Discover the traditions of the Algarve, and the region’s interior
We all know there are good reasons to visit the Algarve 365 days a year, so, outside the high season, where should your visit begin? The attractions are Algarvian history, culture, knowledge and flavours, and places like Castro Marim, Alcoutim and Loulé have all this and more!
Castro Marim and its surroundings offer the best of both worlds: superb beaches and a rural interior with lots of tradition. Let’s begin with the salt pans. While the spa is closed – yes, there is a bathing spa where you can enjoy the benefits of the water’s therapeutic properties – it is well worth visiting Castro Marim’s ancient salt pans. If you don’t have the time to bathe, then here’s another idea: visit the lake created by the Odeleite dam. It offers panoramic views to die for. There are also rural walking trails you can follow to discover the Odeleite stream.
But back to the salt pans and Castro Marim. The castle is the highest point from where you are presented with panoramic views over the salt pans and the Sapal Natural Reserve. Crafts are also alive and kicking here, despite the shortage of apprentices to carry on the traditions. From bobbin lace to reed basket weaving, in the villages of Azinhal and Furnazinhas, the craftsmen and women produce incredible items, using only their hands and their talent. As for food, these recommendations will be made many times: try the fried eel and the lamb stew!
Any trip to Alcoutim begins with a visit to the castle that sits on the banks of the Guadiana, overlooking neighbouring Spain, leaving us spellbound by the beauty of this part of Portugal while offering us views over the Algarve interior. A boat trip on the river will remind us of a local history full of smugglers at the time of the New State. In the town centre, many statues celebrating that way of life have been erected: commemorating both the smugglers and those who tried to stop them.
Every year (usually in March) the Fronteira Festival recalls these historic events that have made a deep mark on the land and its people. There are many stories that have been passed on by word of mouth down through the years. Inside the castle there is an artistic installation – like a smugglers’ tunnel – made of reeds, which is a local material used by locals in their crafts and construction. And for eats? Lamb stew is one of the typical dishes of this region, as are migas (a dish made with breadcrumbs) and stewed wild boar.
And if you like going to the beach out of season, in Loulé you can combine long stretches of sand with a lot of tradition. Visit the Municipal Market in the town centre, where you can buy fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables. And on Saturday mornings, be sure not to miss the local traders’ stalls outside. Lose yourself in the streets of the old town where you can still hear the sound of the coppersmiths hard at work making boilers.
Near here you will find the luxurious Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura, and lots of golf courses. Here you will also find craftsmen and women who continue to weave esparto grass and produce the local medronho alcoholic drink. And in a region that is so large – covering the three parts of the Algarve: the coast, the mountains and the Barrocal that lies between them – you can dip your toes in the Atlantic and go for hikes in the mountains. The village of Alte is also worth visiting in its own right, to wander through its narrow streets and enjoy its traditional Algarvian houses. Stop off at Sarnadas to taste the delicacies on offer at the Rosaminho restaurant, such as the corn stew (jantarinho de milhos), wild boar and goat, etc.
Close to the centre, at Loulé’s highest point, look out for the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Piedade where, every Easter (except during the pandemic), there is a huge procession with a statue of the Sovereign Mother (Mãe Soberana). It is said to be the biggest Marian festival in southern Portugal. Loulé Castle is also worth a visit, and nearby you will find several craft workshops – with boilermakers, potters and weavers who create items with woven palm leaves. And, to top it all off, a trip to a different world in Loulé… the rock salt mines. This is an authentic city of salt that is ‘hidden’ beneath the streets. Here you can see into the heart of the Earth, glimpsing geological formations that are more than 230 million years old. And it is open to the public!
Happy travels! Susana Ribeiro
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