Day 6, Oct 6
Historical Tour of the Algarve: Silves, Monchique Mountain, Lagos, Sagres and Cape St Vincent, the End of the World
Warning, if history isn’t your bag, you may just want to look at the pictures and skip the novel (as Mike calls it!) below.
Also, it is so long, we're not double checking, let us know if you find any mistakes.
Our day started off early (for how much we’ve been sleeping in lately!) but we got up, had a quick breakfast, packed our day packs with lunches, a bottle of water, binoculars, and sunscreen. We considered light jackets, but it wasn’t that cool and was supposed to warm up, so fingers crossed that we’d be fine. We walked out to the gate of the resort to wait for our bus. First a tiny van pulled up and we knew there wouldn’t be room for the five of us waiting. Luckily it was just bringing more people to the stop for the big bus. We didn’t have to wait long before it arrived and we piled on. We stopped in the next town to pick up a few more people and then the tour started.
Our guide Ana, and driver Pietro welcomed us and Ana started her speil. I don’t think she stopped until we finished the tour, lots of interesting tidbits and historical info. And she did it all in two language, flipping seamlessly between English and German. Often the English was first, so we both started remembering our German, picking out words as she went along.
Silves (pronounced Sil vesh)
This is a very important town in Portugal’s history, it was settled by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC. In 711 AD the Moors arrived and named Silves the capital of the Algarve (which means ‘the west’). They brought orange trees, which still proliferate in the area and are very important for the economy. In 1189 the King of Portugal captured the city and in 1249 Silves was part of King Afonso III’s Christian reconquest. In the 15th century, Prince Henry organized trade as it was on a river a short way in from the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the river silted in eventually, putting a halt to the trade. On Nov 1, 1755 there was a bad earthquake in the Algarve and Silves was badly damaged. You can see a line down the street where the newer buildings were built vs the old ones which weren’t damaged. They say the 19th century was the time of economic renewal, but didn’t say how.
The streets are typical old, skinny, lined with little shops and homes, and of course cobblestone. Since it starts at the river, with an arched bridge remaining from a Roman settlement and goes all the way up the hill to the castle, many streets are very steep. They’ve actually put different cobblestones in the car tire areas, to give them more traction.
There is only one of the city gates remaining, the castle, Castelo de Silves was built by King Sancho I, 2nd king of Portugal around 1715. The castle was built on the Palace of the Verandhas which was built by the Moors. They’ve started two archaeological digs inside the walls of the castle. Close by is the cathedral, Se de Silves, built in the 13th century. It is beautiful, with many of the original altar statues. There is a soaring ceiling, with lots of amazing stone and tile work. Surprised me, all the candles (for you non-Catholics, to light in memory of a loved one) were electronic. You put in the amount of money for the number of candles you want lit and poof, on they go. Wonder how long they stay lit.
We were on a tight schedule, so had to head back down the hill, walking very carefully on those cobblestones. Amazingly, much tougher going down than up. We headed back to the bus and saw a number of storks and stork nests, no babies though! We were soon to find out that they are very numerous in the area. Check off stork on my bird list, never thought we’d do that!
Monchique Mountain (Mon chic)
With everyone on the bus we were off on our way to Monchique Mountain. Not a mountain by our standards, but the tallest spot in the area. The mountain shelters the Algarve province and helps moderate the temperatures. 10 C is very cold for the locals. East of here the Algarve is flatter and has many lagoons. West of here there is a huge change in the landscape, much more windswept and smaller vegetation.
On the way we saw (but couldn’t get pictures of ) Eucalyptus trees which which brought from Australian and are used not only for the oils, but for paper and mulch, Carob trees whose fruit are 50% sugar, Pomegranat trees, Fig trees, Almond trees and Mimosa trees. We also starting seeing lots of aquaducts, since it only rains about 45 days a year, they have to be able to get water around to their plants. The meat of the black pigs of the mountain has a different taste, and it is said that is because they are fed carob beans. We passed an open pit where they remove Sienito, it looks like granite, is of volcanic origin, and it is the only place in the world where you find it . Mike found a website that says there is another quarry, but it is still pretty rare! Another group of trees we passed were Cork Oak trees, one of Portugal’s big industries. The trees are debarked every 9 years, they paint numbers on them so they know when it should be done next, a 4 means it was done in 2014. It is funny driving down the road seeing trees with two foot high white numbers painted on them. We saw piles of the bark and tons of items made out of it, jewellery, purses, wallets, hats,….it is easily washable, soft and very pliable.
We also passed an area of a forest fire that raged in the summer of 2003. It was huge and wiped out many eucalyptus farms. We could see areas that were just starting to fill in. Unfortunately, there was another fire this summer, so we also saw very barren regions, and patches of trees with no brush and dead leaves.
