Better luck with beaches in Tavira

Lisbon, Portugal

After my fail yesterday with our trip to overly windy Ilha da Tavira, Char took control this morning to ensure our last day in Portugal would be spent on a proper beach.

And, unsurprisingly, she came through! It wasn’t clearly marked and there was a bit of a walk from the parking lot, but Praia do Barril was perfect.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Our stomachs growling for lunch, we got back on the road en route to Lisbon. About two hours later, we dropped off the rental car at the airport and checked into adjacent the Radisson Blue.

We were tempted to head into Lisbon for dinner but deferred to burgers and beers in the Radisson’s bar. Our flight back to New York, via Philadelphia, departs at 10:35 am tomorrow.

Advertisements

An afternoon on Ilha da Tavira

Tavira, Portugal

After a day of lounging at the hotel, we were well rested and ready to roll this morning for the drive to our final destination on the Algarve, the town of Tavira.

It was only about 45 minutes, but not without its mishap. We had booked a room at Hotel Vila Galé Tavira – but it turns out that there were actually two Vila Galé hotels in Tavira. Who would have thought! (And, unfortunately, one was a lot nicer than the other, and we were staying at the not so nice one.)

The hotel wasn’t terrible, just a bit older and more traditional than what we typically stay at. Despite this (and perhaps most importantly), the pool was still nice.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we drove and caught a ferry to Ilha da Tavira, a quaint, car-free island. The beach was beautiful but Char said it was too windy (it was) so we didn’t spend much time there.

Luckily, there was an early return ferry to the mainland, which we caught and then proceeded to catch the tail end of the setting sun from our patio.

Day of rest at Pedra dos Bicos

Albufeira, Portugal

It was nice to sleep in this morning – and also to know that we didn’t need to move on to our next hotel. (We’re averaging a new one each day, so we were happy to “settle” in for two days – it’s like a record for us.)

As part of our day of rest, we agreed to stay at the hotel and just spend time tanning at the pool and going for a walk down by the beach.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

The beach was covered in small rocks and colorful shells that Char collected.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

On our walk back, we saw these super cool lights set out by the hotel pool deck. We agreed that they would make a good addition to our (future) home patio.

DSC_0035

After showering up, it was back to braving the Brits for dinner.

Portugal’s prettiest beach

Albufeira, Portugal

This morning we set out on a mission – to find that elusive beach in the Algarve, the one that has made this area such a popular destination for pasty-skinned Brits in search of sun.

Armed with a map, Lonely Planet and some tips from the concierge, we hit the road under sunny skies with high hopes.

Driving through Lagos, we found it. We parked the car in a public lot, waked down a steep encampment and put down our towels. Here is was, Praia da Marinha.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

With sheer limestone cliffs, crystal clear, calm water (perfect temperature, too), we had found it. This was Portugal’s prettiest beach. We promptly agreed to spend the day here.

As the late afternoon approached, we continued onward to Albufeira, the next stop on our road trip down the southern coast. Our destination was the Hotel Aqua Pedra dos Bicos, a stylish hotel with sweeping ocean views and massive room numbers.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

It turns out Albufeira the town isn’t much – overrun by sunburned Brits. We tried our best to avoid it all but ended up watching a Manchester United football match and drinking Guinness. We tried!

Pottery and pools

Lagos, Portugal

The day started off overcast, no rain thankfully, just lots of clouds as we set off in the Opel for the cliffs of Cabo de São Vicente. Along the way, a mosaic of plates on a building bordering the road caught our eye.

DSC_0035

We pulled over and stepped into a massive warehouse filled to the brim with pottery of all shapes, sizes and colors. Overwhelmed, we wandered the aisles before finding a few souvenirs and gifts to take home.

Our next stop was Cabo de São Vicente, a quaint seaside town built into the hillside that is officially the southwesternmost point in Portugal. We spent an hour walking around but with the wind picking up, decided to cut our time short and get back on the road.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

It was another 45-drive to Lagos, a rapidly developing beach city, and home to our hotel, the Villa Gale Lagos. This was a sprawling hotel, with the requisite weird and trendy lobby that characterizes many of the places we decide to stay.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Outside was a massive pool. We’re talking three or four interconnected pools and perhaps 200 chaise lounges. Thankfully, the place was practically deserted so we settled in.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We grabbed a late lunch at a British pub a short walk down the beach – it was so good that we tried to return for dinner. Unfortunately, it was closed, and the seafood joint our hotel recommended didn’t look great (we were seated, looked at the menu and promptly walked out).

We ended at a local Italian place in town. Super casual and not particularly tasty. Oh well, you can’t win them all!

Portugal, from north to south

Sagres, Portugal

Dawn was almost magical this morning. We awoke to chirping birds outside of our window and the sun rising over rolling vineyards for as far as the eye could see.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We fueled up on a big breakfast of eggs, toast and jam as we prepared for a day’s drive of traversing Portugal. It would be a good 6-hours from Porto south to the Algarve, our destination.

Setting out a little after 10 am, the roads returning to Porto didn’t seem nearly as treacherous. In fact, highways here in Portugal are in nothing short of perfect condition. Nicely leveled, newly paved, bright lane markers. And no cops, which meant that we watched much of the country whiz by, only stopping occasionally for gas, snacks or one of the many tolls.

(Portugal’s top-notch highway does system comes at a cost – our tolls ran us nearly 50 euros for the day.)

As we entered the Algarve, which is more broadly defined as the Southern coast of Portugal, the landscape quickly changed to a rocky coastline, akin to New England.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Finally, we arrived in Sagres, a small town nearly at the southern tip of Portugal. Checking into our hotel, the Memmo Baleeira Hotel, we could have been in South Beach. There were lots of weird artifacts in the lobby that Lottie played around with, including these cool lights.

