In this post: porco preto, industrial tourism, the mystery of Vasco da Gama’s birthplace, the best coastal trail in the world.
Does your stomach influence your travel logistics? Come on, be honest 😉. Any sightseeing is better after a good meal. Not an early riser, I usually opt to skip breakfast. There is a silver lining to this habit. Fully awake and voraciously hungry by lunchtime, I appreciate local cuisine to the point of devouring every last bit. Incidentally, this is the best way to make any chef happy.
This philosophy brought us to Sines, a small Portuguese town conveniently located roughly halfway between Lisbon and Algarve. Restorante o Castelo sounded too good to miss.
Pardon the cliché, but it looked like killing two birds with one stone. We can taste the region’s famous black pig, and, as the name implied, there must be a castle nearby.
True to its name, we found the restaurant right next to the castle wall. It was almost empty. A local family was having Sunday brunch. They chatted with the owner in that special intimate way unmistakably revealing frequent visitors. A meal later, it was easy to understand why.
Some people are born to be restaurateurs. Jose, the proprietor, is one of them. Charming and charismatic, he was equally at easy with us, clueless foreigners, recommending what dishes to try and what wine to pair them with, and with patrons who definitely knew their way around. A joke here, a bit of history there came along with more serious talk about local cuisine.
Darn, I am salivating over these delicious memories. The presentation was simple, but the taste was heavenly.
By the time we finished our lunch, the restaurant was full. It is a 40-seat place, so, judging by its popularity, it’s better to come earlier.
After a good meal, the wintry December weather became much more tolerable. Frankly, I liked it better than being baked by the blazing summer sun. Sines, here we come!
Two faces of Sines
Perhaps not the prettiest visually, the modern industrial port complex makes Sines the vital force in the Portuguese economy. The unique phenomenon of a natural underwater trench allows the largest cargo ships to dock near the shore.
The deep-sea port full of humongous container ships and tankers, the towers and pipelines of the oil refinery, and the thermal power plant create an unforgettable almost utopian landscape. We are not into this kind of sightseeing, but, apparently, there was enough public interest to establish the Aportar Sines project to facilitate so-called sustainable industrial tourism.
The port was built in the 1970s. Until then, Sines was a quaint fishing town with a long and illustrious history of trading with Mediterranean cities and fighting off pirates. Sitting on a steep cliff overlooking a small sandy bay, Sines looks like an illustration from a fairytale book.
Its history goes back thousands of years. First known settlements in the area had been attributed to the Iron Age. The Romans used Sines as a port and built salting fish factories. Sines crown glory came in the 15th century when Vasco da Gama, the legendary Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea, was born there. Or was he? Surprisingly, the exact birth date of Vasco da Gama is unknown. He was born either in 1460 or 1469. The latter makes him a proud son of the city.
Castelo de Sines
The castle of Sines was built in 1424 during the reign of Dom João I and was enlarged around 1512. The primary purpose of this fortress was the defense against pirates that ravaged the Portuguese coast.
The most famous of the commanders of Sines Castle was the father of Vasco da Gama. Assuming that he already held this post in 1469, the navigator’s probable birth year, this must be Vasco da Gama’s birthplace.
The best view of the old Sines is from the Castle’s wall. Red roofs of traditional whitewashed buildings create timeless atmosphere while cheerfully looking around.
On a warm sunny day, visit Porto Côvo and the fabulous rocky coastline next to it. Porto Côvo is the epitome of Portuguese fishing village. Sadly, recently it transformed into tourist location, but bygone era vibes are still there.
For hikers, Porto Côvo is interesting for a different reason. It provides access to one of the best coastal trails in the world – Fishermen’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores). It follows the paths used by locals to get to the beaches and hot fishing spots.
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