Driving Down the Coast of Portugal Coast
April 24 – May 2, 2016
Another bucket list trip checked off my list! I’ve driven along two of the most beautiful coastlines in the states, Big Sur in California and Turnagain Arm in Alaska, and driving down the coast of Portugal had been a dream of mine for several years. Portugal was also the last Western European country I had yet to step foot in until this past April.
Days 1-2: Lisbon
I arrived in Lisbon late Sunday night after a day layover in Amsterdam which was purposely planned so that I could see the tulip-lined canal city in the spring. Lisbon is small enough to walk but it is like the San Francisco of Portugal-there are a lot of hills. My favorite thing to eat that I discovered in Lisbon was the delicious egg (custard) tart called pastel de nata which can be found on every corner. I couldn’t get enough of them, I think I ate about four a day if not more. We stayed at the TURIM Terreiro do Paço Hotel in the Alfama District right by the water and the famed Praça do Comércio. The location was great and central enough to walk to the Church of Santo António, Castelo de S. Jorge, Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, Santa Justa Lift, and to the Time Out Market. The next day, we started our day at the Belém Tower, then drove to the Cristo Rei (Christ the King) statue is just across the bridge. It stands just over 90ft tall and is modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio, but more importantly it was built as a sign of gratitude as the Portuguese were spared the effects of WWII.
Day 3: Down the Coast to Aljezur
From Lisbon, we rented a nice and shiny black Volkswagen and headed for the coast with no agenda other than stopping at whatever beaches we felt like soaking in the sun at on our way to Odeceixe. One of my favorite beaches we stopped at was Praia de Samoqueira. Secluded, white sand, crystal clear blue water, it was the start of an amazing adventure. Once we made it to Odeceixe, we spent the late afternoon taking in the sun at Praia de Odeceixe which is typically known for its tongue-shaped beach but unfortunately most of it was dried up due to the season. If I have any advice, don’t book hotels in advance unless you’re going during peak months. We did and the first place we booked for two nights ended up being in the middle of nowhere, it literally looked like a 3-bedroom motel straight out of a horror movie. So, we decided to wing it for two nights staying in places we found ourselves liking. The first was near Praia da Arrifana, which is known to be a surfer’s dream. If we had not taken the spontaneous approach, we would have never seen found what locals call surfer’s paradise. I’m sure this was some sort of last minute deal, but we stayed at Hotel Vale Da Telha for $50/night which wasn’t bad at all compared to what we had originally booked.
Day 4: Sagres
Winging it another night, we found a great deal at a luxury resort in Sagres, Memmo Baleeira Hotel Sagres, which not only had beautifully designed rooms, but also a gym, sauna, steam room, indoor and outdoor pools, and a fantastic breakfast overlooking the ocean. This was a real treat after being on the road traveling for three months and staying in decent but mediocre places. We also ate at one of the best restaurants in the region, Restaurante Carlos, serving traditional Portuguese dishes and great seafood. The restaurant is family run, like most in Europe, but the service was beyond great. One of the sons of the owners was our waiter and he greeted us with a smile, showed a lot of pride in his family’s recipes, and we even saw him the next day surfing!
Days 5-7: Lagos
Before heading to Lagos, we stopped at Praia do Martinhal just around the corner from Sagres for a few hours, then made our way to our 3-story villa at Baluarte da Vila Apartments. A kitchen! You have no idea how happy I was to have a kitchen. Being on the road, living in hotels and out of a suitcase, and eating out for every meal gets old after awhile. I hadn’t just been traveling for three months, I had been “on the road” for almost two years for work. After traveling for extended periods of time, all of those feelings of wanting to escape your life back home suddenly change and the desire for a place to call home starts to settle back in. I had hit that point. I went grocery shopping for the first time in months and I got so excited to cook a home cooked meal that I cried, literally, in the grocery store.
Staying in Lagos was probably my favorite part of the trip. There were plenty of picturesque beaches just five minutes from our villa–Praia de Balanca, Praia do Camilo, and Praia Dona Ana to name a few. However, the best part was paddle boarding into the cave at Praia de Benagil. I had seen this beautiful cave in a photo once and knew I had to go there. After spending four hours of our morning paddle boarding in and out of untouched sea caves, we spent the rest of our afternoon at Praia da Marinha, named one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. Golden brown sand, blue waters, and dramatic cliff-side extending into the ocean makes it one of the most picturesque places to relax, read a book, and soak in the sun.
Days 8-9: Albufeira & Faro
After a week in Portugal, it was time to say goodbye to the pristine beaches and those delicious egg tarts. Making our way to Faro, we spent our last day on the beaches of Albufeira. Of all the beaches we had seen, this one was by far the most crowded and touristy but it was still great and as beautiful as ever.
Next stop, Lake Como for two months!