Bolo de Bolacha (Biscuit Cake), Food and drink

Bolo de Bolacha (Biscuit Cake)

I first tasted this delicious dessert in Vimar restaurant in Carvoeiro. There are several versions of this recipe: some using butter and sugar and others using condensed milk and cream. All of them use the Maria biscuit (bolacha Maria) – the UK rich tea biscuits make a good substitute – and at its best it is a Portuguese version of the Italian dessert, tiramisu, layering coffee-soaked biscuits with a custard-type mixture and topped with whipped cream. This recipe is an adaptation of several recipes I have experimented with, with the aim of recreating the first Bola de Bolacha I had in Vimar restaurant  and it has become a favourite with family and friends.

Serves 12


5 eggs

397g can of condensed milk

300ml milk

350ml espresso coffee (made with 350ml water and 9 teaspoons instant espresso powder, cooled)

2 x 200g packets of Maria or rich tea biscuits

600ml double cream

1 teaspoon sugar


  • Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put the whites in a bowl to use later.
  • Put the egg yolks, condensed milk and milk into a bowl and whisk together.
  • Pour the mixture into a saucepan and gently heat, stirring all the time, until it starts to bubble. Continue to keep it on a low heat and stirring until it starts to thicken into a custard consistency – don’t overcook it or the eggs will start to resemble scrambled eggs. Turn off the heat.
  • Take 3-4 biscuits out of one of the packets and use a rolling pin to make crumbs and put to one side.
  • Pour the cooled coffee into a bowl and dip the remaining biscuits one at a time into the coffee for approximately 10 seconds, so that the biscuits are coated with coffee, but don’t allow them to go soft.
  • Put a layer of the biscuits along the bottom of a 23cm spring-form cake tin. Put a layer of the custard on top of the biscuits. Continue layering the biscuits and custard until all the biscuits and custard have been used (approximately 5 layers of biscuits and 4 layers of custard).
  • Pour the double cream into a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk the cream until thick.
  • In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Fold the egg whites into the cream.
  • Spread the cream onto the top of the cake. You may not need to use all the cream.
  • Sprinkle the top of the cake with the biscuit crumbs.
  • Cover the cake tin with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.
A walk around Praia Grande de Pêra

A walk around Praia Grande de Pêra

A grey heron on the Lagoa dos Salgados

On a sunny afternoon in late December we decided to try one of the walks described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve. We chose the ‘Praia Grande Interpretation Trail’, as it combined the wetland lagoon of Lagoa dos Salgados, famous for the variety of birdlife, with sand dunes and a pine forest.

Starting from the large car park to the west of the lagoon we joined the wooden walkway, which allows visitors to easily walk above the reed beds and sand dunes. Following the directions on the map we turned left and came to one of the highlights of the walk, the Lagoa dos Salgados, a lagoon separated from the sea by a sandbar. As its name suggests (salgado means salty) it contains salt water, but it also contains fresh water from two streams that feed into it and it acts as a transitional ecosystem between the land and the sea. The reeds, bulrushes and sedges that grow there make it an important resting and feeding place for a number of bird species, including flamingos, shovelers, mallards, little grebes, kingfishers, coots, spoonbills, avocets, purple gallinules and the three we were excited to see during our walk, black-winged stilts, grey herons and cormorants. The lagoon is popular with birdwatchers and there is even a birdwatching station with an information board. Further along the walkway we came to the first of the two rivers that we saw on our walk that cross the beach and feed into the sea, the Ribeira de Espiche. We left the walkway here, making a U-turn and walking back along the beach towards the car park, passing by an area of sand dunes and noticing the plants that grow on these ridges. An information board listed the plants we might see, including beach grass, sand couch grass, rock samphire, sea rocket, sea daffodil, sand restharrow, spiny thrift, sea medick and curry plant. Unfortunately, in late December the vegetation was not at its best.

