Pleased to meet you, Eastern AlgarveThursday, July 02, 2015
Don't you just love discovering a place where time seems to have stood still? That was the impression we had of the little hamlet of Cacela Velha, tucked away in Portugal's Eastern Algarve and seemingly unmoved by everything else that is going on in the rest of this crazy world. Hugged by lush orchards on one side and the aquamarine waters of the Ria Formosa on the other, its cobblestone streets lined with whitewash-walled homes continue to be quiet and mercifully bereft of tourist throngs.
Looking to unplug after an unbelievably hectic year, we spent most of our vacation in a charming villa nestled between orange and olive groves in this tranquil pocket of the Algarve. It was a blessing of sorts that the owner has so far refused to have wifi installed. Disconnecting from work emails, social media and television left lots of space for reading books, having lots of conversations over glasses of delicious Port, gazing at the vast and star-filled sky, and perhaps developing a slight obsession over watching ant colonies go about their day (I'm convinced it's as entertaining as an episode of Game of Thrones ... though it may have been an effect of all the cold Sagres and warm summer sun!).
When we did venture out, it was to explore places suggested by my Portuguese friend Ana, who was kind enough to jog her stepfather's memory and then translate his recommendations. We took the shortest of drives to Restaurante Marisqueira Fabrica do Costa for a languid seafood lunch with a lovely view of the ocean. While some may find the service slow, to a New Yorker it was positively luxurious to feel unhurried through our meal of grilled cuttlefish, tuna stew, vinho verde, and 1 euro espressos. We also explored the busier beachside town of Manta Rota, which was in full tourism development mode but still interesting to see. We took a stroll on the long and sandy beach before escaping to Sem Espinhas for a snack of fish soup, jamon com melão and beer.
We also visited the nearby city of Tavira, which is a touch busier and more touristy. But it was not difficult at all to find pockets of stillness in its cobblestone streets—whether it was to take a walk in a garden nestled in an old fort; to quietly gawk at hand-shaped doorknockers gracing each home; to enjoy a lovely dinner at A Ver Tavira (its specialty evident in its name); or to sit on a bench by Rio Gilao listening to music from a bar on the opposite bank, tearfully laughing at the realization that cover bands tread a very thin line between mimicking Louis Armstrong and actually sounding like Cookie Monster.
We had the most wonderful time in Portugal and I reckon we'll be coming there for years to come. It feels like a place that is still our little secret ... so do come dear readers, but don't go telling everyone all about it now okay? *wink*