You know what they say: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And that’s what we did in our recent trip to Algarve. We flight to the South of Portugal looking for a sunny, lazy holiday but we found terrible thunderstorms and cold temperatures. Upset at first, we decided to look for alternative plans and ended up exploring the absolutely breathtaking Portuguese countryside.
Our first stop was the city of Silves, the former capital of the Algarve region. After a surprisingly beautiful ride aross fields of orange, almond and fig trees we spotted this magnificent town. Silves is located on a hill above the Arade River, so the first impression of the city, with its cathedrall and castle uphill was quite impressive.
We started our visit in the local market, which sadly was closed (lemons again…) However we were amazed by the little restaurants that surround the market. They all had grills outside where the cooks were preparing amazing Piri-piri chicken and the most lip-smacking sea food. At that moment we regretted the hearty breakfast we had had that morning, but the faces of the locals enjoying their meals were revealing: that was the best food in town for sure.
We made our way up to the top of the hill and were surprised by the lovely architecture. No wonder Silves was one of the most important towns in Portugal, even in the times it belonged to Al-Andalus. Decadent buildings, steep cobbled streets and huge stork nests have witnessed so many changes…
After a quick stop at the Town Hall square, with its lovely pink trees and its tiny cafe full of old men playing cards, we went through Porta de Loulé, part of the preserved Almohad town wall, and continued along the steep streets to the cathedral, which used to be the great mosque but now is a modest but charming church with a unique Manueline portico.
Finally and almost out of breath we arrived to the castle, where the views were absolutely breathtaking. Silves is a city of a big historical importance and the Muslim heritage, together with the typical portuguese tiles and Manueline style, makes it unique.
We took all in, breathing the orange scented air, and hit the road again to visit Caldas de Monchique, a tiny, tiny, tiny village perched in the mountains. The romantic setting, the luscious vegetation and the nineteenth-century buildings with Morish touches made us fall in love immediately. A bar serving the utterly delicious Pao com chouriço in the oven located in the pocket-size main square, a small shop selling almond and fig sweets and the renovated thermal spa is all you will find in Caldas de Monchique. However, this remote village exudes charm, peace and serenity.
A gem for everyone interested in photography, flowers and off the beaten track locations, Caldas de Monchique was one of the highlights of our trip. We realized that hadn’t been for the bad weather we would have never discovered this little village that surprised us so much. So, again, lemons and lemonade!