From my little balcony here in Praia da Luz, the beautiful blue sea of the Atlantic is right ahead of me. A small sailboat bobs up and down on the gentle swell. The silence is only disturbed, quite regularly it has to be said, by the swishing of the traffic along Luz’s one way system, as well as the leaves on the nearby trees as a warm breeze drifts across.
There are literally hundreds of apartments around the town and, it seems, they are largely unoccupied. I can see maybe 20 apartments from here and all are shuttered up.
It could be, quite simply, that it’s out of season here on the Algarve or maybe just in this westerly part of it. Judging from the planeloads of passengers who arrived at Faro on the same day as us, plainly the party resorts are not going to be empty.
I suppose I could suggest the great unsaid of Luz, the disappearance in May 2007 of Madeleine McCann. We are, through no deliberate intention of our own, very close to THAT apartment. We see it every time we leave our room, cross the road to the pool area. There it is. Truthfully, I do think about it a lot. Similarly, I think of the former Tapas bar, now a snackbar, where four wealthy and highly irresponsible families sat each night, their children in apartments which were not accessible without going onto the road outside the pool complex. It is not a subject anyone here raises with you. And why would they?
I’ve spoken to one person about it, a guy I now know as Ray whose face and voice I recognised from the 2017 Panorama ‘Madeleine McCann: ten years on’. Apart from telling me that the BBC edited out virtually everything he said, his view was that the whole tragic event was the fault of Madeleine’s parents. If the children had not been left unattended, this poor little girl would never have disappeared in a complex that, back then, when it was a resort for the very well off, offered free babysitting. There is not a single thing in Luz that tells you what happened. Not a poster, nothing. *
When we booked to come here, we obviously knew the history but assumed, from the size of the complex, which spreads out over numerous blocks, we’d never see the one from which Madeleine disappeared. We are not haunted by the history, it has not, in any way, affected our enjoyment. But the history is there, the history of a young girl who disappeared over 11 years ago and still no one has more than a theory of what might have happened.
I rather feel that the invisible shadow over Praia da Luz will never disappear. Millions, maybe billions, of people all over the world know about this story, a story with no conclusion. I have noticed that from the road at the far end of the pool, people do stop and stare and some take photos. It is not because the complex is especially photogenic – although the pool is very nice – but they do so because of the unsolved mystery.
Someone, somewhere knows what really went on at Apartment 5a. However, we are none the wiser as to what it was. That fuels the morbid fascination many feel over Praia da Luz and will do for generations to come.
I doubt that we shall return, not through the story that made Luz famous but because the place, whilst perfect for the R&R we needed, is more than a little dull, with few opportunities to make friends with other people, a key component of my holiday requirements. And it will always be that place where that happened.
* As I wrote this piece a day or so before returning to the UK, I found this to be incorrect, as you will see from the photo that accompanies this piece, but decided to leave the article as I write it at the time.