Portugal’s hippy retreats could hold the clue to finally solving the Madeleine McCann mystery. The country became a popular destination for hippies back in the 1960s and its remote beauty spots still attract many today. But some of the communes on the western Algarve have become synonymous with drugs and crime.
Christian Brueckner, the prime suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine, was a regular presence in the hippy communities in the mid-2000s.
He helped organise all-night raves in the forests outside Barao de Sao Joao and sold drugs to partygoers.
When Madeleine went missing from Praia da Luz in May 2007, the German was living out of his Volkswagen Westfalia camper van.
One of his favourite spots was Praia do Barranco, an isolated beach 20 minutes drive from the resort.
The beach is a popular hangout for both surfers and hippies and can be “proper shady at times”, according to a local.
They told the Daily Mirror: “It’s a hippy hangout. They have raves there all the time, not massive ones but they are going all night.
“Every drug imaginable is available if you know the right people.”
When Brueckner was named as a suspect in the case, a photo was released showing his van parked up at the beach.
He is also known to have spent time in Barao de Sao Joao, which is just 10 minutes drive from Praia da Luz.
The village became so popular with hippies in the 1970s, it was dubbed the “Portuguese California”.
Today it is the site of Portugal’s biggest hippy market, where the German suspect used to work in the flower stall of a woman he was dating at the time.
A local has alleged that Brueckner was known as the “go-to” man for cannabis and class-A drugs, and often provided teenage girls with the illicit substances in exchange for sex.
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Hippies also like to frequent in land barragems – reservoirs that supply water to the Algarve – due to their remoteness and natural beauty.
One of them, Barragem do Arade, was the location of this week’s search by German and Portuguese police.
Joao Alemeida, whose father owns a smallholding near the reservoir, said travellers often hold parties there.
“They hook up sound systems to the batteries of their vans and rave all night,” he told the Daily Mirror.
“It’s the perfect spot. There aren’t many neighbours who will complain about the noise. They can get up to all sorts.
“To be fair, they don’t leave much rubbish behind and keep themselves to themselves.”
Police officers spent three days last week combing through land around Barragem do Arade.
They are said to have found a “relevant clue”, which will be analysed by scientists in Germany.
The search was concentrated on two sites, one of them a shaded picnic area popular with off-grid campers.
Eight 2ft-deep holes were dug into the earth by investigators to take soil samples.
A second more isolated site, in the undergrowth on the same peninsula, was also searched.