The land of the Portuguese Water Dog

Bo, the new First Puppy, will have a much different life with the Obamas in the White House than his ancestors did along the coast of Portugal. Portuguese water dogs were once a common sight in the country’s fishing communities, where they performed a variety of tasks for fishermen, including herding fish into nets, retrieving broken nets, and swimming with messages from ship to ship.

Atlantic Ocean fishing remains a way of life for many Portuguese and also has become an important tourist activity. This is especially true in the country’s southernmost region, the Algarve. For example, Reefcat Fishing, based in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, offers sport fishing charters that go after a variety of game, including shark, marlin, and tuna.

Vila Real de Santo Antonio is a good starting point for our brief tour of the Algarve. By European standards, it’s a young community, having been founded in 1774 to replace a town in the area destroyed by a tsunami associated with the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The town was planned by Sebastião de Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, who, as prime minister under King Joseph I, also was chiefly responsible for the redesign and reconstruction of Lisbon following the earthquake. As a result, unlike most European cities, the streets of Vila Real de Santo Antonio predominantly run in a grid pattern. The town has a handsome central square and is near the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo Antonio Marsh Natural Reserve. Established in 1975, it was the first natural reserve on the Portuguese mainland.

Castro Marim is a medieval village just north of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. A bridge across the Guardania River links the community to Ayamonte, Spain. Castro Marim is notable for its castle, built as a fortress by the Moors sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries. The Moors arrived on the Iberian Peninsula in 711 from North Africa and spread Muslim culture throughout most of Spain and Portugal. In 1249, the Algarve was retaken by Christians, the last region of modern Portugal to fall. The influence of the Moorish occupation still can be seen in the architecture of the region.

If you’d rather golf than fish, Castro Marim is home to an 18-hole, par-72 course opened in 2000. It offers golfers beautiful views of the river, the nature reserve, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Perhaps your idea of the ideal vacation includes lounging on a beach. Just west of Vila Real de Santo Antonio is Monte Gordo, the very cliché of a sleepy fishing village turned tourist resort. Here you’ll find a long, broad strand of golden beach along the warm waters of the Gulf of Cadiz. The climate in this part of Portugal is sunny and warm virtually year-round. The average January high, for example, is 61 degrees.

Monte Gordo also has a casino, which opened in 1996. It boasts more than 200 slot machines and a nightly floorshow.

Further west along the coast is the town of Tavira, surrounded by hills of fig and almond trees. Tavira has a number of fine, secluded beaches on a couple of long islands just off the coast. Regular ferry service links them to the town.

Tavira has a very long history, with evidence of a settlement here dating back to 2,000 B.C. The Romans built a large town just east of the present community and also erected a bridge across the Gilão River, which still links the two parts of Tavira. The Moors also recognized the strategic importance of the site and built a castle here. Legend has it that the town was taken from the Moors in 1242 by Dom Paio Peres Correia in retribution for the slaying of seven of his knights during a period of truce. The tombs of all eight men are in the church of Santa Maria do Castelo, one of 37 churches in this picturesque community. Though many of the town’s structures were destroyed by the previously mentioned earthquake of 1755, Misericórdia church, built in 1541, is still standing.

West of Tavira on Highway 125 is the hamlet of Luz de Tavira, notable for its 16th Century church with Manueline ornamentation.

Finally, as we wrap our tour of the eastern Algarve, we come to Olhão, where perhaps you might see a Portuguese water dog still performing the duties that gave the breed its name. That’s because fishing remains very important in the community. A long building along the waterfront houses the fish market, where the daily catch is still offered up to locals planning their next meal.

source: - your portugal car hire choice