Carvoeiro boat trip to the caves

Carvoeiro boat trip to the caves

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Algar de Benagil

It is no secret that the Lagoa area of the Algarve has some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in the country and much has been written about coastal walks along the cliff tops, most famously the ‘seven hanging valleys trail’ from Centeanes to Marinha, but to really appreciate the beautiful red and yellow-brown cliffs, stunning rock formations, cove beaches  and secret caves with hidden beaches and unearthly sinkholes, you really need to see it from the sea. However, I suffer from seasickness and for many years have avoided boats, but I decided that I really needed to overcome this phobia to enjoy some of nature’s best designs. So, dosed with seasickness tablets, we booked ourselves on one of the regular ‘visit the caves’ boat trips which depart from Carvoeiro beach. The next boat was due to leave in 10 minutes, which gave us a good opportunity to watch the returning boat being brought onto the sand for the passengers to disembark. This was quite a complicated operation as the boat was turned around in the sea for it to reverse up to the shore and then be dragged onto the beach by a pulley and two men. Once the passengers had disembarked, the boat then re-entered the sea for the next set of passengers to board. Wearing the cumbersome, obligatory, orange life jacket I inelegantly climbed onto the boat, getting my sandals soaked in the process (luckily they were waterproof and had good soles).

The boats that are used for these trips are former fishing boats. They are very prettily decorated in a traditional style and have names such as Rainha da Paz (Queen of Peace), Glorioso (Glory), Pardal (Sparrow) and Arrelias (Annoyances), but they are not built for comfort (nine passengers can just about fit on the wooden benches). We were on Nossa Senhora da Rocha (Our Lady of the Rock) with Captain Jorge, who ably steered the boat into some impossibly narrow cave entrances. I lost count of the number of caves that we went into – at least 10 – in the hour and a half trip. Many of the caves have blurred into each other in my memory, as most had interior walls made up of layers of purple, brown, green and grey stone and  a secret beach at the back of the cave. Many also had sinkholes at the top, which is a distinctive geological feature of this area produced by water eroding the surface of the ground above the cave causing it to collapse. But there were some highlights, which Captain Jorge pointed out and told us the names the locals have given some of these features, such as ‘The Paradise’, a secluded beach only accessible from the sea though a narrow opening in the cliff; a cave, ‘The Heart’, with a heart-shaped sinkhole; another, ‘Devil’s Eyes’, with two sinkholes, which when the sun shines through these holes look like a pair of flashing eyes; and the pièce de résistance, the Algar de Benagil (also known as Algar do José Rodeira), which is listed as one of The Guardian‘s ’10 of the world’s best natural wonders … that you’ve probably never heard of’. By far the biggest of all the caves, the Algar de Benagil (algar means ‘sinkhole’) has another-worldly quality about it. The large sinkhole lets in the sun, which shines in a perfect circle on the beach below, reminiscent in appearance of the spaceship in the 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The walls inside the cave are striated in shades of gold, silver and bronze, giving it a regal quality. If Neptune had a summer palace, this would be it There are two entrances and our boat entered the cave through both, allowing us to see it from all angles. There is a surprisingly large beach inside the cave and many people had made their own way into the cave by swimming, paddle boarding or sailing in a dinghy. Due to the fame of this cave, we had to share this experience with several other tourist boats which had come from Centeanes beach and Benagil beach.

The boat closely hugs the coastline as it makes its way from Carvoeiro to Benagil, giving an excellent view of the craggy cliffs with their distinctive rock formations, such as ‘A Boneca’ (the doll) at Algar Seco and the profile of a face which appears on a cliff just past Centeanes beach. The trip gave me a sense of the fragility of these rocks, as the cracks on the cliffs and inside the caves are quite pronounced and I could clearly see large sea stacks (eroded rocks in the sea) and even perfect circles of rock beneath the sea inside caves, which had come from the top of the cave where the sinkhole now is. We passed the pretty beaches of Vale de Covo, Centeanes and Carvalho, which are all surrounded by steep cliffs and only accessible by steps that have been built into the cliffs, and one small beach that is still inaccessible. In the past these beaches would only have been reached by scrambling down the cliff face, so no wonder they were associated with pirates (Carvalho beach is nicknamed ‘Smugglers’ Cove’). At Carvalho beach we were lucky enough to see a row of cliff jumpers lined up on a rock ready to dive in. This is becoming a popular sport among the local young men, which requires skill, knowledge of the sea in this area and a certain amount of fearlessness.

