The Algarve Book Cellar

posted in: Algarve, Central Algarve, Novel writing | 2
The Algarve Book Cellar in Carvoeiro

I’d heard about the secondhand book shop in Carvoeiro ages ago but, despite living little more than 12 km away, I’d never got round to visiting it. Fortunately, that all changed when I was visiting my friend Jane recently and she suggested we popped across the road to have a look around.

Wow, where to start? As a would-be author who has recently finished her first novel, I’ve got mixed feelings about the proliferation of secondhand bookshops. The simple truth is that the author, the person without whom the work would not exist, does not receive a penny from these retailers. This is very different to when readers borrow from public libraries or subscribe to online catalogues like Kindle Unlimited – in those instances, the author is remunerated for their efforts.

That said, as someone on a limited budget, I used to buy a lot of secondhand books and re-donate the majority after I’d read them. Nowadays, I mostly read on my Kindle, ensuring the author gets their royalties – which is exactly how it should be.

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of selling secondhand books, I defy anyone not to be overwhelmed by the huge number of titles Ray Compton has amassed in The Algarve Book Cellar, the bookshop he opened twenty years ago. Thus, I was delighted when Ray agreed to an interview with me for Tomorrow magazine.

For anyone who missed it, here it is in full.

A Haven for Bookworms

The Algarve Book Cellar in Carvoeiro is a bibliophile’s paradise, attracting book-loving locals and holidaymakers alike. Tracy Burton talked to its owner Ray Compton about how his lifelong love of reading led to the creation of this remarkable secondhand bookshop.

At a guess, Ray Compton thinks he has around half a million books for sale, although he doesn’t count or catalogue the titles that line the shelves, floors and shop counter. Instead, he relies on memory to keep track of the extensive inventory – a remarkable feat considering the eclectic nature of his stock.

Books are piled up on every surface, including the counter

This astonishing place is a veritable Aladdin’s cave, where you can pick up novels from your favourite authors or browse through non-fiction books on topics ranging from travel, art and history to wildlife and sport. From wall to ceiling, you will spot familiar names like Stephen King, Rosamund Pilcher, Lee Child, Kate Atkinson, Ben Elton, Robert Goddard, Philippa Gregory and Danielle Steel. You will also find children’s books and gems from lesser-known authors: I spotted copies of Another Day in Paradise by local author Karen Telling.

Astonishingly, other than being an avid reader – he favours American crime writers like Karen Slaughter, Michael Connelly and James Patterson – 81-year-old Londoner Ray had no literary credentials when he set up shop in 2002. His primary goal was to make reading affordable for everyone. ‘When I started this, you’d be paying 15 euros for a book here. I read three or four a week.

Algarve Book Cellar in Carvoeiro
Even floor space is at a premium

‘I’ve always loved reading,’ he added. ‘It’s so important for children to read. It expands their minds. I’ve learned a lot from books.’

Opening the Algarve Book Cellar

Opening the Carvoeiro bookshop was no spur-of-the-moment decision. Ray had been planning his new enterprise for over a year when he and wife Jennifer moved here in December 2001. Alongside the usual furniture and personal effects, the couple shipped 20,000 secondhand books from the UK. This unusual cargo formed the bookshop’s initial stock and, alongside Ray’s library-style exchange system, made The Algarve Book Cellar an instant success. Within months, customers and stock levels were soaring.

‘Holidaymakers were leaving a lot of books in rental properties and the owners/agents were bringing them in every day. It worked very well and the business grew very quickly,’ Ray explained.

Algarve Book Cellar in Carvoeiro
Leaning towers of books at The Algarve Book Cellar

Despite buying the adjacent shop and knocking through, Ray is running out of space. The Scandinavian pine shelving he built is overflowing, while most of the floor space – and the small kitchen – is given over to books. In the aisles, towering stacks of books defy gravity, not high enough to pose a danger but adding to the literary overload.

The credit system

Ray credits much of his success with his generous credit system, whereby returned and donated books in good condition earn credits. For example, the return on a five euro book might be two euros. This hybrid shop/library model attracts hundreds of regular customers. One is Steve Smith, an avid reader from Alcantarilha, who has been coming in for 17 years. ‘There aren’t many places you can get English books,’ he said. ‘You can have a browse around here. I probably come here every three to four months depending on how quick I’m reading.’

Algarve Book Cellar in Carvoeiro
A book rack helps maximise space

English-language titles dominate the shelves, however there are books in German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, French and Portuguese. DVDs, greetings cards, postcards and jigsaws are also sold.

Will there come a time when the Algarve Book Cellar simply can’t accept more books? ‘It’s difficult. If they are recent titles being offered, I’ll take them. If they are older ones, I don’t take them unless I need them badly.’ He donates duplicate books to animal charities, a cause Ray cares deeply about (‘I’ve only got four cats now’).

After years of dedication, Ray is now planning to sell up and retire. Interested buyers should contact him on (+351) 282 354 310 or at


Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday, from 9.30am to 4pm.

Address: The Algarve Book Cellar, Shops 1–2 O Galeão building, Rua dos Pescadores, Carvoeiro

This article first appeared in the June 2024 issue of Tomorrow Algarve magazine.


Discover more from

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

2 Responses

    • TheWalkersWife

      Sadly, I suspect that time’s not far off. There were a lot of unpacked bags on the floor, but Roy simply has no place to put them. If a third shop was available, I’m sure he’d be expanding even more.