We returned to the starting point of the walk in the car park and turned left heading west on an inland path through a shrubby area. There wasn’t much of interest in this area, except the fact that there were absolutely no other walkers around; a complete contrast to the heavy number of walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers we met on the wooden walkway in the first half of the walk. Another curious thing I noticed in this shrubby area was the number of cars and vans, each with just one man in them, parked surreptitiously among the bushes. My imagination starting running a bit wild and I may have the start of a short story! We rejoined the beach, where there were more sand dunes and continued along the beach to the second river that crosses the beach, the Ribeira de Alcantarilha. Here we turned right and walked through a saltmarsh, which led into a pine forest on a fossil cliff. Here we spotted a row of square boxes on the ground, which we discovered were simple but effective beehives. This led into an area of farmland with almond trees. Turning right towards the road we had driven in on, we came across a number of disused mills and granaries. We turned right onto the road and walked back to the car park. This was the least interesting part of the walk, but the road was fairly quiet, as it only leads to and from the car park.


The walk is 5.5km and takes approximately 2 hours. It is moderately easy.

The start of the walk is in the Praia Grande de Pêra car park, south of the village of Pêra. There is no public transport.

Capela da Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Porches

Capela da Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Porches

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The enchanting Capela da Nossa Senhora da Rocha (Chapel of Our Lady of the Rock) on the promontory that extends from the mainland into the sea like a slice of cake, is so picture perfect that it looks like part of film set and I almost expected to see Meryl Streep running along the path towards the chapel after singing ‘The Winner Takes it All’ (as in the film version of Mamma Mia!). The promontory, with the gold- and bronze-coloured rock and the small whitewashed chapel on top, is one of the most photographed images in the western part of the Algarve and, not surprisingly, is a setting for fairy-tale-style weddings. It is best seen from the cliff path above Praia Nova to the west of the promontory, with the sweeping expanse of the beach to the east of Armação de Pêra, which goes all the way to Albufeira, in the distance. From here the chapel looks like a decoration on a slice of wedding cake.

The chapel is a small, squat, whitewashed building, the simplicity of which looks stunning against a blue Algarvian sky. It has a short, hexagonal, broad-based steeple with a simple cross on the top and a single bell to the side of the steeple. There is a small porch with azulejos (patterned tiles) on the walls and an azulejo cross above the porch on the outside wall of the chapel. Behind the glass doors at the back of the porch is a small shrine with a carved wooden panel depicting the Madonna and Child, painted in blue and gold, above a small altar. The azulejos in the porch continue into the shrine. Opposite the shrine is a square, brick niche, used for votive candles, which overlooks the sea and the cliffs behind. From the other side of the chapel you can look down onto the tiny beach, Praia Senhora da Rocha. If you are on the beach, there is a tunnel through the rock which provides easy access between Praia Senhora da Rocha and Praia Nova. The promontory is thought to have been used as a fortress dating back to before the eighth century, but it has been destroyed over the centuries by erosion and rock falls, which continue to this day, evidence of which can be seen in the fissure on the tip of the promontory, giving a sense of transitoriness to the scene.


Buses run to Senhora da Rocha from Portimão via Lagoa and from Albufeira via Armação de Pêra. There is approximately one bus an hour between 7.30am and 7.30pm.

Learning Portuguese, Take Off in Portuguese

Take Off in Portuguese

Authors: Michael Harland and Ana Saldanha

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication date: 2008

Price: the pack is no longer available to purchase, although there are still second-hand copies available

CEFR levels: A1-B1 (Beginner to Intermediate)

