The Village

The Village, From quintessential fishing village to flourishing resort town.

Patrick Stuart reflects on the appeal of PRAIA DO CARVOEIRO

June 2002

Brought with kind permission from Essential Algarve

Standing on the cliff top above Carvoeiro beach, it’s surprisingly difficult to pinpoint the changes that have taken place over the last three decades. The white houses which dot the hillsides still look the same – but there are more of them. The view of the beach below me has changed even less, except for the disappearance of the old fishing boats and the addition of the huge boulders to the east of the bay where part of the cliff collapsed – thankfully when the beach was empty – in 1995. The difference between Carvoeiro and most other coastal towns is that development has been outwards rather than upwards. There are no high rises and most of the development has been sympathetic to the landscape. While the population, both resident and tourist, has spiraled, the "village", as it is affectionately known to most expats, has managed to retain a good deal of its aesthetic charm.

I first came to Carvoeiro at 11 years of age in 1976 and very soon after we uprooted from the UK and joined the handful of villa owners from Britain, Holland, Germany and elsewhere who had all discovered their perfect unspoilt seaside village in the sun. Needless to say, change was fast to come and by the mid 80s Carvoeiro was riding the crest of the Algarve's real estate boom. Fortunes were made and lost, property prices soared and Carvoeiro rapidly grew from a sleepy fishing village into a full-blown resort town. 

Anyone who has known Carvoeiro since those early days cannot help but feel the occasional pang of nostalgia. But in some ways, the "village" of today is a better place to live and, not surprisingly, continues to exercise its charm over both tourists and prospective residents alike. One of the most positive aspects of today’s Carvoeiro is precisely the fact that there are more people around. Twenty or so years ago, the last days of September would see the village turn almost overnight into a ghost town for the autumn and winter months only coming back alive at Easter. These days, thanks to a permanent population of over 5,000 and the off-season tourists drawn by golf courses and other facilities, many establishments stay open year round. Another important improvement is in the basic infrastructure: roads have been surfaced, mains drains extended to outlying areas, there is a medical centre, a decent supermarket and a whole range of upgraded facilities in nearby Lagoa.

Carvoeiro has come a long way since it was "discovered" by the first visiting foreigners in the 1960s. The local Carvoeirenses can be proud that their village has moved forward with the times and taken growth in its stride without succumbing to the unsightly development that has blighted so many of southern Europe’s coastal resort towns.
While Carvoeiro has fallen victim to a few cases of tasteless development, namely the area immediately to the east of the town centre which is lined with bars, restaurants and apartment buildings, they are fortunately obscured from view when looking at Carvoeiro from its best vantage points – up on the cliff tops at either side of the bay. 

Barbara Fellgiebel speaks to some of Carvoeiro’s longstanding foreign residents who all fell in love 
with this idyllic fishing village more than 20 years ago

In 1970 Klaus and Dorothea Möller came to Carvoeiro for the first time, stayed in the Pensão Bazelli with its breathtaking views over the picturesque village and the sea and felt that this what they’d been searching for. "We want to have a second home right here. Said and done." 
They bought land and built their first house and discovered that many of their friends back home at the golf club also desired a property in the sun. In no time at all the couple founded what was to become Carvoeiro Club, a beautiful, unobtrusive and tastefully integrated development that became at once one with the existing landscape – long before anybody had thought of environmental consideration.

"It was a wonderful time," Dorothea (Thea) recalls. "We were surrounded by good friends and established a lovely community." The demand for Möller’s villas grew so the pair spread their wings and developed other areas of Carvoeiro such as Club Atlantico, Monte Carvoeiro, Palm Gardens and Carvoerio tennis club. As they expanded, though, they made sure that high-rise buildings already granted planning permission remained un-built and altered the blueprints into the far more pleasing low architecture structures Carvoeiro today is so proud of. 
Sadly Klaus Möller died in 2000 by which time all these projects were in the hands of other developers. His final venture, the estate agency Algarvida, is today run by Thea and daughter Isabel.

The Möllers, along with Carvoeiro’s other main property developer Jorge de Lagos, can take the credit for Carvoeiro’s horizontal rather than vertical development.
Mother and daughter Möller are still bewildered by the change of infrastructure in Carvoeiro, especially Isabel, who had not set foot on Portuguese soil between 1992 and 1998. "I still go to revisit people who used to live in the middle of nowhere. I can hardly find them, because now they are in the centre of a developed area." And Thea finds the existing garbage collection system pretty sophisticated compared with the early years when she herself was the ‘dustman’ who with the help of a young Portuguese used to collect the rubbish in Carvoeiro Club and then drive it down to a collection area right behind the Hotel Carvoeiro Sol (then Dom Sancho), where it was picked up by the local authorities once a week. 
Thea has a wonderful way of praising the past as well as present Carvoeiro. She has truly evolved with the changes and does not put a rosy glow around bygone times. She only wishes the authorities would honour their responsibility and maintain the roads within the developments better. 
As and when they do that, why not name the street through the Carvoeiro Club development Rua Klaus Möller? 

Linda Lawson and Fraser Smith, better known as Lyn & Fraser came to Carvoeiro in 1979. The Scottish-born Fraser had met Lyn, who hails from Peckham, in Rhodesia where they had worked in casinos. In Carvoeiro they wanted to start a restaurant. One was too big, one too small, but they eventually opted for the larger premises and for 20 years ran the legendary The Place & Safari Bar, meeting point for celebrities like Susan George, the Hidihi-gang, Amon Andrews and Günther Kaufmann, to name but a few.
They worked hard and barely found time to appreciate the village’s quaint ambience. With their tremendous sense of humour, they took every obstacle in their stride and thought everything was much easier compared to Africa – and paradise compared to Peckham! And they managed to remain a couple – unlike many others who came to Carvoeiro and subsequently split up, thus creating the forever returning question: are you married or do you live in Carvoeiro? 

