When I arrived at Olhao in the Algarve, our base for the course in Portugal, a day before the course, I was greeted by fresh sea air, glimpses of the distant islands on the horizon, and the skyline of the town. I popped into the art school in the historic centre of town, our home for the week, and admired the recent changes to the well-appointed rooms (all en-suite) enhanced by the two swimming pools.
I could hardly wait to make my way to the harbour, just two minutes away from the Art school. As I strolled along the old cobbled streets, it was difficult to choose from the many painting subjects. However, by the end of the day and secure in the knowledge there was plenty for beginners and advanced painters alike, I had noted the good spots, in readiness for the painters arriving the following day.
On our first day it was great fun to sketch and paint street scenes and the houses with their decorated facades, many still covered in the traditional tiles, and featuring faded and crumbling paints on old doors (the 'shabby chic' of the town). While we painted around the two big churches in the middle of town, the storks were not letting us down, and had settled in their nests on towers and pediments. Naturally the many cafes in the vicinity were very welcome for 'elevenses' and to discreetly sketch people at the same time.
The following day, we painted by the harbour. Olhao is a historic fishing port, and the seafront complete with promenade is a wonderful painting subject, offering shade under palm trees. The Marina mixes pleasure boats with commercial fishing craft bobbing on the water, and an impressive replica of the ship which was involved in the revolt against the French occupiers in the 19th century is moored at the waterfront - and is very paintable too. Also located by the seafront, the red brick towers of Olhao's large fish and vegetable market is the place to be on market day. A riot of colours and shapes with plenty of atmosphere! Most of us painted at the outdoor market, where vendors under colourful umbrellas offered an exotic range of fruit and vegetables which were fun to paint. The inside of the fish market was also worth a visit and sketch, where there was the most unusual range of fish on display. We had several meals at the local restaurants, when we were able to taste some of the better known freshly caught fish washed down by glasses of Portuguese wine.
Now it was time to take to the waters! Our host and the owner of the art school, the Hon. David Clark ? had kindly arranged a private water taxi to take us to the beautiful island of Armona. The driver, Nuno, is a marine biologist and was able to tell us about the wild life and the surrounding nature reserves before we set off. The island was as beautiful as I remembered from last year's visit; small white-washed houses fronted by lush gardens filled with flowering shrubs and trees, and long sandy beaches with Sunday bathers. The lunch on the roof terrace of the seaside cafe was outstanding, though I rely on reports from everybody else for this, since I had grabbed a sandwich from the breakfast table and stayed to continue my painting of the lifeguards on the beach, who conveniently sat still the whole time! However the painting did not turn out as well as I would have liked (you can't win them all!), and I returned to paint on the island after the course, this time with more success.
The next mode of transport was more mundane - a short taxi ride to the charming fishing town of Fuzeta. This small town is one of the Algarve’s least 'discovered' places and it has retained its unique character as a working fishing port. Indeed, its daily routine revolves around the fishermen, whose colourful boats line up alongside the river in town. A line of lively kiosk-cafés spreading towards the river beach are very welcome for that extra coffee and a Portuguese custard tart halfway through the morning. The harbour here is small, and features one of the most paintable old boats I've ever seen, kitted out with a prominent cabin more closely resembling an exuberantly painted shed, than maritime structure. It made a brilliant subject for all painters in the group regardless of experience.
The last day inevitably approached, and some of us spent the day in the studio completing unfinished work. Others painted from the roof terraces or discussed last minute tips for future paintings, and prepared for an informal showing of our paintings in the evening. When we gathered, glass of wine in hand, we were able to admire the fruits of our labours from the week. It was a splendid, varied display, showing the many personal styles in which each painter had captured the scenes encountered throughout our stay in Olhao. Happy and satisfied we tucked into our last, delicious dinner, this time prepared by the lovely Margarida, who looked after our culinary needs when not dining out.
On my return to London I sat down immediately and planned the course for 2016, a good thing to look forward to...
"It was great to paint in the town and so close by the sea. The excursion to the island was sheer bliss and so was the food."
"We had a lovely time and we are now planning where to go next with you."
"It was a joy to be with you in Portugal and I loved every minute of the painting!"