Components: Textbook (256 pages), 4 audio CDs

Number of hours: 40-50



  • Definite and indefinite articles
  • Masculine and feminine nouns
  • Verbs estar, ser and ficar
  • Regular adjectives
  • Plurals
  • Regular and irregular verbs
  • de + definite article
  • onde?, como?, quem?, quanto?, qual?, o que?, que?
  • nunca and nenhum
  • em + definite article
  • ter de/ter que
  • Present tense to talk about the future
  • ir + infinitive to talk about the future
  • Prepositions a, em, de
  • Subject pronouns
  • Possessive forms
  • muito
  • Cardinal and ordinal numbers
  • Direct object pronouns
  • Demonstrative forms
  • Imperative
  • Time expressions
  • Indirect object pronouns
  • Reflexive verbs
  • Present continuous estar a + infinitive
  • ‘Strong’ object pronouns
  • com + pronoun
  • The comparative
  • tencionar and pensar to express intentions
  • Future tense
  • Imperfect tense
  • por and para
  • Present subjunctive
  • in time expressions
  • Superlative
  • ou…ou, nem…nem
  • Imperfect continuous
  • Adjectives with muito and the –íssimo form
  • Preterite tense
  • deixar de
  • dever
  • Expressions with ter
  • Object pronouns
  • Dates
  • Imperfect preterite
  • durante to talk about the past
  • tão…como, tanto…como/quanto
  • Pluperfect
  • Past participles
  • Time expressions denoting frequency
  • brincar, jogar, tocar
  • Infinitive in formal instructions
  • Words showing the sequence of events
  • -se for instructions
  • Impersonal constructions
  • Passive
  • Diminutives
  • Imperfect subjunctive
  • Past tenses of


  • Greetings
  • Simple everyday phrases
  • Ordering food and drinks
  • Booking a hotel room
  • Giving personal details
  • Describing places
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Using local transport
  • Timetables
  • Directions
  • Asking how much something is
  • Asking how far something is
  • Buying petrol
  • Booking tickets
  • Saying where you live and where you come from
  • Adjectives of nationality
  • Saying what you do for a living
  • Giving an opinion
  • Talking about daily routines
  • Telling the time
  • Talking about events
  • Talking about shopping hours
  • Describing items (colour, size)
  • Talking on the phone
  • Making invitations
  • Arranging to meet
  • Making requests
  • Giving instructions
  • Weather
  • Expressing future intentions
  • Giving and asking for advice
  • Expressing opinions and doubts
  • Making announcements
  • Offering, accepting and refusing
  • Paying compliments
  • Talking about the past
  • Taking about your background and giving personal details
  • Parts of the body
  • Saying how you feel and where it hurts
  • Describing what happened
  • Understanding advice and giving instructions
  • Talking about past experiences
  • Expressing emotions such as surprise
  • Talking about family and friends
  • Talking about dates and length of time
  • Talking about hobbies, games and other interests
  • Expressing how much you like or dislike something
  • Compare the things you like or dislikes
  • Expressing how often you do something
  • Following recipes and manuals
  • Giving instructions on how to do something
  • Narrate a sequence of events
  • Congratulating people
  • Making toasts
  • Asking others to do something
  • Expressing hopes and wishes
  • Expressing surprise, feelings and sensations

Publisher claims

The course focuses on listening and speaking and allows you to progress at your own rate. It provides support with transcriptions of the audio, translations of new vocabulary and grammar explanations. You can build your knowledge of Portuguese vocabulary and grammar with activities, dialogues and summaries. There are test-yourself exercises which allow you to measure your progress.


The course focuses on European Portuguese. There is a recurring story with a group of Portuguese characters which allows you to hear natural conversations in an engaging setting.

The course is structured and there is clear progression.

The book is a nice compact size, which allows you to carry it in pocket or handbag.

There is plenty of listening and speaking practice, along with vocabulary and grammar activities. The speaking in particular is good in this course, as you are having virtual mini-conversations (where prompts in English are given by the woman on the CD).

There is a short test at the end of every unit, which gives a score at the end. The test only tests grammar and vocabulary, not listening or speaking.

There are regular reviews every three or four units which test grammar, vocabulary, listening and speaking. This does not have a final score at the end.

The themes of the units focus on functional language and there is a good progress in the level of the vocabulary.

The units are structured: presenting the new grammar and vocabulary in a dialogue and focussing on key phrases or sentences, doing written vocabulary and language building activities in the book before doing the speaking activity. There is a whole lesson in each unit dedicate to reading, which introduces information about Portuguese culture. The recurring story in the last lesson of each unit consolidates all the grammar and vocabulary. The unit ends with a Summary, which gives more speaking practice.

