I have decided that the Algarve coastline in Portugal is heaven on earth! If you havent been there, add it to your list of places to go, but don't tell anyone else, as it is not that touristy yet!!! The combination of specacular coastline, rugged cliffs, beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear water and awesome food made our time in the Algarve very enjoyable. It was also hot and sunny each day which made going to the beach very easy!!
Instead of my usual account of happenings I have decided to group things into 2 categories - beaches/ outings and food. That's practically all we did - visit beaches and eat. Oh, and there was some drinking and eating in there too!
We based ourselves in Lagos and hired a car which was a great move as a lot of the beaches are quite hard to get to by public transport and we could go east or west along the coast and get to most places within about 40 minutes. Lagos is quite touristy by Algarve standards but nothing like Costa Brava in Spain or Nice, eg there are touristy beaches & restaurants and loads of bars offering free shots,
but it was quite easy to find great places to go with a little insider knowledge, both from the people who we rented our apartment from and Dan who had been there before. The apartment was fab, right in the middle of the old town so it was possible to walk to the beach and to restaurants etc. It was lovely and spacious and light and had air con too - bonus!
The first beach we went to was Lagos, but one of the smaller beaches which had rugged coastline with cliffs jutting out into the water. It made for great shelter for us and we watched people hurl themselves off the cliffs into the water. We went for our first dip and it was COLD!! It is the Atlantic Ocean so the water is very chilly, but luckily the hot weather meant we HAD to get in to cool off!
I noticed some guys walking along the beach in front of us, checking out the wate & beach. Aussies stand out a mile off in Europe. I am not sure whetrher it is the relaxed vibe, what we wear etc, but I had a feeling
they were Aussie. I had to go to the loo a few minutes later and walked past ab group of about 15 of these Aussie looking guys, who were chilling out in the shade drinking beers. A few minutes later more of them walked past us, and Dan exclaimed that it was the Wallabies team! I had no idea (shame on me) as the bette known players sduch as Lotte and George Gregan weren't with them. Apparently they were training in Faro so must have come to Lagos for some R&R. They all congregated in one bay and started to climb the cliffs and jump off them into the water! These cliffs were easily 20m above the water so its good to see the boys are taking care of themselves ahead of the Rugby World Cup!
Another fave of ours was Beliche. It is on the west coast and just near Cabo Sao Vincente. We first visited the Cabo (or Cape). It is the southern most part of Portugal and what the Portuguese long thought was the end of the world. That must have been until the explorers got in their boats and found other lands! There was a
lighthouse to visit and some specactular rugged coastline. It was very windy and cold though so we didn't stay long.
We headed to Beliche beach afterwards which was gorgeous. Flat waters, surrounded by huge cliffs and the scenery was just spectacular. We walked up to the end of the beach and began to set up our umbrellas and towels. I noticed some naked people and as we looked around we realised that up this end of the beach there were heaps of them! Probably about a third - half the people were totally naked. I have had run ins with naked Europeans on this trip already and for a prudish Aussie it is still hard to get used to! People reading books naked, swimming naked, walking along the beach holding hands naked. It takes a bit of getting used to! I feel like the odd one out (but not enough to compel me to stip off). What was unusual though was in the naked families the adults were naked but the kids had bathers on. Talk about role reversal.
Another great find was Praia da Rocha. It is one of the busier most touristy beaches but our guide
Kids on the beach
Trialling our new umbrellas
said to go there at sunset and it was worth it! It has the big rocks jutting out and as the sun went down the scenery was spectacular.
We visited an Atlantic surf beach near Albufeira one day. I think it was called Cavanteira or something. The first surf beach I had seen in Europe and whilst the waves were tiny I felt like I was in Long Reef - there was a huge cliff at the end of the beach and with the sand and the sound of the waves I could have been in Australia. Spooky! It also had probably the coldest water of all the beaches we went to, your body went into shock for about the first 5 minutes but after some swimming around you got used to it. There was also a surf school ther and with the small waves that day it would have been perfect for learning.
The beaches just east of Lagos also proved to be spectacular. We took the car one day and explored and found some lovely coves and grottoes. You can swim around the rocks to different beaches and there are lots of caves to swim through.
