Back in Maine after a seven day stay in the Algarve of Portugal, the return to winter is a rude shock. The Algarve, the southern or bottom region of Portugal, borders the Atlantic just before the waters become the Mediterranean. The weather is very similar to that of coastal regions farther east in the warm areas of the Sun Coast of Spain, the beaches of Provence, France and the coast of Italy. It is an arid region with plenty of sun. The cool waters of the Atlantic are more chilly to swim than those of the Mediterranean.
The Algarve coastline consists chiefly of very tall sandstone cliffs, perhaps a hundred feet or more in height, that are a pale orange and yellow and riddled with layers of petrified shells. Interspersed among the cliffs are numerous pocket beaches and also some very long expanses of open beach with marshy lowlands. The sandstone of the cliffs is easily eroded, creating endless sea stacks and cave grottoes. Shown above is a pocket beach with a tiny natural doorway in the bottom of the cliff that I climbed through when the tide was up. My footprints were the only ones in the sand.
Near our hotel a farmer kept a small herd of goats. He took the animals out in the evening to free graze on the top of the cliffs. The nimble goats raced and jumped along knife edge trails. Any second I expected to see a goat fall cartwheeling from the heights, but no animals were lost.
Although the climate is arid, the Algarve teems with plant and animal life. Birds call all day and small reptiles and mammals scurry in the underbrush. Orange, lemon, tangerine and other citrus, and fig trees grow in orchards and in peoples’ yards. Olives and grapes are abundant. Agave and cactus plants pop up everywhere and flowers abound. On a walk to the mercado (grocery store) I passed this lovely little wild orchid thriving in a neglected planter. It is the common Mirror Orchid, so named for the reflective purple-blue central area of the flower.
I wish our stay in Portugal could have been longer, but duty calls and all vacations must end.
One day I hope to return to the Algarve to further explore the coastline and surrounding mountains. This region was the last to leave Moorish control and medieval buildings or their ruins are on my list of future explorations.