Algarve River Trip

From Alvor, the Flor do Sol heads eastward towards the town of Portimão

Portugal has a very rich sea-faring history and during its Golden Era of Discoveries no other nation on earth could match the Portuguese fleet’s skill and power as it opened previously unimagined maritime routes around the world. However, let’s turn our back on the sea for a moment and focus our attention on the rivers – an old world equivalent of our new world highways – and take a lazy, Algarve river cruise along the River Arade from Portimão to Silves.

Let’s set the stage.  Our departure point is Alvor. Once a small, traditional fishing village, Alvor has managed to become one of the more popular Algarve attractions while still remaining at heart a small, traditional fishing village. At the dock near the old fish market, where the local old boys sit in the shade discussing the day’s catch you can see the distinctive flat-roofed shape of Portugal’s first solar powered boat – the “Alvor Flor do Sol”. Roisin and Luis, Irish and Portuguese, are the owners of the “Flor do Sol” and they run a small, family business called Alvor Boat Trips. They specialize in coastal cruises, fishing trips (Luis and his family have fished these waters for generations) and river boat trips along the River Arade to Silves.

From Alvor, the Flor do Sol heads eastward towards the town of Portimão, the second largest town in the Algarve and a busy commercial centre. This is where the River Arade joins the Atlantic, having meandered through the gentle countryside, and this is where the Flor do Sol begins its river cruise, heading upstream to the ancient Moorish town of Silves.

Silves is truly an ancient settlement, once populated by Phoenicians and Romans. The Moors made Silves – or Xelb as they called it – their seat of power in the kingdom of Algarve. The impressive castle that stands above the town today surveys the surrounding countryside. The River Arade was the main commercial highway, enabling trade and facilitating the movement of people, ensuring Silves position as a commercial and political centre of power.

Chimney top storkFlamingos on the banks of the River AradeRiver Arade boat cruiseSilves Bridge

Reaching Silves, the Flor do Sol docks near to the ancient Roman bridge and there is time to explore the town on foot. Be sure to visit the castle, the cathedral and the local museum.  The whole town exudes an incredibly rich sense of history, and just strolling around the cobbled, narrow streets blurs the line between the present and the past. To really immerse yourself in the past, you should visit Silves during the annual Medieval Festival, complete with jousting matches, wandering minstrels and leprous beggars! Near to the Cathedral and nestled below the castle walls, enjoy a drink at Café Inglês – café, bistro, art gallery, home to live music and an obligatory stop in Silves.

The boat trip along the Rio Arade to Silves is lazy and relaxing. Being solar powered, the Flor do Sol makes minimal noise and creates minimal pollution. The water laps gently against the boat, the sun shines down upon old fish factories and tidal water mills. Storks circle and glide in the sky and you may even see some flamingos enjoy a winter vacation. Turtles enjoy the sun on the riverbanks and the air is fragrant with the scents of wildflowers and fruit trees. The cruise retraces the journeys of our historical ancestors, giving us a view of the achievements and failures of the past generations, traveling through some of the unspoiled and normally unseen countryside of the Algarve.

River trips to Silves vary according to the tides, so advance booking is essential.

The “Flor do Sol” can accommodate up to 12 people ensuring a very personalized trip and service. The trip by Alvor Boat Trips includes a light lunch and drinks. Price per adult is €40, 50% discount for children.

The 2012 Medieval Fair at Silves will be held from 28th July to 5th August.

For operational reasons the Silves river trip normally departs from the Marina da Portimão, the sea leg and Alvor departures are only by request and subject to the sea and tides.

With special thanks to Roísin O’Hagen,  Alvor Boat Trips

Silves Municipal MuseumSilves, AlgarveTaking flight...