doesn’t need “fancification”.  It is truly beautiful in its own right.

New car park above and “artwork” below

On a grey January English morning, I can picture it so vividly and feel the peace and calm of my first visit.  Just a church on a headland and the remains of a fortress- I suppose Praia da Rocha must have been like this once, though it’s hard to imagine.  A huddle of cottages snooze sleepily together, cats seeming to outnumber people.  An old well is the focal point of the village square, the church and cemetery majestically off to one side.  The magic is there already, but when you follow the path behind the church the vista that awaits you is spectacular.

The shimmer of the water as it laps lazily at each sandspit stretches far into the distance, where sky meets sea.  A patchwork of gold and blue and green, I said that the beach is woeful but at this height it’s hard to tell.  You may be lured down the steps for a closer look and to take some photos from a different angle.  I can feel the photographers among you twitching to be there.

The beach isn’t up to much because it’s far back from the sea and you need to ferry across to Praia de Cabanas for the real thing.  I’ve never actually accomplished this as you need to catch the ferry from nearby Fabrica and parking there is increasingly difficult.  In any case, I’ve never needed to as I can more easily reach superb Cabanas beach from Cabanas itself.  If I then walk and walk and walk along the beach, in the direction of Spain, I come to a channel of water across which I can just make out the church, with fortress beyond, perched up on its cliff top.

Cacela Velha was a stopover for traders in Phoenician times and in the 10th century was, in Arabic, Medina Qast’alla Daraj, so perhaps it is not surprising that the village comes alive in July to the Festival of Enchanted Nights, Noites da Moura Encantada.  Suddenly the place is transformed and vibrating with life.  Stalls full of trinkets, oriental lamps and elaborate mosaic tables fill the tiny square and spill over into the car park.  Stools, cushions, Berber rugs and hookahs appear, and mint tea is brewed, with an array of tantalising sweets and savouries.  Bizarre but somehow not really out of place, a belly dancer gyrates beneath the fortress walls.  Oriental music and aromas drift around the narrow corners.  A camel paws the ground, while a craftsman demonstrates with his wooden lathe.

But mostly the village is its peaceful self, and happy to be so.  The fortress which once warned of invaders from the sea is now home to the local branch of the National Guard.  A couple of restaurants have come and gone, and currently Casa Velha enjoys good popularity. Despite the proximity of two golf courses, Quinta da Ria and Quinta da Cima, the protection afforded by the conservation status of the Ria Formosa is holding back the tide.  Long may it continue to do so.

So that’s my ‘C’.  Just need to link to Julie Dawn Fox’s hubsite.  You coming along on the A-Z challenge?


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