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Salema -- One of Portugal’s Last Fishing Villages

Salema’s narrow single street, lined with white-stucco homes, rose steeply from the beach dotted with fishing boats. Having parked behind the beach-front Atlantico restaurant/bar, my wife and I shouldered our packs and started the search for a B&B room. As we passed a group of loudly conversing fishermen, they knowingly pointed us up the single street. A good number of the approximately 80 homes in Salema offer rooms, or quartos. After knocking on the doors of three "Quarto"-signed homes, we chose a room at $20 per night, private bath included, with a terrace overlooking village roofs and the Atlantic coast.

Each resident we met was friendly and offered a smile. Despite our phrase book and some Spanish familiarity, communicating was a challenge. Portuguese offers a whole new world of pronunciation. Pictures, pointing, lots of laughing, and a few basic words, like "Obrigado" for "Thank You," got us by. After settling into our room, we were ready to bask in Atlantic surf and sun for a respite from our travels.

Simple and Sunny Salema

Life passes at a slow and easy pace in Salema. Each morning, the fishermen push their small craft with a tractor over the beach and head out into the mild Atlantic, veering west to parallel the coast and set their nets. We watched the activity while breakfasting at the village’s Boia Bar, just above the beach. The fresh salt air and strong coffee were a great way to wake up, whetting our appetite for the good-portioned breakfast.
The beach beckoned us at an early hour. It was not hard to find the perfect location near the cliffs to spread our towels and settle in for a perfect day of lounging. Even in October the water temperature was perfect, and the sun warmed us like lizards. Some local boys frolicked on belly boards in the gentle shore break. Salema’s south-facing beach sits between golden cliffs at either end. The village street winds up the cliff on the eastern end of the beach, while the Atlantico restaurant/bar sits at mid-beach. The Atlantico seems to serve as the dividing line between the tourist beach and the working beach of the fishermen.

That evening, sitting on the terrace of the Atlantico, we watched the play of light from the setting sun and savored our swordfish dinner with a Portuguese red wine. The young, local waiter had a good command of English as he advised us on seeing "Lands End" the next day. Later, enjoying coffee and dessert, we traded comments with German and English tourists at nearby tables about the quickly approaching thunderhead. In less than ten minutes the sky was alit with lightning as the thunder clapped. Rain fell in torrents, and the terrace canopy filled with water and came crashing down, forcing a hasty retreat inside. Then the lights went out and the restaurant and village were left in the quickly fading dusk glow. This was a cue for craziness. Half of the restaurant’s clients, admittedly the younger half, streamed across the beach, through the torrents, and dived into the Atlantic, shouting and screaming with delight. It was almost completely dark by the time the storm had passed and the "crazies" had returned from the sea. This was truly a meal to remember. All this, thunderstorm included, came to less than $20. We felt our way back up to our quarto for a good night’s rest.

Europe’s "Land’s End"

The next morning the storm had passed and the sea glimmered under a warm sun. We drove thirty minutes to "Land’s End," the southwestern-most tip of Europe. The rugged cliffs are completely vertical here, rising approximately 200 ft to a dry, wind-swept tableland. The small town of Sagres sits just east of the point of land that was believed to be the end of the world in ancient times, in pre-Classical Greece, for example. Prince Henry the Navigator had a navigator’s school in Sagres in the 15th century, sending sailors ever farther into the unknown. We toured the port of Sagres, then headed north for 15 minutes to the secluded beach of Castelejo to enjoy a warm beach afternoon on Portugal’s west coast.

See Salema Now

Portugal’s Algarve coast stretches approximately 150 miles from the Spanish border, westward to Sagres at "Land’s End." Salema sits approximately 15 miles east of this westernmost point. Only 15 years ago, the Algarve was still a mostly undiscovered tourist destination. That situation has changed quickly, with almost every pretty beach now being dominated by high-rise condos, similar to Spain’s Costa del Sol. Salema is still an exception to that rule, and its relatively small beach will certainly limit the development. However, two-story condos already rim the hills looking down on Salema, and two small condos have been built just behind the Atlantico restaurant/bar. If you’ve ever planned to visit the Portuguese coast, Salema is still a magic slice of the Algarve. It’s a great place for a "vacation within a vacation." Our two-day stay in Salema put us in great spirits to continue our explorations in Spain and Portugal.
Les and Rita Furnanz

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