03.07.2010 - 10.07.2010 40 °C
We arrived in Albufeira, in the centre of the Algarve coastline, in the afternoon, after a long, hot and sweaty drive. The Hapimag resort, which was not easy to find, is sprawled lazily across a large estate, overlooking the sea. The apartments are cool and spacious, and well-appointed with German attention to detail.
The buildings are linked by endless paths, which are cobbled in typical Portuguese style.
The lawns are punctuated by areas of dry scrubby bushes, which struggle to stay alive in the intense heat. The pool area provides a refreshing oasis, but is busy most of the day. Most guests started the week looking very white, but very soon became red, pink or brown! Some women we watched, lay on the loungers all day, baking in the sun, drinking endless cups of espresso, and smoking - every day!
A short stroll leads to the top of cliffs overlooking three tiny beaches. To access the beach one has to scramble down pathways between the dry, crumbling cliffs.
The coastline was a rocky spectacle, formed from ancient scalloped coves and cliffs.
Daily activities, games and tours were on offer for those who wanted their leisure organised. The only activity in which we [along with 3 or 4 others] chose to participate were some Tai Chi and Qi Gung sessions, lead by a lovely German teacher, on the cliff tops. It was wonderfully peaceful, in the cool of the morning, or at dusk, standing with one's back to the land and facing out to sea.
The days were unbearably hot, reaching 45 degrees, and we preferred to take siesta indoors in the middle of the day, only venturing out when the worst of the heat had abated.
We drove to the town of Portimão to visit the weekly Gypsy market. Our [up-to-date] Thomas Cook Algarve guidebook failed to mention that the market's location had changed 5 years ago, so after driving round in circles in the busy centre of town, we eventually found it. We found the gypsys more interesting than the goods they were trying to sell.
The old town in the centre of Albufeira comes alive at dusk with a night market. The streets are lined with cafes, shops and stalls. There is a carnival atmosphere, especially when the magical, fairy lights are switched on.
As we were there during the semi-final matches of the World Cup, there was soccer fever throughout the town, and every single cafe and restaurant sported the matches on widescreen TVs - lining each street. We could only laugh to think that, no matter how far we ran, there was no escaping the World Cup!
We decided to go in search of the best deal for cataplana for dinner. The one we finally decided on was not the cheapest [€29 for two], but it was very good; a casserole containing crab, calamari, clams, mussels, prawns, white fish etc, cooked and served in a copper pan.
We stumbled across a stage in the town square, where, to our immense delight, a group of dancers of all ages were doing traditional folk dancing! They whirled around at speed with the crowd egging them on.
We had noticed that the beaches were usually deserted until about midday,
We took advantage of the morning solitude by taking a champagne breakfast onto the beach.
The end of the week arrived only too soon, and we decided to squeeze in another market, at the little town of Loulé, en route to Spain. It proved to be a vibrant fruit and veg market, where we bought some fresh figs and a piece of watermelon for the road. The Gypsy market down the road was disappointingly identical to the one we had visited in Portimão.