The sky is a brilliant blue, reflecting the sun-kissed, light-hearted atmosphere of the city of Loulé and its people. I time-travel back from autumn into summer. At least this is what it feels like for me as a Central European, taking a deep breath and immediately feeling wrapped up by the light-hearted atmosphere myself. At 10.00 in the morning, I have my first meeting with João Ministro, managing director of ProActiveTur, a company set up to develop sustainable tourism and regional culture initiatives in the Algarve. João is here to tell me more about the “TASA” project, including lots of different initiatives to encourage creative travel in Loulé and around. We speak in Portuguese. Of course. Since Portuguese is a language I learned over the summer, a most beautiful language of the heart speaking to me since my visit in Porto – the fifth foreign language I have decided to learn. Like that. Seriously. I love it! Such is the start of my creative visit to the Algarve. 😉
Recently, Loulé in the south of the beautiful Algarve region in Portugal has become a part of the international “Creative Tourism Network” – and thus appeared on my radar for creative travel, too.
Even though I am only travelling in the Algarve for a couple of days, I immediately get the gist of what this area is all about. Traditional art and craft forms practised by the local people over the course of many centuries have become threatened to disappear in times of global competition & economic crises. “When I was still a kid, I remember we all learned from the local artisans living and working here in Loulé”, Paula who owns a restaurant named Perdicão tells me, saddened. “Today, many people have already moved away looking for a different living elsewhere.” And yet, looking around as a first-time visitor, there is still so much left to discover in the area, starting with the city of Loulé itself. Loulé totals some 30.000 inhabitants and thus is no bigger than my own hometown Krems in Lower Austria. Fuelled by a spirit of curiosity and creativity, I have decided to set off exploring the creative trade routes of the Algarve. It is thanks to this wider international trend for creative culture travel that destinations such as Loulé may now benefit for taking a fresh look at their own assets for culture tourism.
Creative Travel fosters international exchange of know-how and understanding: Through direct contact with the local people, for instance during a cooking or weaving workshop, you start speaking the language of the human heart.
“When we go out into the Serra, we always harvest a big amount and then dry our herbs over a long period of time … Our salt, local sea salt, is good, but we always take care of using only a little – it is our herbs that really lend our cuisine its typical Mediterranean flavours: Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender. Local cuisine here in the Algarve is much more focused on fish & vegetables than further up north in Portugal, and thus lighter and healthier, too.” Paula speaks with determination in her voice, drawing everyone’s attention at the restaurant Perdicão. Today, she and her mum are preparing “small snacks”, as the Portuguese like to call their “tea time” at five in the afternoon: There is white bread covered with a cream of sweet potato, nuts and baked with cheese, small pastries filled with fish and vegetables as well as home-made veggie sticks – and of course cake for dessert, using a special type of sweet “Alfarroba” flour for baking. Yum! For me, all of this amounts more to dinnertime, rather … They just cannot help but be focused on food and mealtime stories, those sweet Portuguese people.! 😉
I have also really connected with this sweet lady here, who thanks to her many years of experience has proven the perfect candidate to introduce me to the ancient art of plant weaving. “I started when I was only nine years old”, she tells me and her face lights up, having dedicated her entire life to living her passion. Touching the delicate palm fibres she has brought with her, I feel reminded of my first creative workshops in New Zealand weaving with Harakeke flax. “It took me three months to weave this palm dress”, she tells me with pride in her voice. “The dress scored second in the national competition!” Odete is such a happy person, and together nothing can stop us: On this day, we become one, united by both our passion for creative travel in the Algarve.
Disclaimer: I have been invited by João Ministro and his team to discover and explore creative travel in the Algarve region of Portugal. All opinions are my own.