Dominated by the dark red walls of its castle, the spectacle on approaching Silves proclaims that this was once a place of great importance. In fact Silves was once the Moorish capital of the Algarve, known as Xelb or Chelb, a cultural and intellectual centre rivalled only by Granada in Spain and with an arab population some 30,000. Surprisingly it was also a major port, because in those times the Rio Arade estuary flowed broadly all the way inland from the sea, allowing easy access and a safe haven for sailing ships. The estuary has long-since silted up and all that remains is the scenic river that now flows past the town.
With a maze of charming cobbled streets sloping down from the castle to the riverside cafes and restaurants, Silves is a particularly picturesque town. In decline during the latter half of the 20th century, it has undergone a makeover in recent years and nowadays has an improved road layout, modern shopping amenities plus a lively programme of cultural events, all attracting new residents and visitors.
The surrounding area offers some of the loveliest countryside in the Algarve a region of gentle green hills, orange groves and vineyards, with meandering roads and lanes ideal for exploring by car, bicycle or on foot. Within a 30-minute radius a wide diversity of scenic landscapes can be reached, from the forested Monchique mountains to the sandy beaches and stunning rock formations that characterise the Algarve coast.
With modern shopping centres, golf, leisure attractions and the new Algarve Motor Park race track also within easy reach, Silves is once again rising to prominence.