Castro Marim

It has got a Medieval castle, a nature reserve, traditional handicrafts and a salt spa. Plus, it’s compact enough to see all this in under a day. Added bonus: Spain is only a stone’s throw away and the beach isn’t too far either. What are you waiting for? Visit Castro Marim – here’s what not to miss in the area.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2016

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

 

Walk through town

Look at the pretty houses, admire the Forte de São Sebastião from a distance, feed the stray cats and have a coffee in one of the cafés. Castro Marim doesn’t have a big pedestrianised centre, so don’t spend too long aimlessly wandering around. The exception: when the Dias Medievais are on (usually towards the end of August). When visiting during this Medieval event, it’s all about aimlessly wandering around, taking in the sights, smells and sounds.

 

Admire local handicrafts

Basket weaving is popular in this eastern Algarve area, but it’s mostly done by local people in the privacy of their own homes. In summer you can see these artisans at work during the Feira de Artesanato (in July) or at the various summer markets in both Castro Marim and the nearby Altura. In winter time, you’re best off heading to the tourist office (located in the mercado municipal building) where baskets, bags, mats and bottle holders made out of esparto grasses and palm can be bought and admired.

 

Climb the castle walls

The ruins of Castro Marim’s castle have a Medieval feel to it. Logical, as it’s where the yearly Dias Medievais are held. The drawings of Carlos Luz (in the church) help as well. Also on the ground: a small museum that focuses on the archaeological excavations. Kids will absolutely love this place as you can go inside ruins and climb on the castle walls. Definitely make your way up to the watch tower as the views are amazing (salt pans & Ayamonte in the east, VRSA and the Atlantic Ocean in the south and, on a clear day, Moncarapacho’s Monte de São Miguel in the west). When enjoying the view, keep children close by (or just secure them in the scaffold) as there are no railings and it’s a long drop down.

Opening times: 9-19h April-October, 9-17h November-March. Entry €1.10. Dogs are allowed.

 

Sample some salt

Harvested by hand from the nearby salinas, Castro Marim’s raw sea salt is considered some of the best in the world. At Terras de Sal, a producers’ cooperative located in the middle of town, you can taste and see this for yourself. The salt, which comes directly from the salt pans without being processed, is brought here en masse to be packaged and in some cases seasoned with biological herbs. Learn that salt is much more than just sodium chloride and get some for in your kitchen: there’s everything from liquid salt and piri piri flavoured salt, to salt with port wine and of course flor de sal.

 

Stroll through the Jardim Andaluz

Very small, but very pretty; that’s the Jardim Andaluz (located just below the Revelim de Santo António). With its dark blue tiles, white pillars and geometric structures, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow ended up in Morocco instead of the Algarve. The small park – it’s only 4000m²- with fountains is built entirely in Arab-Islamic style and is also worth a watch at night, when it’s lit up. Do check out the windmill on the top of the complex as well.

 

Walk through the wetlands

And see loads of birds as this area is home to about 150 different species including flamingos, storks and slender-billed gulls. The Sapal de Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve is considered one of the most important wetland areas in Portugal. It’s also home to 400 different types of plants and loads of varieties of molluscs, fish, reptiles and crustaceans. There are various walking possibilities in the area; it’s worth checking out the 7km long Venta Moinhos salt marsh trail.

 

Bathe in the mud

Get dirty in the salinas! Água Mãe’s founder Luís Horta Correira has turned part of Castro Marim’s ancient salinas into an outdoor spa where you can also learn about the traditional way of salt harvesting. Rub the mineral-rich mud all over yourself and float in the warm water (its salinity is similar to that of the Dead Sea) while listening to the birds in the background. It’s as relaxing as it sounds. Want to know more before checking it out yourself? Read the salt spa article in our June 2016 issue.

 

Visit VRSA

Want a bigger pedestrianised centre with more shops, a harbour and a museum on fishing heritage? Drive to the nearby city of Vila Real de Santo António (aka VRSA). What to do there? Check out the article in our November 2016 issue which tells you all about this town and also features some nearby places such as Cacela Velha, Monte Gordo and Fábrica.

 

Hop over to Spain

The city of Ayamonte (in Spain) is located on the other side of the Guadiana river (either take a ferry or get there by car over the Guadiana International Bridge – this part of the A22 is toll free). It’s certainly worth a visit, especially for its lively town centre. Try some tapas, go shopping, and definitely stroll around the pretty palm tree lined Plaza de la Laguna with its colourful tiled benches. Beware of the time difference (it’s an hour later in Spain) when visiting around siesta-hours.

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2016

Posted in One day in ....