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Guiding Light

Guiding Light

The lighthouses of Alfanzina and Ponta do Altar are now open to the public

It may not have the same prominence or foot traffic as some of the other bigger or better known lighthouses that stand along the Algarve’s coastline, but many know the Alfanzina lighthouse for lighting up Carvoeiro and its surroundings as far back as they can remember. For many, it holds a certain magic, but what few of us may know is that this humble structure is actually one of the most technologically advanced lighthouses in the country.

This is just one of the snippets of information provided by the lighthouse keeper as he takes visitors on a guided tour around the building, after the Portuguese Navy decided to open the Algarve’s six lighthouses to the public once a week. Since November 16, in a trial that will run until the coming November, the region’s lighthouses are open for free tours every Wednesday at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, and in the area, visitors can learn more about the lighthouses at Alfanzina and Ponta do Altar (between Caneiros and Pintadinho beaches).

With few visitors compared to Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA) or Cape St Vincent, for example, two of the region’s most prominent buildings, the smaller Alfanzina still attracts a number of curious travellers or locals for whom the beacon has been a constant presence in their lives. Built in 1920 and at 23 metres high, the lighthouse ran on petrol until it was electrified in the 1950s. It was only in the ’80s that it was connected to mains electricity, and the road leading to the lighthouse (built in 1961) was finally surfaced in the 1990s.

Surrounded by a number of buildings which serve as dwellings for the lighthouse keepers and their families, the lighthouse itself is bright and, inside, features a number of pieces on display that provide a reminder of its past. Fully automatised, it became the country’s most technologically advanced lighthouse in 2004 when it received state-of-the-art touch-screen equipment (until 2009 when Cabo da Roca lighthouse in Sintra received a brand new system). But what makes it more interesting is that it remains faithful to its origins, and much of the equipment stands side by side with original fittings. Even the optical system itself, whose light reaches around 29 nautical miles (around 53km) out to sea every 14 seconds, is original, if not slightly adapted.

Once you get to the top via a number of steep ascents, and standing at an altitude of 63m, the views are wonderful, and on a clear day, you can see all the way from VRSA to the westernmost tip of Sagres.
The Alfanzina lighthouse is perhaps not ideal for very large groups, but well worth a visit for those who want to discover a piece of our history where the old works alongside the new.