Armona

Elusive shadows

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It was hot in the Algarve last month and I spent a lot of time searching for Shadow.  Here on the waterfront at Olhao I found a good vibe.

The island of Armona is one of my idyllic places.  Just a ferry ride away.  Sangria anyone?

The palms don’t offer much shade, and I’d have to dress up for the pousada.  Those cloisters do look inviting though.

Faro is an uber cool place for strolling.  A little arts and crafts.  Maybe even an ice cream?

When evening falls it’s still warm, and those shadows are ever more elusive.

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Is it any wonder I’m planning my next trip?  Thanks, Paula, for giving me another opportunity to share a place I love.

I is for Ilhas (islands)

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Landing stage on Tavira Island

Landing stage on Tavira Island

This is where it all began for me- the knowledge that there were islands off the southern shore of Portugal.  And ever since, it has been one of my special delights, whenever I’m in the Algarve, to seek out an ilha, or island, to explore.

As you fly into Faro, often the plane will follow the coastline and dip low over the Ria Formosa, a natural habitat of salt marshes.  Still, it does not really prepare you for the fact that there is an island life out there, just waiting for your approach.

If you’re staying in Tavira, of course, it immediately becomes apparent.  “Where is the beach?” you enquire, knowing full well that the Algarve boasts some of Europe’s finest.  You will be directed to the ferry terminal, and there begins your adventure.  If it’s summertime you can catch the ferry from the town, and chug away from Tavira’s beguiling skyline through the salt marshes.  In winter you will have to be a little more independent and make your way to Quatro Aguas, on foot or bike.  It’s a half hour walk, and not one that you would happily undertake in the heat of summer.

The quayside at Quatro Aguas

The quayside at Quatro Aguas

Chugging out past the salt marshes

Chugging out past the salt marshes

And then you arrive

And then you arrive

If you’re feeling lazy, you can just plonk down on the river beach and watch the to and fro-ing of the boats.  Occasionally a jet ski might zip past, disturbing the calm, but more often it’s the sailing school, out to practise manouvres.  For the wider expanse of the ocean, you can cross over the island, beneath fragrant pines, running the low key gamut of a few restaurants, ever open for business.

On the shoreline, simply stroll, with the tongues of water teasing and licking at your toes.  Look back over your shoulder and you will see the ilha of Cabanas.  I have a gentle love/hate relationship with Cabanas.  To me it represents that commercial face of the Algarve that I came east to escape.  Yet poke about in the back streets and the character is there still.  In the off season you might even regard it as perfection.  The fishing village is undeniably eroded, but catch the water taxi across to the island and all is forgiven.  I have walked and walked till I could barely stand, until finally the beach begins to undulate and break up into sandbars.

A Cabanas water taxi

A Cabanas water taxi

Ilha de Cabanas from the boardwalk

Ilha de Cabanas from the boardwalk

Ria Formosa

Ria Formosa at Cabanas

A Cabanas sunset

A Cabanas sunset

Cabanas is the most easterly of the ilhas.  Tavira Island comes next as you head west, and can also be accessed from Santa Luzia and Barril.  Yes, it IS that big.

Skipping on along the coast, you come to the village of Fuseta.  From here it’s an easy ride across to the easterly tip of the next ilha in the chain, Armona.  What will you find?  Very little other than endless beach, and in some places an interesting perspective back to the mainland.

Fuseta from the ferry terminal

Fuseta from the ferry terminal

The salt marshes at Fuzeta

The salt marshes at Fuzeta

Looking back at Fuzeta from Armona

Looking back at Fuzeta from Armona

The main access to Armona is from the bustling fishing port, Olhao, which will be the subject of a later A-Z post.  If I were ever to take up residence on one of the islands, it would be Armona.  For me, it has everything I would need.  A pretty little harbour, lots of shallow inlets for paddling, charming beach houses, a couple of restaurants, a shop and a church.  All I would need would be my little boat, and the dream would be complete.  Meanwhile, the ferry does a fine job.  Saturday mornings, when the islanders come over to Olhao market for provisions, all kinds of everything are transported.

