Newsletter June 2003


by: Nigel Anteney Hoare

May day dawned with beautiful weather. At last, I thought, IT'S arrived - SUMMER! We celebrate May day here on the actual day - 1st May not the following Monday like UK and a few other places. It always wrankles for some reason when people say about how many bank holidays or "Feriados" we have here. In fact we often miss out as if a Bank Holiday falls on a weekend we "lose" it as it is never carried over to the following Monday. I recall Christmas Day often falling on a Saturday or Sunday and not getting any extra time off at all. Well we did but only because we stole it!

Anyway May Day was great as it fell on a Thursday so a little juggling of time off made for a long weekend. On Saturday we took full advantage of the summer weather to visit Benagil beach [opens new window]. Predictably there were many Portuguese families there also taking advantage of the long weekend and making a "ponte" or bridge on the Friday, many from their accents identifiable as from Lisbon and the North down visiting Algarve cousins. I haven't been on Benagil beach for years and was very pleasantly surprised with the facilities. The old beach bar I remembered from years ago seems to have gone never to return. It always took up too much space on a small beach anyway. I remember Benagil when the cliff face overhung the beach especially at the far east end. My sister in law and husband were sunbathing there the day it fell and a huge rock still sits on the beach as a reminder. Instead of the beach bar there is now a well run snack bar on the concrete stand which supports the fishermen and their boats. The toilet facilities are good and clean with a public shower to get that sand off. All in all the Câmara have done a good job and the day I was there I noticed one of the Councillors chatting to the fishermen about the facilities. It is so nice to see a beach where fishing boats still return and people, locals and tourists alike flock around to see what the catch is. Young men are also snorkelling in abundance returning to shore with catches of octopus and squid either for home consumption or sale to local restaurants of which Benagil boasts several. Whilst we need the summer influx of tourists it was good to enjoy "August sunshine" with a sparse May beach population!

The May Day weekend also coincided with the F1 Power Boat racing in Portimao. I went there last year and although I am not an afficionado of that sport, I had enjoyed the spectacle enough to return again this year on Sunday 4th to see the final. Bright sunny weather greeted us and with many thousands of fellow spectators lining both sides of the Rio Arade and the "old" bridge, Portimao had again put on a great event worthy of a community much larger. As the contestants did their parade lap a huge cheer went up at the sight of the two boats sporting the Portuguese flag. The Portuguese I find tend be quite an unassuming people and I have always put their reticence down to many years of dictatorship however you will rarely find a more partisan crowd when the national flag is waved even if the odds are stacked against a Portuguese win! True to form the favourite led from start to finish and unlike like last year when two boats touched causing a spectacular mid air flip the race was quite uneventful. What was strange was how a very cold strong north wind blew up half way through the race causing the harbour to become quite choppy and the spectators in their tee shirts to shiver - the prelude to a few poor days weather wise.

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On Monday 5th it rained and I thought why don't I keep my mouth shut on the website!! However on Wednesday 7th summer burst upon us with bright clear sunny weather and I gave thanks as my sister and some friends had arrived for annual holidays at Rocha Brava. It is odd how jumpy I get when friends come on holiday and the weather is bad. I do my best but some things are well beyond my control!

Clear skies and hot sunshine continued from that Tuesday onwards. Temperatures reaching the mid 30's on the 20th and 21st of the month. By now we were complaining of unseasonal heat - hay fever bothered many and we were plagued with a swarm of tiny fruit flies that invaded our houses, so small that the mosquito nets were useless and sitting motionless on our windows waiting for the inevitable fly spray!

Despite this fabulous weather which of course has respect for nobody, the bar and restaurant owners were complaining of the lack of tourists. The reasons given were many and much discussed, war, SARS, the German economy, the strengthening of the Euro against sterling, all possibly playing their own part. For me it was just like with the weather it seemed like August but it was still only May - between Easter and the traditional UK Whitsun Bank holiday and school half term. I do admit though that, visually, tourism seemed weak.