The methodology is very clear.

The endmatter includes the answers, a grammar summary, a Portuguese-English vocabulary list, a glossary of grammar terms and an index of the grammar covered in the book.

There is good coverage of pronunciation skills.

It gives a good grounding in the language necessary for the GCSE, CIPLE or DEPLE exams and makes a good revision course.


The design of the book is uninspiring. It is black and white text with no images.

The course is now out of print.

There are no track numbers for the CD in the book, which makes it hard to locate which CD and which track you need for the listening activities.

There is too much English explanation in the book and there is too much explanation given in English on the CD.

Activities often require the answers to be written in English rather than in Portuguese.

The audioscripts don’t appear anywhere in the book, so you can’t check a passage you may not have understood.

Each unit covers a lot of grammar and then quickly moves on.

The book doesn’t cover the future subjunctive.

The reading texts don’t get longer towards the end of the book and the activity types in the later units don’t seem a lot more challenging than earlier units.


Lisbon, Lisbon's kiosks

Lisbon’s kiosks

Kiosk, Largo da Sé

Kiosks selling items ranging from newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and lottery tickets to drinks and snacks at quiosques de refrescos (refreshment kiosks), complete with pavement tables and chairs, are a distinctive part of the Lisbon street scene. With their wrought iron, art nouveau design and canopies providing much-needed shade, they look as if they have been around for decades, but the surprising fact is that many of them have only been in existence in their current state for a few years.

There were kiosks in Lisbon, some of which are still in existence, in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but in the mid-twentieth century they fell out of favour. One reason that has been given for this decline is due to the discouragement of public gatherings during the Salazar/Caetano dictatorships (1932-74), so people stopped going to the kiosks to meet friends for a drink and they fell into disrepair. In 2009 a Lisbon businesswoman, Catarina Portas teamed up with architect João Regal to restore the original kiosks and to create new ones. Kiosks can now be seen all over the city, including on Avenida da Liberdade, Largo da Sé, Rua do Jardim do Tabaco, Largo do Carmo, Praça de Luis de Camões, Rua de Belém in Belém and even one used as a public library in the Jardim da Estrela. They have brought a healthy café culture to squares and gardens that were lifeless and even unsafe in some cases. Not only did Portas revive the kiosk tradition, she also revived the traditional drinks that used to be served in the kiosks; drinks that cannot be found elsewhere in the city. These drinks include some refreshing-sounding drinks, such as mazagran (an iced coffee with lemon and sugar), groselha (a red-currant-flavoured drink), orchata (an almond and sugar drink), leite perfumado (milk with lemon, cinnamon and sugar) and some more improbable-sounding drinks. such as tomilho-limão (a lemon thyme-flavoured drink) and capilé (a maidenhair fern and orange blossom-flavoured drink). In the evening it’s nice to sit at a quiosque de refrescos and sip a ginginha (a local cherry liqueur) and watch the world go by.

Sítio das Fontes, Estômbar

Sítio das Fontes, Estômbar


Nestling on the outskirts of Estômbar, only 10km from Carvoeiro, is the lovely public park and nature reserve, Sítio das Fontes. It is situated along the River Arade and has a number of different habitats ranging from scrubland to marsh and salt marsh. Along with this is a variety of flora and fauna that can be found in these habitats, in particular a large variety of birds and waterfowl, although on the day I visited, either it was my lack of observation skills or the birds were keeping away, but I didn’t spot anything unusual. This part of the River Arade is very pretty and is particularly attractive at sunset.

Sítio das Fontes means ‘place of the springs’ and the clear, clean water of the springs has created an area that is perfect for swimming in. On a hot summer’s day local families come to the park to have picnics in the large picnic area, which is set out with picnic tables and barbecues. In the past the area had a tidal water mill and there are still vestiges of this past, including a weir and a water tank with its distinctive metal wheel, which was used in the past to irrigate local fields and orchards. The former mill house is still standing and the whole scene is very photogenic.

