I have always considered getting on a plane in pursuit of a little winter sun to be a little bit soft. I am often to be found proclaiming that England is beautiful in every season and there is something of value whatever the weather. The bleak, spare, winter landscape reveals a purist beauty that sustains the truly discerning nature-lover...
I have been irritating people with this point of view for many years now, but all that is in the past because this year I have discovered... the Algarve!
Now I am a Grandma* my bones are beginning to feel the cold, and so we counted up our airmiles and worked out how far south we could fly without having to resort to eating our own skin out of boredom. The answer was - is - Faro...
Knowing nothing about southern Portugal, I had no idea what to expect, but what we found exceeded anything we had imagined. This is what we discovered:
A landscape nursed by sunlight, low-lying near the coast, with sand-spit lagoons protecting acres of saltmarshes filled with birds and inlets and little boats and ricketty houses and the smell of the sea.
Further along there are miles of nearly deserted sandy beaches, clean and warm with the sparkling turquoise waters of the Atlantic rushing and tugging at your feet. Fishing towns with wonderfully distressed houses and paintwork and Moorish castles and little cobbled streets.
Inland, there is a pinky white froth of almond blossom, carob and olive orchards, endless groves of oranges and lemons in their plump citrussy beauty, black-and-white storks nesting high in the chimneys of abandoned sardine factories, and exquisite Arabic influenced architecture. Further away are the hazy mountains with twisting roads leading to little white villages surrounded by wild mimosa, cork forests and row upon row of tiny umbrella pines grown for their pine nuts.
I am a total convert. Yes, there are expensive yachts and manicured golf-courses and big ugly concrete hotels and conversely an awful lot of rural poverty and sad little dogs outside deserted farmhouses and other things you might rather not see. But somehow these things make it more real, and I like that. It is a really lovely place.
This is a cork oak which has been stripped for its bark- the number 0 on the trunk shows that it was done last year. Seven years have to go by before the cork can be harvested again.
If you are tempted to go I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful Quinta da Cebola Vermelha which is run by a lovely Dutch family in the countryside near Boliquieme. Everything is exquisitely tasteful, the food is delicious, the rooms are scrupulously clean, there is a pool and an olive grove and cypress trees and a log fire for cold evenings and a sweet little rescue dog called Jojo.
There are some more photos on Flickr including lots of the gorgeous, delicate, beautifully coloured, tangled fishing nets.
PS On the menu below, what would you have chosen...?
* This is a wonderful excuse for all kinds of previously scorned-upon behaviour