Set on the south coast and home to sun-kissed beaches lapped by bright blue seas, Carvoeiro is one of Portugal's hidden gems. With cobbled streets and clusters of whitewashed houses, this pretty fishing village overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is set against a backdrop of lush, green hills. With authentic restaurants and atmospheric bars, it's the perfect place to enjoy your holiday. However, Carvoeiro also holds a secret of its own. The rugged cliffs of Algar Seco Park are not just famous because of their unique beauty; they are also the source of legends and real-life sagas.
The story of Algar SecoThe story that surrounds Algar Seco Park tells of Princess Alfanzina, who fell in love with a lowly coal supplier, known in Portuguese as a ”carvoeiro'. When the king found out that his daughter was consorting with a commoner, he forbade them from seeing each other. However, the couple continued to meet in secret, meeting at the cliffs in the park. As seems to be the way with stories of this sort, the king found out and waited for them at their meeting point. When the Carvoeiro arrived, the king pulled out a knife and killed him, throwing his body into the ocean. Broken-hearted, Princess Alfanzina would return to that spot every day and grieve for her dead lover. The legend says that the tears she shed formed the holes in the rock that have made this part of Portugal so famous.
Smugglers and dollsAlgar Seco Park is a network of caves, pools and incredible rock formations, which are well worth visiting during your Portugal. holidays. The formation that draws the most attention is best seen from the sea. Officially named ”A Boneca', which translates as ”the doll', it resembles the head of a giant doll peering out of the ocean. There are stairs carved into the rock leading up to A Boneca, which were created by Portuguese smugglers during the rule of Antonio de Oliviera Salazar. A Boneca was used as a marker for smugglers bringing in contraband from ships just off the Portuguese coast, and illegal cigarettes and perfumes were often stored in the caves. In a further twist, when customs officials overheard people mentioning the ”A Boneca', they mistakenly thought that they were referring to a brothel that once existed nearby.
Scuba-dive the cavesThese days, you won't have to scramble up stone steps in order to explore the park. There is a boardwalk which allows you to take in all the fascinating geological highlights without getting too hot and sweaty. Years of erosion has carved hollows and caverns into the rock, which creates pools of cool water and tiny sandy shores that are lit from a large hole in the cave ceiling. On the eastern side of the boardwalk, you can take a set of stairs to the bottom of a limestone sinkhole, where there is a shallow pool. The hidden world of natural sculptures, tunnels and grottos make it an unforgettable place to go swimming and snorkelling. For seasoned scuba divers, there's even the chance to go diving into the caves and appreciate this dramatic landscape from a unique perspective. However, this is recommended for experienced divers only rather than novices, as the currents can be changeable. Those who do take the plunge will be rewarded with close-up encounters with a variety of marine life, such as Scorpionfish and Atlantic coral.
Getting to Algar Seco ParkWhether you want to explore the cliffs on land or in the water, the best way to get to them is by boat. You can find tour operators and private-hire fishing boats in the harbour at Carvoeiro Beach, who will take you to the hidden grottos and wait for you while you walk around them. It's a good idea to turn up on the day and see who's going out, as the number and frequency of trips to Algar Seco Park does depend on the conditions out at sea. While you can go straight there, there are other trips that will take in other attractions on the way, such as the stunning Benagil Cave and the beautiful Vale Covo.