The park is often used for cultural events and overlooking the river there is a small amphitheatre which is put to good use in June when the annual Lagoa Jazz Festival takes place. In the nearby Interpretation Centre various exhibitions are held. Unfortunately the day I went (26th December) it was closed and I was unable to see the ‘Algarvios’ exhibition by one of my favourite local photographers, Vitor Pina.

The Sítio das Fontes Municipal Park is accessible and easy to walk around, being on the flat and having a dirt path all the way round (to walk around the whole park takes about 45 minutes). As a result it is very popular with dog walkers and joggers. It is a great place to exercise and the local council have even gone as far as to install exercise stations at intervals throughout the park.

Very little has been written about this park in tourist literature and therefore very few tourists even know of its existence. Maybe the locals prefer it this way! Sítio das Fontes is a perfect place to relax and be at one with nature, but don’t tell everyone!


Sítio das Fontes Municipal Park is 2km north of Estômbar. Public buses and trains stop on the EN125 in Estômbar, but there is no public transport to the park. There is a car park at the entrance to the park.

Opening hours: 15th April-15th October 7.30am-8.30pm; 16th October-14th April 7.30am-6.30pm.

A bar-barber in Lisbon

A bar-barber in Lisbon


I spotted this in the Chiado district of Lisbon one evening and had to do a double take. A man appeared to be having a shave in the doorway of a bar. Was it a barber’s shop with lots of bottles of alcohol or was it a bar with a barber’s chair? In fact it is a barber’s shop and a trendy bar combined, called O Purista Barbière on Rua Nova da Trindade.

A year later we decided to try it out for ourselves, so while Neil had a hot towel shave (€10),  I sat and enjoyed a glass of Dogtown Pale Ale.

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Christmas dinner at Taste, Carvoeiro, Restaurants

Christmas dinner at Taste, Carvoeiro


It was our first Christmas in Portugal and it seemed a little inappropriate to try and find a restaurant serving a traditional British Christmas lunch on Christmas Day. Eating roast turkey with all the trimmings in 20°C heat didn’t seem quite right, but we wanted to have a special meal to mark the day, so chose to book a table at Taste, one of our favourite restaurants in Carvoeiro. The restaurant is in a striking yellow and purple building which straddles Rua dos Pescadores and Rua do Barranco*, a short walk from the centre of Carvoeiro. The interior is stylishly decorated with light touches of Moroccan and Thai design features. We booked in November to ensure a table in this very popular restaurant and as very few restaurants were open in Carvoeiro on Christmas Day I am glad we did, as the restaurant was full when we arrived.

For Christmas Day they were offering a set lunch or evening menu comprising of six courses for €46 per head. All the courses sounded lovely. The important thing was to bring an appetite to the restaurant and pace ourselves. On arrival we were warmly greeted by the owners Nicola and Ciprian Silvasan and shown to a lovely table for two next to the roaring log fire. While we looked at the wine menu we were brought a champagne flute containing a Holiday Bellini, which was a variation of the traditional Bellini cocktail, containing sparkling wine, an attractive layer of cranberry syrup at the bottom and a sprig of rosemary floating on the top. It looked very festive. We ordered a bottle of Herdade dos Coteis from the Alentejo region (at €19.30 a bottle) from the list of suggested wines on the Christmas menu. It was a wonderfully dark, full-bodied red wine, perfect for a cold night. We were then presented with the first course of bread, olives and dips. The poppy seed rolls and ciabatta rolls were warm and soft and the homemade tuna pâté, herb butter and aioli were so delicious that our resolution to pace ourselves went out the window. Alongside the bread, olives and dips was an amuse-bouche comprising a puff pastry shell with a tasty prawn cocktail filling. This was followed by the second course of a wonderful parsnip soup with a prawn served on the side; an unusual pairing, which really worked. The next course was a fillet of corvina garnished with the burgundy leaves of the unusual herb micro red amaranth, served on a bed of spinach and pumpkin, with duchess potatoes. This was the first time I had eaten corvina, which is a meaty fish reminiscent of sea bass. The portion was generous and, remembering to pace myself, I didn’t eat it all, but this is no reflection on the quality of the food. Course number four was a palate cleanser of orange sorbet with campari and gave us a chance to rest our stomachs. I am not a huge fan of liqueurs like campari and I felt it overwhelmed the subtle flavour of the sorbet, but that is a personal taste. The fifth course was roast turkey, both dark and white meat, served with gravy, carrots, brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and stuffing. The meat was tender and the dish was an interesting variation of the traditional British roast turkey Christmas dinner. After a welcome long pause the final dessert was served: a crepe filled with apple and served with cinnamon ice cream and cream. As well as tasting good, the crepe was aesthetically pleasing, with a cocoa powder star and gold and white sugar balls on it.

