Lagoa has the misfortune of being the inland neighbour of the pretty seaside town of Carvoeiro; only 5km away, but worlds apart. Many tourists pass through the bus station on their way to other places in the Algarve, Lisbon and even Spain, but few take the time to walk into Lagoa and as a result it remains refreshingly unspoilt by tourism. Officially a city, it is smaller than most British towns and is compact enough to walk around in a day.
We started on the outskirts of Lagoa as I wanted to see the Parque Municipal de Feiras e Exposições de Lagoa, located on Rua do Pasque Empresarial do Algarve, just off the EN125, as the entrance gate had always fascinated me when we drove past it. This turned out not to be a public garden as I was expecting, but a showground that is used for fairs during the year, the most famous of which is the FATACIL (an agricultural show held in August). If we hadn’t walked to the Parque Municipal de Feiras e Exposições we wouldn’t have seen what has become my favourite statue in Lagoa, the lovingly made sculpture of a potter holding a pot, which is in the middle of a traffic island on the busy EN125. This part of the Algarve is associated with the pottery industry and this sculpture is a fitting tribute to the artisans who worked in this industry in the past. We walked back into the centre of Lagoa, passing through the pretty Largo 5 de Outubro, with its distinctive bandstand in the centre, and turned into the pedestrianized shopping street, Rua 25 de Abril, with its attractive patterned cobblestones. As Lagoa is a working town rather than a tourist resort the shops are typical of a Portuguese high street, with a mixture of old-fashioned speciality shops, such as the haberdasher’s and the ironmonger’s, alongside more modern-looking shops, banks and a good selection of pavement cafés. At the end of Rua 25 de Abril we turned left into Rua Coronel Figueiredo and walked up to the photogenic market on Praça da República. The building dates from 1883 and I was intrigued by the bell at the top of the building above the entrance. I discovered that the bell had a very practical purpose in the past, which was to let the townspeople know that fresh fish had arrived. From here it was a short walk to one of the highlights of Lagoa, the São José convent on Rua Joaquim Eugénio Júdice.
Convento do São José
This former convent is one of the prettiest buildings in the area. It is white-washed a brilliant white with a belvedere tower which arches across the road. The original entrance to the left of the arch has a small garden in front of it and a lovely stained-glass window can be seen from the outside. Nowadays the entrance is to the right of the arch and the building is used as a centre for cultural events. However, it has had quite a varied history. The convent was originally founded in the eighteenth century by an order of Carmelite nuns, who fostered and educated abandoned children until 1834 (when religious orders were abolished in Portugal). There is even a former baby hatch (in which mothers could place unwanted babies) in the original entrance. In the late-nineteenth century an order of Dominican nuns turned it into a primary school and ran it until 1910, when the church and state separated. In 1924 the Lagoa Town Council established a state-run primary school in the former convent, which continued until 1970. After than it was a registry office and a place of worship, until 1993 when, after a period of restoration work, it was reopened as the cultural centre it is today. The interior of the convent is as charming as the exterior. The small chapel has an impressive gilt altar. On the ground floor the rooms are built around a cloister which has a well in the centre. Arches around the cloister provide shade from the heat of the sun. The annual sweet fair is held here in July and an old-fashioned machine to crack almonds is on display in a corner of the cloister. The rooms on the ground floor house recreations of typical scenes from daily life in the past: one is a classroom; others are a seamstress’s room, a cobbler’s, and barber’s shop. On the ground floor there is also a small auditorium where concerts and other events are held. On the upper-floor the small rooms are also used as exhibition rooms, although I didn’t find the model replicas of boats particularly interesting. Amazingly, we were the only tourists in the convent.
After spending time at the convent we went in search of somewhere to have lunch and decided to walk back to Largo 5 de Outubro. As we zigzagged our way from the convent to the square, we passed an eye-catching panel of tiles built into a wall on Largo Guerra Júdice (just off Rua Eça de Queiroz), depicting Christ on the cross. We then discovered two more similar panels on Rua Coronel João Bernado and Rua Luís de Camões. The panels are small chapels dating from the eighteenth century, depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ. They are part of the Via Sacra procession route followed in religious festivals. After lunch at a peaceful café called Alma Doce, overlooking the park in Largo 5 de Outubro, we wandered up Rua da Liberdade and saw two very attractive palatial buildings that are nowadays used as council offices. The Paços do Concelho is the white building with two flagpoles either side of the upper-storey window on Rua Dr. Ernesto Cabrita; dating from 1861 it is the former town hall and flags are still raised on the flagpoles on national holidays. The pink building on Largo Miguel Bombarda, which has ornate decorations on the top of the facade, is the treasury. From here we walked up Rua Franciso Luís M. Veloso, into a more modern part of town, the highlight of which is a water feature with an impressive sculpture of a large bird in flight. The bird is perfectly balanced, seemingly to be attached to the base by only the tip of its wing.
We retraced our steps back along Rua Francisco Luís M. Veloso to Largo Combatentes da Grande Guerra, which has a modern-looking monument to commemorate those who fought in the First World War. The monument is in a pretty square with trees and shaded benches. It is a lovely place to sit and look at Lagoa’s parish church, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz, a baroque and neoclassical style church dating from the seventeenth century. Our final visit was to the other highlight of Lagoa, the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve on the EN125.
Arte Algarve Gallery at the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve
I have to confess that our principal reason for visiting the Única-Adega Cooperativa was to go on a wine tour and tasting, which was advertised on the outside of the large building opposite the bus station. Lagoa’s cooperative winery is a union of the former cooperatives of Lagoa and Lagos and the resulting wines are renowned for their quality. Unfortunately, we were informed that tours were not happening in late September (when we were there), but we were offered a (very generous-sized) glass of wine and invited to look around the art gallery. Nothing had prepared me for the gallery that we walked into; it is enormous, taking up the entire upper floor of the winery. The space is well-utilized to display a large variety of paintings and sculptures by unknown artists. All the works are for sale, but there is no pressure to buy and we were encouraged to walk around on our own. The quality of the art was exceedingly high and artists who piqued our interest included José Freira, Stela Barreto, Lena Vansteelant, Doris Gaspartic, Kestin Wagner, Laurentino Cabaço, Gervásio, Ana Stilwell, Irina Sandalescu, Maria Helena Rocha and Alhi Prieto. As we walked around it was hard to ignore the heady smell of fermenting grapes from the winery below the gallery and by the time we sat down to drink the proffered glass of wine, we already felt slightly intoxicated!
Convento do São José, Rua Joaquim Eugénio Júdice: open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-12.30pm and 2pm-5.30pm, entrance free
Arte Algarve Gallery and the Única-Adega Cooperativa do Algarve, EN125: Art gallery open Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm, free entry; Wine tours and tastings (summer months only) Tuesday-Saturday 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm