Lying inland some 15 minutes from the coast, Silves used to be the powerful capital of the region: the “Kingdom of the Algarve.” It is located on the banks of the Arade River that runs out to the Atlantic and from which most of its trade and former glory were dependent. The silting of the river stopped the entry of large vessels from the sea, resulting in the decline of the city’s prominence.
Silves is beautiful both naturally and architecturally. The ancient town, originating from 1,000 BC during the time of the Phoenicians, has up to this day retained its rustic charm along with some remnants of its long history. The landscape is verdant with orange, almond and carob trees and complementing it are the whitewashed houses and buildings separated by narrow streets.
A great place to start a sightseeing tour is the imposing castle made of red sandstone. Built on top of a hill, where an 11th century palace used to be, it provides the best views of the area. It is also considered to be the largest and best-preserved castle in the whole Algarve region. Beside the castle stands a 13th century Gothic cathedral that houses tombs of Crusaders and a 14th century statue of the Nossa Senhora da Conceicção.
After visiting the castle and cathedral a walk downhill leads to an archaeological museum where tools originating from the Stone Age and Iron Age are preserved, proof of Silves’ ancient roots. There are also surgical instruments and other items from between the 5th and 7th centuries on display.
Another attraction that defines the landscape of Silves is the Barragem do Arade which remains one of the main reservoirs of the Algarve. It is a tranquil spot perfect for swimming, canoeing or a picnic. Meanwhile the restored Roman bridge that crosses the Arade is great for a relaxing stroll. Close by the villages of São Bartholomeu de Messines and Alte are also worthy of a visit.
For some wining, dining, shopping and more Fabrico do Ingles Square is the place to go to within the city. In older days the English Factory produced cork. An award-winning museum dedicated to the cork industry can now be found among the establishments lined up around the Fabrico’s courtyard. Friday nights at the square are usually lively with live music and shows. A Beer Festival is also held in July usually for four nights. Here you can get a ceramic mug souvenir with your beer and enjoy the folk festivities.
Some of the best food you can try in Silves are the chicken piri piri and grilled sardines. A number of places offer these such as Churrasquiera, Rui Marisqueira and even the local market. Another popular stopover is Café Ingles, a cozy restaurant at the foot of the castle hill where you can have lunch or drinks inside or al fresco.
If you are staying for more than a day your accommodation choices include Colina dos Mouros, a three-star hotel with views of the castle and cathedral, Capela das Artes, which overlooks the village of Alcantarilha and Hotel Garbe in Armação de Pêra. Nearby Algarve beaches and golf courses are more reasons to spend your holiday in Silves.