Calçada, Balsa, frescoes and plants

Dear reader

A week of news and views from the Algarve...

Which is the more charming and emblematic of Portugal’s wide appeal to tourists - the beautiful calçada stone blocks laid in patterns across the country’s squares and pavements, or machine-cut paving slabs?

Some councils are opting to dig up old calçada squares and pavements. Portimão and Olhão councils are joining Lisbon's in making pedestrian areas ‘safe.’

Yet there is nothing unsafe about traditional calçada if it is laid correctly and maintained - the Romans managed this for centuries.

Olhão’s ‘route of legends’ takes tourists from one town square to the next with grey, uniform slabs greeting them at each stopping point. There already have been complaints that Portimão council has embarked on a similar course of civic vandalism.

Can these councils really not appreciate that ‘modern’ is not always appropriate when much of Portugal’s appeal is its deft mixture of old and new?

In the explanation below, there is a link to a public petition to preserve calçada as an integral part of the country’s national heritage, which clearly it is and should remain so.

The remains of the Roman city of Balsa lie under the soil near Tavira.

The land is privately owned with a chunk of it leased to a Spanish fruit-growing company intent on putting up greenhouses and laying irrigation systems, thus destroying parts of this internationally renowned and rich legacy.

There was a complaint when work started and for once the regional development body, CCDR-Algarve, stepped in and halted progress.

The director of the Ria Formosa natural park, Valentina Calixto, has just authorised the continuation of earthworks for the erection of greenhouses and the installation of irrigation systems.

Many assumed that Calixto was being paid by the public purse to protect this beautiful area rather than authorise its partial destruction.

Roman remains or exported red fruits? The choice seems to have been made for us and Surexport Cia. Agricola, S.L. from Huelva can continue digging holes through layers of history.

Surexport’s berries may be “grown, harvested and shipped with the highest standards of care possible,” but the destruction that inevitably will be caused by the company is inexcusable.

Lagos council wants to have control of the fort on Meia Praia beach. This is only because the government is going to hand over the Forte de São Roque to a company to develop some sort of tourism project, as yet undefined.

The fort is under State ownership at the moment, a status that conveniently has remained unchallenged by the council for decades, but now Lagos town hall wants the building back so it can build "a museum or a centre for environmental activities."

Too late: the council has missed its chance to do something worthwhile because it has spent years dithering.

The result is that the fort is to be fixed up with public money and signed away for 30 to 50 years to some money-making commercial enterprise, inevitable the sort that will have a high chance of failure and then we will all be back to square one with an empty fort, a long departed company and a 50-year lease to unpick.

As we seem to be dwelling on life in the municipalities, what’s the collective noun for a group of council chiefs?

The ‘Route 66’ idea has got beyond the pondering stage and its proponents, in true Portuguese style, have.... formed an association.

Soon to follow, no doubt, will be a steering group, a think tank and a working party.

The idea is to designate the EN2, the world’s third longest road, as a tourist route and market it to visitors while improving accommodation, signage and information along its 738.5 kilometre length from the sun-kissed climes of Faro to mountainous Chaves ‘oop north.

With 31 councils (out of the 32 that the EN2 passes through) now signed up to the new and snappily titled ‘Association of Municipalities of the National Highway 2 Route’, will this be another failure like the Algarve’s ecovia cycling route, or will it be a fine example of north:south cooperation between diverse councils and be a roaring success?

The convicted British murderer, Peter Jackson, continues the appeal process against his 25-year sentence for the murder of Brenda Davidson at their shared property in Alcalçar, Portimão.

Jackson received the maximum 25-year sentence for the 2104 murder meaning he will get out jail when he is 85.

He was driven to murder by greed and the desire to replace Brenda with his new girlfriend.

Jackson’s latest appeal will go to the Supreme Court in Lisbon but murder, desecrating a corpse and then stealing jewellery and money, and altering property documents to his own advantage seem to me as bad as things can get.

The outcome of this appeal will be watched with interest.

Chinese 'Golden Visa' holders have found out that Portuguese administrative systems are slow.

Many have complained that when the time comes to renew their VIP Golden Visas (for a fat renewal fee), they are being ignored and have to apply for normal visas in order to travel to Portugal to fulfil their obligation to spend at least 7 days a year in the country.

This situation has caused a spokesman for the Chinese to complain that the Portuguese State has sold them a pup, he talks of ‘fake propaganda.’

The Golden Visa scheme seems to encapsulate particularly Portuguese problem: good ideas with poor follow-up with a sprinkling of corruption thrown in.

