Guesthouse Bed & Breakfast in the Algarve - Portugal Holidays

Almond Tree Route - Walking in Algarve

This is the time of year when the Algarve appears in all its glory, clothed in the delicate white of the almond blossom, a pretend “snow” illuminated by the generous southern sunshine. The pleasant climate is ideal for visiting an area where the landscape plays the leading role, amid the villages just out of sight around the next bend, or the gently rolling hills of the inland “barrocal” area between mountain and sea. This is also your opportunity to try out the regional gastronomy where dried fruits and nuts feature strongly.

Algarve Almond Route

Algarve Almond Route

We start this walk from the center of Silves Mediaval Town, just 4 km from our B&B Gato Preto de Silves, largely because of the “Almond Blossom Legend”. The story revolves around the young king Ibn-Almundim, who one day fell hopelessly in love with the beautiful Gilda, a blue-eyed, golden-haired Nordic princess. The royal couple would make their home in the palace in Silves, at a time when Al-Gharb belonged to the Arabs, but the princess’s growing sadness gradually threw a shadow over their earlier happiness. Every day she would sigh and shed tears of longing for her homeland and its blanket of winter snows. The despairing Moorish king, who had already tried everything to restore happiness to the Varandas Palace, eventually took the advice of an elder, who told him to plant lots of almond trees in the surrounding fields.

The princes had all but faded away, completely overcome by melancholy when the almond trees blossomed, covering the southern lands with a blanket of white petals, deceiving the princess’s longing and restoring her happiness.

For today, we’ll leave the castle and Silves’ other beauties and set off along the road leading to São Bartolomeu de Messines. The almond trees in blossom can be seen alongside groves of deep green orange trees that perfume the air with their unsurpassable scent.São Bartolomeu de Messines is the birthplace of the poet and pedagogue João de Deus, author of the “Cartilha Maternal”, a method used to learn the alphabet at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. If there are children in your party, you mustn’t miss a visit to the João de Deus House- Museum, which apart from its exhibits about the life of the scribe, also features a library, reading room, toy library and bar. It is located next to the main church (Igreja Matriz). Around the town, orchards and vegetable gardens stretch out before you, a reminder of childhood pleasures, when there was room for everyone amidst the orange and fig trees, the delightful soft-shelled almonds, the buckets on the noras [a device to draw water from a well], the birds’ nests and even the sweet scent of the carob trees.

The town is situated in the large fertile valley on southern face of the Penedo Grande Mountain in the Serra do Caldeirão, the mountain range that can be seen in the distance in tones of blue and green.

Next, we’ll take the EN270 road to Paderne, meaning we’re already in the county of Albufeira, with an obligatory stop at the water mill at the base of the hill on which Paderne Castle sits. The mill’s moat with its cool, burbling waters calms the turbulence of the Quarteira Stream in a peaceful, countryside setting.

Wild orchids can be found here, a delicate and precious natural heritage that we must take every care to preserve.

For this reason, please don’t pick the orchids, and use only the marked trails if you want to stroll along to the Roman bridge, which was rebuilt in 1771 and where you can still see the arches and two cutwaters that have been holding back the capricious waters and regulating their flow for centuries.

This is a good place to stop for a snack; you could sample almond potatoes or walnut cakes, making this a starting point for an expedition of discovery through the traditional sweets of Algarvean cuisine. If it happens to be lunchtime, you could choose between “cabidela”chicken [cooked in its own blood] or roast shoulder of lamb, with plenty of almonds, honey and rosemary as seasoning to impart an unforgettable flavour.

In the surrounding fields, the cork oak soar skywards, sheltering rock- rose and arbutus berry bushes in their shade. The fertile valleys harbour vegetable gardens and in the southern part of the ward the large numbers or orchids are particularly noteworthy amidst a rich variety of indigenous flora. Generally, Ophrys Tenthredinifera begins flowering around February and the season ends at the beginning of June with the pyramidal orchid. The region’s huge, decades-old carob trees are well-deserving of their reputation. The carob can be used in many ways, but the most popular is as a chocolate substitute, or an ingredient in “to-die-for” cakes. Besides carob, almond and fig trees are also to be found here.

The next destination is São Brás de Alportel, undecided between the uplands and the mountains proper, comprising only one ward spread over forty locales with exotic names.

This is the place where you can try the traditional and singular tender almonds and pine almonds, made by artisans from the same family for over a century. In a place called Tesoureiro, there’s a small cake factory where the recipes have been handed down from generation to generation.

Here’s one of them, its origins lost in the mists of time, which can be sampled at the little café in Tesoureiro, or baked at home for special occasions:

Morgado de Figo

Morgado de Figo

To make Morgado de Figo you need: 250g sugar; 250g dried figs; 250g ground almonds; 125g chocolate powder (or carob flour); 250g sweet pumpkin; 10 egg yolks; lemon rind to taste. Start by making the “lining” of the morgado, for which you use 1kg of almonds, 800g of sugar and 100g of glucose. Mix all the ingredients together and blend until you get a smooth paste which you roll out on a table or worktop until thin. You then sprinkle it with icing sugar and use it to line the cake tin. Next, you heat the sugar until it forms threads and pour it over the egg yolks. Add the blended almonds and figs and the chocolate powder, then put it all back on the heat to thicken. When the mixture is quite thick, let it cool and then place in the cake tin in alternating layers with the sweet pumpkin.

Lastly, cover the layers with the same paste you used to line the tin and heat it in the oven to dry. Decorate to taste and sample with delight.

We complete our almond tree route with a visit to Estói and “the highly graceful landscaped aspect of the little Eden, with its bridge between clumps of trees, and the greenery of it hills… with all the splendour of the Algarvean sky’s colourful luminosity”, as Júlio Lourenço Pinto wrote in 1894. Located at the base of Monte Fico and looking out over the fields to Faro, the traditional dry orchard has long been the ward’s dominant plant life. Almond, carob, fig and olive trees have been cultivated here for centuries, the know-how learned from traditions that date back to Roman and Arab times.

The Milreu ruins information centre tells the story in detail of how a Roman country villa from the 1st century was transformed into a palace in the 3rd century with a spa that made abundant use of the local waters. Other peoples come and go, but the reason for their stay here has always been the richness of the land and its orchards.


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