Did you know that there was once a great wall that surrounded the old town of Portimão? Odds are you didn’t. That’s because the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, that despite its name actually destroyed a lot more than just Lisbon, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed much of Portugal (and even Morocco) and indeed, reduced most of this protective city wall to rubble. When the town was rebuilt the remnants of the wall left standing were simply incorporated into the new buildings and so, unless you had the good fortune to actually own a house with the old wall running through it, you wouldn’t actually see it anywhere, and ‘out of sight, out of mind’ it’s easy to see how it would fall into obscurity. That is, until now.
I met Sr. Garrancho, a very charming Portuguese man, who is himself a sort of walking encyclopedia of all things Portimão, who happily showed me around this ‘new historical hostel’. And that’s a good way to describe it, as the place is a curious mix of having all the latest technology and mod-cons, but every now and then (and sometimes in the most surprising places, like bathrooms) it’s punctuated with dashes of the old world that used to run through it.
The hostel was, until recently, a ruin, and has been carefully uncovered by a mixture of archaeologists and architects that slowly unearthed and restored this link to medieval times and worked out how to best incorporate it practically into this very swish new building.
It’s still early days and what with everything going on it will still probably be a while before everything is up and running, but on the first floor there’s a space that will be both the restaurant area, but also, intriguingly, a place that is set to again take us back in time, as it has all the equipment needed to be an old style market where you can come and get all your fresh produce, but in a reusable, recyclable way - without plastic, like in the old days. At the end of this long room you can also catch your first glimpse of the exposed wall, and even see an old doorway where you might imagine shady characters used to sneak in and out of town.
But that’s just the beginning, as you walk around the hostel the wall keeps appearing. History intermingles with your cornflakes as, when things return to normal, guests will be able to sit next to it while they make their breakfast in the cafeteria, but also go upstairs and get a sense of how tall the wall actually was - and what it might have been like to patrol it watching out for incoming invaders. It continues along and disappears into the ruin next door - that is scheduled to have the same careful renovations done to it and the wall’s journey unearthed even more (Sr. Garrancho said something about it becoming a kind of garden area).
All the rooms, as I said before are quite modern, and even though it’s called a hostel it could quite easily double as a hotel, as along with the rooms with bunk beds for the solo or group travellers, there’s also double bedrooms available for couples, and even double bunk beds where parents can sleep underneath and kids can have the much sought after ‘top bunk’.
From almond blossom and cork trees to famous Portuguese Poets and even beaches, all the rooms have their own individual ‘theme’. But the most sought after room is on the top floor, that not only has the ancient wall running directly through it, the theme is the somewhat rude ‘Dona Ludes’, who you can see ‘in the nude’ in a painting above the bed. She was, how shall I say this… A very famous lady of the night, in the days before the earthquake, and this was, apparently, her room. So, that’s some real history to consider while you’re lying in bed there.
A stone’s throw away from the Igreja Matrix this is the ideal place to stay if you like a bit of history, and yet you are still in the heart of today’s action with the theatre TEMPO right next door as well. Sr. Garrancho told me that you don’t even need to stay, if you are in the area and want to have a look - he will happily show you around.