If cliffs are your thing then it is to the west Algarve you must go as in the east it is all sand-dunes. marshes and salt-pans. However there is one place in the east where you can stand on a cliff and gaze upon the beauty of the Ria Formosa. That place is Cacela Velha, a village not far from Monte Gordo.
It doesn’t seem possible today, but Cacela Velha was once a population hub and one of the most important places on the Algarvian coast. For the Romans and Phoenicians it was a key navigation point and harbour, and during the Islamic period and also medieval periods it was a major coastal defence. By the 14th century though repeated attacks by pirates had led to an exodus by the local population, and then in 1755 Cacela was devastated by the Great Earthquake. Cacela was though to play one final and very important role in Portugal’s history. In 1833 Portugal was in the midst of its civil war (Liberal War) when 2,500 ‘liberal’ troops led by The Duke of Terceira landed at Cacela. From here they took the Algarve and then Alentejo before triumphantly re-capturing Lisbon exactly one month later. It was a turning point in the war. These days, as we discovered, Cacela is a very pretty sleepy hamlet.
Only its fort hints that Cacela Velha has a rich historical past. There has been a fort here since the 9th century. The current one was built in the late 18th century to replace the one destroyed by the Great Earthquake. Unfortunately you cannot enter the ‘Fortaleza de Cacela Velha’ as it is still according to the information board a working fort. Must admit neither of us were convinced that it is currently being used we certainly didn’t any sign of the National Republican Guard. Nor can I imagine in the 21st century that a physical watch out is needed here.
The beach however is accessible if you have a boat or visit at a low tide. We don’t have the former, and of course it was a high tide when we had made our way here. I still had to find my way down to sea level though, and what a glorious stroll down it was. There was a gorgeous cat keeping an eye on us from the undergrowth and wonderful Century Plants (Agave americana) just coming into flower. Did you know they take at least 10 years to flower, and once it has flowered the plant dies? As you will see in a moment though, the flower heads and enormous stem hang around for quite a while.
The Agave were not the only imposing plants en route to the beach. There were also enormous prickly pears.
After numerous stops we finally found ourselves at the waters edge, and whilst this was to be the limit of our exploration due to the high tide we found plenty to keep us down here a while. In particular it was the Spotless Starlings clinging to the wall and peeping into a hole that caught my eye. These are just some of my photographs. Do click on the gallery to see what they were up to. By the way don’t they have an odd name! They are so called because they don’t have the spangled white spots and sparkling metallic sheen of the Common Starling.
I was only going to link to Jo’s latest Monday Walk but as she’s in Bristol this week it has occurred to me that you might prefer to join the terns and gulls for a proper walk along the beach. So I am going to link to Jo twice, as then not only will you avoid climbing back up all these stairs but you get to peep in Jo’s archives. She has shared with us over the years a couple of beautiful walks in Cacela Velha as well as some stunning ones around the world, so it is well worth visiting her blog. Before you join Jo let me share with you some of the artistry to be found in Cacela Velha. I do love the way Portugal celebrates its art and artists in public areas. I forgot to read the notice about the sculpture, so cannot tell you anything about it. The poet though was Ibn Darraj al–Qastalli. He was the official poet of the court of Cordova in 992, and was born in Cacela Velha.