Looking across Armona to the mainland

Looking across Armona to the mainland

Armona beach houses

Armona beach houses

Culatra is the next ilha we meet.  Ferries make the round trip out of Olhao, calling first at the easterly tip of the island, and then at Farol, whose namesake, the lighthouse, can be seen from far and wide.  Not dissimilar to Armona in style, you will have to judge for yourself where your preference lies.  I gather that it’s a great spot for fishing.  Myself, I just like to get off at one stop and potter along the beach to the other.  Whether you do this on the landward side or by the ocean will affect what you are likely to find at your feet.

Farol, the iconic lighthouse on Culatra

Farol, the iconic lighthouse on Culatra

Faro, the capital of the Algarve, also provides access to Armona and Culatra, both by regular ferry and excursion.

The last of the ilhas is only accessible from Faro, unless you have your own boat.  Barreta, or Ilha Deserta as it is commonly known, is the most southerly of the islands.  Do not attempt a visit here without full sun protection.  There is no shelter, other than the restaurant “O Estamine”, from the sun’s blistering rays, although you might not always be aware of this due to a cooling breeze.

The view from Ilha Deserta

Ilha Deserta

That’s as far as my explorations have gone, so far.  Until I get that boat, I won’t be able to visit any of the smaller ilhas.  Be assured, when I do, you’ll hear of it.  Meantime if you have any questions or want details on getting there, you only have to ask.

Many thanks, as ever, to Julie Dawn Fox for providing the opportunity to share this post on the Personal A-Z Challenge.  To join in, and read related posts, click on the link or the banner below.

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My Algarve Insider Tips

Call me mean if you like but I’m always reluctant to share too many tips, for fear that my favourite Algarve places become over popular.  In general I like my beaches to be empty.  But Easyjet have tempted me to share a few things that might make your Algarve experience that little bit more special.  I’m always glad to promote Portugal – it’s a beautiful place.

The Ria Formosa from the castle walls of tiny Cacela Velha

So shall we start with the beaches?  They’re hard to ignore, and why would you?  My personal favourites are those that you reach by boat.  Watching the sun glint off the water as you glide towards your beach of choice is my idea of heaven.  I’m an Eastern Algarve lass, and Tavira Island beach is my natural habitat.  It’s in the Ria Formosa so you’ll be able to spy out egrets and heron as the boat heads down river.  Looking back, pretty Tavira fills the skyline.

Tavira’s iconic Ponte Romana bridge, church and water tower

Tavira Island ferry, surrounded by an international sailing regatta

If you happen to be a landlubber, you can reach a stretch of the same beach by land train from Barril, a little further west.  I usually ride out and walk back, depending on the time of day.  Tiny crabs scuttle in the salt marshes and wispy pines shade the varying blooms.

My lazy husband loves to catch the land train over to Barril on Tavira Island

I’ve already hinted that I love boats, and the harbour at Olhao is the perfect jump off point for the islands of Armona and Culatra.  The ferry loads up with all manner of goods from the local market before slipping past the yachts in the marina and across the limpid sea.  Armona, my favourite, is a bare 20 minutes away, but it’s a different world.  In Summer the beach houses that line the narrow paths across the island may be lazily occupied, but it’s still not hard to find your very own stretch of sand.  If the heat becomes too much, a cluster of restaurants provide welcome shade.  Youngsters cool off rather more dramatically by plunging off the pier.

Looking across Armona to the mainland

Culatra is slightly further distant.  Chances are you’ll have seen the lighthouse at Farol as the plane banked in the skies over Faro airport.  As with Armona, a small community lives on the island, and you can wander the sandy paths down to the sea.  The ferry makes two stops on Culatra so it’s possible to disembark at the first and paddle along the shoreline to Farol, then pick up a later ferry back to Olhao.  A couple of cafes offer shade with a sea view.  The sun sliding down the sky on a golden evening is the perfect ending to a day by the water.  You might even spot a dolphin or two, playing in the waves as you sail home.

Farol, the lighthouse on Culatra

If your base is further west in the Algarve, you can sail out of Faro to reach Culatra, or to Barreta, popularly known as Ilha Deserta.  Don’t go without your sunscreen- the reflection off the sea will tan you instantly, and the only shelter is at O Estamine, the Algarve’s most southerly restaurant.

