We decided to skip the hiking this weekend and head to the beach: Praia Grande de Pêra to be precise. Just to be clear, this isn’t the stretch of beach closest to our home in Armação de Pêra (which is now very busy); Praia Grande de Pêra is roughly halfway along the nearly six-kilometre beach which runs from Armação de Pêra (Silves) to Galé (Albufeira).
One of the things I find most confusing about Portuguese beaches (because it isn’t just an Algarve thing) is what nature presents as one continuous stretch of sand generally has several names depending on which particular spot you happen to be standing/sitting/splashing around on. The only reason we know the name of this middle section is called Praia Grande de Pêra is because there’s a huge sign announcing the fact in the car park.
Our plan was to set off around noon, stroll to the beach and laze around on the beach all afternoon. I was a little dubious about Harri’s ability to stick to this, but even he has been finding the hiking tough going in temperatures reaching the early 30s. That said – and despite the presence of the aforementioned car park – we agreed it would be pleasant to stroll rather than drive to Praia Grande de Pêra. We’d work up an appetite for our picnic lunch and wouldn’t have to worry about parking.
Halfway down the road, Harri casually let it slip that we’d probably end up walking about 11km. Not exactly a stroll then! We’d set off far later than we intended, which meant I was already starving – and it was very hot! I’d been psychologically prepared for our ‘stroll’; however, this sounded like a proper walk! At this rate, I’d be falling asleep on the beach again.
Despite our great love for our host country, we still struggle with the constant barking dogs here. Anyone who’s read Dodie Smith’s The Starlight Barking (the sequel to The Hundred and One Dalmatians and a great childhood favourite of mine) will recall how dogs throughout the countryside communicated with one another during the starlight barking. Suffice to say, our lovely neighbours’ dog Yara is fully on board with the concept and is happy to bark her way through the night, stars or no stars. While,most of her respondents are local, we sometimes hear a mournful, distant barker answering her. Last night was a particularly bad night with Yara going full pelt for about an hour from 3am. I eventually got back to sleep, but poor Harri barely slept after that.
I’ve mentioned before how this is our first summer in the Algarve. We thought we knew this region quite well; however, one thing which has surprised us is just how dramatically the landscape transforms during the summer months. The footpaths we walked in winter are now sad echoes of their shrubby and wildflower-lined former selves.
Barely anything grows in this heat, as the withering marigolds and ornamental gourds in my garden testify. In the ‘spring’, i.e. November/December, we shall be visiting some local garden centres and buying plenty of drought-resistant plants like palm trees and succulents. Until then, we have no option but to live with wilting and increasingly bare flower beds.
No landscape has changed more than Salgados, which has been one of our favourite places since our first winter in Albufeira. Harri runs here often, I run here occasionally and we come here to walk together and alone. I have created two walks around Salgados for Walkingworld.com We have enjoyed watching this beautiful, unspoilt landscape changing through the seasons. Last time I was here, I saw a stork wandering around on the dried grass.
We crossed this wide, open space on tracks that can get very boggy in winter, but are now parched and cracked. A hint of a sea breeze made the heat bearable. Salgados is popular with dog walkers, walkers and cyclists. but now it was entirely devoid of people.
We were crossing a minor road when I spotted an envelope covered with handwriting lying on the ground. The writing was difficult to decipher in places. It seemed the ‘letter’ writer was inviting the recipient to meet up for a drink, while expressing some apprehension about the wisdom of meeting someone who could turn out to be a ‘weirdo offender or something’.
At the top of the message was what looked to be an IP address, which the writer urged the person he/she is writing to visit. At the end, there is more about his/her uncertainty about pursuing the meeting.
We were perplexed, not only by the message itself, but by the medium chosen to deliver it. The only explanation we could come up with was that someone had first handwritten a message they later planned to send via social media or a dating site. It all sounded a little pitiful and desperate. If the two of them ever did get together, I hope it went well.
