We first visited the town of Lagoa two winters ago. A friend in our then local bar (Arte Bar, Albufeira) told Harri he loved Lagoa, meaning the municipality which boasts a spectacular coastline. Misunderstanding, and believing him to mean the town itself, Harri immediately plotted an out and back walk for us with an overnight stop at the extremely nice Lagoa Hotel.
I don’t know if was due to our weariness upon arrival (Lagoa is a fair walk from Albufeira) or our dismay to see so much building work going on in the old part of town, but on that occasion we were completely underwhelmed with Lagoa.
Fast forward two years and we were living just five miles from Lagoa: it was time to give the place a second chance.
We couldn’t grumble about the weather. The second week in January and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Spring has arrived early here in the Algarve and the fields are carpeted with Bermuda buttercups (an invasive species which I’m trying desperately to keep out of our garden). Though the fig trees are still bare, the leafless branches of the almond trees are bursting into life with their little white flowers.
There is an oft-told legend here in Portugal that the almond tree was brought to the Algarve by a Moorish king who fell in love with a Nordic princess. When the king learned the reason for his new bride’s unhappiness was her longing to see the snow of her native land, he arranged for thousands of almond trees to be planted around the palace. When the white petals fell, they covered the ground and looked like snow, thus curing the princess of her homesickness. It’s probably not true but it’s a heart-warming tale.
The roads here are so quiet during the winter that for a while we found ourselves trailing a little sanderling as it skipped along the surface, occasionally taking flight before returning to the ground. We’ve never seen one away from the beach before and were concerned it was lost.
First stop on route was at Porches, a delightful village of whitewashed houses, tiled streets and ornate chimneys. We took a little stroll around Porches, noting a pottery next door to the Biergarten and mistaking it for Porches Pottery which is slightly farther along the N125 (it was actually Oleria Pequena – meaning the little pottery – we were looking at). We hope to visit all three before too long, perhaps with friends and/or family.
My latest walk for Walking World passes through Porches and today we followed the same track out of town to join the Ecovia – a long-distance trail which runs from the Spanish border to Cabo de São Vicente at the south-western tip of Portugal. Our friends Geoff and Denise are planning to cycle the route in the spring, hopefully spending one night at ours en route.
We love our new home and its location close to the coast; however, it was hard not to get garden envy as we followed the Ecovia towards Lagoa. Whether the property was traditional or modern, big or small, each one seemed to boast lush and extensive gardens. The historic walled grounds of Quinta Nossa Senhora da Luz were so beautiful they took my breath away (when I got back I checked on Google Earth and there is no actual property on the land anymore).
We reached Lagoa at 11.15am, keen to reacquaint ourselves with this neighbouring town and establish if it was somewhere we might come to purchase items for our new home.
When we spotted a Union Jack flying above a shop, our curiosity encouraged us to take a closer look. It seemed someone had set up a bed warehouse (imaginatively called Bed Warehouse) with a unique selling point: it sold British beds. Now I know some British immigrants crave Yorkshire tea, or decent beer, or even brown sauce from time to time (my own personal weakness is my three-times weekly dose of Coronation Street), but are certain bed designs so peculiar to Britain that nothing similar is made here in Portugal?
After a few more false starts, we spotted large second hand yard with lots of interesting looking finds, including assorted garden furniture and a plastic composter (plus a very docile guard dog). Unfortunately, it was closed, but it’s definitely on the list for a visit very soon.
Still pondering the question, we wandered towards the centre of Lagoa, where we were delighted to note there wasn’t a digger in sight. We stopped for elevenses in the main square surrounded by beautiful trees decorated with crochet squares.
Wandering around the narrow streets, the purpose of all that road digging two years ago quickly became evident; the uneven traditional tiles and pavements are no more. Instead, the streets of Lagoa have been resurfaced, the position of pedestrian walkways, crossings and roundabouts defined with white spots, large footprints and circles. It all looks very modern and has undoubtedly reduced the number of accidents (and falls); however, I couldn’t help feeling a little pang for what has been lost.
At the top of a pretty terrace of single-storey houses, we came upon a towering pink granite war memorial to those who lost their lives in Portugal’s colonial wars and we stopped for a moment’s reflection. It was increasing public anger at the needless deaths of Portuguese soldiers sent to fight in the African colonies (plus a backlash against fascism) which led to the Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974, a bloodless, military coup which ended five decades of dictatorship. The first secret ‘signal’ to the military rebels was the playing of Portugal’s entry to that year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Next on the tourist trail was the cemitério. It might sound a little macabre but I have always loved wandering around cemeteries and imagining the lives of those who lie there. Portuguese cemeteries are particularly beautiful with the ornate crypts dating back to the nineteenth century. Harri waited with a resigned expression as I peered into the jazigo de família (family graves), where lace-covered coffins of varying sizes were stacked one above the other, and pondered the meaning of life … again.
It was time to be thinking about lunch. Harri had discovered there was a supermarket chain we’d yet to visit here in Lagoa called Auchan so we thought we’d head there for some supplies.
But before we reached the store, Lagoa had another surprise in store. We rounded a corner to be confronted with fountains and a shallow pool. The pool’s centrepiece was a large sculpture of what looked to be a gull and it was being intermittently sprayed with a fine water mist.
And there was more to come. I spotted a rather nice looking charity shop on the corner of the street opposite and urged Harri to go inside for a look around. In our limited experience, most charity shops in the Algarve are run by animal charities so we were surprised to learn the Madrugada shop supports people with life-limiting illnesses (like St David’s back home).
Well, what a lovely shop. Everything on sale was in great condition and the prices were very reasonable. Best of all, I found my much-needed tablecloth in the right colour, some new material to cover an outside cushion and a small hall table (which we picked up a few days later in our hire car). Even more amazing, as a result of poking our heads around the door, we have now found ourselves a new car (we have test-driven it, but we won’t actually be buying it for another month as the current owner is moving to the UK in March and we think it’s only fair she has transport while she’s sorting everything out).
So it was off to Auchan, which proved to be a very pleasant experience, followed by lunch at a picnic table on a grassy verge overlooking the N125, which was far more nicer than it sounds.
There was one last surprise in store as we headed out of town: the sprawling premises of the Adega Cooperativa do Algarve, a wine co-operative/art gallery. Like most attractions in the Algarve at this time of the year, it looked to be closed for business today, but we’d certainly like to return to investigate later in the year.
We followed the same route home, along the Ecovia and back through Porches, all the time marvelling at the surrounding landscape and the fact we had walked 15 miles in glorious sunshine in early January. Nothing beats the Algarve in winter … nothing … not even British beds!!