One of the delights of staying somewhere long term is that you don’t have to rush around seeing everything at once, and you always have the opportunity for revisits. However it can also mean that on return visits you enjoy doing more of the same as it is so wonderful rather than go on an exploratory adventure. And Alcoutim is somewhere where we keep doing the former! Until now . . . . .
If you have not yet discovered Alcoutim it is in the extreme north east of the Algarve, on the banks of the Rio Guadiana opposite Sanlúcar de Guadiana in Spain.
Alcoutim is a town but feels more like a village. In fact the municipality of Alcoutim is the least dense in the whole of Portugal. We usually stop for lunch as there are some excellent restaurants, and after lunch we nearly always take a stroll around the castle perimeter or down by the river beach. And on our last visit I thought we’d being doing exactly that as usual. However thanks to the swallows and swifts our after lunch stroll turned into a little bit of an adventure!
They distracted us for quite a while and perhaps that is the reason why when we re-commenced our stroll I was feeling adventurous. Leaving the Guadiana we headed as usual for the cobbled path which takes you around the castle perimeter.
Climbing upward amongst the flora I had my eye though on Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Hermitage of our Lady of Conception also known as the Church of Santa Maria) , not the castle. The reason I did, well extraordinarily we hadn’t yet visited it and I knew this would be my last opportunity this sojourn. What I hadn’t realised until we got there is that my usual view from the town of the church is of the back. This is because the church was built outside the town walls, and for many years was disconnected from the town.
In fact the route we took to get here would have been impossible prior to the 18th century. Then there was only one way here, no ‘which way’ then Cee! Fortunately though thanks to the military there is now a 17th/18th century staircase connecting church and town, and so we didn’t have to scramble up a steep bank or find the longer way round via the main road. No wonder I thought it and its history perfect for Cee’s Which Way photo challenge.
It is a rather beautiful staircase and as we discovered from the board at the foot of the steps it is also of significant architectural merit. I rather liked the English translation on the board, so have copied it word for word for you;
In spite of the baroque feature, the circular stairs, which provide access to the churchyard, display disciplined form executed in an orderly and military fashion, simultaneously attractive and creating a great visual impact.
This intervention is important due to the architectural solution employed. Notice the influence of the solution adopted on the stairs of the Military Headquarters of Almeida, another border line war square, in the province of Beira.
I’ve not been to Almeida so unfortunately cannot comment on the influence that staircase has had here (or was it the other way round not too sure from the translation!) however I can share that the views from the top of the staircase are as beautiful as the staircase.
Now of course our adventure didn’t stop here but I am going to stop writing. As the next section of our walk took us through the whole of Alcoutim’s history and therefore deserves a post all of its own. So let us finish for now with another look at that view, this time over the roofs of the houses which are at the foot of this wonderful military staircase.
PS If you though are in the mood for walking then why not pop across and say hi to Restless Jo she’s got a beauty of one this week and it is here in the Algarve.