Peace and calm at the end of the day, just the tinkle of masts

As well as bobbing about in boats, I very much like to walk.  The Algarve has some truly beautiful countryside, and one of the best ways to see it is to join a walking group.  These are advertised each week in the “Portugal News”.  You benefit from the local knowledge of the walk leader, and like-minded people to chat to along the way.  People are always keen to share tidbits like the best places to eat and drink cheaply.  The walks usually include a stop off at a restaurant as a reward for your walking efforts.

Really keen walkers might like to check out the Via Algarviana, an inland walking trail which stretches all the way from Alcoutim at the Spanish border out to the very tip of the Algarve.  It’s possible to walk just a small section, or to book accommodation along the route in local farmhouses.  It’s an Algarve many people never glimpse, or even dream of.  You might be lucky and spot some of the spectacularly pretty bee-eaters, swooping low over the water, or a hoopoe hiding in the trees.

Looking out from Alcoutim across the river to Sanlucar de Guadiana, in Spain

Bikers are not neglected either.  Cycle tours are also featured in the “Portugal News” (grab one free at the airport on your way in).  There’s a coastal cycle path which is great for getting the wind in your hair on one of those warm Algarve days.  Bike hire is widely available throughout the area.

To really add some Algarve flavour to your holiday, you should try to seek out a festival.  The Portuguese are often quite serious natured, but they love to celebrate.  Carnaval in February is one of the year’s major events, and the parades are full of joy and laughter.  The town of Loule hosts the main one, but many of the villages have their own celebration.  I was lucky enough to catch the one in Paderne, not too far from Albufeira, this year.  The children delighted in wearing their fancy dress and skipping along behind the main procession.  If you do visit Paderne, don’t forget to check out the Corte Real art gallery.  It’s a lovingly restored very special farmhouse.

Carnaval carry-on at Paderne

A small ladybird gleefully joins the procession

Further inland, Alte has a great Carnaval celebration too, but more than this, there’s a superb Folklore Festival in May, and in September a traditional Wedding Ceremony.

Alte’s wedding ceremony is like no other

You can even pop very easily over the border to Spain from the Eastern Algarve.  Sanlucar de Guadiana has a beautifully costumed gypsy romeria the first weekend in May.  I came upon this quite by accident and it’s one of the delights of time spent in the Algarve that you can happen upon a local festival at almost any time of year.

There are lots of reasonably priced places to stay across the Algarve, but if you like the sound of the Eastern Algarve and don’t mind being just a little way from the main towns, newly opened Fazenda Nova will give you a warm reception.  Their “things to do” page will give you lots more ideas too.

The end of another lovely day in Tavira

These are my tips for tourists visiting the Algarve.  If you wind up in Tavira you may even find me, sitting with my evening glass of port, outside Anazu, watching the tiny swifts dart up to their nests above the cafe.  The riverside setting is perfect.  If I’m eating out, I could be round the corner at A Taska, just off Praca Dr. Padhina.  It’s the prettiest little restaurant I know.

If you need any more details, just ask. Many of my posts relate to the Algarve.  https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/b-is-for-beaches/ will give you a flavour of the area.

How fitting that I’m flying south again tomorrow.  Hope to see you there soon.

B is for Beaches

Ok, it’s predictable I know, but how could I have a home in the Algarve and NOT love beaches?  There’s nothing I like better than an amble along the beach, picking up the occasional shell for the collection.  Flat, calm and twinkly in the sunlight, or raging and frothing, I love being beside the sea.

Beach below Cacela Velha, Eastern Algarve

So where better than Portugal, with its wrap around beaches, north to south?  In theory I could walk the full length, starting off in my treasured Eastern Algarve.  Of course, I’d have to swim the odd river.  Perhaps I should take our inflatable dinghy with me- I’m not that much of a swimmer!  Think of the Podcam I could do, if, of course, I were skilled and steady-handed enough to point the video camera in the first place.

No.  Better to focus on my digital memories.  I’m starting in the east and going west, with a few impressions of the beaches that I love.

The beach at Praia Verde

Praia de Verde, not far from Monte Gordo, was one of the first beaches ever recommended to me.  The coast at the eastern end of the Algarve is quite flat so I was surprised at the drop down to the beach from what is essentially an upmarket holiday village.  The bay is beautifully shallow and I’ve seen some of the prettiest fish basking in the warm water.  One of the big attractions is the restaurant Pezhinos n’ Areia.  www.pezinhosnareia.com .  It was much more simple when we first visited and less expensive too, but I would still consider it for a special lunch.

