Algarvean Daze

Events & Activities - mainly during the daytime - across the Algarve

Bestaurant: A Cataplana at the Alte Hotel

In the hills above Alte is what must be one of the Algarve's best kept secrets. The Alte Hotel, perched on a hillside overlooking the Algarvean countryside, is worth seeking out, if only for a cold beer and the incredible views.

Stopping to just look to the sea would be a waste of a trip, however. The reasonably priced restaurant, A Cataplana, has quite a choice of excellent food, and the 'prato do dia', priced in September 2008 at €10 , includes the couvert, a starter of soup or salad and the main course. The couvert, on each of our visits, included hot linguica in addition to the standard bread & butter and olives. A very nice touch.

Having lived for years within easy reach of this great venue, it was only earlier this year that we stumbled upon the Alte Hotel while we were looking for new places to dine. It's not on the beaten track through Alte, so if you're not looking for it you probably won't trip over it. Arriving at the roundabout in Alte, from Messines, take the left road toward the village, then turn left and head up the hill to Montinho. The Alte Hotel is on the right.

Click for more info about the Alte Hotel.

The Forecast Calls For Rain

Historically, we could have anticipated some rain between April and now, but until a few days ago we have not seen a drop. Looking at the averages, about 35mm (just under 1.5 inches) should have made it's presence felt, mainly during the late spring and possibly with a smattering during August. Not this year.

Our flora has relied totally on the irrigation system, topped up with a hand held hose. The beauty of this is the directionality. As our car parking area is laid to gravel, no water landing on the gravel meant no weeds growing in the gravel. And no weeding.

But all that is about to change. Leaden skies pendulous with the promise of deluges are gathering. After only two days of light showers the green shoots of autumn are beginning to emerge through the gravel. Should the rain arrive, and with anticipated vengeance, these tiny shoots will explode into rapidly growing triffid-like entities, challenging us to attempt to outpace their growth with our extraction techniques.

Neither of us will win outright. We will manage to remove some of our verdant visitors, the ones we do not get to quickly enough will send their roots in myriad directions to ensure the survival of their species at the commencement of next year's rainy season.

And do we really care? After a long, warm, dry summer the thought of a few days of steady, continuous rainfall, washing away the accumulated dust from the leaves of the plants and trees, nourishing in only the way nature's irrigation could possibly do, is an event worth looking forward to.

If it's raining and you are reading this as a visitor to the Algarve, I apologise for the weather. If you're a local, we can rejoice together.

Upcoming: World Superbike Championship - Algarve Style

The newest and most modern racing circuit in Europe is to host the World Superbike Championship (also known as the SBK), Superstock 1000, Superstock 600 and Suzuki GSX R European Cup, on Friday 31st October through Sunday 2nd November 2008 at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, Portimão.

The Autódromo Internacional do Algarve is located near the city of Portimão, in Sítio do Escampadinho near Mexilhoeira Grande. This is about 4.5 kilometres north of the Algarve motorway (A22), with a direct road link via the motorway exit at Mexilhoeira Grande.

Tickets for the event are priced from €25 (3 day event) or €20 (Sunday only). Special offer tickets are available until 8th October, giving 3 tickets for the price of 2!

Portugal has not hosted a World Superbike event since Estoril did back in 1993.

Official site of the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve (Algarve Motor Park) is

Some details shamelessly nicked from algarveholidaystudio

Event: Banho 29 - Midnight Bathing

The annual tradition of Banho Vinte Nove, in which entire families of bathers gather for a midnight dip in the sea occurs - depending on the area of the Algarve - on either August 29, or if you're descending on the sea from Monchique, on September 29.

Each year families from the mountain areas, frequently dressed in period bathing costumes, set off for the beach - often along with their animals - and spend a night at the seaside grilling chourico, playing music, partying, and at midnight, going for a swim. Celebrations regularly continue until sunrise.

This year, the migration from Monchique sets off on Sunday 28th September, after gathering at 8PM at the departure point, the heliport in Monchique. From there the revelers will head to Praia do Vau near Portimao.

Fancy a dip? For more info (in Portuguese), with pictures from previous years click here.

Fauna: The Swallowtail Butterfly

A frequent visitor to our garden is the Swallowtail Butterfly, although it has remained one of the most elusive of creatures when it comes to sitting to have it's portrait taken.

Perseverance did eventually pay off and I finally have been rewarded for all of those times I ran back into the house to get my camera, only to have my flighty friend disappear before I could frame the shot.

The Swallowtail, named after the appearance of it's tail to the tail of some swallows, is not a rarity to Portugal - Swallowtails exist on all continents except Antarctica.

I now look forward to an autumn Swallowtail rush to my lantana, and the possibility of taking a family portrait snap.

Edited 21 September: More photos available here.

Audi MedCup / Portugal Trophy

The sixth and final event of the 2008 Audi MedCup Circuit, will be held in Portimao from September 15 to 20, when the MedCup returns to the Algarve for the second consecutive year.

