Last weekend we made a date to go visit our new friends Isabel and Greg, who live in the western part of the Algarve where the coast is much more dramatic. But this time we stayed inland to visit first the historic town of Silves, with its 8th century Moorish citadel that commands the top of the mountain as you come into town.
The town is a charming one. The site has been inhabited since Neolithic times and was an important outpost for the Romans, as well as the Moorish kings who invaded the Algarve after the Roman Empire collapsed.
Southern Spain and Portugal were very much the center of the western civilized world for years when the rest of Europe was lost in the dark ages. The Moors brought their beautiful architecture and learning. Up until the thirteenth century, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in relative harmony and cooperation. It was a golden age here in the Algarve. The famous Queen Isabella was responsible for expelling the non-Christian population from Spain in the thirteenth century. The Moors and Jews lived on in the Algarve for sometime longer, but when the king of Portugal married the daughter of Queen Isabella, the expulsion of the Moors and Jews was a condition for the union.
The ceiling of the entry room of the Silves citadel.
View of the surrounding valley from the citadel ramparts.
You mount to the second level of the castle via a set of metal steps and from there you can walk around the perimeter of the castle, which is rather large. There are no guard rails, the path is both narrow and uneven. I don't usually have any trouble with heights whatsoever, but I became some what panic-stricken as I made my way along the parapet, holding on to the wall for dear-life!
After our tour of the castle of Silves, we met Isabel and Greg for lunch. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of our meal as I was completely absorbed in consuming it. Our waiter brought us trays full of various fresh-caught fish, including a large wild salmon caught off the west coast. We chose a sea-bass to share, which disappeared briefly for grilling and returned to the table accompanied by simple steamed vegetables. Delicious.
The sun gleams off the ocean in the far distance. World class surfing beaches are tucked into isolated coves all along the west coast.
Along the road on many electric poles storks have built their nests, and they swoop and glide over the traffic. They are protected here. Quite marvelous creatures.
We were able to photograph one from directly below.
You can see one in flight in the tangle of branches on the right. Their wing-span is considerable.
Greg is an American who grew up in the central valley of California. He married an adorable Portuguese woman and took her off to Alaska for eighteen years. What a change for her! He retired early from a teaching post and the whole family moved back to Isabel's home town. We have had such a nice time getting to know them while we are here.
Would you like to take another walk? The Barril is a sandy island just off the coast of Tavira, connected at one point by a wooden pedestrian bridge, just a few minutes drive from where we are staying.
In summer there is barely a patch to lay down your towel, but in January competition for space amounts to some fishermen, dogs and their people, and a few other walkers. The fishermen simply cast into the surf, anchor their poles into the wet sand and wait for something to come along. I've never seen one of them catch anything, but presumably they do.
Unless there's a storm, the waves tend to be gentle and the sound of their lapping is hypnotic. Just a few meters down the beach the foot prints thin out and you can basically be alone with your thoughts and the near infinite view of the wide ocean.
If you got on to a ship and sailed due west, you'd arrive eventually somewhere on the shores of North Carolina.
The beach is excellent for shell collecting. I found a perfect razor clam shell with both halves in perfect condition. Rick found an entire and very beautiful sea urchin, not to mention an excellent pocket knife, which was a boon as he had only recently lost his own.
Even on this cloudy day, the water was turquoise and the air pleasantly warm.
To reach the beach you cross an estuary on that small wooden bridge. You can either walk across the island or take a charming old little red train that moves only moderately faster than a pedestrian. We've done both.
We have taken to wandering through the hills every afternoon. The property which Iza owns is vast and little trails head out from our bungalow in several directions. One can walk for quite a long while, wending up hill and down, discovering hidden corners, fox dens, vistas toward the sea, and never meet a soul.
The earth is stony which I find remarkable. I don't think I've ever seen such stony earth. It is as if the ground is continuously bringing up more rocks to its surface..
Although it is the middle of January, it feels a bit like early spring here. This seems to be the country where winter forgets to appear. The fields we walk through are full of wild flowers. Even in France, the first to arrive are the yellow ones, Other colored flowers are budded up in their own profusion as are many of the trees. I suppose a rainbow of colors will slowly sweep over the hillsides.
Under foot are clovers. It's such a pleasant ground covering, easy to walk through.
The hillside around Iza's place is mostly populated by olive trees. Perhaps an enormous orchard was once tended through out these hill. Now much of the orchard has been left to go wild.
There are many wild herbs that carpet the hills as well. Sage, oregano and rosemary which at this season is dormant, but even so, creates a delicious scent in the air as you brush past it. I feel like I'm in Jean de Florette and Manon de la Source as I walk these stony paths. But there are no goats to herd here.
We do get some rain, from time to time, and while the temperature never drops too low, the clouds do roll in and the hillsides are washed clean, bringing even more flowers. The landscape is scrappy, rough, but verdant.
Thank you to all of you who took the time to write about the ending of the daily blog project. I did not intend to give the impression that I would not visit here often again. I really enjoy sharing our adventures with family and friends, known and unknown. I only mean to say that my posts won't be daily and won't so predicable.
Today began blue and bright but the clouds did roll in. Meanwhile we took a lovely walk and had lunch with our friends Iza and Celeste at one of our favorite fresh fish restaurants in Tavira.
Orchard at dusk
Olive tree trunk
Merry merry Christmas
Cyanotype, trumpet flower
Along the western Algarve coast
We were invited to lunch by Isabel and Greg who we met through Iza a few weeks ago. Isabel is Portuguese and Greg is an American who grew up in the Central Valley of California. They lived for 18 years in Alaska before moving to Portugal. We met at Porche's Pottery.
The Portuguese are famous for their painted ceramics. In 1968 an Irish family opened a shop in the town of Porche and hired local artisans to create high-end pottery for them. The shop is still open and now managed by the second generation Irish proprietors, Julie and Stella, the daughters, both born and raised in Portugal. Attached to the shop is a very nice and popular restaurant open for lunch.
We discovered that in a nearby village, there is an olive farm that makes one of the best olive oils in the world. They have won gold medals and "best in class" in New York and around the world. The place happens to be owned by the brother of a Swedish woman we met through Iza, It is called Monterosa and we took the opportunity to have a tour one day recently. It was fascinating. Some of the trees on the farm are more than 2000 years old. The Romans made oil here all those many years ago and left behind their technology. The process used today is much the same and these people take their oil very seriously. We had a tasting and we were definitely impressed. We'll certainly be enjoying it while we're here for sure.
Barrier island, tide pools, sea birds, The Atlantic beyond
Church at Cacela Velha
Old fort at Cacela Velha
Iza gave us a big bottle of fresh squeezed olive oil from the orchard. Like wine, it needs to rest a little while before using.
The back door at sunset