I am a lazy writer and I guess I will always be one. There are so many things to write about my Europe trip and I have no clue which place to start with. This is the problem that happens when you have been to too many gorgeous places and you don’t know which one to start with.
Portugal – A gorgeous underrated country
Many people ask me which was my favourite country this time around and I answer Portugal without any hesitation. I never realized how underrated a country Portugal was till I went there. Most Indians flock to the more popular neighboring country, Spain due to a famous Bollywood movie ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ that released a few years ago. Did you know that Portugal is one of the top ecotourism destinations for 2017 selected by travel bloggers?
Even though I flew to Lisbon, I thought I will start with Algarve, Portugal since the number of Indians traveling to this beautiful part of the world is so less. It was very difficult for me to figure out where to stay and how to reach Algarve. I thought by jotting down my mistakes, you guys can avoid the same mistakes.
So where is Algarve? The entire south coast region of continental Portugal is known as Algarve. It is a gorgeous coastal region full of magnificent cliffs, stunning beaches, hidden caves all coupled with crystal clear turquoise waters. Do you need any more reason to visit Algarve? You find some of the best beaches in Europe in this region.
So why did I choose Algarve? I was mesmerised by the photos and just decided to spend few days here. Now that was the easy part. But then I realized that it was going to be much tougher than that. Since it is the entire coastal region, I realized that there are many villages and resorts (150 beaches according to lonely planet) to choose from. Since I was traveling solo, I did not want anything too remote. But I also wanted some privacy and did not want to stay in a hostel here.
So what are the options we have?
• Faro: Faro is home to the international airport as well as to a railway station and many tourists fly here. However, most people do not prefer to stay here since it is far away from all the popular beaches. The entire district is also known as Faro and you should not be confused between the two.
• Lagos: Lagos is the party destination of Algarve and it is quite popular with the younger crowd. So it can get a little too overcrowded. Lagos is however more accessible compared to the other villages/towns. Lagos also has plenty of historic buildings since it was once a center of the slave trade and the Portugese Age of Discovery.
• Portimao: Portimao is another popular destination and is well known for its gorgeous beaches. I almost ended up booking a room at one of the hotels at the Praia Da Rocha beach. I only hesitated because I thought it would be too touristy.
• Tavira: All the above regions lie to the west of Faro whereas Tavira lies to the east of Faro. This is another historical center and the beach here, Tavira Island can only be reached by ferryboat.
• Sagres: Sagres is one of the remotest towns in Algarve and is said to be the extreme southwest corner of continental Portugal. I had not read much about this place before I went to Algarve but most locals say it is a must visit and I agree. It is very popular with surfers.
• Albufeira: Also known for its beautiful beaches. However, I am not sure why but when I was doing my research, many people advised me to not stay in Albufeira since I was a solo female traveler.
• Lagoa: I ended up staying in the lovely village of Carvoeiro in Lagoa, Portugal in Central Algarve. One of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, Praia Da Marinha is located in this municipality. Additionally, the world famous Benagil caves is also located here and this is one of the reasons why I chose this area. Carvoiero is also listed as one among the hidden European destinations you have to visit in 2017.
There are other options as well but these are some of the more popular areas in Algarve. Also if you like golfing, you can look at spending time at one of the many golf resorts in the region.
I took a bus from Lisbon to Algarve. It takes approximately three hours and there are multiple buses to choose from. Most people prefer to fly into Faro international airport.
As usual I got confused between Lagos and Lagoa. When the bus did stop at Lagoa, I thought I had to go to Lagos. When I was half way between Portimao and Lagoa (10kms between them), I realized that I had to get down at Lagoa, courtesy my GPS. I ended up getting down at Portimao. However, there were no cabs available and I ended up waiting there for a while. Finally, a cab driver came but he was already booked. He asked me to wait for 10 minutes and he came back after dropping his passengers. So I ended up paying 15 Euros for a cab ride that would have been cheaper if I had gotten down at Lagoa.
Where Did I Stay?
I stayed at Tivoli Carvoeiro. It is a 4-star hotel and has all the facilities that a normal resort should have. The hotel is really old and hence is in need of some major renovation. I still liked this place since it was quite clean and the hotel staff were really friendly. Also view from the hotel is phenomenal and I would not trade that view for anything else in the world. It is also dirt cheap for a hotel of its size and hence it was quite economical for me. Also they made sure that they made delicious vegetarian dishes only for me. I initially thought that the beach was not accessible. But you can still get to the beach if you try hard enough. I even saw a wedding there, all because of that magnificent view.
Hiring a car:
Many people asked me if it is necessary to hire a car. It is definitely not required since bus services are quite frequent on weekdays. However, if you want to go beach hopping like I did, then it makes better sense to hire a car. The distance between all the above options is easily around 30 kms each way. It is not that expensive and you can get a good deal for 20-40 euros per day (including insurance). Most people hire a car from the airport whereas I hired one from a rental close to my hotel.
