São Brás de Alportel
Travel advice for the rural town São Brás de Alportel in the fertile Barrocal region of the Algarve at the border of the Serra de Caldeirão – a former centre of cork production in Portugal and summer residence of the bishops of the Algarve: Accommodation, markets & restaurants, ceramic tiles, points of interest, history, costume museum, Calçadinha Romana, surroundings, …
São Brás de Alportel is a rural village (vila) and municipality (concelho) in the district of Faro (Algarve), the southernmost region of continental Portugal, called simply São Brás by the locals.
São Brás location and access
Getting to São Brás de Alportel
São Brás de Alportel is located in the interior of the Algarve, north of Faro and within the fertile area of the Barrocal in front of the hills of the Serra do Caldeirão.
Coming from Faro, you go to São Brás de Alportel via the EN2, which leads up to the north of Portugal, crossing through Serra do Caldeirão and the Alentejo. The A22 motorway runs to the south of São Brás, and you can get to the EN2 from Exit 14. The national road EN270 links São Brás de Alportel to Tavira in the east, and to Loulé, in the west.
São Brás de Alportel has no connection to the Linha do Algarve, the single track railway line that crosses the region. The only means of public transport to Faro is by bus with the EVA Transportes company.
São Brás sports and leisure
What to do in São Brás de Alportel
Agriculture and small craft businesses define the economy of the São Brás de Alportel region. Tourism has very little influence, but the city is a great starting point for hiking in the hills of the Serra do Caldeirão. Residents in this area like to shop in São Brás de Alportel as compared to the tourist areas on the coast prices are much more affordable here.
On a city tour, you can admire the beautiful mansions that illustrate the architecture of the late 19th century. These buildings are a reminder of the prosperity which this region enjoyed at the height of the cork industry: São Brás de Alportel led the cork market not only in Portugal, but worldwide.
The cultural centre (Centro Cultural António Bentes) was once the home of goat breeder (other sources report that he was a muleteer) who became rich from the cork trade. It is home to the museum of Algarve costume (Museu Etnográfico do Trajo Algarvio) that displays costumes used in the Algarve during the nineteenth and twentieth century. It is also a good example of the architecture of those times.
Do not miss a visit to the church on the southern edge of the town and see the ancient palace of the Bishops of the Algarve. After the 1755 earthquake, the church was built on the foundations of an ancient temple from the sixteenth century. The garden of the church has a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape down to the sea. An alley at the rear of the church leads to the Calçadinha Romana. This ancient Roman road was partially uncovered following archaeological excavations It lead from Faro (known in the time of the Roman Empire as Ossónoba) to northern direction across the regions of Estoi and São Brás de Alportel.
Surroundings of São Brás
The surroundings of São Brás de Alportel
Near the town there is a cork factory, which was founded in 1986 and is still in operation today. The factory mainly produces cork stoppers for bottles and cork disks considered to be the best in the world. Due to the overall financial situation the owners put the factory up for sale in 2014, hoping a new owner will continue the cork business. A cork route (Rota da Cortiça) showcases the history of São Brás and its legendary raw material coming from cork trees. The Association that created this impressive project as an alternative to beach tourism, aims to show the process from start to finish, from the cork oak trees, through the traditional processing of the raw material to the wide range of end products.
The region east of São Bras is known for its ceramics: floor tiles (ladrilhos), ceramic tiles (azulejos), roof tiles (telhas) and brick tiles (tijolos), which are an important part of the traditional architecture of the Algarve and are still manufactured in small artisan workshops, in the traditional way. Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo is the most famous location for this craft and the products are known under the name "Santa. Caterina".
Another equally famous traditional building material also originates is this area: yellow sandstone used to decorate stonework gates, windows and doors to give them great artistic beauty.
History of São Brás
The newer history of São Brás de Alportel is linked to the cork
Ibn Ammar, the famous Arab poet, was born in São Brás in the 12th century. By the 16th century, the village already had a convent, and from the 17th century, the bishops of the Algarve chose São Brás as their summer residence. The Bishop's Palace was built between the 17th and 18th centuries to protect its inhabitants from the fierce heat of the summer. Today only part of the main complex is preserved, including a Baroque well, and the municipal swimming pool was built on land from the former palace garden.
In the 19th century, the city was a important economic centre. Cork plantations advanced commercial development and made São Brás the largest producer of cork in Portugal and worldwide.
Due to the subsequent transfer of cork production inland and to the north of the country, in recent decades the city has been forced to diversify its economy and has lost is previous economic influence.
Municipality of São Brás de Alportel
São Brás de Alportel is one of only six municipalities in Portugal that consists of only a single parish. In 2011, the census revealed a population of about 11,000 inhabitants which had barely increased since 2001, and has, in fact, been static since the first half of the last century.