In Algarve you can truly taste the sunshine all year around.

Before moving my life to Portugal, I day dreamed of gathering fresh oranges each morning in the sunshine, wearing my pyjamas and flip-flops, and snacking on sticky, syrupy sweet figs, straight from the tree whilst hiking the rugged, dusty, mountain trails with my dogs. 

Straight off the tree and into my belly.

Finding good vegan places to eat, off the tourist trail or away from the coast can be very challenging. Even though there are; mangoes, avocados and figs in abundance, it’s very hard to find a mountain restaurant which serves an attractive or tasty vegan meal. The chef will always oblige with a vegan plate, but don’t be surprised if you receive; a bowl of hot cabbage stew on a summer’s day, gazpacho with cheese and ham generously sprinkled on top, or avocado toast topped with two perfectly fried eggs. 

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Summer sunshine treasure

In late summer, the fig tree boughs are heavily weighed down with an abundance of soft, ripe, delicate green or black fruit. Some have gone past their best and are drying naturally on the tree, others are simmering perfectly in the warmth of the day, oozing sweet, blushing, cerise, strawberry jam-like goo, completely beyond comparison to shop bought fruit.

Saturday is fresh produce market day in Olhão.

The local markets are filled with fresh produce, grown, picked and sold directly by the farmers. Honey available in every shade of amber, gathered from bees feasting on carob, rosemary, orange blossom and wild herbs. Summer fruits and salad are grown and harvested all year round. Crumpled skinned ‘Rosa’ tomatoes are huge and heavenly. It’s a foodie paradise! 

Wild flowers start to appear from January through May before the heat of summer.

Village stores filled with local artisan produce

Ask most people about the best Portuguese food, and they will tell you all about the ‘Porco Preto’ which is Iberian black pig and ‘Javali’ which is wild boar. Or perhaps the huge variety of delicious local artisan handmade fresh, cured, or smoked cheeses, (mostly from sheep or goats) available in every village store. But for me, as a vegan, it’s all about the fruit, veggies and wild foraging. On the trail, there’s easy pickings of black mustard, wild asparagus and nettles, with the scent of wild herbs such as thyme, fennel, rosemary and water mint in the air.

Wander the pretty cobbled streets of Olhão behind the market halls.

Make time to visit the farmer’s markets

Head over to Olhão market on Saturday morning to find chillies in every shape, colour and heat for around €4 per kilo. I use a handful of freshly pounded chillies and plump purple garlic to make Sambal Belacan. Or, chillies dried at home for a few weeks, chopped then scalded with peanut oil, make an ideal coating for noodles or blanched carrot tops.

Straight from the market and into my dehydrator for a few days to gently dry the fruit.

Mountain life

I lived for several months last year in the mountain village of Salir, 20 minutes north of Loulé. The days are warmer inland than the Algarve coast in the summer by several degrees, and in winter we enjoyed beautiful crisp, frosty, early mornings. A glassy frost carpeted the vibrant, green, grassy floor of the mountain orange grove. Small frozen puddles and dried carob fruit crackled underfoot as I made my way past the mill pool, to the heavily laden orange trees, which look out towards the table top mountain of Rocha da Pena. Some oranges dispensed lots of juice and were packed with seeds, some were almost seed free but unwilling to surrender their liquefied treasure. At -2℃, the oranges are cold, the juice is already chilled to perfection.  

View from the millpond towards Rocha de Pena, Salir. Algarve. Portugal.

You can truly taste the sunshine all year around. Oh, did I mention the wine? Maybe next time!

Stupa Budista

The Buddhist temple in the mountains of Algarve.

In May 2021 we visited the Buddhist temple – ‘Stupa Budista’ in Salir, Loulé, Algarve – just 15 minutes away by scooter from our home. We decided to go at sunset to watch the sunlight fading over the mountains, with far reaching mountainous 360° views, including the Atlantic ocean in the distance.

We were greated by a big white and brown Rafeiro do Alentejo dog, waiting patiently by the temple for some fuss and attention from visitors. We were alone and had the place to ourselves for the whole visit, which was magical. I know we will visit again, maybe at sunrise instead.

We walked clockwise around the stupa in a positive frame of mind, as advised on the information board.

Salir is a very quiet, tranquil and peaceful village of traditional homes, nestled in the Serra do Caldeirão hills. Hiking on top of one of these hills is a wonderful treat all year around. Spring is the best time to visit.

To get there- West of Salir on the N124, a sign points north to Moinho do Malhão. Turn right and take the scenic winding road up to the cross roads and look for a large sign on a sharp right hand turn, marking the entrance to Humkara Dzong, a small Tibetan Buddhist community. The rough unmade road leads to a magnificent and beautiful Stupa with a most spectacular view in the Algarve.

Lama Kunzang Dorje founded the community in 1982 and in 2008 the five metre high Stupa was constructed and consecrated. The first of its kind in Portugal, the monument marks the highest point in the hills overlooking the Algarve and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. From this point, it’s often possible to simultaneously watch the sunset and the moonrise. You will enjoy some of the cleanest air in the world on this hilltop. It was windy when we visited, and starting to get chilly at 14°C as the sun disappeared under the horizon.

Just beyond the Stupa, there is an old windmill hich has been converted into a temple where the Buddhist community gathers each morning for prayers.

In the Buddhist faith, the Stupa is symbolic of the potential that everyone has to achieve enlightenment: we consider all expats who have chosen to live here in the Algarve as ‘enlightened’. Thousands of prayers, sacred relics and other offerings are contained within the Stupa. Buddhists believe that the shrine is a source of positive energy which promotes health, wellbeing and prosperity. Whether you’re a believer or not, you won’t be able to deny that this spot brings great joy and peace to the visitor.

Definitely worth a visit.