We were looking forward to seeing the Algarve coast, having seen so many beautiful photos and read so much about it as a holiday destination.
There are three 'coasts' on the Algarve: the so-called 'leeward coast' east of Faro, the 'windward coast' west of Faro and the 'Atlantic coast' on the western side of the province. East of Faro the beaches are long and often on sandy islands just off the land. West of Faro are the beautiful beaches punctuated by the red and gold weathered and eroded cliffs that make it into the holiday brochures. The wind-swept Atlantic coast has its own flavour of beaches with high cliffs and good surf.
No road runs along the coast so visiting the beaches involves driving along the main road some kilometres inland then taking the individual dead-end roads into the beaches. The windward coast lived up to all expectations. The beaches are simply stunning. High cliffs surround them so that in many cases getting to the sand involves a steep descent along a steep, narrow, rocky path. The headlands show off sea caves, stacks and arches galore. The water is like clear, aquamarine glass over the fine, golden sand. With the sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky, it is easy to see the attraction for holiday makers. And holiday makers there are in droves still, despite this being well and truly low season. In one pretty little seaside town called Luz (apparently pronounced 'loosh'), we hardly heard any language spoken but English, most of it with northern accents.
A little excursion inland took us to a town called Silves. The guide book made it sound worth a visit but it was sadly disappointing - we have seen so many brilliant castles now that this one was, well, boring. A walk around the walls, heavily restored, and a look in an underground cistern and that was about it. And everything else in town was shut for siesta including the Cathedral, so in all a bit of a dead loss.
So back to the coast and out to the most south-westerly point of Portugal and hence of Europe. The more we headed west, the more the wind started to pick up. White caps on the ocean and darker clouds in the sky told us that maybe our lovely late summer weather was going to be gone fairly soon. Cabo de São Vincente was, as anticipated, suitably wind-swept. In fact, Russ had to hang on to me in the wind to hold me still enough to be able to take a photo!
We followed the road from here through nature reserve - the land so usually wind-swept that few trees grew, and if they did they were all bent over. Low scrub and hardy tufted grasses covered the ground. Again, where there were trees, we saw large plantings of eucalypts again, many of them planted in rows and coppiced. Sometimes it looked just like home! We checked out some of the surfing beaches by taking the side roads to the coast. Though there was plenty of swell and wind, the surf was not great, but that didn't stop the wet-suited surfers.
Heading north we passed out of Algarve province and into Alentejo. And with it came the rain and the wind. Perhaps our summer here is now really over and we will have to break out the winter woollies again.