Princesses, smugglers and one local family – the story behind one of Carvoeiro’s most famous spots
The spectacular cliffs of Algar Seco have long been a landmark in Carvoeiro, but that’s not just because of their natural beauty. They also hold a story that’s very much a part of the town itself.
Legend has it that, long ago, there lived a beautiful princess called Princess Alfanzina, who fell in love with a poor coaler (a carvoeiro). Her father disapproved of the relationship between his daughter and a commoner, so the youngsters would meet in secret at Algar Seco. It’s said that the king learnt of their secret meetings and, upon finding the two lovers, killed the Carvoeiro with a dagger and his body fell into the sea. Broken-hearted, the princess would return to the spot and mourn the loss of her lover. As her tears fell to the ground, they formed the holes in the rocks that we see today.
A network of rock pools and caves, the formations at Algar Seco – legend aside – are pretty spectacular, but none are more iconic than the large formation that, from the sea, is said to resemble a doll’s head: A Boneca. Officially named A Boneca (the doll) on April 26, 1974 – the day after the Portuguese Carnation Revolution – it was a reference point for the smugglers coming ashore, who used this spot at low tide to unload and store goods that were prohibited during the Salazar dictatorship, such as cigarettes and perfumes. A Boneca was the code name for the contraband hotspot, and the stairs carved into the rocks – the Escadinhas – were created by the smugglers themselves.
“The customs guards were really strict on contraband in Carvoeiro, which was extremely poor in those days. But when they heard people talking about the Boneca, they assumed they were referring to the brothel that existed near Alfanzina,” explains Carla Carvalho Kröhnert, whose family history is inextricably linked to the history of Algar Seco itself.
Just like the day her grandfather carved the name A Boneca into the rockface the day after the Revolution, each story has been passed down through the generations. The land belonged to Carla’s grandmother, who was born in Carvoeiro, and became the meeting point for the local fishermen who would play cards over a few drinks. It was the ’70s and few tourists had discovered this picturesque fishing village – these were the days of traditional fish stews still made with seawater and when their first grill was a car rim.
In those days, the restaurant now known as Boneca Bar was a temporary structure, rebuilt every summer after the winter had taken its toll. It was only in the early 1980s that it gained more permanent foundations, when Carla’s parents took over the restaurant. Even the access down towards Algar Seco would wash away every time it rained. “Our friends made the steps using tree trunks in return for a case of beer,” laughs Jorge Carvalho, who now runs the family restaurant with his sister. Having spent their summers here and working at Boneca from a young age, alongside cousins and close friends, the brother and sister took over the restaurant, keeping it a family business at heart but adding a more stylish touch to this pretty spot. “It was always our dream to keep it going,” says Carla, adding that the focus remains on fresh fish and grilled specialities. “You give everything you have, you work hard and it drives you crazy at times, but when you’re not here, you miss it.” Even today, Carla’s eldest son works here alongside the school friends he grew up with.
For the Carvalho family, A Boneca is more like a family member, and Carla remembers the day her father rang her with some bad news back in 1990, the year her second son was born. “I heard his tone and as my grandmother was ill at the time, I feared the worst. He was actually ringing to tell me that a giant wave had taken away the arch,” explains Carla, referring to the arched rock that until then had been a prominent feature in Algar Seco.
Of course Algar Seco is not only special to this family; it’s also close to the hearts of many other residents and tourists who have visited year after year for decades. A great vantage point for spotting dolphins, the Boneca itself is also the location of choice for young couples, wedding proposals and even the setting for wedding photographs, with the two holes sculpted into the cliff looking out to the horizon and framing a view like very few others. Jorge and Carla are certainly right when they say that “it’s the magic of the place”.
Restaurant Boneca Bar | 282 358 391