Beating the track in the Algarve, Portugal

Today’s post was written by Kirk Shackleton.

So, what do we know about the Algarve?  It is a sun-drenched region that coats Portugal’s southern coast, blessed with naked, cobalt skies, worshipped by holidaymakers for its incredible undulating, verdant golf courses, pulsating nightlife, exquisite cuisine and, of course, its crust of golden beaches that look out upon the breath-taking sparkling waters of th Fjjf..ljasfnds,.hf

Sorry, I just fell asleep on my keyboard.  I’d love to know who on earth came up with descriptions like that, and then lock them in a room for the rest of eternity with nothing but hyperbole and superlatives for company, and see how they like it.  I’d stick pins in their eyeballs too.  I wonder if observations like this have ever appealed to anybody, and if they actually apply to any destination on this planet?

If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, the Algarve probably isn’t the first place you’d go; I’d dare to suggest that Korea and Libya might even feature higher on your list of potential getaways.  I’m not going to ramble on about my personal quest to disprove this jibe to Portugal’s premier holiday destination, A) because I don’t believe there is such a thing as off-the-beaten-track anymore, and B) because all this beaten track nonsense has become as much of a cliché as florid descriptions and superfluous appraisals.

I did, however, find myself Algarve bound recently, and naturally let my innate nomadism take the lead.

Take a map of the Algarve, trace its coastline all the way to the point in the southwest, squint really hard and you will see a tear-shaped jut of land dangling out into the Mediterranean Sea, much like a drop on the end of a hooked nose with hairy nostrils; this is Sagres.

It’s easy enough to get there; my return flight from London to Faro was £60 (€70/$100), after which I jumped on a fairly antiquated bus to Lagos (€6/£5/$8), and then an even more antiquated bus to Sagres (€4/£3.4/$5.5).  It was one of those inelegant arrivals when you stumble into a relaxed hotel foyer breathless, red-faced and drenched in sweat, a flustered whirlwind amidst absolute serenity, trailing a distressing tangle of bags, flip flops and sun cream.

But at least I arrived, for Sagres is one of the less travelled places in the Algarve (unless you hit it in the summer months, when you’ll encounter hordes of surfers in search of the perfect wave), and I’d imagine most holidaymakers know nothing of its existence.

Having flown to Portugal with the fairly underwhelming expectation of golf courses, soulless luxury resorts, and beaches rammed with tourists basking in the sun like walruses, it wasn’t going to take a lot to impress me, and Mareta Beach Boutique Bed & Breakfast got things off to a good start.

For €20 (£17/$27) a night I got a simple, clean room with a balcony overlooking a couple of terracotta roofs and, in the distance, the Mediterranean Sea which shone a deep emerald like crispy dried seaweed.  It’d take an excessively frugal traveller to sniff at any accommodation costing €20 a night in Western Europe, but there could really be no complaints about Mareta Beach.

Sagres itself is a charming, dozy village, with no-rush cafes scattered amongst the meandering streets.  I sensed I had visited the right place at just the right time, when the climate was sympathetic and the tourists were still at work.  Indeed, the beaches were whale-free and signs of guts-out, excessive tourism non-existent.

My favourite discovery of this trip was Sagres Point, a fascinating promontory hanging from the Algarve’s crust; the drop dangling from the hooked nose with hairy nostrils.  It is a most curious thing, a perfectly flat slab of earth with sheer sides that drop vertically into the encircling waters, as if it was fashioned by an enormous hand snapping brittle sections of rock from its rim like cold toffee.

I spent much of my time sitting atop these cliffs alone, enjoying the peace and quiet, the sunshine, the breeze, and a book.  Had I wandered off the beaten track, I wondered?  Doubtful.  If the beaten track is now ubiquitous, maybe the next best thing is simply finding solitude; or maybe this is what off-the-beaten-track has always meant.

As I mused, a new idea materialised in my mind; perhaps the beaten track does exist, but it is unique and specific to each individual.  Just because there’s always someone who has been there before, it does not mean there is nothing new to discover, that you cannot experience things from a fresh perspective, or, most importantly, take something meaningful from each place you visit.

Next time you travel, concentrate on your own beaten track, on getting off it, and on seeing places you’ve never before seen.  This is the true essence of getting off the beaten track

One Response to “Beating the track in the Algarve, Portugal”

  1. Loved this article! It’s really well written and I admire you for dropping the tourist-brochure cliches and really describing the Algarve in a unique way. Great metaphor about the sea being a “deep emerald like crispy dried seaweed.”

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