What I did at Algarve?
Algarve is a beach destination and you can make your vacation a relaxing one if you want to. You can either laze around the whole day at any of the gorgeous beaches or you could go roaming in the historic towns to get a touch of history. I was here for 2.5 days and I spaced it out equally so that it would not be too hectic.
The day I reached, I spent my time lazing around the pool (the hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool). Later in the day, when I realized that I could reach the beach if I wanted to, I hiked down and spent some time swimming in the ocean. It is difficult to get to the beach here since you have to drag yourself up on the way back. But fret not, there are two gorgeous beaches just walking distance from the hotel and that is where I spent most of my time in, over the course of the next two days.
I used to go every day for a morning swim at one of the beaches after a heavy breakfast. One of those days, I realized that I could do a speedboat ride along the Algarve coastline. This is a must do and I cannot recommend it enough. Seeing the coast from the water is such an amazing experience. Even though we were supposed to start from near Vale de Centeanes at Carvoiero, we had to go to Portimao that day to catch the speedboat. The reason given was that the ocean was rough that day and we could not take one of the smaller speedboats. The bigger speedboat could only dock at Portimao. So they took us to and fro to Portimao in a minivan. They charge you around 25 Euros from Portimao whereas it is around 17 Euros from Carvoeiro. So I guess they just wanted more money from us. In spite of that, please do take one of the tours along the coast line and you won’t regret it.
Speedboat along the Algarve Coastline
So all of us (10 of us) are fitted with life jackets and then we begin a really fun way to see the coastline. Unless you see it with your own eyes, you would not believe how beautiful the whole journey is. The whole coast is lined with golden cliffs and gorgeous white sand beaches. Another highlight is the innumerable number of hidden caves and coves. You are taken inside many of them based on whether your speedboat can get inside. This tour however does not allow us to go swimming in some of the coves. Even though many tours claim that they allow you to do this, I could not find a legitimate one and I doubt if this is legal. The tour guides are good and they keep giving you a good account of all the beaches along the coastline. You take the boat ride from Portimao to a little after Praia Da Marinha and then you head back. Along the way, you see numerous people cliff jumping, fishing, hiking (there are some gorgeous treks for people who love to hike), sunbathing etc. Once in a while, the skipper and first mate decide that we are going too slow and decide to spice things a little bit. Have you ever had that feeling? Going at crazy speeds, the waves crashing all around, as you sit there hanging on for dear life, all the while being completely awed by the beauty of nature. The caves are equally beautiful and when we went inside one of these gorgeous caves, we could hear or see nothing but our breaths and the waves crashing against the rocks. Unfortunately, we could not enter Benagil caves that day due to the rough sea and we had to be content with seeing it from an angle. Soon we were back to Portimao and then taken by minivan to Carvoeiro. The whole journey including the waiting time takes around 4 hours.
|Hidden Caves, Algarve|
I drove down to Lagos in the afternoon. Lagos has number of historical places to visit and I walked around the Centro Cultural Da Lagos for a while. Only when I got to the Canopy walk, I realized that I could have gone on Dolphin watching / Kayaking tours if I had reached a bit earlier. From there, I drove down to Praia Dona Ana beach and spent rest of my day there, spending most of my time, staring into the ocean.
|Praia Dona Ana Beach, Algarve|
Praia Da Marinha
I spent my morning at Praia Da Marinha beach the next day. It is a really gorgeous beach. By then, I had made some friends at my hotel and I had a nice morning there, swimming with them in the beach. I did not spend much time in the water since it was still a little cold for my liking. But you can sit there all day long, staring into the beautiful vastness. One good thing about going in May is that it is just starting to get touristy but you still get many secluded beaches to choose from. I only wish I could have gone scuba diving here but I did not plan in advance and hence missed my chance.
Everyone kept raving about Sagres and I knew I had to go there in the afternoon. It is around 65kms from Lagoa and around 30 kms from Lagos. The drive there is picturesque and as you drive there, you can see the climate changing. When I went, Sagres had a Moorish kind of stillness and the view from the Sagres point is spectacular. It was fairly deserted and I was glad that I could walk around the entire place without much disturbance from others. I cursed myself for not carrying a jacket or a sweater since it was freezing there as opposed to the weather I was used to in Algarve. They charge you around 4 Euros to enter the Sagres point.
The drive back was equally calming and I went to bed content after a memorable 3 -day trip there. How I got out of Algarve is a story for another time but you already know that by the end of the next day, I was robbed and almost penniless in Madrid.
Yes, Algarve can get quite crowded during the summer months but I still loved my time there. Being in the midst of so much beauty can sometimes be overwhelming.
Portugal was my favorite country. Need more tips to plan your trip to Portugal. Check out this Portugal travel guide for some great tips.
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