We left Lisbon brimming with cultural and culinary impressions and headed for the last stretch in our journey, Albufeira in the Algarve province. Its original Arabic name was Al-buhera (the Sea Castle).
Whether due to a misunderstanding or to a possible lack of knowledge of the area, our travel agent in Germany had planned our last four days at Albufeira. What was supposed to be a restful conclusion to our trip ended up being quite hectic, in an area overrun by tourism. Maybe the concept of a “secluded, non touristy” area didn’t register with the travel agent. Whatever the case, we had to make the best of it. We found out that this city is the largest resort in the Algarve. It is a great place for those wanting lively night life and lots of attractions.
The hotel was a throwback to the seventies. Its restaurant was rather glum through a combination of dark furniture and orange and black decor. Located about twenty minutes uphill from the beach, we had to brave the intense heat to reach the seaside and the old town.
Since we were no longer mobile, we didn’t look for day trips, neither did we feel the need for additional organized excursions. Besides, these last few days were meant for us to linger over the memories and impressions of the previous ten days.
After the initial disappointment, we decided to look around the old town and found interesting historical buildings and a museum within one of the churches. (There is a small admission fee to the museum.)
The 18th. Century Saint Sebastian Chapel, houses the museum of Sacred Art. Inside is an intricate gilded wooden altar flanked by statues of saints. Further along, a 16th. Century painted azulejo of the resurrection of Christ, azulejos art work, and wood carvings representing Saint Xavier, St. Dominic and other sacred scenes. A separate room displays historical accounts and statues of both saints and of the missions where they ministered. A maquette of the ancient fortress shows how its imposing location offered protection from enemy forces. After the Romans, the area was occupied by the Moors in the 8th. Century. The Knights of the order of Santiago in turn reconquered the town in the 13th. Century.
The second day in Albufeira, we hired an Albutuk (tuk tuk) that took us on a 1-hour trip along the beach and residential areas. Our friendly driver and guide, Mário Sousa, took us along sandy abutments overlooking caves and beaches. We stopped at one, which he called the secret beach. We made our way down to this lovely beach, segregated from the ocean by its natural rock arch.
We agreed with Mário that he would pick us up at the hotel each of our remaining three days and drop us off at this secluded beach. He would then collect us two hours later. It was heaven and a truly relaxing break. Very few people spent time there, and except for the boat tours and catamarans that would show up at the mouth of the cave, we were mostly alone. The reasonable tuk tuk cost was worth the daily trip. We were grateful to Mário for being so accommodating.
The remainder of our time at Albufeira, we walked the Old Town with its terraced mosaic streets and enjoyed tasty meals at restaurants overlooking the ocean or tucked away in some side street. The bustle of crowded streets and overcrowded beaches, belies this once tranquil fishing village. Hard to imagine what it was like!
The day broke when a tour bus took us to the airport at Faro where it all began. Our trip to Portugal was a wonderful experience. I shall keep fond memories of the warmth and hospitality of the Portuguese people and their rich cultural heritage. Having a better feel for the different cities, I would probably limit a next visit to two areas, such as Évora and Coimbra, spending extended periods exploring both cultural and natural environments. At the same time, I would allow for more interactions with local people, to listen to their stories and gain a deeper understanding of Portuguese history, its life and heartbeat.