The service throughout the evening was excellent. The waiters were friendly and professional without being overly attentive. We didn’t have to wait too long between courses, but neither did we feel rushed. A nice touch was when we were asked if we would like to pause before having our dessert; our answer was ‘yes!’. We had an excellent evening and almost rolled home through the deserted streets of Carvoeiro with big smiles on our faces.


Taste Restaurant, Rua do Barranco, Carvoeiro

*Please note that since writing this review, Taste Restaurant has moved to a new building a few metres further up the Rua do Barranco.

Food and drink, Oranges: fruit of the Algarve

Oranges: fruit of the Algarve


If there is one sight that is sure to lift the spirits in the middle of winter, it is the sight of oranges growing all over the Algarve, in large and medium-sized groves and in the smallest of gardens. The problem the owners of the orange trees face is what to do with the vast quantity of oranges that they produce. It appears that orange farming is not a profitable business. While the large producers are able to afford to pay for the maintenance and harvesting of the crop and are able to distribute their oranges, most smallholders aren’t able to sell their oranges at a high enough price to cover the spraying, pruning and picking of the oranges, which is why so many oranges are left to rot on the tree or in piles on the ground. Some smallholders sell them on stalls along the side of the road. Driving from Faro to Carvoeiro along the EN125 on Christmas Eve I lost count of the number of stalls I spotted selling freshly picked oranges at the bargain price of €1 for a small bag, €2 for a large bag or three large bags for €5. The oranges during the winter months are at their best as a result of the Algarve’s mild climate, constant sunshine and occasional rain. They are juicy and sweet and perfect for juicing.




Algarve, Santa Swim, Armação de Pêra, Christmas Day 2016

Santa Swim, Armação de Pêra, Christmas Day 2016



Standing on a beach on Christmas Day in nearly 20°C heat wearing nothing but a Santa suit over my swimming costume was a first for me, but this year I was spending Christmas on the Algarve and joined a group of 50 or so similarly dressed people to take part in the annual Santa Swim at Armação de Pêra. As the Portuguese celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, when they have the traditional family meal (consoada) and go to midnight mass, Christmas Day has a more relaxed feeling about it.

The Santa Swim has been a regular event at Armação de Pêra for 13 years and is organised by the Holiday Inn Algarve to raise money for local charities (in total €800 was raised for the two charities Espaço Amigo and A Gaivota). Most people (a mixture of local Portuguese, ex-pats and some tourists) came dressed in the felt Santa suit that can be bought cheaply from a well-known online shop. For those who hadn’t got a Santa suit the Holiday Inn were selling Santa hats for €1. Once everyone had arrived, we all formed a circle and sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ in English and ‘A Todos um Bom Natal’ in Portuguese. After the customary group photo we all ran into the sea. There was no pressure to go all the way in – the aim was for part of you to get wet. Some brave swimmers did go for an actual swim, while the majority, like me, were happy to let the water come up to our knees. The sea was a little rough near the shore and there were a few people who got wetter than they had planned, but luckily no one was hurt. There were some expert paddle boarders from BlueXperience (cunningly disguised as Santas) on hand, along with the maritime police, in case there were any problems. Surprisingly, the sea didn’t feel much colder than when I have been swimming in September – it’s the Atlantic and it’s always cold! I can’t think of a better way of working up an appetite for Christmas dinner.

Watch our video here.