Alte – the hidden gem in the hills
It’s true to say that the Algarve isn’t short on tourist attractions. The natural beauty of the region draws millions of visitors to its golden shores each year, plus it offers some of the best sports and leisure facilities in the world. But, behind the well-promoted resorts and events, the Algarve is keeping more than a few beautiful secrets from the average holidaymaker.
Alte is a typical Algarvean village, nestled in the foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão, just east of São Bartolomeu de Messines. As the crow flies, Alte is less than 30 kilometres inland from the popular holiday destination of Vilamoura, but this sleepy village is a world apart from Vilamoura’s bustling marina, five star accommodation and vibrant nightlife. Famous with the Portuguese for its natural spring waters, Alte does feature in some of the better Algarve guides but, being a little off the beaten track, it’s sadly overlooked by many tourists.
If you enter Alte from the east or the west, you’ll find yourself on a main road which loops around the village’s maze of narrow cobbled streets with whitewashed houses and handcrafted chimneys. The quaint village church, (Church of Our Lady of the Assumption) sits at the centre of the village, surrounded by several cafes and small restaurants. The views from the village, down across the unspoilt countryside, can only be described as breath taking.
At one time, Alte relied exclusively on income from agricultural produce. Today, although it’s geared up to maximise the tourist trade, you would hardly notice. Shops selling handicrafts, pottery and local produce such as olive oils and honey, are soaked up by the village’s traditional Algarvean charm.
Even if you live in the Algarve, a walk through Alte will make you feel almost obliged to do the touristy things. There are many delightful eateries but, if you like to have your cake…, Auga Mel is reportedly the best Pastelaria in the area. Next door, Café Regional is an Aladdin’s cave of regional goods, masquerading as a coffee shop. Don’t just pass it by; have a browse inside, you’ll be amazed.
Every third Thursday of the month is market day in Alte. It’s a fantastic little market. Stalls line the streets selling a range of goods including leather accessories, fruit trees, pots of herbs, traditional tableware and wonderfully fresh fruit and veg. The atmosphere is enhanced by a mix of locals and visitors sitting by the roadside, eating the freshly barbequed chicken being cooked by street vendors.
Follow the signs pointing you to the Fontes, on the eastern edge of the village, and you’ll discover the real jewel in the crown. The Fontes are steeped in history. For centuries, Fontes Pequena e Grande (Small and Big Fountains) served as a meeting point for women of the village. They came to fill their pitchers, do their laundry and, no doubt, share the local gossip.
If you cross the narrow bridge over the river, you’ll often see locals filling bottles with the fresh running spring water. A sign that warns that the water isn’t tested and, therefore, is not for drinking, is a sign of the times. But the locals have been drinking the spring water for centuries and I don’t think they’ve fared too badly on it. One of those locals was Portuguese lawyer and poet Cândido Guerreiro. Born in Alte in 1871, Guerreiro lived to the age of 82 and is buried in the village cemetery. Guerreiro clearly found his birthplace a location to inspire creativity. It’s here in Alte, at the Fonte Pequena Inn, that you can see a tribute to him in the form of a tiled portrait and a selection of his poems, including one of his better-known works which reads:
“Porque nasci ao pé de quatro montes
Por onde as águas passam a cantar
As canções dos moinhos e das fontes,
Ensinaram-me as águas a falar.”
“As the place where I was born lies encircled by four hills
Through which waters run singing
The songs of fountains and mills,
Waters taught me to speak.”
The path that extends beyond the Fontes, is good for a peaceful stroll, while the grassy bank areas around the waters are an ideal spot for a picnic, a quiet read or to sit back and reflect on the quality of life here in the Algarve.
How to find Alte
The village is just off the N124 which runs from Portimâo, east through Slves, almost to the Spanish border. Alte sits between Messines and Salir and is well sign posted from both directions.