On a Saturday mid month I again journeyed to Silves [opens new window] early morning to take my young son to a football match between Silves and Portimao. I have mentioned this before but Silves market is a must in my opinion. It is like going back 60 years in time. The stall holders inside the municipal market represent the cutting edge of market technology but outside the market you have all sorts of country folk who have risen at 5 am to cut lettuce, dig potatoes, pick onions and pull carrots from their gardens or "hortas" to transport to Silves and earn some money. FRESH is the buzz word. My wife said I should always check a lettuce by the cut stalk -if it is going brown it is getting old. The ones I bought still had the knife marks! Big home cured olives were in abundance big bowls, fresh country bread, fresh fish caught overnight - it is just great. I don't want to knock the local Carvoeiro Municipal Market just up behind the Lanterna Velha where the freshest of produce awaits you until about noon on any day but Silves is another world.

Somehow we got involved in a large party that decided to visit Bubbles Bar at Carvoeiro Mar which has figured recently on the Forum [opens new window] and where I used to live (Carvoeiro Mar not Bubbles Bar!). We had a few drinks at the bar splendidly entertained by owner Keith who is some mega magician with a pack of cards. Being a West Ham football fan I was warmed by the fact that the bar has a football theme and is a sort of shrine to West Ham. I guess Keith hopes that the thirsts of other teams supporters will outweigh their distaste at the decoration to drink in such a bar. We then adjourned for dinner to the Mexican restaurant Sol e Sombra just a short stagger across the other side of the Bubbles swimming pool. On a Saturday evening they do a fixed price BBQ including wine. I don't recall too much but it seemed pretty good and there sure was plenty if it. Not much of a restaurant reviewer am I but I do suggest you might try Bubbles and Sol e Sombra yourselves.

Later in the month Portugal was represented in the UEFA Cup Final in Seville against Glasgow Celtic. As Porto are my favourite Portuguese team I was biased but I thought they came in eventually as worthy winners. Immediately after the game we had the inevitable cavalcades of cars around Carvoeiro blowing horns and waving flags. Amazing how many Porto supporters that you never normally see came out of the woodwork that night! During the game the bars had been busy with a mixture of Portuguese and Scottish fans with never a hint of trouble.

Our Rocha Brava family and friends kindly invited us to dinner and they chose Simplicio which is just out of Carvoeiro on the back road towards Caramujeira and Marinha beach close to that very pleasant development Quinta do Rosal. I last ate at Simplicio some years ago when a young German/Portuguese couple were in command. It is a very well maintained old converted barn type of building, very typical interior with the cane ceilings and big old wood beams. All in all a nice ambience and one that would feel cosy in winter or summer. We had a very nice meal, well served and at a good price.

More friends from the UK came to stay with us and we all went to Via Italia. I must say I do like this one even though it has had the odd "bad burn" on the Food Forum. I find it a very friendly place with good food and nice atmosphere. May be it gets a bit busy in high summer but in May it was great. Some old friends were on a neighbouring table and I was envious when as a starter the owner (can never remember his name!) brought them a massive piece of parmesan on a wooden board plus some thinly sliced Parma ham. They helped themselves to the cheese and were obviously enjoying it. Later we spoke to him and he explained how he imports it himself and let us try it - magnifico! Give it a go yourself - you won't be disappointed.

I had to take trip to Centaines [opens new window] to see how the work was progressing and you may have seen the results on the webpage. I am still unsure of what the end result will be but do hope they get on with it!

The fabulous sunshine finally came to an end on the 29th with a cloudy day followed that night by an electrical storm out to sea and very high winds - some of the strongest I recall for a long time. Things continued unsettled until the end of the month but as I write this at the beginning of June we are back with beautiful sunshine each day.

I close with mention of the Algarveians amateur theatre group production of Jane Eyre at their usual Lagos location. I went full of trepidation expecting an amateurish performance of a demanding play. What a surprise - it was simply marvellous and a credit to all who conspired to deliver it. The set was super, all the acting superb and it was thoroughly enjoyed by the first night crowd who delivered a standing ovation. The Group have had a few hiccups in recent years but this put them back on the map. Unfair to pick out individuals but I will - the leading roles of Rochester and Jane Eyre were superb, Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper was so well cast that she must have been the model for Charlote Brontes book, John Havery's near death scene will go down in history and the mad woman - well what can we say!

All for now - see you at the end of June.