Tuesday, 16 June 2015

algarve holiday

We arrived in Portimão in the self-catering Solmonte Apartment on Monday 8th June at 11pm and weren't in much of a fit state for anything but eating the few foodstuffs we had brought with us then falling into bed. The sitting room and bedroom were a bit 1970's but this was expected as we had paid remarkably little for the week's holiday. We actually had to ask for a kettle. But we weren't planning on being indoors much so it worked out fine.

The beaches along the front of Portimão make up for the high rise urban crush immediately behind. There is a nice beachfront walk along the rocky cliffs which leads to amazing trails, west towards Alvor. It had a more relaxed feel than some of the Canary Islands I've been to and the atmosphere of pine and eucalyptus smells drift around the place. 

I quite liked the high rise skyscape from our 10th floor balcony.

my new best friend, cold beer in a frosted glass

The first day we spent walking around the shops - buying stuff the apartment was short of, like decent bowls, cups and knives! And a couple of electronic things that hadn't got packed, charger cable etc. After a beer on the way "home" Mary cooked dinner while I checked out the local trails. I only managed about 6 miles as I kept stopping to take photos. Every turn and bay had even more spectacular scenery. When I got back I did a few lengths of the hotel pool which was about the same temperature as the sea: cool but just nice after you got in. I ran and swam every day.

And west to Alvor. 

A couple of days before we left I googled trail running (+hiking) in Algarve. So we knew there was a raised boardwalk in Alvor. We targetted this for the next day although strangely the run over the cliff top trails to get there was far more entertaining. 

I can only imagine it's the gulls making the trails along the tops of these deadly walkways and pinnacles. I was v reluctant to go near the edges (and would crouch a metre away with the camera at full stretch,) as there were lots of signs warning not to sunbathe directly below the rockfall prone edges. A kind of hellish heaven.

have you got a signal?

The boardwalk at Alvor.

After the spectacular clifftops, Alvor was a bit disappointing. There was a lot of boardwalk along the miles of beach which was essential as the soft sand made progress difficult. And then around 10.30am the sun came out and it was oven-like. I felt I had been promised many different types of exotic birds from flamingos to eagles, hoopoes to bee-eaters, and failed to see pretty much all of them. I don't know where the bustards were hiding but they weren't at Alvor. (It was quite busy with walkers, despite lack of, in photos.)

We did see azure winged magpies along these trails. 
Well I did, Mary refused to take her eyes from immediately ahead.

Mary kindly took some photos for my grindr profile pics.

The sea was delightfully warm (compared to Gullane in the Winter) and the front at Portimão felt very safe - both in terms of natural difficulties (tides and sharks, although we did wonder about Portuguese men-o-war and where they got their name,) and locals not nicking your wallet off the beach while you swam. 

Local food and drink was fab and reasonably priced. That said, we cooked nearly all our meals in our apartment. The fruit and veg was spectacular as was (supermercado) wine at £3 per bottle for pretty much the best wine I've tasted. £3.50 for a bottle of white port. 

psycho teeth
Every time we took the lift (tenth floor) we would take a photo.
Sometimes I would take the stairs and race the lift. (Never came close.) 7 Hills training.

if only you knew the amount of photos I took trying to get fish underwater....
(and this was the best!)

view of thunderbirds headquarters

my best new friend

This looks photoshopped - like several extreme landscapes clumsily pasted together. (And just to the right, out the picture a sinkhole that you could easily fall through onto the beach.) 

Thursday turned out to be the BIG day for running. 

Mary said she only wanted a small recovery run and we should go down the clifftop trails. It was about 5 miles. We then went for a swim in the sea which was pretty fab. Then about mid afternoon I thought I would go in search of the 7 Hanging Valleys Trail. We walked into the area by the harbour where the bus stances are to find info on bus travel.  We had been the evening before to the Tourist Information Bureau. Which was hilarious. The woman behind the counter was the least helpful person we dealt with the whole week. She asked briskly where we wanted to go and said she didn't have timetables. She gave us a local map and some confusing info about buses, the only useful thing was where they sold tickets and imparted times. We couldn't believe she was so rude and unforthcoming and reckoned there must be a plot to keep the tourists off the buses and strictly using hired cars. Everyone else we dealt with during the week was really helpful.

lift revisited in the manner of shadow laughter

One of the better bits of graffiti. There was quite a bit of tagging across Portimão which spoiled the look of the otherwise clean walls. ("Kongo" should be caught and flogged.) I reckon if there was more room for the young people to spread their creative wings painting large murals on end walls there might be less spray paint vandalism.

There were number of old style red brick chimneys around the place some of which even looked retro-fitted. On top of each one was a nest of storks. Some looked so archetypal I began to wonder if they were an art installation with animatronic storks. Others, like these nesting on a roundabout floodlight, were less so.