Some twenty yachts, representing 10 countries, are coming to the Algarve to compete in the waters of the Atlantic, near Portimao. The ‘Trophy of Portugal’ program includes some coastal regattas and windward-leeward competitions that will offer different sailing experiences to those used to more tranquil waters of the Mediterranean.

More info is available here.

XL Holidays (XL Leisure Group) Ceases Trading

XL Leisure Group Plc, XL Airways UK Limited, Excel Aviation Limited, Explorer House Limited, Aspire Holidays Limited, Freedom Flights Limited, Freedom Flights (Aviation) Limited, The Really Great Holiday Company plc, Medlife Hotels Limited, Travel City Flights Limited, Kosmar Villa Holidays plc have gone into administration.

More details are available at the XL Group website, and from ATOL.

This has happened just days after the collapse of Seguro Holidays.

Adding Insult To Injury

It's really not nice to write about something unpleasant, but unpleasant things do happen, even in the Algarve. But when something nasty does happen, and happens to people we know, it makes it all that much worse.

Friends of ours from the UK have been holidaying here for two weeks now. They brought with them the extended family, so seven of them in total have been staying in a very nice three bedroomed villa at Areias dos Moinhos in Carvoeiro.

Last night they were burgled. Cameras, MP3 players, baby clothes and cash. The thieves tried to remove the safe but failed. The police informed our friends that this was the second burglary of the villa in just over two weeks, although the managing agent denied this. The agent then went on to accuse our friends of encouraging the intruders by not locking up properly, an accusation which they strongly deny. Works to improve the security were ordered today, with commencement one day prior to our friends' departure.

There are some things about the incident that really annoy me. Not so much the burglary, because even though I consider the Algarve to be the safest place I have ever lived, crimes do sadly occur, and due to the transient nature of many of the residents, these crimes affect people least likely to be able to cope with the trauma - and the police - themselves.

The villa my friends occupied rents for £1300 per week. When we visited them last weekend my wife got locked in one of the bathrooms because there was no knob on the inside of the door. This lack of knob had been reported to the agents, but had not been repaired. The villa had been previously burgled but improved security was only put in place after the second burglary. The agents tried to shift the blame for their own lack of action onto the clients.

This is unacceptable behavior on the part of the agents. It it were my villa I would fire them immediately. And if I were paying £1300 per week I would expect the owners to ensure the agents were acting for the clients in an emergency such as this, not against them.

In my opinion, there are only two fundamental rules which apply in a case such as this -

Rule 1 - The client/customer (ie, the PAYING guest) is always right.
Rule 2 - In case the client is wrong, Rule 1 applies.

Crime is at times inescapable, but there should never be a reason to compound the crime with shoddy management practices.

Seguro Holidays Ceases Trading

Seguro Holidays, a UK firm which provided holidays to the Algarve, stopped trading yesterday. The following is taken from their website -

"Seguro Travel Limited and its subsidiary Seguro Aviation Limited which trade under the style Seguro Holidays and Kent Escapes ceased trading on 10 September 2008."

"Customers who have booked to travel by air from 10 September onwards should refer to the Civil Aviation Authority website where further advice is given."

The irony is that 'seguro', in Portuguese, means certain, reliable, assured.

Forced to Drink by the Police

Returning from a nice lunch out with visiting friends, we stopped at another of our favourite restaurants to book a table for the evening and allow our friends to have a look at the menu.

As we approached the car park we could see the GNR (police to you) at the crossroads adjacent to the restaurant. We snuck into the car park by a closer entrance, and all traipsed off to a table under the trees.

Regulars at the restaurant told us that this had become a regular afternoon occurrence. When we asked how long the police stayed, we were advised 'until they go'.

Not then wanting to leave and risk the document check and subsequent inquisition, we each ordered a glass of wine and settled back to watch as cars, vans and even tractors were stopped and drivers put under the microscope. Our gracious host, having run out of the 'jug wine' we tend to drink by the glass, provided us with bottles in lieu. It now appeared from where the police were watching, that we were settling in for the afternoon and would certainly be illegal by the time we left.

Then as we sipped our wine and watched, one van, laden with 7 people, and being conducted by a gentleman who had obviously partaken of sufficiently enough lunchtime refreshment to render himself obvious, was stopped. His interrogation by one, then two and finally all three officers concluded with the 'blow into this' routine. As he and the occupants of his van became more and more fidgety, we watched as the minutes turned into hours.

Had we been braver, we could have made our escape while all of the GNR were engaged with the hapless driver. Cowardice ruled supreme, however, and we continued to while away the time - so much time that one of our group determined that as he had stopped drinking quite some time previously he was now legal to drive.

Eventually, the police instructed their interrogee to pull his van off the road and park it in the restaurant car park. After he did so, he was given more good advice and the police, after more than two hours with one driver and a seemingly imminent shift change approaching, also left. The van driver then did not turn the keys over to any of his passengers, but checking that the police had not doubled back, jumped in the driver's seat and drove away.

I look forward to the next time I wish to be held captive in a bar or restaurant. I shall seek out such an establishment adjacent to a police checkpoint and then be forced to drink while I wait for their departure.

Our friend drove us home.