Their secret? "We are not married, just engaged for 27 years!"
In 1999 they wanted to diminish their workload so The Place & Safari Bar was sold and they opened the small but hugely successful Pizza take away "O forno do Fraser" (Fraser’s oven).
Despite their success, the couple have recognised some negative aspects of modern Carvoeiro and question the need for today’s overabundance of restaurants. "When we arrived there were just five," they recall. "Although Carvoeiro has been granted the status of vila (town), it is basically a village," Lyn says. "Maybe the proposed car-free zones will make it a better place again, but at the moment there is nowhere people can sit and rest without having to consume."

Fraser preferred the good old days "when we did not have or make a lot of money but then didn’t need to as everything was so cheap" whereas Lyn hates the thought of nostalgia and talks instead about the here and now. "I tell you what is better today," she says, "the roads, the shopping facilities and the fact that you do not have to go so far to feel civilised." Heavy traffic is no problem for the couple as they have discovered a passion for cruising the Algarve on motorbikes. "You see so much more," Fraser explains, "and coming back after our many excursions and swinging into the windy road from Lagoa to Carvoeiro gives us this unique feeling that we’re home again."

Jan Zegers was one of the many young Dutch people who discovered Carvoeiro in the late 70s. Being the businessman he was, he immediately recognised the tremendous potential this charming village held. "At that time, a large proportion of businesses in the village were Dutch owned," Jan says, not without pride. Having dealt with real estate in his native Holland, Jan wanted to do anything but that. So he set up a big game fishing company. But like so many others, that which he knew best eventually caught up with him and he was soon back in the real estate business and ran a successful agency combined with villa management and rentals during the 80s.

In 1989 he sold the business. Today he is affectionately known as "Mr. Carvoeiro Square", being the proud owner of the restaurants Patio ("my hobby"), Piu ("my business"), plus the dilapidated building next to the Patio, as well as a laundry in Lagoa. He employs 50 staff in summer which diminishes to 30 in winter, almost exclusively Portuguese, and is delighted with their commitment and loyalty. Jan sponsors the nightly entertainment in the square that takes place over a four-month period in the summer. He has installed a webcam on one of his buildings, "so the whole world can watch what is happening on Carvoeiro’s square!"

He likes Carvoeiro and appreciates the relaxed lifestyle and is proud to have contributed to the beautification of the heart of the village. "How can you not like Carvoeiro?" Jan asks seriously, sitting on the terrace of his office overlooking the beach and the sea. 
Jan has a firm goal that he wants to accomplish. He has a complex project in mind to finish the square. He has been waiting impatiently for four years for the authorities to give him the green light to develop the old building next to O Patio in the square. His frustration can be compared to a Monopoly player owning Park Lane but not being allowed to put up any houses.

One of the most colourful and certainly one of the most enigmatic personalities in Carvoeiro is Dani. Ask anybody – bus driver, shopkeeper, restaurant owner – for Daniel Santos and you get a "não sei" shrug of the shoulders. Ask the same person for Dani and everybody understands.. This bird of paradise was born in 1940 in Brazil and came in 1980 to live in Carvoeiro. On his way he made several detours; he lived in England, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Italy where he had a part in the controversial movie Caligula next to Peter O’Toole.

He didn’t have a clue about the Algarve and thought it was a suburb of Lisbon. Carvoeiro, he was told, had a lot of inhabitants who would appreciate his culinary skills as one of Dani’s many claims to fame is his artistic cookery. The list of sheikhs, sultans, Russian impresarios and other discerning clients who thoroughly enjoyed being looked after by Dani in their private surrounds is impressive. 
In 1984 Dani took up art and became an accomplished naïf batique artists, using up to 35 different colours in a picture. "The batique was born with me," he says matter of factly.

This versatile man is proud to have worked as farmer, decorator, tourist guide, entertainer, chef, major-domo, model, actor, poet and clown. When he arrived in the village he fell in love with the landscape and the beauty of the old architecture, the people, their culture and folklore. There was a theatre, a cinema and regular traditional feasts. The infatuation was certainly one-sided because Dani, being different in character, dressing differently, eating different food and thinking on a different level was not immediately welcomed with open arms. Eventually though the population took him to their hearts and learnt to love and like him. Amazingly, for 16 years and 9 days he lived in a shack on the cliff tops next to what later became the hotel Almansor with no electricity, water, telephone, nor TV.

Dani’s philosophy is based on his very personal religion. "I believe in three gods," he declares: "Jesus, Buddha and Brahma." And his shrine is a lucky mixture of the three deities.
He feels now that much of the beauty of the nature, ecology, culture and even the mentality of the residents has been destroyed. Values like contemplation, recreation, evolution have fallen victim to consumerism. He misses the elegance and sophistication of bygone tourism. 
But despite the criticism he splutters about the place, Dani adores Carvoeiro and cannot imagine a better place to live. He even wants to die here!
"My body is Brazilian, my soul is Italian and my heart is Algarvian," he declares. "Viva Portugal, viva Algarve, viva Carvoeiro." >>> read part 2