We first visited Portugal some 24 years ago: a lifetime ago. Yet getting off the plane almost a quarter of a century later and we were instantly taken back to that time as we were hit by the same beautifully, delicious scent of spices that we haven’t found anywhere on our travels since.
I’m not sure why we’ve never returned to Portugal before now. I guess with so many countries to visit we’ve been somewhat distracted. Over the years holidays have taken us instead to numerous Greek islands and across Europe and America. We’ve also been lucky enough to go on bigger adventures including a journey along the Nile, hiking through Australian bush, driving the coast of New Zealand and watching whales in the Cook Islands.
Amongst the list are a myriad of memories and mental snapshots of beautiful and extraordinary places and I’d almost forgotten what Portugal was like. Returning to the Algarve was like seeing it afresh as we revisited transformed fishing villages and travelled the coast from Faro to Lagos. One trip to the picturesque Ponte de Piedade – probably the most photographed area along the Algarve – reminded me how pretty it was.
During the holiday we also returned to the history-filled Silves, which will remain firmly in my memory as we climbed the worn and cobbled streets in soaring temperatures to reach the Moorish castle at the top. It was worth the climb if nothing more than to soak up the breathtaking views of orange groves and vineyards from the castle walls.
A trip into the Monchique mountains though really was the best part of the holiday. And finding Caldas, nestling in the lush landscape, woods and streams, was a real treat. I could easily have stayed there for the remainder of the holiday. What an unexpected little oasis! Lizards crossed our path as we walked through a peaceful wood lined trail past colourful flowering shrubs and to an idyllic square. The path led to a shaded spot under a canopy of trees that was perfect for a picnic; fresh, warm bread baked in the oven in the village square.
It was such a far cry from Sagres and Cabo De Sao Vincente, over in the most south westerly point of Europe, which is all rather wild, barren and forbidding. While we had visited there before, this time round we were greeted by a cold wind and mists, which was quite refreshing after the high temperatures of the past fortnight.
Coming back to my original point and our return to Portugal, it wasn’t exactly how I remembered. The old fishing villages have grown and been joined by modern hotel complexes and time has moved on for some places – as it should. But the stylish marinas, promenades and sun drenched beaches sit comfortably alongside all that history, old architecture and cobbled lanes. Let’s hope it doesn’t take so long to visit again.