Pezhinos n'areia

Of course, Tavira, my adopted home, can brag of a beach or two, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to refer you to an earlier post of mine.  https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/impressions-of-an-eastern-algarve-shoreline/

Armona

Armona  This island was a strong competitor for my first post, “A is for”.  It is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before and I find it hugely charming.  It’s reached by ferry out of the fishing port, Olhao, though you can also visit from tiny Fuseta, such is the length of these offshore islands of the Ria Formosa.

A path wends away from the harbour through myriad dwellings, many of them holiday lets, but they have enormous character.  Driftwood and shells vie with the plants in the sandy front gardens.  As you peak down the narrow lanes between them you catch glimpses of the sea and any one of them will take you to the shore.  If you continue across the island you will come to the ocean facing beach- an endless expanse, sufficient enough even for me!  There’s a beach bar here, or if you return to the harbour you have a choice of restaurants from which to look out across the water.

Livingstone daisies cover the beach in Spring

Barreta  Another island.  Are you sensing a theme going on here?  Also known as Ilha Deserta, this is Portugal’s most southerly point, and a longer ride out of Faro harbour.  Gazing down the beach there’s a real sense of isolation here, until of course, the ferry comes in.  It’s not the place to find yourself in the height of summer as there’s absolutely no shade other than the restaurant O Estamine.  Nevertheless it’s an enjoyable trip out with some compelling views. www.ilha-deserta.com

Once you head east from Faro airport, you reach the Algarve with which most people are familiar- red cliffs and golden sand speckled with rose.  It’s just one long glorious beach, backed by a variety of resorts.  Stacks puncture the sand and walking the cliff tops is a joy.  Commerciality has spoilt some of it, but in low season the beaches from Vilamoura to Lagos are more relaxed and it’s possible still to enjoy the wonderful beaches that brought development to the area.

Vale de Lobo

Algar Seco, Carvoeira

Praia da Rocha, off season

Portimao marina with Ferragudo in the distance

Coastline near Lagos

Looking towards Sagres

Praia de Marinha has some great memories for me.  We walked the cliff top to Benagil one Spring day and were caught in a sudden downpour- from blue skies to hail stones, I kid you not!- and back to blue skies.  The scenery was glorious and the fields full of flowers but I’ll never forget the disconsolate expression on my husband’s face as we trooped down the hill to the tiny cove at Benagil, rolled up umbrella in hand.  He soon rallied after a warming café duplo in the beachside bar.

Marinha beach

Stacks below Marinha

Clifftops above Marinha

Burgau  I’m rolling along to the west now, to a charismatic beach.  The sandy cliffs are threaded with agave and aloe vera plants and after a swim (paddle in my case) there’s one of those beach bars where you could probably lose a day or two of your life.

Burgau beach

The beach bar in the distance

Amado We’ve turned the corner now and are heading up the Atlantic coast, where the beaches are wilder and largely untamed.  Small communities sit back off the beach and the campervan rules.

Praia de Odeceixe

Praia de Odeceixe  Oh, I loved this place!  Billed as “surf city”, it was still quiet when we were there last May and the expanse of beach was the equal of anywhere I’ve been.  You need good legs to get down and back up again, but there’s a rewarding little restaurant, Café Dorita, with good shelter from the winds but maintaining the views.  I expand on my visit in  http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/praia-de-odeceixe-cautionary-tale__168002.

I’m still only at the Alentejo border and the beaches roll ahead of me.  There are many more I’ve yet to visit, and I’m sure, many more that you can point me to.  Please do join in, with your favourite Portuguese beaches and the stories that go with them.  Be assured of my close attention.  When it comes to beaches, I’m all ears.

For more great reads in the Personal A-Z series, try

http://juliedawnfox.com/2012/01/19/e-is-for-eucalyptus-trees/

http://algarveblog.net/2012/01/12/a-is-for-the-algarve/

http://wordangell.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/an-a-z-of-the-uk-arundel/

and don’t forget to sign in on http://myatozchallenge.com/if you want to join in.