Our creative series on Portugal begins in The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region and an area of great natural beauty. This stunning stretch of coastline typically attracts visitors seeking sunshine, fine sandy beaches and rich culture. However, those willing to explore will find that there is more to the Algarve. During an off-peak season visit, we found an opportunity to make some interesting cultural connections between the past and the present.
Portugal welcomed us with open arms. Our travels to this fascinating country have taken us to Porto, the Douro Valley and Lisbon. Though our visits have been brief, a number of meaningful experiences have left us curious for more.
Seeking to escape an especially cold London winter, we flew into Faro, the largest city and capital of the Algarve. From there we drove to Lagos (pronounced lah-goosh) and made plans to explore the region.
Like many of the towns and cities in the Algarve, Lagos was badly affected by a massive earthquake in 1755. Today, the historical port city retains its strong Portuguese architectural heritage, complete with narrow, cobbled streets multi-coloured azulejos and Arab-Moorish influences.
Connecting with the past
Like a time-machine, travel has the ability to transport us to places that challenge us to try to make sense of history. All we need to do, is close our eyes and imagine the events that might have transpired in those places 50, 100, 1000 years prior.
During a walking tour of Lagos, I found myself standing before a nondescript building, the Mercado de Escravos, in the main square. A soft breeze tugged at my hat. My body was still but my mind wandered as I stared at the site of one of Europe’s first slave markets.
I was transfixed by the building, which was the site of the original mid-15th century slave market. I imagined slave ships bringing my African ancestors to this foreign land. I imagined what type of ‘welcome’ they received as they were herded towards the slave market like cattle.
I imagined those same ships moving those sad and befuddled slaves on to South America and to Brazil from where, centuries later, some of their descendants would return with their Portuguese names and traditions, to resettle and rebuild their lives in Lagos (pronounced lay-gos), the former capital and commercial nerve centre of Nigeria.
Portugal and Nigeria: The ‘Lagos’ connection
In an existential moment, my mind began to make connections between Lagos-Algarve and Lagos-Nigeria (to make it easier to follow this narrative, I shall refer to Lagos-Nigeria by its original Yoruba name Eko [pronounced Ay-Koh]).
Portuguese influence in Eko, Africa’s largest megacity, predates the period of British colonial rule. One version of history suggests that Portuguese explorer, Ruy de Sequeira was the one to name the area around the coastal city Lago de Curamo in 1472.
My late grandmother lived in one of the oldest parts of Eko called Isalę Eko (Isalę meaning ‘bottom of’ – probably indicative of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean). During visits to her house as a child, she would point out neighbourhoods in Eko like ‘Escravos’. She would speak of popular Eko families like ‘Da Silva’ and ‘Domingo’ and cook seasonal foods like ‘Frejon’ (Feijoada), all evidently rooted in Brazilian/Portuguese history.
In Lagos, I recognised architectural similarities (the characteristically small windows, wooden shutters and elaborate door façades) between buildings in this small Portuguese city and old (and sadly crumbling) buildings back in Eko, many of which were built by former slaves returning to West Africa from Brazil.
The Portuguese as a nation are not proud of their slave trading past. Nevertheless, standing before a place of much sadness helped me appreciate the connections between Lagos and Eko and the similarities between aspects of Portuguese, Brazilian and Yoruba culture.
Connecting with the Algarve
My wandering mind returned to the present. The space opposite the Igreja de Santa Maria (church) was hosting an exhibition of crucifixes covered in bizarre graffiti. Strangely, the crucifixes faced the slave market, as if part of some artistic ritual to cleanse the place from its sordid past.
Rejoining Eulanda, we made our way along the waterfront (Avenida dos Descobrimentos) towards the fish market (Mercado Municipal de Lagos). The wide variety of fresh seafood on offer looked appealing. For a moment, we wished we were staying at a private holiday property rather than a hotel. We could have cooked up a feast!
HDYTI Tip: Other attractions of note in Lagos include a 17th century fort (Forte da Ponta da Bandeira) and the Marina.
The Algarve coastline is notable for curious limestone rock formations, caves and cliffs. The region is also home to a variety of plants and rich vegetation.
Of particular interest to us was Praia Dona Ana. The iconic rock formations at this beach were attractive enough to warrant an early morning photography expedition. Sacrificing a few extra hours of sleep to watch the sunrise bathe the rocks in soft, golden light and enjoy a beautifully deserted beach was well worth the effort.
While the coastline of the Algarve is a magnet for visitors to the region, those who are willing to drag themselves away from one of its stunning beaches will find treasures hidden up in the hills, in places like Monchique.
We had heard of the healing powers of the spa waters of the region and chose to visit the Monchique Spa Resort to experience this ‘magical’ power first-hand. We drove inland, past beautiful little villages and landscape to spend an afternoon enjoying the resort’s thermal pool. The reactions from the locals as they discovered two black people in their space was priceless!
It was worth spending some time in the quaint little spa town of Caldas de Monchique where we grabbed a quick coffee and a snack before heading further inland where the real treat awaited us.
The drive to Mount Fóia, the highest point in the Algarve, took us through challenging switchback roads. However, for our effort (mostly due to Eulanda’s expert driving), we were rewarded with some truly breath-taking scenery, including views of the Atlantic Ocean.
HDYTI Tip: Visiting the Algarve? Don’t spend all your time on the beach. Get a car and explore! See also ‘How to Make The Most of Three Days in The Algarve’ by thePlanetD.
Making peace with past in the present
The further west you travel in the Algarve, the wilder the terrain becomes. Fortunately, much of the area remains unspoiled by the march of bland construction projects.
On our final day in the Algarve, we headed to Cabo de São Vicente (Cape of St. Vincent). The excellent weather we had enjoyed on the drive to Mount Fóia deserted us. Despite being buffeted by strong winds, our flimsy rental car prevailed.
Cabo de São Vicente is the most southwestern point in Europe. It may have been the final sighting of home that ancient Portuguese sailors had as they sailed off on their voyages of ‘discovery’. It may also have been the first sighting of Europe that African slaves had.
Standing on what felt like the end of the world and watching the sea in an endless battle with land conjured an appreciation of the power of Mother Nature. At Cabo São Vincente, their battle comes to a climax. With every crash of the waves agains the jagged cliffs, it was as if the ocean was saying, “I want more!” while the land shouted, “No further!”
The power of the ocean lulled my mind into wandering again. Cabo de São Vicente felt like a lonely and forlorn place. The waves beneath me seemed to wash away the momentary sadness I felt.
In that moment, the past had no power over the present. As I embraced that thought, suddenly I was at peace.
Visit Portugal with us!
Join us this May 2017 as we head to the Madeira Islands off the southwest coast of Portugal. Our retreat for creatives and entrepreneurs (#DIPINTO17) promises to give you a taste of Portuguese culture. Click here for details.
To learn more about the Algarve and for useful information about planning your trip, we recommend starting at the tourist board site Visit Portugal.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Get HDYTI travel, food, & lifestyle goodies first! Be in the know! Yes, it's that behind the scenes info we won't post to social media right away. Also, it's a great place to hear about giveaways and deals first! Sign up today!