Getting to know Portimão Municipality
This town’s long history is clear from the discovery on Vila Velha hill, overlooking the Ria de Alvor, of a Neolithic village retaining traces of subsequent Roman occupation. During the period of Moorish rule, Alvor was a thriving port. The ramparts defending it were the scene of violent fighting when the Portuguese army led by the king D. Sancho I conquered it in 1189, with the help of Crusaders en route to the Holy Land. Retaken by the Moors in 1191, it was only returned to Christian dominion in 1250, at the time of the campaigns that resulted in the conquest of the whole of the Algarve.
The town walls were rebuilt in 1300 and Alvor was made a town by the king D. Manuel I, immediately after the death of D. João V. It shared in the prosperity of the 15th and 16th centuries, but was badly damaged by the earthquake of 1755. The old town was never to regain its former splendour. It lost its status as a town at the time of the Marquês de Pombal and only regained it in 1938.
Alvor retains much of the charm of a picturesque fishing village, with streets of white houses and colourful boats which, after a day at sea, gather near the old fish market.
Built in the 16th century, this church was rebuilt in the 18th century. The profusely decorated main doorway - one of the most beautiful in the Algarve - and the side door are in the Manueline style. The columns supporting the three naves are also part of the original structure, as are the holy water fonts and the triumphal arch of the altar. The carved altarpiece on the high altar, with its impressive life-size statue of Christ, is from a later period (18th century). There is also a fine panel depicting the Saviour. The sacristy that adjoins the church is a former Moorish marabout, since adapted to it new role.
This small, but nonetheless important church also contains polychrome tiles with two 18th century figurative panels - the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper - several statues and a number of tombs. From the churchyard there is an excellent view over the Ria de Alvor, the town and the sea all around.
The castle has long disappeared but for two stretches of wall that were once part of the fortress and now have houses built against them.
Marabout Chapels of São João and São Pedro (St. John and St. Peter)
Cubic structures with spherical cupolas that testify to the Moorish influence, these chapels evoke the holy places, where Moslems would bury the religious ascetics known as marabouts.
Villa Romana de Abicada
A Roman archaeological site at the confluence of two rivers. There is a 1st/4th century villa with several rooms and a peristyle decorated with coloured mosaics bearing geometric patterns and stylised designs.
Alcalar Neolithic/Chacolithic Burial Ground
An important Neolithic/Chacolithic burial ground (2,000/1,600 B.C.) with graves of several types, from megalithic chambers to tombs with false cupolas and side alcoves. There is another burial ground nearby at Monte Canelas, where there are also some remains from the Roman period.
An old village traditionally sustained by agriculture and by the resources of the Ria de Alvor.
This church is in the Renaissance style (16th century) but has two side doors that are Manueline. The main doorway is very solemn, with a triangular pediment. The interior consists of three naves, supported by columns with ornate bases and capitals. The triumphal arch is decorated with motifs from the world of nature and a coat of arms. On the high altar, there is a panel depicting the Assumption. The Capela do Santíssimo (Chapel of the Most Holy), boasts a high relief showing the figure of the Eternal Father and a bas-relief of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is a collection of statues and objects used in religious ceremonies.
The Ria de Alvor
To one side the sea, to the other the liquid mirror of the vast estuary stretching inland, and between them a long, broad dune: this beautiful setting is the chosen nesting place of dozens of species of migratory bird. The salt marshes also support an interesting variety of animal life, while the local fishermen still use traditional techniques to catch fish and gather shellfish. To explore this almost unknown facet of the Algarve by the diffuse light of dawn is to discover a world of total calm, creating memories that will last forever. (Boats can be hired in Alvor).
The Arade Estuary
For thousands of years, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Crusaders sailed up the river towards the city of Silves, intent on trade or conquest. Visitors today can follow the same route in a boat hired from Portimão. The shady groves along the banks make good places to stop off and relax, as does the island of Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary), where the ruins of an old chapel are still to be seen.
The Pleasures of Sun and Sea
Praia da Rocha may be the most famous resort in the area, but the beaches that extend all the way to Alvor have their own particular appeal.
A charming beach flanked by cliffs. Its charming atmosphere, iodine-rich waters and fascinating rock formations make it popular with families.
Três Irmãos e Prainha
A series of tiny beaches separated by outcrops of ochre rock in which the sea has worn tunnels that offer an unusual means of access.
A long beach that extends as far as the eye can see, until it reaches the Ria de Alvor estuary. An international tourist centre.
Big Game Fishing and Much More
Portimão is one of the main big game centres in the Algarve, offering the chance to catch fighting swordfish and other big fish. There are also facilities for sailing, windsurfing, parasailing, water-skiing and scuba diving.
The golf course set among the pines of Penina is internationally renowned. With courses at Alvor and Vau too, keen golfers are spoilt for choice.
Tasty Local Cooking
Top of the list of gastronomic delights associated with Portimão are tasty, grilled sardines, to be had in any of the restaurants along the quayside. But there is more to Portimão’s culinary repertoire than grilled sardines, served on a slice of homemade bread. Local starters, which give you a good idea about eating well in Portimão, include chard and purslane soups, white bean soup with sweet potato, bread and tomato soup - a favourite of the local fishermen - and “arjamolho” a refreshing soup that is ideal on hot days.
There is a plentiful choice of fish and seafood too. Cataplana, which takes its name from the traditional hinged copper vessels in which it is cooked; fish stew; Portimão-style clams; and bean and whelk stew made with large whelks, red beans and green peppers and seasoned with parsley and bay leaf. The maritime side of the menu also includes razor clam risotto, “carapau” (horse-mackerel) in a vinegar sauce, and fried baby cuttlefish, while rural flavours and produce take the fore in broad beans with fried fish, “papas de milho” (made from maize meal) with sausages or sea food, and Portimão-style peas.
Nor is there any shortage of cakes and desserts, many of which rely on a judicious combination of figs, almonds, sugar and eggs: “morgados”, “dom-rodrigos”, “bolas de ovo” and “figos cheios”.
The Penina region of Portimão municipality even produces its own wines, whites and reds redolent of the hot summer sun.
Wicker and cane baskets, hats, mats and baskets made of palm leaves and twisted “esparto” grasses, lace end embroidery, copper utensils, domestic and decorative earthenware: these are among the unassuming treasures that the craftsmen and women of Portimão and its municipality continue to make using traditional materials, motifs and techniques.
Stained-glass windows and porcelain ornaments are evidence of more recent trends in handicrafts and of an unfailing desire to work by hand to make things of beauty.