Simon Boliver was a military and political leader who, at the peak of his power held near-absolute power over a vast territory from the Argentine border to the Caribbean.
(This is one third of my TB wms!)

So I set out to check out the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. Vale de Centianes looked about 10 miles away and the trail was 3 miles long. I could run there and get a bus back. If I could find a bus. There weren't any buses that would be leaving for Centianes when I was, so I left on foot from the apartment telling Mary (who was suffering a bit from a sore hip) not to worry if I wasn't home in a few hours. I set off about 4.30pm. It was pretty much all on road for the most part and as I ran I considered that if I ran 12miles out and 12 back I (with the additional 5 + 2.5 earlier) would manage 30+ for the day hence a Portuguese Tynecastle Bronze. The war memorial was the tricky bit as they didn't have any that I could see. In the end I settled for three vaguely warish memorials. I also had a swim and lunch between the first 5 miles and the rest so I was bending the rules every which way, knowing I had already done a TB for June immediately after the marathon.


memorialish number 2
(I could have photoshopped on '14 ~ '18 or '39 ~ '45)

I ran through some lovely places, not entirely sure at any point exactly where I was but knowing if I kept the coast on my right I should be okay. I had a map but not very detailed. I also carried my backpack which had a reservoir containing a frozen block of ice in about a litre of water. I had 4 nakd bars but just had a big lunch (homecooked Portuguese omlette, a speciality). The temperature was scorchio for the first 2 or 3hrs.

Things went well to start with, going in a nice straight line to the bridge, crossing over and following the coast along to the East. The return leg starts to wander as the distance kicks in. (Ending in a disastrous last couple of miles across town in the dark and rain.) (Yes, dark and rain. Unsmiley face.)

So the trail starts here.
And it is outstanding from the start. Now I am NOT a big fan of cliffs without guard rails. But there are these fantastic caves below the cliffs that insist you shuffle to the edge gripping tightly with your toes and leaning back while watching for cracks in the edge. Erosion being an ongoing process. Also just to keep you on your toes there are big sinkholes and bits where the land has fallen through into the sea. Most of the biggies are fenced off but you wouldn't want to run blindly about taking photos not paying attention. 

iffy memorial number 3
It says something about national defences on that plaque there. (Ministerio Da Defesa Nacional) Look take it or leave it, I am not trying to pull wool over eyes, they just don't do the war here.

Look at the view! Don't go that close! No but look down there! Watch your feet! 

So this is about 12 miles in and since it is one of the most stunning landscapes I have visited there is no way I'm turning around. I am unlikely to be back in my lifetime so let's see what's round the next corner and hopefully I'll catch a bus from the other end - it's only a handful of miles long. Oooh look at that!

Would you really build on top of that cave? There are holes along the cliffs big enough to swallow that house and they started out as cave roofs.

This bay was a particular favourite - 3 tall walls round an amazing beach. 
I couldn't at first see either of the 2 ways onto the beach

This was one, out of which a family was emerging, it looked like a bit of a squeeze under the rock at the bottom. (Not for the claustrophobic.)

This was the other - a shaft of about 30 steps had been mined through the centre of the back wall. I climbed down and as I emerged onto the pristine beach (except for litter bins!) I felt the hair stand up on my neck - such was the exhilaration of the place. 

I didn't hang around long. Just shot a bit of video, took some photos and left again.

I left the trail at the next bay/village: Benagil as time was getting on. In fact I had to ask someone where we actually were. The trail finished at the next bay round but my cup was full and it was time to head home. Promptly I took the wrong road and made an extra couple of miles taking a long sweeping circle round before meeting up with the right road. I found a deli type shop around the 17 mile mark and knew I needed enough fuel to get me back another 10 miles. I bought a Red Bull (down in 2), 1.5 litres of fresh orange, half of which I drank, half in the reservoir and 2 snickers which cost all but ten euros but were worth twice that. I had only eaten 2 nakd bars (keeping one for emergencies.) 

storks in front of neon warehouse

I couldn't recall what I'd said to Mary about not calling the emergency services if I didn't appear by such and such a time. As dusk turned to night I was ready to be finished. For ages nothing but weary road miles and places I half recognised from coming in the other direction. Then at one point I drifted and found myself in a cul-de-sac and the direction I wanted was all overgrown and scrubby and there might be a trail but I might run another mile and find it was a dead end or cliff. I retraced my steps and ran round an upmarket housing scheme in a large circle, bone weary and cursing. My map was not of the scale that was any use. Eventually I came across a couple who pointed me in the right direction and with relief I joined a road I'd been on hours before. I turned the headland and the distant town wasn't Portimao, it was Alvor. Portimao was a stones throw across the water. I just had to run up the estuary to the bridge and a couple of miles across town to home and Mary. Thank the lord! 