Cabo Sao Vincent
The most southerly point of Portugal and it was a bit windy. I look like a wld woman of Borneo while Robyn's desperately trying not to flash anyone
The variance in level of the water between high and low tide is huge so depending on what time of day you went you could see lots more rocks. We also had the experience of being on a beach in a smaller cove and the water rising rapidly while we were there. I think we moved spots 4 times in an hour as the water kept creeping up, and I reckon at full high tide that beach would not have been there! So while it is a great location for lying in the sun, it is also fab coz you can be active and swim around to other beaches. Dan and Jess partook in some cliff diving at one point too!
So onto the food..........whoever said that Portuguese food isn't great was eating in the wrong places!!! We had a fab time eating loads of seafood and drinking great local wine and beer. Lagos was quite cheap in comparison to other places I ahve been which was great as I have next to no money left!
We asked the people who we rented our apartment from for some recommendations and they didnt disappoint - both
the places they recommended we went back to twice!
One place was immensely popular with the locals and had ultra fresh seafood. I ordered grilled salmon one night and got 2 huge cutlets! It was amazing and only 7 euros - the equivalent of about $12 AUD. Bargain! Another night I ordered pork & clams (a local favourite) but was a little disappointed. Yes I got a mountain of clams but they were tiny and fiddly to eat and the portk was really salty!
This restaurant also did fabulous prawns, and I guess they were in a piri piri type sauce - tomato and spicy and yum. The downsiude was having to peel them and getting messy, but it was worth it!
Another fave was a restaurant that did a cataplana. I don't know how else to describe it other than a local stew. TYhe first night Robyn & Dan ordered the homestyle Cataplana and it was massive so we all tucked in. It was pork and seafood (clams & prawns) in a stew of tomatoes, some coconut milk, paprika......and that's all we could figure out. It was amazing, and the people at the restaurant told us
No naked people in sight
the ingredients were a secret - damn!
We went back for a cataplana another night and ordered the seafood one. It was quite different, more of a tomato stew and with clams, cquid, fish and prawns all through it. Delicious, but I think I liked the homsetyle one a little better. It had a lovely smoky taste from the ham but also a little spicy. Yummo, am hungry just thinking about it!
We also went to visit Silves one night to see the castle there and to go to a restaurant that was recommended. Silves was a big city in Moorish times and the castle dates from then. We got there a little late to see the castle and were disappointed to find that they don't light it up at night! Will have to go back one day....
The restraurant was a marisqueira which I have deduced is a fresh seafood restaurant. They usually have live lobsters, fish etc in the windows and cook everything freshly. We ordered a crab to share and when it came out they had taken it apart for us, and the head was filled with the innards, mixed with something to make
Soaking up the sun on Beliche
Have just realised there is a (very tanned) naked family right behind me in this photo!
a dip- like food. You ate this on bread and I am sure it was the brains etc but tried not to think about it too much! We got a mallet to crack the crabs withn and tucked in. Jess freaked out a little about the crab so Dan, Robyn and I finished it! We then ordered some giant tiger prawns. These things were huge, and came out split in half and grilled and looked like a mini lobster! They were super tasty though and I was well impressed.
Apart from the restaurants we tucked into some custard tarts. Dan celebrated his 30th b'day on 31st and Robyn created a tart tower to celebrate his birthday, complete with 30 candles so I am surprised the whole thin g didn't go up in flames! We sampled the local coffee which was great and a relief after the crap coffee in Spain.
On the last day we made one more beach stop in the Algarve which was a little disappointing as there was seaweed. It wsa not too bad though as we only had about an hour so we weren't too fussed leaving! We headed towards Lisbon in the car
for about a 4 hour drive. Things were fine until we got into Lisbon and got totally lost! Things were a little stressful for a while but Dan handled it marvellously and we pulled together in a team effort, reading out street signs and navigating. it didn't help that the drop off point we thought we were taking the car to didn't exist! When we finally found the right place it was at a train station and the guy said 'just leave the car here' and we were more than happy to grab our stuff and leave it for him to deal with! More news in my next blog!
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