German-born Catrin George Ponciano was a chef for many years before moving to Alvor, falling in love with her neighbour, Arménio, and writing a travel book about one-off places in the Algarve that you won’t find in other travel guides. We managed to catch up with Catrin who is now an author and travel guide.
Please tell us about yourself.
I was born in August 1967 in Bielefeld, Germany, I have one younger sister. We were brought up in a farmhouse atmosphere in the suburbs. We had a garden and chickens, rabbits and sheep. When I was 10, I got a pony, so I spent every day after school with horses. Later, when I was a teenager, our family moved into a small town and everything changed. We were living in an apartment and there was no more cottage, garden or animals. I carried on horse riding until I was 19.
Please tell us about your professional background.
My parents ran a restaurant and it was clear that is what I should do too. Until I was 40 I worked in restaurants – 11 years as a chef. During those years I occasionally published food articles, especially about cooking for men and children’s cookery and later about healthy eating.
Please tell us what brought you to Portugal?
After having moved and worked in Bavaria for 10 years, I decided, that I wanted to leave Germany and fulfil my teenage dream to live somewhere sunny. After a spell in Spain, I decided to look for other opportunities. From an earlier holiday to Alvor I had kept a business card of a restaurant owner. I called him from Malaga and applied over the phone for a job as a chef and he asked me to start straight away. So at Christmas 1999 I moved from Malaga to Alvor, started working here on New Year’s Eve and stayed ever since.
In 2007 I stopped working in the restaurant and started as a freelance journalist publishing features about the Algarve and the rest of Portugal in local and international newspapers and magazines. In 2013 I opened my own exclusive small culture-travel agency called Algarve Tourguiding Service, and I organise and guide small groups, couples, and agency groups for individual days or 10-day-trips from Porto to Lisbon to Algarve, and occasionally to Sevilla in Spain, too.
Please tell us about your book?
The project for my new book 111 Places Along The Algarve That You Shouldn’t Miss came about unexpectedly. When I started to correspond with the Emons Edition in Cologne, Germany to start thinking about writing a travel book about Portugal I was thrilled by their concept to talk about 111 places that you do not find in other travel books.
What a present for an author to choose places, buildings, nature spots, palaces or museums because they are different, interesting, they make curious, are adventurous, cruel, different, ugly, beautiful. In one word – special. So I started a completely different kind of research, especially for this book only From A – Z,
I travelled through the archives and chronics of all 16 councils on the hunt for these special spots, which tell more about the place, and more about the people who live there.
The book is 111 Places Along The Algarve That You Shouldn’t Miss can you tell us your top three, please?
My personal top three are:
In Chapter 22 – Ponta da Atalaia, Aljezur, a divine spot for the mystic Sufi-Knights. At this particular spot, 100 metres above the sea, you stand on the cliff between sky, ocean and horizon, you do feel divined yourself, even not knowing the meaning of this spot at the west coast of Algarve. A Ponta da Atalaia, most Westerly point of the Moorish Empire in the 11th century and if you follow the path from here to the other end, in the orient, you will come to Jordan. Here prayed the Moorish mystic Cavellerists of Sufi-Imam Ibn-Qasim, and it seems, like their spirit of staying free and autonomous, still lives on at the Ribãt of Arrifana.
Chapter 24 – Ara Vitae, Benafim, the naked woman sculpture Love, Peace and Power have one spring fountain. The woman. This message is perfectly adapted in this outstanding piece of art.
Chapter 60 – Convento da Graça, Loulé An old doorway is all that is left of the antique Graça-Monastery in Loulé. Above your head, there is a pentagon scratched into the limestone of the arch. The middle-age sign for spiritual passing for the Templar-Knights. So when you pass the doorway, you leave the the demons behind you, and you step into the world of religious devotion, so the Knights believed.
What are you working on now?
At this particular moment, I am finishing a crime suspense novel that takes the reader to Lisbon in 2019. It contains a politically motivated plot, taking place in the present with historical roots back to the dictatorship of Portugal and the Pide-Secret-Police before 1974. This novel will be edited and released in Emons Edition, Cologne in early 2020 – first in german, later maybe in English.
Since this article was published Catrin has published the book LEISER TOD IN LISSABON.