The bridge was good, and appeared sooner than I remembered and I was jogging along at a good pace thinking I'll be in the shower for 9.30, I just need to cut across town. I should have stuck to the desolate road through the harbour, but instead I aimed too much right and got disorientated. And it started to rain. Finally I found the Lidl we had been looking for all week. I asked for directions but didn't quite manage to follow them more than a street before I was lost again and running randomly through streets I had never seen before in the rain and dark with all the cars on the wrong side of the road coming at you from unexpected angles. I wonder if Mary has called the policio yet. There was a minor incident and I eventually found myself about half a mile from where I was 15 minutes ago, and decided to follow that desolate harbour road. At least I'll be home in 15 minutes. Mary was busy trying to work her new android phone and hadn't noticed I'd been out.

Weirdly I didn't eat much after 29.3miles running (plus 5 earlier and 2.5 walking). I think because I was full of orange juice. Managed to squeeze some beer in though. And a little wine. Slept well. 

hip feeling better for a stretch. 

some things seem familiar

So Mary's hip was feeling better on Friday and we went along the prom to the other end and the marina, hotspot for power-walkers and fishermen intent on catching seaweed.

Poor pirates were going to sea to drink rum until their holiday was a living hell.


Happily there wasn't too much of this sort of thing. Mary, despite minutes of searching, failed to find a floaty dress to wear out of an evening and I think spent the whole week in running shorts. There were a number of tourists who had, one presumes, failed to get beach body ready but none the less there they were on the beach, letting it all hang out. 

Mary took this photo which I like so much I've nicked it. 
She also took most of the images with me in them (obvs).

Also I felt maybe passport control could employ a deterrent stamp on the passports of anyone who has overdone the sunbathing and is red and blistered, disallowing them entry to hot countries in the height of summer.

more lifties

Next up the Rocha Delicada Trail which was just near Alvor but across some water requiring a 30min bus ride. Unfortunately the bus driver didn't speak English. Everyone in Portugal speaks English. (Which was lucky since we hadn't once listened to the Speak Portuguese dvd Mary had purchased in a spirit of incandescent optimism.) However not Mr Bussy Driver. So when I asked if he could give us a shout at the unpronounceable Mexilhoeira Grande he shrugged embarrassed as if I had asked for a kiss while Mary takes a photo, you know for Grindr? Like what did he think I might be asking about Mexilhoeira Grande, did he know if I could get a flipping haircut there? Anyway despite M and I peeling our eyes at about the right time we drove through M Grande and only saw the sign as we got back onto N125 which then involved 2 miles of extra curricular running along the side of a large road to the start of the Rocha Delicada. 

This route was a much gentler, softer trip across farmlands and salt marshes. Unfortunately most of the farms had barky dogs and although they were all behind gates and fences they unnerved Mary a bit who spent most of the first few miles being mind-savaged by slavering hounds. She then spent the second half of the route getting it done as quickly as possible so we could get some lunch. I would have preferred a bit longer taking photos of flamingos anad eagles BUT THERE WEREN'T ANY. There was quite a lot of pretty heathery type stuff in a myriad of muted hues and lots of swallows or maybe alpine swifts or well, who knows.

perhaps a Caspian Tern?

quite a few of these

These were great but wouldn't hold still.

This one, lets call it a swallow, had a white collection bag. I suspect it was evolving to use tools and was catching it's family's supper in a white shopping bag clearly visible. You have no idea how many photos I took to get these two - so you can stop complaining about the quality right now.

Back onto the bus (different driver) and back "home" for another Portuguese omelette. Oh and maybe stop off at that nice cafe with the frosted beer glasses if you would like to use the facilities.

friend new best

it never looked like this

swallows again
The sky would fill with swallows (if they are swallows) twice a day. They circled the large tower block across the way dodging up into blank overhangs then stall-turning away. 

the man from Solmonte
our rooms on the tenth

Last day run and swim at the west end.
Mary on left horizon looking at this...

more toe curling scenery

I took the bigger camera but found the daylight was so good that it only came out once or twice in low light. (As above.) I particularly enjoyed the panorama feature on the compact which was the best way to capture the epic widescreen vistas.

Mary took this shot and it kind of sums up the holiday for me.
I like being out and about in the sunshine and nothing else comes close. Top holiday. I'd go there again. 


  1. That is some absolutely cracking scenery. Looks like a great holiday and the Algarve is just gorgeous (was there 2 years ago!).

    Great photos as ever! I'm just back from Limone sul Garda and have some similarly dramatic scenery to post.

  2. Thanks Fiona, hope you had a good time. I was very impressed with the Algarve, weather, scenery and lack of BAD things (snakes, sharks, scorpions, jelly fish, spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc.) Didn't see much in the way of GOOD wildlife though, ie flamingos, vultures, chameleons, lizards, snakes and exotic birds & butterflies.

    Hope you got some running in Italy. x