We’ve been hearing good things about Quinta da Figueirinha near Silves for some time now. Musician and producer Steve Lima heaped praise on the quinta’s Saturday afternoon jamming session when I interviewed him for Tomorrow magazine. Our friend Jőrg (a songwriter and musician) told us he’d heard this local music venue was fast growing in popularity.
In the era of social distancing and smaller gatherings, booking was essential. Keen to find out what all the excitement was about, I booked three places for Saturday’s jam (for Harri, Jőrg and me).
Quinta da Figueirinha is a little over 10km from our home and there were three options for getting there: driving both ways, driving to the quinta and getting a taxi home, or walking both ways. No prizes for guessing which we chose.
I wasn’t too alarmed. My broken little toe is well on the road to recovery and, besides, I’d walked most of the same route a few days earlier when I interviewed a couple of hobby farmers for the Christmas issue of Tomorrow. Jőrg lives about 5km from Quinta da Figueirinha and we’ve walked there twice this year (though not back). I’ve always found that familiarity with a route makes it feel shorter so I wasn’t the least bit fazed by our walking there and back plan.
Perhaps I should mention here that jamming sessions have never really been my thing. I’ve never been particularly interested in live music, not even when it’s Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen performing. Being quite short, I’ve always found that my nose is perfectly aligned with male fans’ armpits … I shall say no more.
So why bother to go to Quinta da Figueirinha? Well, we have seen Steve Lima perform previously (at O Feedback) and he’s extremely good. We also knew that the incredibly talented Jon Storey usually played at these events.
Quinta da Figueirinha does food so we decided not to bother with sandwiches and eat when we arrived at around 2pm.
Spring is definitely in the air now and it’s wonderful to see recently parched meadows springing back to life and vibrant colours everywhere (though it does mean Moses, our ginger cat, no longer blends in with the landscape!). During our first winter in the Algarve, I was delighted to see great swatches of land carpeted with small yellow flowers. I have since learned the flower in question is the invasive Bermuda buttercup which, given the opportunity, will stealthily cover everything in its wake. I’d been ignoring the little clusters springing up in my garden until Monday’s interviewee warned me I’d never get rid of them if I allowed them to flower. Cue, some frantic weeding the next day.
The landscape is delightfully open in the Algarve. Yes, the grander properties and commercial growers have high walls and fencing around them, but on the whole the dry orchards, vineyards and fields are mostly just left unfenced. Which is fabulous for we shorties because it means I’m not constantly standing on tiptoes trying to see over the top of a hedge as I am in Wales (when Harri will frequently say ‘look over there’ when he spots something interesting).
I’m still amazed how many orange groves are unfenced. Portugal currently ranks the third safest country in the world (Global Peace Index 2020). The rankings are based on all sorts of factors – with no discernible mention of oranges – however, it’s surely an indicator of how relatively crime-free a country is when local people are willing to leave the fruits of their labour (literally in this case) unsecured. Interestingly, Portugal only ranked 18th in the world in 2014 … which may go some way to explaining why Harri was targeted by a sweet-faced teenage pickpocket in Lisbon in 2011. I still can’t quite get over watching a young woman in Ferrell (Silver Coast) leave her phone and wallet unattended on the cafe table when she got up to go to the toilets.
Our route passed through Fontes da Matosa. Aesthetically, this little village is very pretty, with a wide cobbled square and lots of mature trees. Yet for all its visual charms, the place always feels soulless. Monday’s hobby farmer referred to it as ‘the village of the dead’ and I know exactly what she meant.
There was a brief spell of walking along the Silves road and then we turned into ‘Butterfly Lane’, so-called (by me) because there is one spot where the air is suddenly full of Monarch butterflies. They feed on the bristle-fruited silkweed which is also found in abundance in this lane. I tried – and failed – to take a photograph of a caterpillar on one of the pods, though I did manage to capture a snail on one during Monday’s walk.
Just then, a sweet puppy bounded out of one of the properties and surreptitiously followed us for a while, reluctantly turning back only when two large dogs in an adjacent garden (thankfully with high fences) barked ferociously and terrified him. It’s probably just as well because we’d have had a problem if he’d still been with us when we reached the next road and the railway station at Poço Barreto.
Soon, we’d left the main road behind and were heading uphill. As we discovered when walking the Via Algarviana, inland Algarve boasts rolling hills rather than proper mountains (like the ones surrounding us in Orgiva last summer). This doesn’t mean there are not steep climbs along the way; however, it’s usually possible to sustain a reasonable pace without collapsing.
As we’d never visited Quinta da Figueirinha before, Harri had carefully plotted our route. We were therefore a little perturbed when we spotted Steve Lima driving towards us until he assured us we were going in the right direction and he was just popping home to pick up another guitar.
And so to Quinta da Figueirinha. Where to start? There is a website with lots of information about the origins of this 36-hectare organic farm, the owners’ vision for their property, the accommodation on offer and the themed gardens (exotic, cypress and drought-resistant crops).
The development of the land has been a labour of love from day one and it shows: the setting is idyllic and much attention has been paid to detail. The musicians perform on a small, covered stage on the perimeter of a level, fenced area with lofty mango trees (I think they were mango) taking pride of place. Our own socially-distanced table for three (with my name displayed prominently on the centrepiece) was next to a Peruvian tree known as Tara spinosa, which tolerates dry climates and poor soil. I only know this because the tree was labelled.
Without waiting for Jőrg to show, we ordered food (potato wedges and chicken wings at 6,50 euros a portion) and ice-cold beers, and got chatting to a friendly Dutch couple (Thil and Peter) sitting a few metres away. When Jőrg arrived, it turned out he’d eaten in Silves and had coincidentally met our new friends a few days previously.
Living on the coast, we had forgotten it can be several degrees cooler in the hills; within minutes of arriving, Harri and I were diving into our bags for our fleeces. The mango trees which offer much-needed shade during the summer months had the opposite effect now and, without the warming rays of the sun, the temperature actually felt quite chilly.
Before long, all the tables were occupied, while a waiter provided table service so everyone was able to respect the social distancing rules. It was nice to note how child-friendly the event was, and we laughed out loud at the expression on a little lad’s face when he attempted to walk barefoot across the gravel-covered ground. There is no actual entrance charge but people are encouraged to make a donation during the performance.
There’s no doubt my reaction to Quinta da Figueirinha was influenced by the landscape, the gardens and the general ambiance of my surroundings. The music – excellent as it was – was always going to be secondary. I very much enjoyed Steve’s rendition of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but even after two lagers and a (shared) bottle of vinho verde, I found myself interested in Thil’s fascinating career change than what was happening on stage.
Not wishing to conduct the entire return journey in the dark, we dragged ourselves from the party just before 5pm. It was a shame because we were having a great time, but staying longer would have involved more drinking and, quite likely, problems getting home.
It was a clear night and Mars was bright in the sky. By the time we reached Fontas da Matosa, our eyes had grown accustomed to the dark and we only needed to use our torches (to signal our presence by shining at our feet) when a vehicle approached.
We arrived home at 6.55pm, having completed the entire 10.3km in exactly two hours (twenty minutes faster than the outward walk).
It’s now two years since we left Wales. The ‘This Day’ feature on Amazon Photos reminds us of what we were doing on this exact day up to twelve years ago. In the Wales photographs for late November, we are dressed in long trousers, fleeces and, more often than not, waterproof jackets. Here in the Algarve, we were walking home in late November in our shorts.
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