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Silves

Silves is a great place to get away from the bustle of the coast yet is still within easy reach of the seaside resorts. Particularly known for its mighty red-sandstone castle visible from many miles around, the city still wears it historical colours proudly. Silves was the capital of the Moorish kingdom of Al-Gharb (from where we get the name Algarve) for many centuries and was once the finest city in Portugal; the Arab chroniclers called it a “place of shining brightness” it was considered sumptuous and imposing and compared in grandeur with Lisbon, Seville and Córdoba. Silves’ surrounding countryside is beautiful and staying at your hilltop holiday villa with pool, you will feel not only king of the castle, but part of the scenery.

If you do want to leave the hills, a day at the beach might be a welcoming and relaxing distraction. There is so much choice! Part of the municipality of Silves are the beaches of Armação de Pêra, some are sandy coves lined by beautiful rock formations, others are wide and long, flanked by dunes. All of them have a number of good beach restaurants and lounge bars. The beaches of Carvoeiro and Ferragudo are a quick drive away and each of them is a paradise on its own.

History

The region of Silves dates back to pre-historic times with small settlements spread across the countryside.   

Silves most likely originated from an important Phoenician trading post in the 1st millennium BC, somewhat 2km from the current city. It was given the name of ‘Cilpes’ during the Roman occupation, when the first fortifications were built. With the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Germanic invasions, Cilpes was integrated into the kingdom of the Visigoths, in the 5th century.

The main monuments of the city date from the period of Arab occupation, including the Castle, an important military fortification, one of the most beautiful and well preserved in the country, the current Cathedral and the Almohad cistern, a unique example on world scale.

More recently, Silves based a large part of its economic activity on irrigated agriculture, citrus and avocado orchards, which replaced the production of dried fruits. The production of oranges, in particular, led to the creation of the brand “Silves, Capital of the Orange”, associated with the brand “Wines of Silves”, recognized with international awards.

Attractions

Silves combines tourism with heritage, culture and gastronomy and with its scenic location set along the banks of the river Arade, within its vast territory of rolling hills, it not only has become a place to visit but also to stay. There is a great variety of things to see and to do.

Obviously and probably first on the list, will be the castle (see highlighted section further down) and just below it is the cathedral (called Sé Catedral de Silves). Both are easily reached by car and are well signposted, but if you like a bit of exercise, the best way to visit is walking the steep and narrow roads of the historic centre all the way up! The cathedral is the most important Gothic construction in the Algarve with impressive ogival Gothic vaults, it was built in mid-13th-century, most likely on the remains of the old greater mosque.

A stroll on the walkway alongside the Arade river is relaxing and it provides you with views of Silves from a different perspective. There is ample parking space, a playground and a riverside café. The medieval bridge, just opposite the market hall, was the original crossing point over the river, the latter being used by trade ships in ancient times, giving Silves its high importance as capital of the Algarve.

If you are looking for a fun day out with the family, Krazy World will be a great option. It is not only a Zoo with many animals of different species, but there is also interaction with animals, water fun, amusement park, zip-line and rope climb, 18-hole minigolf, restaurant and much more. It is near Algoz, around 20 mins drive from Silves. A whole day of water fun is definitely to be had at the Slide & Splash near Lagoa/Carvoeiro, a quick 15mins drive from Silves.

The Silves area is renowned for its delicious oranges and is officially registered in the Algarve as ‘Silves, Capital da Laranja’ (Silves, Capital of the Orange). Originally brought to Portugal by the Moors, there is a lot more to know about oranges by doing one of the tours, tasting the different kinds and you can also pick your own oranges and lemons!  

The Algarve is a growing and appreciated wine region and Silves has a number of good wineries which are worth a visit and a taste. Nearby, there is Quinta de Mata-Mouros or also called Convento da Nossa Senhora do Paraíso, a vineyard with over a hundred hectares, and Quinta Rosa which produces organic wines, made in the traditional way. On the other side of the city is Quinta do Francês, a lovely vineyard set within the hills between Silves and Monchique. Look for more wineries under the resort of Alvor and Porches.

If you are looking for villas in Algarve with private pool Affinity Villas offers many more destinations including Tavira, Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Loule, VilamouraPorches, Carvoeiro, FerragudoAlvor and Luz

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Silves Castle -Archaeological

Silves Castle - Archaeological Museum - City Council

Silves Castle (Castelo de Silves) is an imposing Moorish stronghold which defended this once thriving city throughout many centuries. Admire the magnificent views from the wall walks, step down into the monumental ‘Aljiba’, a cistern which could provide the city with water for a whole year. Therefore, it is recommended to get one ticket for both the castle and the archaeological museum, which is near, as there you will see a wealth of objects which were found in and around Silves. The museum is actually built around an 18m deep cistern-well of Islamic origin and which has a spiral staircase leading all the way to the bottom. Just off the castle’s entrance to the right, there is a lovely café for a nice cool drink or a coffee, they also serve tasty snacks and a light lunch.

Walking down from the castle or the museum, through the narrow streets of the historic centre, you will arrive at the imposing building of the city council (late 19th-century) which is still in full operation and worth a visit. Then, walking down another level, underneath the city council, you will find a café which interior shows the most incredible blue-and-white painted tile frames.

Silves Barragem

Barragem (Dam) do Arade and Barragem do Funcho

If nature combined with exercise attracts you, then a visit to the two dams is recommended. Both are not far away and are easily reached by taking the N124 road to Messines (São Bartolomeu de Messines). To Barragem do Arade, turn left after approximately 7km and follow the signs for a further 4km. This dam was built in 1956 and is used for agricultural purposes.

Barragem do Funcho is closer to Messines and is reached via Vale Fuzeiros (the archaeological route passes here too), it is much larger and of more recent construction,1993, and used for agricultural purposes as well. The views are amazing, and it is paradise for birdwatching. There is a good circular walking trail of around 17km which will show you both dams and, from a viewpoint on a hilltop, you can see into the Iberian Lynx breeding centre.

Silves Monchique Thermal

Monchique Thermal Spa town and Fóia

The mountain range which is seen to the north of Silves is called Serra de Monchique and neighbours the Alentejo province. The rocks are of volcanic origin and it is the richest forest region of the Algarve with cork trees, eucalyptus, chestnut and oak.

At approximately 20km from Silves by following the N124 and N266, you will arrive at Caldas de Monchique. There is a park amongst huge eucalyptus trees with a stream from a natural spring and lots of little paths up and down the hills. The main square offers moments of peace such as the little chapel and the original thermal spring. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing range of therapies in a modern complex, from just soaking in the 31°C water to hydromassage and steam treatments.

Fóia, the highest point of the Algarve, with 902m, is a steep but easy drive of a little more than 7km with several viewpoints along the way. Once the top has been reached you will be dazzled by the 360o views which span the Algarve’s south and west coasts as far as Cabo de S. Vicente and Barragem da Bravura along the way.

Getting Around

Silves is easily reached by a good network of roads, whether you use the motorway, national road or the local roads. It is relatively close to the coastal towns of Armação de Pêra, Carvoeiro, Praia da Rocha and Alvor and to the city of Portimão where the bigger supermarkets and shopping centres can be found, but Silves and São Bartolomeu de Messines (commonly named Messines) have a good choice of shops and supermarkets as well.

Restaurants, bars and cafés are plentiful; one of the best seafood restaurants is to be found in the centre of Silves. Look here for maps and more information about Silves.