Our trip ended at the Algar de Benagil and on the return to Carvoeiro, Captain Jorge took the boat further out to sea and speeded it up. This was when several passengers turned a bit green. It can be a bit of a rough ride, even on a calm day, but I’m glad to say that my seasickness tablet worked and I stepped off the boat at Carvoeiro beach very glad that I had faced my fear and seen one of Lagoa’s most stunning features.

Practicalities

Boat trips leave regularly from Carvoeiro beach. Tickets are sold on the boardwalk next to the beach, near the toilets. As of 2016, there are two trips on offer: the one to Benagil costs €20 per person and is advertised as taking 1 hour 10 minutes; the one to Marinha costs €25 per person and is advertised as taking 1 hour 30 minutes. In reality the trips can take longer.

The sea can be rough, so if you suffer from seasickness take a tablet before going on the trip.

Wear waterproof shoes with non-slippy soles, for boarding the boat.

Carvoeiro Black and White Night 2015, Festivals

Carvoeiro Black & White Night 2015

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Who would have thought that Carvoeiro, once a sleepy little fishing village, would become Algarve Party Central? Well, that is exactly what has happened for one night a year since 2014 when Carvoeiro started hosting the summer solstice party known as Black & White Night. The event is organised by Ibérica Eventos & Espectáculos and the Lagoa town council and has grown from 10,000 party-goers in 2014 to 20,000 in 2015. The main roads in to and out of the town are closed to traffic, and on two of these roads stages are erected and restaurants and bars are able to extend their seating area into the road. It means that there is something happening all over the centre of the village, not just in the square by the beach.

We were lucky enough to be in Carvoeiro for the 2015 Black & White Night. The festivities got underway at 8.30pm when a pair of horses, one black and one white, and their stylish riders, walked down the Estrada do Farol. We watched the horses pass by from our table outside one of the restaurants on the hill. We had wisely booked a table the day before as, even with the extra seating, restaurants were struggling to cope with the deluge of people into the town. Be prepared to make new friends during the night, as seats at the tables outside the bars in the town centre are at a premium and we found ourselves sharing a table with complete strangers. We are normally quite reserved people, but the party atmosphere was infectious and by the end of the night we were happily chatting to our table companions.

Following the dress code, we were dressed in black and white, although we didn’t go as far as to dress in this year’s theme of ‘Burlesque’. From the start, the town was buzzing with activity and with crowds of people everywhere. As we walked down the Estrada do Farol we were drawn to the Algarve Jazz Orchestra on the large stage near the bottom of the hill playing big band standards. I noticed that next to the stage was a large screen and later found out that the film The Jazz Singer was going to be shown. I love the idea of watching a film al fresco on a warm summer night, but I wondered how the dialogue was going to be heard over the noise from the rest of the town. This turned out not to be a problem, as it was the 1927 version of the film with title cards, that was being shown, although I secretly would have preferred to see the Neil Diamond version! The entertainment was well organised, and when something finished on one stage, something else started on another. The entertainment on the stages on Estrada do Farol and Rua do Barranco started much earlier than the entertainment in the square, which meant that the businesses on these roads were able to share in the success of the night. There was an eclectic mix of entertainers, all connected in some way to the theme of burlesque. In the tradition of American burlesque shows from the 1930s, striptease acts in various guises featured heavily on three of the four stages, including a Gypsy Rose Lee-style dancer with feather fans called Lady Myosotis and  a male striptease act called Senhor Sardinha Boylesque. I do question whether this type of act is appropriate at an event like this, and as there were so many children about the town during the night, I’m sure some parents had some awkward questions to answer! Live music also featured throughout the night and, as well as the Algarve Jazz Orchestra, tango music was performed by Mariel Martinez & La Porteña and on the stage in the town square, Jasmina Jolie & Cosmopolitan Cabaret performed a selection of torch songs made famous by singers such as Édith Piaf and Billie Holiday.

No party is complete without a DJ and there were three at this party, playing music from different eras, which appealed to the wide-ranging demographic. People were literally dancing in the streets. DJ Charlie Mysterio played music from the 1920s to the 1950s, then a Carvoeiro favourite, DJ Alexandre Ramos, played music from the 1960s to the 1990s and, finally, once all the older people had made their way back home, DJ Charlie Spot set up his own stage on top of the toilet block overlooking the beach and thousands of people made their way onto the beach to dance until 3am, when the party officially ended, to hits from 2000 to the present day. It was quite a sight to see so many people crowded on to the compact town beach.

It was a perfect night. The air was hot and the sky was clear, with a pretty crescent moon. Despite the large number of people and an increased police presence we witnessed no trouble. The clean-up operation, after the party ended in the early hours, was incredibly efficient. There was no evidence that anything out of the ordinary had happened, except for a few bleary-eyed waiters the next day!