Saturday Night at Patricia's Mini-Mercado

Between Fonte Louseiros and Benaciate there are a series of speed-bumps on the road at a wide spot called Lavajo. There can be no reason for these other than to slow down traffic sufficiently, giving the drivers just enough time to see that there is a mini-mercado tucked away, just off the road. This is Patricia's.

When friends of ours, residents here, asked us last week if we wanted to join them for grilled chicken and dancing at Patricia's, we were confused. Dinner at the 'corner shop'? Yes, they had seen a poster for the event, there would be live music, food, fun and merriment. OK why not? At €1 per head cover charge we figured we might be able to afford to get in.

We arrived about 8:30, the singers already on the stage, and not a single table to be had. We did find a place to sit, at tiny tables under the trees, unfortunately this meant that we were looking at everyone looking at the stage, and the backs - and backsides - of the singers.

The 'organisation' of the night was typically chaotic. Having paid on the roadside to get in, we then had to go into the mini-mercado and find Patricia and tell her how many chickens we wanted. Drinks were then taken from the shelves and taken to the checkout, where we then told 'Mr' Patricia how many chickens we had told Patricia, whereupon he rang the whole lot up.

Somehow, the people they had employed to ferry the chicken from the grill to the tables did find us, and within minutes, foil pie plates of fresh bread, crispy salad, potato crisps and of course, succulent chicken, were delivered to us in our little snug among the yuccas.

As is typical of eating out in the Algarve, the food was excellent and certainly more than sufficient. Our cats will dine well today.

The music, provided by a duo performing to backing tracks (no longer a third world country here) never ended. If both vocalists weren't on stage together, one always was. None of this 'you're a really great audience, we'll be back in 30 minutes'. No way, just lively tunes, delivered well, to an appreciative, mainly Portuguese audience.

The Portuguese love to dance, and once the chickens had been consumed, the quick-steppers took to stepping quickly and effortlessly around each other. I got exhausted just watching them.

When we left around midnight, people were still paying their €1 at the gate.

The damage - four covers, four meals, three bottles of wine and a great night's entertainment - €36. Will we be able to continue such reckless spending? Time alone will tell...

Sailing From Portimão

I'm not suggesting that you would want to leave the Algarve, but if you are here and you do want an island break - or if you're on Madeira and want to visit the Algarve, you could avail yourself of the ferry service which runs between the Canaries, Madeira and Portimão.

The Spanish ferry company Naviera Armas has officially confirmed that service will continue after September. This is due to the success of the service, seen in less than a year. The ferry company is even planning to introduce a second ship on this route next year and to make two weekly trips starting from May.

The decision to extend the service has been made because of the great success the line has had - started only in June this year - having shipped already more than 14 thousand passengers.

Having been converted to ferry travel, making the last dozen or so trips between the UK and Iberia by boat, I'm certain that when we do visit Madeira it will be done by sailing, not flying. Boa viagem!

Algarve 1, Florida 0

For the last couple of weeks we have had friends from the UK here in the Algarve. I say it like that because while we did spend a fair amount of time together, they were staying on the coast, not actually staying with us.

On most of the occasions we were together we avoided the coast. We visited some of our favourite inland restaurants, kicked back and let the world amble by.

They told us that their holiday plans for next year were to take the family to Florida, and due to other future holiday plans they wouldn't be back in the Algarve for at least two years.

Imagine our surprise and happiness when they e-mailed us upon their arrival back in the UK, to say that they were cancelling the Florida trip and would be back in the Algarve again next summer. We would like to hope that our exposing them to the inland Algarve played some small part in their decision.

Finding the real Algarve is a bit like finding the cat in the picture above. It's there, but you have to know where to look!

Beer by the Bottle, Wine by the Jug

It's been too long now since I've lived in England to know what a UK premium beer costs. Maybe someone there can advise me - just a normal 33cl bottle of a brand name something with more than 5% alcohol. The venue isn't important, in a pub, in a shop, it doesn't matter. I'm just curious.

What matters is that here in the Algarve, centilitre by centilitre, it is cheaper to buy bottled beer in restaurants and cafes than it is to by the same volume on draught. And although the prices vary depending on what type of establishment one is visiting, the bias is always toward the bottle being cheaper.

The difference can be significant. If I drink beer when dining, I would normally drink roughly 1.2 litres. That's three average 'canecas' or four bottles. Or, in old money, just a tad over two UK pints. The cost saving in buying the same amount in bottles, not from the barrel, is about €2. Eat two meals out weekly and thats €4. Fifty weeks a year and it's €200. Two of you relaxing and quaffing, €400. Four hundred Euros!

But it doesn't stop there. Wine by the jug (jarro) can often be equally as pleasant as bottled house wine, and again is significantly less expensive. OK, it's not always brilliant - jug whites can be a bit rough at times, as can the occasional red - but if it's really not drinkable you can send it back or just chuck it away (it's cheap enough) and order a bottle from the winelist, or, order a soft drink or freshly squeezed orange juice and mix your own sangria at the table.

The Algarve is in the main, a much cheaper venue for eating and imbibing than the UK. Try drinking bottles and jugs and you'll find it even cheaper than you thought. Saude!