An unusual trip for us heading west, but one I’d wanted to do for ages having heard about the magical light in Silves. We started, as I’m sure most tourists do, in the large carpark beside the leisure facilities. There is a closer carpark near the market but guess you need to arrive before 11am to cadge a space there. As it turned out where we parked was perfect for the unexpected loop we walked.
As you enter Silves across the Rio Arade there is so much you immediately want to go explore the old bridge, the statues and of course the castle which has had you fixated ever since you thought of visiting Silves. Don’t worry though there is plenty of time to do (nearly) everything in this fascinating busy town in one day.
The Rio Arade was once an essential trading route from Portimão, on the day we visited it looked more like a stream! I’m guessing though we were there at low tide as I have read somewhere there are river trips between Portimão and Silves so the river cannot be that silted up. It should take only a few minutes to stroll to the Praça Al Mouhatamid Ibn Abbad, but you will probably find you are distracted by the market and the small streets encouraging you to explore. Try and stay focused though as it is well worth spending a few minutes in Praça Al Mouhatamid Ibn Abbad, which remembers when Silves was a Moorish City – Xelb – that rivalled Lisbon.
As you leave the park you can head north towards the castle, or do what we did which head back west towards the market to meander up through the cobbled streets. We’ve yet to visit a market which rivals Olhão in produce, but the market at Silves is lovely, and well worth popping in for a look or even better a purchase. The vegetables looked wonderfully fresh on the day we were there (when don’t they in Portugal?!) but again because we are so spoilt staying in Olhão we resisted the temptation.
The cobbled streets twist and turn as they make their way up, down and sideways, with plenty of fascinating shops and restaurants for you to while away the day. We though were on a mission to explore! The town was bustling with locals and tourists, far more tourists than we have ever seen before. Reflecting the economic situation here in Portugal, despite the bustle, there are still abandoned buildings. For me though these add to the charm of their towns and of course provide a perfect spot for storks.
Eventually after a few diverts you find yourself at the main square and Town Hall, a perfect place to stop for a coffee, watch fellow tourists or become snap happy. As you continue upward towards the castle there are direct and indirect routes, we of course took the indirect route along Rua das Portas de Loule towards the Archaeological Museum. On the way you will pass a small restaurant, we thought it looked wonderful, its prices much lower than those further down the hill and the best sign it seemed very popular with the locals. It was though a bit early for lunch for us, so we kept climbing but it is on our list of restaurants to return to.
We soon found ourselves in a small square at the back of the Santa Misericórdia Church. We did think about going inside as it is meant to be lovely, its fine door in Manueline style certainly is! However it was time we decided to stop for a coffee and a piece of cake – whilst the cafe didn’t offer the selection of the one we passed earlier its staff and the location more than made up for it. Great place to people watch too!
A few steps up from the cafe was the entrance to the castle, we umm’ed and erred about going in, and whilst it was not as spectacular as I had hoped from a distance it was well worth it for the views from the parapets of the countryside and the town. The best decision we made was to go anticlockwise as not only did we get to meet the castle cat, no-one else was going this direction so we had no-one walking in front or behind, which enabled us to stop at will without causing a ‘people jam’! There is a cafe inside but as with many museums we’ve visited in the Algarve the information presented is not as in-depth as it could be.
From the castle we strolled west, part following our noses part the map. We seemed to be leaving behind the other Tourists and heading into a mix of industrial and residential areas. Something we tend not to see now in our towns. Chimneys caught our eye as did storks, doors and hidden steps. Not so iconic as the castle or earlier statues, but still of interest. Today we had decided was not a day for museums but we’ve heard the Museum of Cork is excellent so another something to return for one day. If you have been do share more information.
By now we were well outside the original walls of the city, and heading towards modern buildings and the new Arab museum. We never got there though as by this point we were getting hungry, and desperate as most of the cafes we passed were only serving cakes and sandwiches. We wanted more! It was then we saw it a small modern cafe that was full of locals, and the Prato do Dia sounded fabulous. Of course it meant we had to use our limited Portuguese as they didn’t speak English, but we felt we had found a bit of the hidden Silves and the food was delicious. We had had a wonderful day walking around Silves, and at this point we were only a few steps from the car park well we would have been if I had not been distracted by the storks!