We strayed close to the Albufeira road and I noted that, rather than heading to the coast, we seemed to be getting farther and farther away. ‘You wanted to walk to the beach,’ Harri retorted, rather avoiding my point.
Eventually, we veered right and were at last heading towards the dune system which separates the beach from Salgados. And it was on the wide track heading towards the car park that we spotted it … a large patch of mud!! This unanticipated phenomenon was certainly worth investigating. We stared, discussed, circled and discussed some more. Harri confirmed the mud wasn’t here when he’d run the route last week; certainly, he’d have noticed if it was. We came to the conclusion – and it seemed the only feasible possibility – that an underwater spring must exist. How exciting!
Finally, we reached the car park at Praia Grande de Pêra, where a sizeable, temporary stall was selling all manner of beachwear and inflatables. The clothes looked really nice and I was tempted to stop for a browse but there was no-one else shopping and I didn’t want to be pounced on.
Boardwalks connect the car park to Praia Grande de Pêra and there are now signs everywhere reminding people to walk on the right and keep two metres apart. It’s all absolutely necessary, I realise that, but it’s also kind of sad.
As soon as we reached the sand, we knew we’d done the right thing in heading to this middle section. The beach looked crowded in both directions, i.e. towards Galé and Armação de Pêra, but here there was plenty of space. We were lucky to find a secluded ‘cove’ separated from the rest of the beach by rocky outcrops. Half an hour earlier and we’d have needed to clamber over rocks to reach it. Now the tide was going out it was perfectly accessible.
My lifelong dream has been to live by the sea, it’s just that I’m not all that keen on swimming in it. It’s not because I’m scared, but the water temperature is just too cold for me. Harri is happy to strip off and go for a dip no matter all year round. I only venture into the ocean when the temperature – of water and land – is optimal. Bathing on the Florida Keys is like stepping into a warm bath and that’s how I like it.
Now we live here year-round, it was time to take the plunge … and I admit to being very pleasantly surprised. Not quite as warm as bathwater but certainly not cold. Harri and I spent the next few hours reading, eating and splashing around in the sea. It hit me (not for the first time) how incredibly lucky we are to have all this on our doorstep. My only regret is that my daughters and grand-daughters are unable to visit us this year. Please let 2021 be a happier year for everyone.
Eventually, we’d had enough of being lazy and decided to stroll along the water’s edge in the direction of Armação. It was only then it dawned on us why this stretch of beach might be slightly quieter: it’s popular with nudists.
We have come across the odd nudist here during the winter months – one memorable encounter was with a naked dog walker who stopped to talk to us – ;however, the summer months are naturally more conducive to taking one’s clothes off.
Most naturists just enjoy the sensation of swimming and sunbathing without clothes, and you barely even notice they are naked. In the past, however, there’s there’s always been someone strutting his stuff on top of sand dunes, thus drawing plenty of attention. Today was no different. I averted my eyes obviously, though I’m certain my instinctive response wasn’t the one this exhibitionist was seeking.
I wasn’t sure if Praia Grande de Pêra was an ‘official’ nudist beach so I checked it out on Portugalist (a brilliant website for all things Portuguese). James, the founder, writes:
“As of 2016, there are officially 9 naturist beaches in Portugal and 4 of these are located in the Algarve. As well as these 4 official naturist beaches, there are several others which are known to be nudist beaches but aren’t official.”
Praia Grande de Pêra didn’t appear on either list; however, somebody had mentioned it in a comment below. The writer referred the men parading on the top of dunes, calling them ‘dune lizards’ and ‘meerkats’.
We stopped for the obligatory Sagres at Fortaleza, our favourite beach front bar (where you get two beers and a bowl of crisps for three euros) and then headed home.
For some reason, I turned down the opportunity to walk home the direct route. Instead, I found myself suggesting we walk the length of the promenade, then uphill, across the meadow and through the lovely pine woodlands near our home. The sun had clearly gone to my head.
In all, we ended up walking 12.7km. Not bad for a lazy day on the beach.