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A Hands-On Experience in the Algarve region of Portugal

The woman looked at me warningly as I hacked away at my bamboo reed. The attempt at making a bag clip was not going smoothly. Everyone else seemed to gracefully cut a long slit through the reed and had already begun sanding. I still was wedging my sharp blade bit by bit into the tough material, coming dangerously close to my thumbs. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t survive very long in rural Southern Portugal.

Blue and white house in the Algarve, Portugal

Memories of the Algarve often included lots of fruity drinks, beach time with optional clothing and plenty of dancing until the sun came up. As a co-ed studying abroad, this is all I knew about the region and assumed, although super fun, there wasn’t much else to this sunny spot.

But after a recent trip to the beautiful town of Loulé and its surrounding villages up in the mountains, I was proven completely wrong.

This town may be small, but they are undertaking a massive initiative when it comes to creative tourism. People who want to experience something truly immersive in the local culture can get their hands dirty in a plethora of interactive workshops. This is the first time these have been offered in Loulé, and allow travelers to try everything from making Portuguese desserts to creating beautiful jewelry from sustainable materials.

The favorites

Although I was the worst at it, I really did enjoy making crafts our of bamboo reeds. There’s a scenic walking trail in Fonte Benemola’s protected area outside the village of Querença to explore for an easy outdoor activity. At the end of the hike, we did an outdoor workshop learning how to make useful (& fun) crafts from the reeds that grow on nearby land. The newcomers attempted simple bag clips, while the instructor showed us more complicated items such as flutes, toys and drying mats.

Woman making toy out of bamboo reed in Portugal

To further undo my fragile ego, Loule Criativo had an afternoon planned at the beautiful property of Cerro Da Janela Hostel. The owners have semi-retired from the hubbub of Lisbon and opened this gorgeous two-room guest home in the village of Saradas. The land has countless pomegranate trees, a white-walled swimming pool and surrounding green hills. It’s an escape from everything, back to simpler times. Anyways, the ladies of the village had gathered some materials to help teach us the Portuguese basics. We gave basketweaving a go and managed to make one braided strand look semi-decent. Sort of. I was decidedly better at stuffing blanches almonds into figs, creating yummy stars and circles. But I still got the wary stinkeye from the local women as I hacked away at the fruit with more sharp objects precariously close to my extremities. It was worth all the manual labor in the end to be treated to afternoon tea, complete with homemade lemongrass drinks and honey cake.

Ladies of the Algarve, Portugal, doing basket weaving

Back in Loulé, there was a flutter of activity in the center of town. A fun group of traditional dancers has taken to the square to show off their swirling and clapping moves. To see people excited about keep tradition alive was inspiring, they gathered a massive crowd as they danced. After a few rounds, they dragged bystanders up to dance as well, but I successfully hid behind my camera. I almost wish I didn’t, because it looked like a blast. Next time, I’d love to try a class in dance, as my time in Seville was so memorable learning the Sevillana. Or attempting to learn it and bumbling through the moves.

Hot mess tips on travel to Portugal

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There’s always something I wish I knew before embarking on a trip. First, this part of the world can be very hot, even if the flight is only a few hours from major, colder hubs like London. It was extremely sunny and lots of sunblock was needed, despite not being on the beach.

For easy access, fly into Faro and take a short cab ride to Loulé, which can be the perfect home base for exploring inland Algarve. If you don’t have a phone that works, like me, book a taxi beforehand. The wifi was fairly spotty in the airport.

Consider stocking up on bottled water for your hotel room. The tap isn’t bad, but bottled is affordable and plentiful. Did I mention how hot is gets there?

If you’re a stilettos kind of girl, consider leaving heels at home. People do dress smartly to go out to dinner and for drinks, but the cobblestone streets can make walking precarious, especially at night. If you do bring nice shoes, make sure you’ve had practice!

If jonesing for the beach, it is still close by. You can easily stay in Loulé, then venture down to the water for the day. Or, stay on the beach and hike through the mountains for a few days when you’re ready to indulge in some adventure.

Check out the Loulé Criativo site for a list of workshops and things to do in the area. You could spend the whole day mastering the art of bread making or silkscreen printing, to name a few. There’s also information about the beautiful surrounding villages full of golden churches, bakeries and scenic walking trails.

EileenCotterWright

Author EileenCotterWright

Eileen Cotter Wright is a Boston, MA expat living in London, UK. She is a freelance writer and owner of group travel site PureWander.com. Despite losing her passport the first day she left her home country, she's continued to roam the earth with gusto for about a decade. You can keep up with her hot mess adventures on Twitter @Crooked_Flight.

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