Praia da Rocha is a small town along the Algarve coastline famed for its bars and colourful nightlife. However, when I am not paying homage to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, Praia da Rocha is also home to one of the Algarve’s most outstanding and iconic beaches.
The beach is surrounded by spectacular amber-coloured cliffs which harbour soft golden sand and crystal-clear waters. Accordingly, the name Praia da Rocha translates to Rock Beach, which is related to a local legend regarding its origin.
‘One day, a mermaid arrived upon the clear shoreline and was greeted by a local fisherman. She had ventured from afar and, enticed by the calm and clear waters, decided to rest near the cliffside. Intrigued by the beautiful creature, the fisherman approached the mermaid and, aiming to impress her, proclaimed that all that surrounded her was his, for the sea had created that place and he was the son of the sea. The mermaid smiled, enchanting the already enamoured fisherman as she introduced herself, proclaiming she had journeyed from afar in search of a new kingdom.
By now, a highlander who lived atop the cliffs had also spotted the mermaid and emerged before them. He contested that it was not the fisherman’s kingdom but his, for the cliffs had created that place, standing sentinel as the land’s protector and he himself stood as son of those very cliffs. Puzzled and volatile, the mermaid turned to the highlander and pledged that if it were true what he said, then it was in fact him who she had been searching for all this time.
The fisherman grew restless as he was about to lose the very mermaid he had just fallen for. “What can you do against the forceful power of my waves” – the fisherman beamed with the indomitable spirit of the ocean on his side. But the highlander merely laughed. “What can your waves do against my tremendous cliffs?” – he roared, before daring the fisherman to ascend them himself. At that point, the mermaid intervened, pleading with them not to fight and instead requested both the highlander and the fisherman prove their worth by offering her a tribute of their affection. Reluctantly, both men went their separate ways. The fisherman sailed out to the ocean and the highlander ascended back up the cliff, both in search of a way to conquer the mermaid´s love.
Days later, the fisherman was the first to return to the mermaid, calling the sea to his aid. He stretched the ocean before her, a soft emerald that gently unfolded into a deep blue horizon. His eyes reflected the bright foam formed by the gentle waves as he offered the very sea to the mermaid. “You are to become Queen of the Ocean” – he professed.
Moments later, the highlander climbed down from the cliffs and also professed his love for the mermaid. Heartily, he offered her a throne carved upon the top of the highest cliff. The sun would warm her heart, fountains would refresh her daily and the wind would gently cradle her into a deep slumber each night. But it was too late; the fisherman had reached her first.
“If you will not ascend the cliffs with me, then I will bring the cliffs down to you” – the highlander declared heartbroken as giant rocks abruptly began to break away from the cliffside, crashing down to the sea.
This infuriated the fisherman and for many days and nights the ocean violently crashed against the towering rocks but could not destroy them. Unable to choose between the love of the highlander and the fisherman, the mermaid eventually turned to sand, eternally receiving the tribute of both enamoured suitors.’
The soft golden sands of Praia da Rocha extend for over a kilometre, caught between the magnificent cliffs and the noble sea and it is unlike any other sand I have seen in Portugal. Presently, there are three main beaches along this stretch of coastline – Praia da Rocha, Praia dos Três Castelos and Praia do Vau, all within walking distance of each other.
Starting at Praia da Rocha, you will pass through a small tunnel within the cliffside and arrive at Praia dos Três Castelos. This beach contains three major rocks in the sea which are known as ‘the three castles’. From there, you can walk all the way to Praia do Vau, passing many other peculiar and fascinating rocks on the way.
The natural scenery of all three beaches is awe-inspiring and you can enjoy panoramic views all along the coast. To this day, the sun paired with a gentle breeze still warms my heart just as the highlander once promised the mermaid and, once on the beach, the crystal-clear waters are refreshing all year round as the sea is fed by the Atlantic Ocean and not the Mediterranean, keeping the water cool even on hot summer days.
Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them.