I have a strong bond with Ferragudo in the western Algarve and it all began 27 years ago when my family docked their boat in the harbour in Portimao. Sitting upon the wooden deck we could look over to Ferragudo and watch the fishermen bring their morning catch to the quay. Then, it was a traditional fishing village and had hardly been touched by development. At least once a week we would cross over to the pretty town to collect our post. In those days there were no private post boxes within the main post office in Portimao and we had to have the post delivered to our solicitor’s office which was based near the quay. There was something magical about walking along this stretch of concrete, breathing in the sharp fresh air and catching the smell of salt and fish as the boats came in one by one with their daily catch. Later on throughout the morning barbecues and wood stoves would be lit to cook the fish and the smell of olive oil, rock salt and pine and eucalyptus was and still is so evocative and one I have never forgotten.
My friendship with Ferragudo was rekindled again when we actually moved over to Portugal to live. Every month a boot sale was held in the main square and stretched around the corner on to the quay. This is where I would set up my stall selling second hand books, hand made jewellery and sometimes I would throw in an odd canvas that I had rejected. Surely someone would admire my art work and buy it – well, that’s what I thought on those chilly mornings in Ferragudo just before the sun said Hello to the River Arade and its estuary. This is also the spot where I suddenly left my best Lisboan Portuguese behind and learnt how to speak the language in a rough Algarvian manner by chopping off the ends of words. To this day I still speak Portuguese with an Algarvian accent.
Even last year when I visited I was surprised to see that the mass of sykscrapers in Portimao had quadrupled, spreading left, right and centre, dominating the horizon yet Ferragudo hadn’t changed that much since the first day I saw it from the deck of the boat. These days it is very popular with Portuguese locals, tourists from Germany, Holland and UK. It has a quaint charm that is very difficult to find along the shores of the Western Algarve nowadays. Once upon a time the whole shoreline was decorated with these sweet little villages filled with blue and white houses. The houses are still there and so are the brightly painted fishing boats, nets and lobster pots but now there is an extra cloud of concrete enveloping the Atlantic waters.
Visitors love Ferragudo because it is still traditional with its backdrop of white houses that look as though they are about to fall down the hillside into the cobbled square of Praça Rainha Dona Leonor. This is one of the prettiest squares in the Algarve and always animated with waiters from various cafes dashing around as they balance glasses, coffee cups, dishes of entradas on both arms. I have always wanted to do this as a party trick, tried many times but failed miserably. The restaurants in the square are all good whether you want to stop for a coffee and pastel de nata or order a bifana with salad and chips or choose to eat freshly grilled sardines with slices of bread from Monchique. When you have spent time in the shade of the square I suggest you take a short walk around the back streets – here there are some fine restaurants too. A little more expensive but worth it as all the fish is fresh and cooked perfectly like only the Portuguese know how. One to try is O Barril – a pretty restaurant with wooden seating outside on the street. The fishy aroma coming from inside the restaurant travels the length and breadth of the street and entices you to stop in your tracks. While you are walking through the back streets look out for a shop called Tabu Interiors. Inside there is a wealth of fabrics, cushions, ornamentation, duvet covers; everything in Portuguese/African style. Being interested in interior design this shop always fascinates me and I usually come away loaded up.
All along the western shores of the Algarve are many fortifications that were constructed to protect this magical place throughout the centuries. Within the area of Ferragudo, two ancient watchtowers to look out for are the ones at Atalaia and Quinta da Torre. Built in medieval style they were situated so warnings could be given against invading pirates and I don’t mean Captain Jack, French corsairs and any enemy who dared set foot in the surrounding waters.
I’m not really a sun worshipper and don’t often sunbathe on the beach but I do love beaches. A beach is somewhere I like to walk early morning, sit and plan my life or just stare out at sea to watch the waves toss and turn as they hit the shoreline or crumbling rocks. There are two beaches close to Ferragudo and within the walls of Portimao’s harbour. Both have soft golden sand and it is deep. I love to sit with my feet buried underneath the warm sand and then lift each foot slowly out to feel the grains slip in between my toes. Of the two beaches Praia da Angrinha is my favourite although Praia Grande has more facilities in the way of cafes, easy access and good parking facilities. This area is popular with windsurfers and in the summer it is fun to sit and watch the coloured sails tumble in and out of the water. Although the ocean is the angry Atlantic this particular stretch of water is sheltered due to the harbour wall giving protection against the waves.
A romantic looking fort is positioned in between these two beaches. The Fort of São João de Arade was built in the 15th century as a watchtower and later in the 18th and 19th century was expanded to form extra fortifications which were built to protect the mouth of the River Arade. The fort paints a romantic scene perched high on its clifftop surveying its river, and looking over to Portimao. It’s a shame it isn’t open to the public as I would love to see inside it but it is privately owned.
If you visit by car then it is a good idea to explore the surrounding area as there are other beaches and some interestingly designed villas high on the hill surrounded by walls of shrubs and many palm trees. Even by foot if you have the time you can walk along the coast to Praia dos Caneiros which is a fair walk but easy to follow as the coastal trail has been marked with red arrows.
On the steep road behind the main square there are many armazens, old fashioned stores that are very dark. You will find everything in these shops from a toothpick to a car jack. There is an excellent pharmacy (farmacia) on this road where you can purchase most forms of medication that are sold over the counter in UK chemists. At one time You could buy antibiotics without a prescription but those days have gone since joining the EU.
High up on this road you will also find a very attractive white church with yellow ochre surrounds and Manueline windows. This is Ferragudo Church; built in fine Algarvian style. Stand to the side of the church and you will catch a fantastic glimpse of the River Arade. This is not the only good view in Ferrragudo. From the lighthouse the panoramic view is amazing on a clear day taking in Portimao’s skyline, the round green hills of Monchique and the sweeping ocean in the background.
Other information snippets for visitors to this quaint fishing village are; accommodation is available in many forms such as villas, hotels and there is one small holiday village. Most visitors choose to stay in Portimao or Praia da Rocha as the choice is extensive and nightlife is a bit more boisterous and hectic.
Lagos and Silves; two very attractive, historical towns aren’t too far away and can be reached by public transport although to reach Silves is a little complex as the railway station is a long way from the town and if you go by bus you have to change. A better way to visit Silves is to hop on a caravel and sail up the River Arade from Portimao. You can slip back in time and pretend to be a Phoenician.
Two popular sports in the Algarve; tennis and golf. You don’t have to go far from Ferragudo to take part. Tennis courts belonging to the Carvoeiro Tennis Club are situated at Sesmarias and there are two golf courses nearby – one near to Silves (Oceanico Faldo) and the other (Oceanico O´Connor Jnr) in Amondoeira.
I’m not a great fan of tennis so can’t comment on the Carvoeira Club courts but I do know it is popular with ex-pats and visitors. The two golf courses are reasonably new, in beautiful surrounds but like all other golf courses in the Algarve are very expensive. Still, worth checking out if you are a golf fan and have a few spare Euros to spend.
So that’s my take on Ferragudo – somewhere I have known for a very long time, somewhere I still like to visit; a special place that hasn’t been too battered and bruised by over development, somewhere where you can see fish being brought in on the quay and cooked over a charcoal fire while the sun rises high in the sky behind Portimao. A slice of old Portugal – let’s hope it stays that way.