The midsection of the mountain has a microclimate and geothermal hot springs, and is a spa area. One company bought the village there and turned it into a spa, using the houses as guest houses. Can only imagine how much it costs!
On the top of the mountain we were led through the gift shop to a bar area, where we all had a taste of Firewater, made from the Mimosa berries and 42% proof. Michelle thought it tasted like turpentine, but it sure had a nice warm glow going in the belly! We wandered through the gift shop featuring many local artisans, and Mike found two tiny china miniature houses typical of the Algarve which will fit perfect into his train set. Then we headed outside to view the scenery around. It was a bit hazy, so we didn’t have as great a view as we could have, but it was still stunning to see down the mountain and all the little villages on the way. It was obvious it was the highest point, the number of towers, antennae and a radar dome. Soon it was time to pile back in the bus, to head to lunch.
We stopped at Restaurante Teresinha just a few minutes down the mountain. Mike had fish and Michelle had grilled chicken and it came with fries and salad. They seem to like a lot of fries! We shared a table with Steve and Sabrina from Berlin. We certainly brushed up on our German, Mike was amazed how quickly it came back! There was bottles of orangeade, water, white and red wine on every table, and the four of us made good use of all of it. They brought out a little plate of cookies, but not our kind of cookies. They may have been made out of Marzipan type dough, but none of us liked them.
Lagos (La gosh)
Lagos is very old and basically had the same occupations as Silves. In 1415 it was the most important harbour in the south region and was the capital of the Algarve from 1576 to 1755. In the 15th century Prince Henry, the third son of the king, settled Lagosh to start maritime exploration (it is on the coast) and the first expedition discovered North Africa. Prince Henry ordered an indoor slave market to be built (the first in Europe), in order to get money to continue the maritime expeditions. The whole town was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1755 and the market was rebuilt in 1960 and is a museum now. We went into the 16th century Church of Lady Maria and the accompanying museum. Unfortunatley no pictures are allowed, but if you google it, you can see them. We also went into the Chuch of St Anthony which is done in a Baroque style with everything gilded with gold leaf, so they call it the Golden Church. Again, no pictures, but it is amazing. Every time the church had a new sponsor, they would redo the inside, so it is very small but very ornate. We wandered a few more of the small cobblestoned streets, and along side the harbour entrance, a long walkway lined with stalls, along the lines of the Seine in Paris. Then, back to the bus. And our journey continued….
Sagres (Saw gresh)
This name comes from the Latin Sarum or sacred cape, and it is on a cape. The closer we got to Sagres, the more windswept the landscape became, with different rocks and soil, and a lack of irrigation. Definitely a tough coast to live on.
Prince Henry (yep, the same one), also know as Infanta Don Henriko (like a duke, because his mother was English) felt Sagres was very important, to provide fresh food and water for all those expeditions he was sending out.
As we drove into town, our driver Pietro honked the horn. His grandmother was sitting on a low wall, waiting for him to go by, it is the only time he sees her as he doesn't live nearby. We drove by the new fort, a concrete monstrosity and then by the old Fort Belisa from the 16th century. Why they decided not to repair it, who knows?
Prince Henry never sailed but set up many important expeditions. The first left in 1415. After that in 1419, 22 and 28 expeditons were organized, and they found Madiera, the Azores and Porto Santo. In 1434 an expedition found the West African coast. In 1487 De Gama rounded the southern tip of Africa, Cape Hope which allowed a 1498 expedition to set a route to India. In 1500 an expedition went to Brazil. Prince Henry was certainly important for the discovering of the world, why do we only hear about Columbus?
On the way out of town, the bus stopped on the side of the road. Pietro jumped out, ran across the road to give his grandma a hug and a kiss. She looked so sad as she waved goodbye as we drove away.
Cape St Vincent – The End of the World
The last place we visited was what was known as the end of the world, before Prince Henry got all those expeditions going! Queen Maria ordered a light house be built in 1846 and it is the brightest in all of Europe, visible for 18-26 miles. It is very impressive, high cliffs and then the ocean, for as far as you can see. They have a little bar and a cafeteria there, it is a bit of a drive from Sagres
Once we were all back on board for the last time, Ana said we would head to Lagos and split up. Since they have people from all over the Algarve, different buses would go to different locations. Once on our new bus, we took a bit of the smaller highways back, to pop into a few towns to drop people off.
At 7 pm (a 10 hour day) we were dropped off, back at the gates of Sra da Rocha. We didn’t even bother to go to the apt, we just headed to the restaurant to fuel up. Then we headed home, unpacked, put our feet up after all the walking and relaxed!
We've added a ton of photos, it was a very long, but informative and interesting tour. Don't expect posts like this every day. Our days are much the same if we don't go anywhere, and we don't want to use up our allotment. If we do you won't see anything we see on the cruise!
Wonder what adventures we’ll find tomorrow in Armacao de Pera…..