From our very first winter in the Algarve in 2016-17, Pateo water tower has been a constant in our lives. The villas we rented in Albufeira boasted views of this commanding landmark and we have passed it on more runs and walks than I care to remember.
You can’t venture far in central Algarve without spotting Pateo water tower in the distance. High on a ridge beyond Albufeira’s old town, it stands prominent against the blue sky. Harri has pondered whether it would be visible on satellite imagery: the Algarve’s very own Great Wall of China. I recall once walking home from an overnight stay in São Bartolomeu de Messines and being astounded to realise the white tower we could see in the far distance was, in fact, Pateo water tower.
A contributor to waymarking.com agrees: ‘It is very tall and can be seen from a long way away. There are many radio antennae on the tower including those of a television service.’
The Algarve is an undulating region with few sizeable hills other than Fóia (902m) and Picota (774m) in the Serra de Monchique. These beautiful mountains form a backdrop whenever we head towards Porches or Lagoa. Of course, the hilltop location of Pateo water tower is nowhere near as high, but we could still see it from almost the moment we set off.
We’d accepted an invitation to a cocktails and nibbles evening from our friends Cecilia and Phil. They live in Pateo in a beautiful third floor apartment with stunning views and great sunsets.
We knew we’d have a great time; however, there was the small issue of how to get there and back. One thing Harri was certain of: he didn’t intend to drive and miss out on the cocktail offering. We debated various combinations of transport for both our outward and return journeys, including buses (only the outward route was possible), taxis (around 22 euros each way) and walking. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that we eventually opted to walk both ways.
It wouldn’t be the first time: we walked to and from Arte Bar (now sadly closed) earlier this year. The difference this time was we would be walking into the early hours. Still, with a full moon scheduled for two days’ time, Harri was confident we’d have no problem negotiating our way home along quiet roads and tracks. There would be no repeat of my experience in the Black Mountains when a friend and I managed to ‘lose’ Llanthony Abbey – and her parked car – in the pitch blackness of a February night.
We stepped out of the house into what felt like the warm air setting of a hair dryer and it wasn’t long before I was regretting my enthusiasm for the walking option. Harri calculated it would take us around two-and-a-half hours; however, to avoid carrying cans of beer, we were planning to pop into Pateo’s only mini-mercado and it closed at 7pm.
One of the nice things about living where we do is the abundance of wild figs. If I walk the five minutes to our friends Caroline and Steve’s house, I pass a tree at the end of our field and another on the grassy patch in front of their villa. Both are overflowing with figs and I’ve grown accustomed to plucking a few off the branches whenever I’m passing. It’s hard to believe I’d never tasted a fresh fig until we arrived in Grandola last summer. What a treat I’ve been missing all these years!
Within minutes of setting off, I’d concluded it was too hot for walking. From its lofty vantage point, Pateo water tower served as a reminder that much of this afternoon’s walk was going to be uphill. It was gruelling enough walking downhill towards Salgados!
When he’s not working, Harri reads a lot (and I mean a lot) so I enjoy the opportunity to have a good chat with him while we’re walking. Today the topic soon turned to our Portuguese language learning. Harri is way ahead of me in his learning, quite possibly because he is far more disciplined at sticking with it every day. He might only do 15 minutes but he will do it, unlike me who will spend an hour or even more for a few days in a row and then leave it again for a week or more. Like my creative writing, I tend to leave Portuguese learning until I’ve done all my other ‘chores’ (not a great strategy I admit).
After a brief flirtation with Duolingo, we are now using the free version of Memrise and can thoroughly recommend it for beginners. The only criticism we have is the frequent use of multiple choice questions. Most learners will quickly eliminate the wrong answers, which gives them (us!) a false impression of their language proficiency. I might get 10 questions right but would I have known how to write all those phrases without any prompting? Often not.
By the time we reached Salgados I was flagging. Harri was setting a fair pace and I was struggling to keep up. Nobody goes out walking in these temperatures … even the local walking groups pause their itineraries during July and August.
Salgados has changed beyond all recognition since the winter months and the grassland is now severely parched with only the scattered trees adding colour to the landscape. I have never been to the African savanna, but Salgados in August is exactly how I imagine it would look. I wouldn’t have been surprised to spot a group of giraffes meandering across the yellowed ground towards us.
We crossed the Ecovia – the long-distance cycle track crossing the coastal Algarve – and left the track to walk across grassland. In winter, walking off piste would have been hard work, but now the vegetation barely reached our ankles.
There was a short stretch of walking on the main Albufeira and Alcantarilha road before we turned off and started the long, thirsty climb to Pateo. I gulped down a can of tonic water and then 500ml of warm water. Harri had packed two cans of shandy, so as soon as we’d crossed the main road to Guia (about 7km into our walk), he handed me one. It was still cold (thanks to the ice packs) and very refreshing. I resisted the urge to down it in one and tried to make it last.
Soon after the Guia road, the housing stops and the tarmac road surface is replaced by a dusty stony track. This is fine until a car drives past and sends a cloud of dust into the air. To be fair, the majority of drivers are very considerate and will slow right down, but there’s always the one who thinks hikers are fair game and put their foot down.
Whose stupid idea was it to walk to Pateo in this heat? I puffed. Yours, Harri responded. The worst bit was knowing we were walking home again.
Eventually we reached more housing and enjoyed a little chuckle with a Portuguese man whose sausage dog had followed him over to the bins. This little girl decided she wasn’t too happy to have two sweaty hikers passing her house and decided to use her little legs to chase after us. It might have been scary had she not been smaller than Moses! Her owner called her back and labelled her ‘an angry sausage’.
With about three kilometres to go, Pateo water tower reappeared on the horizon and reminded me how much climbing we still had to do. By now it was around 6pm but the temperature was still up in the thirties.
We arrived at the mini-mercado with 45 minutes to spare, only to find it was closed. Our plan to buy beer had been thwarted.
Somehow I found the energy to climb several flights of stairs to reach Cecilia and Phil’s home before collapsing onto a chair. Phil quickly poured us large glasses of ice-cold water and I gradually started to feel human again, albeit a very dusty, sweaty human.
Within an hour, the other guests had arrived and we found ourselves sitting on the roof terrace enjoying the sunset and good company. The very talented Phil (oops, I almost typed Mr Ripley then!) has made some fantastic pallet furniture, including three good-sized sofas, so there was plenty of room for everyone. He’s even rigged up his own removable lighting, made out of glass jars.
I soon discovered I rather liked caipirinhas, which begs the question why did I not even try one last year when my bartender daughter stayed with us on the Silver Coast and was whipping them up for Harri?
It was a great evening with old and new friends and, after a few restorative drinks, I thought perhaps the 12km hike to get there hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. Best of all, it turned out the couple we didn’t already know lived in Armação de Pêra and they were more than happy to give us a lift home. Two walks to social events, two lifts home. Surely we can’t be this lucky a third time?