Uwe Heitkamp (52, journalist). Has lived in Monchique since 1990. He is the founder of the multi-language weekly newspaper Algarve123. www.algarve123.com
While I was tidying up my library, I came across a little gem. In 1961, so exactly 50 years ago, David Wright and Patrick Swift wrote the first travel guide to the Algarve, published by Barrie & Rockliff, London. It's interesting to read that, in those days, flights from London to Lisbon were more expensive than travelling by train. We're talking about £30, the equivalent of about €36 for a flight. A three-day train journey cost only £25, about €30 all in, including a sleeper. To travel to Lisbon by ship, you would only have had to part with £18, the equivalent of €22. How times change! The train trip from Lisbon to Estombar/Algarve took 12 hours in those days. By contrast, a Via-Algarviana walk, crossing Portugal from East to West, still takes 14 days on foot, be it yesterday, today or even tomorrow.
November 2011. More than five months of uninterrupted sunshine are coming to an end. That means more than 150 days of heat with no rain: from the end of May till the end of October, the Algarve sun burns it way into people's heads. Some people love it, but others flee into the shade of a tree or a parasol. The first rain has fallen. The south-westerly winds drive those long-awaited rain clouds against the mountains and, after a day's preparation, the clouds start to open. The wind, which has turned into a storm overnight, lashes the rain down into the forests and against the shutters of our houses. With the rain, the danger of forest fires comes to an end. I get my walking boots out of the cupboard. Every year, towards the end of October right through to May of the following year, we can enjoy the possibility of following in the tracks of nature:
gathering the local chanterelles (and other mushrooms), and preparing them in different ways;
gathering and roasting chestnuts – harvesting and baking sweet potatoes;
helping to press the olives to make oil at the mill;
harvesting the fruit of the strawberry tree, then mashing and distilling it;
trying out the traditional wild boar dishes, as well as ham and sausage made from the meat of the Iberian pig;
planting young trees, mainly chestnuts, cork oaks and stone pines;
picking oranges and tangerines, and savouring the local honey…
The time of year is just around the corner when we can have a meaningful look at the Algarve and its traditions, using all our senses to hear, feel and even smell and taste the Algarve and its traditions. The chouriço-sausages will be smoked and then grilled on a small ceramic table-top device along with some high proof, medronho brandy. Fresh bread is produced at the local baker's every morning. For people who want to discover the countryside on foot there are untold possibilities.
As the rain makes way for winter sunshine, nature begins to blossom. From autumn to spring, we live in a sea of flowers, we can delight in the wild herbs, the streams plunge out of the mountains into the valleys, and My Via-Algarviana shows you the countryside just as it is. We don't get snow or frosty winters in the south of Portugal. On many days until next summer, we can enjoy the green, the almond blossom and the fragrance of the cistus, lavender and wild irises.
With a cheese sandwich and a glass of good wine beside me (there are so many as yet unknown wines in the Algarve!), I'm organising the next Via-Algarviana Hike for you. I can divulge the date for you now: from 14th to 29th April 2012. Two weeks when you can leave your mobile phone and computer turned off. It's all about experiencing nature. We can observe the eagles, and walk along narrow trails through the hinterland. If you feel like joining me on this pilgrim's footpath, please write to me at Email and ask for more information.
With my best wishes…
P.S.: Have a look at www.via-algarviana.com from time to time. I'll soon be putting some short films of the last hike up on the internet.