If I had to sum up my most memorable things about the Algarve region in the south of Portugal, these three things are it – the beautiful beaches, the abundant orange trees, and the soul moving music of known as fado.
The number one reason why the Algarve draws so many tourists is for its beautiful beaches. True, there are scads of beautiful beaches in this world, but the ones here are exceptional for their sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, little coves hidden beneath the grottos, and outcroppings of rocks which seem to pop up everywhere. Even though they are influenced by the cold Atlantic, they are, nevertheless, a whole lot warmer especially on the leeward side towards the Spanish border. Since we have been comfortably settled in Portimao for the past two weeks and now that the sunny weather for which this region is known has returned, we have been visiting some of these nearby beaches. In fact our favourite, the Praia da Rocha about a kilometer away from our apartment, has won some kind of award for being the most beautiful beach in Europe.
On my first days here in the Algarve as we walked around getting to know the town of Lagos, I couldn’t stop smelling the loveliest aroma imaginable. I soon realized it was the delicate aroma of the orange blossoms from the trees which seemed to be everywhere, from everyone’s back yard to the trees lining the boulevards. Interspersed among the orange trees were the lemon trees just dripping with huge lemons. Seeing this started my quest for getting the perfect photo of the orange tree…and the orange! I wasn’t too enamored of the lemon tree because once I had tasted one of those oranges I was hooked on them! Oranges and fresh orange juice have been a part of our daily diet. However, not to exclude those luscious lemons, we have been using them to enhance the flavour of our cooking. I just wish we could bring home bags of them, not just for the taste, but for the cost which is a third of what we pay in NS.
Fado shouldn’t be on the list of memorable things reminiscent of the Algarve, but of Portugal as a whole and especially Lisbon, since that is where it had its beginnings. However, I had to include it here because this is where we heard the most heart-wrenching singing and music ever, right here in Portimao, making it my third most memorable thing about this beautiful region. This type of singing, sung only in Portugal, evolved from the taverns and brothels of the port of Lisbon in the 1820’s. It’s taken from the Portuguese word saudade meaning nostalgia. The story behind the mournful singing by a fadista (female singer) is one of bittersweet longing for some kind of loss, usually a lover or death of a loved one. The fadista is accompanied by a Portuguese guitarist, a classical guitarist, and in more modern times as we experienced last Saturday night, perhaps a set of drums or other modern instrument. Of course, the whole performance was sung in Portuguese; nevertheless we could pick up the drift of the theme just by the tone of utter angst and the actions of the fadista. She and her backup band were absolutely sensational at pulling in their audience (the encore went on for at least half an hour) leaving us with an unforgettable impression of a genre of music that was almost new to us. We had both heard it before on a CD which was recorded in the 1960’s probably by Amalia Rodriguez, Portugal’s diva of fado, which would have been very traditional without all of the modern backup.
Portugal is of course known for many other things too numerous to see or even mention. However, I would be very remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the the cuisine and architecture we have encountered. Portugal is a maritime nation like Nova Scotia so it’s cuisine is defined by the fish that come from the sea. Unfortunately like us in NS, the Portuguese have over fished so now most of their fish come from Norway. However, this doesn’t mean that fish don’t play a big role in the kinds of dishes which are at our disposal. We have sampled delicious creamed cod, grilled bass, grilled sardines (their specialty), hake, salmon, and shrimp, but no lobster. They fish very few lobster here.
We have explored castles built by the Moors in the 1200’s and admired the Moorish architecture which is still evident today in the homes and buildings as in their chimneys and the tiles. The strange looking chimneys resemble small minarets and can be seen on almost all homes. The tiles or azulejo for which Portugal is famous can be found in many of the churches, train stations, homes, and public buildings.
There is still so much to see and do in this country so it’s with regret that we have to leave soon. We needed to put down roots for awhile here in Portimao, but now that the end of our stay is near, we are feeling compelled to squeeze in a couple of remaining places on our ‘must see’ list. The first is the lovely seaside town of Tivara very near the the Spanish border, and the second is the town of Sagres in the opposite direction at the furthermost tip of the country reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean. After this, we are scheduled to leave by train for the city of Porto, the capital of the northern region and centre for the vineyards producing the best port in the world. Hopefully, my next post will be about what we encounter in our travels to these three places.