The scheme also suffered the ignominy of many of those in charge of ensuring its smooth operation taking full advantage of the opportunities offered for their personal financial benefit.

Things must be bad when a bank drops a well known client as he or she might 'bring the institution in to disrepute.'

This is the case of the Bank of America dropping anything to do with Isabel dos Santos and her father, José dos Santos, the Angolan president.

The nepotism involved in Isabel’s extraordinary rise to become the richest woman in Africa at the age of 43 is well documented.

Despite serious concerns, Portugal’s enduring relationship with its former colony ensures that Isabel’s suspiciously large investments in some of Portugal’s top companies go unchallenged.

Is there no area of the government’s operations that is not blighted with the pox of corruption?

Even those involved in issuing driving licences have been 'at it' with a network of lawyers, police and civil servants caught out in a scheme to erase records of driving offences and re-issue clean licenses.

The thought that dangerous and drunk drivers could simply pay to have their licences cleansed is chilling. The hope is that those responsible will be treated with the utmost severity when they come to trial.

The Novo Banco sale saga continues with a late bid submitted by a Chinese bank, Minsheng, accepted by the Bank of Portugal despite the bidding rules not having been followed.

There is little point in having a bidding application process and schedule if latecomers like Minsheng can just wade in at the last moment, helped by the invisible hand of clan member José Maria do Espírito Santo Silva Ricciardi who would just love to get his hands on the old firm.

The Minsheng bid will not be accepted in its current form and we await with interest the publication of the bids from those that did follow the rules.

Only when Novo Banco is sold can we work out how many billions the Bank of Portugal’s governor, Carlos Costa, has lost the both taxpayer and the Resolution fund which is supported by the country’s high-street banks. At this point, will he please resign?

The two oil exploration consortia which decided to postpone drilling this autumn have asked the government to reissue their drilling licences for next year.

Repsol/ENI has significant reserves of gas off the Algarve’s southern coast. These reserves have been known about for years but not mentioned to the public, nor to the government when agreeing the cosy financial deal.

Repsol now seems keen to offload its concession rights to the highest bidder. A website that enables companies to trade in oil concession blocs lists for sale Repsol’s share in the Sapateira, Caranguejo, Lagosta and Lagostim blocs and the company describes its deal with the Portuguese government as having “very favorable conditions and low commitments.”

One of the many excuses used by the oil companies to explain the appallingly low royalty deals for the Portuguese treasury was that exploration is very expensive and there is not much chance of finding oil or gas.

There is a huge gas field to the south of Faro that was known about long before the latest concession deals were signed - the government knew of this potential bonanza yet still allowed terms to be agreed that reflected a high degree of exploration risk when there was none.

A parliamentary debate on oil and gas exploration is scheduled for October 26, with the Left Bloc MP Jorge Costa stating last week that “the government should listen to the Algarve which is rising against the exploitation of fossil fuels. The government can decide to stop the contracts without any costs to the State.”

In Repsol's case, both the company and the government have been duplicitous.

and on the same topic in the Portugal Resident, click on:

'Anti-oil campaigners take battle back to Parliament as Repsol tries to ‘offload concessions’

To Santiago do Cacém in the Setúbal region, where the chance discovery of some impressive C17th frescoes has brought life back to a deconsecrated church that had been used variously as a house, a meeting venue, a shoe factory, a political party headquarters, a Scout centre and an exhibition hall.

The beautiful and rare frescoes have been restored, some parts were found to date from as far back as 1570, and the church will be reborn as a museum early next year - with the frescoes as the star exhibit.

This is certainly one to put on your ‘discover Portugal’ itinerary for 2017.

Mediterranean Garden Fair 2016 - Oct 29th

For gardeners, or those simply wishing to change or add to their patio potted plant display, the Algarve’s only specialist Plant Sale will be held at the Museo do Traje, S. Brás de Alportel on Saturday October 29th opening to the public from 11.00 until 16.00.

The S. Brás venue is a new one to the organisers, the Mediterranean Gardening Association, but the leafy and spacious courtyard to the rear of the museum building is ideal for visitors to browse in comfort, buy plants and shrubs and sit in on one of the specialist practical talks.

For more new of this free-to-enter, fun day out, click on this link:


Guest spot

Algarve24, the English, Portuguese and French news site, has information about the Classic Car Festival at the International Autodrome, 28-30 October


For news stories you may have missed during the week, CLICK HERE


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