It’s that time of the year where my hometown of Newquay, Cornwall UK is deadly quiet. A tumbleweed may just blow past the window at any second… or more likely, a dried palm tree frond. The air is wintry but I’m thankful for rays of sunshine lighting up the icy blue waters smashing against the bay. I’m sat in the overpriced local hotel with a latte in hand, HIRIE in my headphones, daydreaming of my last summer holiday five months ago in sun soaked Portugal…
Somehow I managed to bypass the beautiful and popular country of Portugal for years, despite travelling to mainland Europe most summers. Tourist season is great in Cornwall, but escaping the madness and resting those little over-worked summer hospitality feet we all know so well was just what we needed!
My husband/travel buddy and I were blessed with a week of pure Portuguese sunshine, our thirst quenched by jugs of everyone’s favourite holiday beverage – Sangria! A perfect way to celebrate our fifth year anniversary. Unfortunately my husband was suffering with a back injury at the time so our trip wasn’t as action packed as usual, but still we managed to bring back some little pieces of beauty from the Iberian Peninsula that captured our hearts. And for me, the memories of the Algarve are luring me back to explore its splendour further.
We flew from Newquay to Faro, the capital of southern Portugal’s Algarve region, an exciting city full of architecture, religious art and oodles of history. We arrived in the dark so getting across town and finding our halfway point Air B&B was a slight struggle. We ended up quite lost in a maze of high-rise flats after I told the taxi driver I was sure we had the right place and we were fine. However, a kind local came to our rescue and offered to call the owner of the Air B&B on his phone and he helped us find our flat.
“Welcome to the Algarve! Enjoy your stay!” he shouted over his shoulder as we parted.
Following this we were so well looked after by our host that we were confident enough to agree that the Portuguese are a kind and hospitable bunch. And the rest of the trip only confirmed this.
The next morning we caught the train from the scenic marina of Faro to Lagos, which took under two hours. The train stops at several holiday destination towns along the way, a popular and cheap way to connect to Lagos. People are happy to help and engage tourists in this country and even share a tale of two.
Lagos is a municipality at the mouth of Bensafrim River and along the Atlantic Ocean, in the Barlavento region of the Algarve in southern Portugal. Standard laid-back vibes were expected for a dusty orange world of sunshine, food, activities, and sparkling waters… and laid back is exactly what we got.
In the thick of the August humidity the heat only forces you to slow it down. Cool dips in the turquoise ocean quickly become compulsory. The true beauty of the Algarve has to be the caves and stunning rock formations along the inspiring coastline. Nearby beaches include Praia do Cais da Solária, Batata Beach, Pinhao Beach, Praia Dona Ana, and Ponta da Piedade. Boat trips run regularly to the famous breathtaking cave of Algar de Benagil – a must see for any tourist! (see pic below)
We had arrived at our destination in its busiest month. Town was buzzing with street performers, beautiful stalls ran along the harbour, restaurants and cafes were stuffed to the brim with travellers and activity hosts spoilt us for choice with boat trips and water sports.
History tells us that Lagos is also a historic centre of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, frequent home of Henry the Navigator, historical shipyard and, at one time, centre of the European slave trade. In 1600 the coast was under regular attack by pirates and by the seventeenth century a string of forts were built including Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, an attraction in the town of Lagos.
There is a strong artistic vibe in this cultural setting. If you are an interior lover like me you will find yourself stopping at most doorways to capture a picture of the bright coloured Portuguese tiles.
It is evident many travellers have become comfy and have stuck around for some time. A great spot to pick up seasonal work mid-travel in a hub that is filled to the brim with young carefree backpackers loving life and worshiping the sun.
We purposefully chose an adorable apartment in down-town Lagos, still in walking distance to the beaches, shops and close enough to enjoy the nightlife but far away enough for peace and quiet from the urban area. No driving needed!!! YES!
We walked, boated, and swam our way around the Lagos, which is flat enough for skateboards and Rolla blades. If heading up the cliff trails you can hire a mountain bike. Competitive restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are over spilling with amazing quality vegetables, fruit, bread and wine, all in easy reach.
What to Do:
When tides are low and the water is calm swim from Batata Beach to Pinhao Beach, climbing through worn away tunnels through the cliff. Pre warning: Don’t panic when you spot the face-level rock pockets of crabs in the cliff face as you swim around the coves! Surfing is a rare sight here in the summer but if it’s going off it’ll be Meia Praia for the swell. The surf works best in offshore winds from the northwest and tends to be a winter spot. When it’s kicking off expect crowds and beware of localism. Kayaking and paddle boarding around the coves will have you occupied all afternoon.
A Catamaran ride to Ponta da Piedade will give you the opportunity to paddle board around spectacular rocks only accessible by boat, plus a swim out in deep green waters. Look out for the animal faces in the cliffs – the elephant and the owl and ask your tour guide to show you the hollow rock tower where locals have been known to hold raves! Or if adrenaline is your thing head out dolphin spotting on the fastest speed boat in Europe. Be prepared for your heart to be stolen by the baby dolphins as they teasingly surf alongside the boats.
Club nights are easy to find in the bars in town. Pop to the roof top bar – Bon Vivant (bottom right) for a view of the bustling town at night and enjoy a cocktail with a view. For a unique eating experience head to The Garden restaurant (left) well known for great value food, delicious sangria, outdoor BBQ kitchen, friendly and romantic atmosphere, and comical power cuts! (Don’t worry they don’t last too wrong. Don’t forget to cheer when the lights come back on!)
Portugal is a country that feels capable of being my home, a laid back, friendly land that truly captures that perfect summer holiday vibe! I have only been left eager to return and explore the vibrant Algarve more intensely!
“Até que nos encontremos de novo país bonito…”