DSC_0035

We threw our stuff down in the room, grabbed a couple of beers from the minifridge and made our way to the hotel’s sprawling back lawn.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

This is what we have traveled all day for.

Sputtering into the Douro Valley

Mesao Frio, Portugal

It was another beautiful morning — sun shining, not a cloud in the sky — as we walked to a café across the street for bicas and chocolate croissants heated in a panini press (genius and dank).

After spending yesterday tasting the wines of Portugal, our plan today was to drive into the heart of the Douro Valley, the source of all of those grapes. We started by following the meandering Douro River out of Porto; as the frenetic city fell behind us, the terrain changed and we soon were surrounded on all sides by lush, terraced rolling hills of vines.

DSC_0035

Meanwhile, the Opel Corso was anything but impressed with the terrain. The hairpin turns, coupled with the steep climbs, had her gasping for air as our RPMs sat just underneath the red line. Unsurprisingly, the check engine light soon came on. Charlotte turned to me.

“What if we break down?” she asked. Looking around at an entire area that was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2001 — just one sweeping vista after the next — my response was simple: “Think we’ll survive.”

And we did, soon turning onto the long driveway of Solar de Rede — a pousada (state-run) hotel just outside of a town called Mesão Frio — that was housed in an historic old building with impressive views all around.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Our huge room was a short walk from the main lodge, set among the hotel’s own vineyard. From our porch, we could see an occasional train chugging alongside the river; in the distance, a church bell marked the hour. (Note also the twin beds provided in a “double room” — this is truly a European phenomenon.)

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We spent the rest of the day at the pool, soaking in the 90-degree temperatures and picking our lunch — a handful of free Valencia oranges — right from the trees. As the sun began to set at around 9 p.m., we cracked open a bottle of red wine, snacked on some jamón and took it all in.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We both agreed that, indeed, this wouldn’t be a terrible place for the car to die.

Drinking porto in Porto

Porto, Portugal

This city’s love affair with wine — and specifically, the namesake port — dates back to the 18th century. Grapes grown in the Douro Valley, an area blessed with just the right mix of rain, soil composition and sunlight, were cultivated and brought into Porto by boat, where they were processed and subsequently aged.

On the other side of the river, in Villa Nova de Gaia, about 60 lodges continue to make port this way today. This morning, with the sun shining again, we set out to do some tasting.

Our first stop was the smaller, independent Cálem, that wasn’t running another English-speaking tour for an hour, but had a Spanish speaking guide available immediately. Which meant it was time to brush off those Español skills.

DSC_0035

Port itself is made in about the same way as wine, with the key differences being length of fermentation as well as the other ingredients, like brandy, that are occasionally added. We got to check out the oak barrels, where porto had been aging for 10, 20, 30 years or longer.

DSC_0035

Then, to the matter at hand: tasting. For those who haven’t imbibed, port is a sweet dessert wine, best enjoyed in limited quantities, like, well, a glass. The older the port, the lighter the color and more refined the taste (apparently).

DSC_0035

With a few tastes under our belt, our next stop was Ramos-Pinto, another quiet spot where we had a chance to taste most of their line, including a delicious 20-year old reserve.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Two tastings were really enough for us, so we made our way back along the shore, checking out the old boats used to transport grapes into the city — and now largely to haul camera-totting tourists around.

DSC_0035

With the weather approaching 32 degrees, we needed to escape the heat and our hotel recommended a popular beach just about 20 minutes away. Checking out all the Europeans sunning themselves there, it felt only appropriate to don my new Euro suit (courtesy of C&A).

It took a little while to get used to but I’m now quite sold on the benefits of the Euro suit! Needless to say, Charlotte got a kick out of it, too.

Hills, heights, hills, help

Porto, Portugal

We spent an hour driving from Luso to Porto, the country’s second largest city, and then about the same amount of time desperately trying to follow Google Map’s complicated directions down narrow one-way European streets. Finally, we found Eurostars Das Artes, parked the car, checked in and set out to explore the city.

DSC_0035

The last few days have brought unseasonably warm weather to Portugal, which sounds great — until you realize that Porto is built on one giant hill. We started by climbing the Torre dos Clerigos, a 225-foot tall tower (tallest in Portugal) designed by Italian Nicolau Nasoni in the mid 1700s. From its top, we took in the sweeping views of the city and the Rio Douro before Charlotte had a minor panic attack and we quickly descended.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

After a pricy burger at the city’s best café, Majestic, and some window shopping along the pedestrian drag, we stopped at the Sao Bento Train Station, completed in 1903 and showcasing some 20,000 painted azueljos of historic scenes.

DSC_0035

Nearing the river, we passed the former stock exchange and made our way into the Ribeira district, a zone of winding lanes, tiled churches and cobble-stoned streets lining the riverfront.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

A beer was needed before tackling the climb back uphill to the hotel, towing shopping bags from C&A (second favorite European department store after Corte Inglés). Back at Eurostars, we searched for a truly local haunt for dinner and found a small outdoor café. Nearby, two women were wolfing down the day’s special, which without really knowing what it was, we ordered.

How about a puff pastry encased hotdog covered with cheese and special sauce?

Yeah, it hit the spot.

Royalty (for a night)

Luso, Portugal

Today’s goal was to make our way northward — but not without several pit stops along the way. Cruising up the A2, we learned why this country’s roads are so well-maintained: exorbitant (and frequent) tolls. Our first was about 4 euros, which at the time seemed like a lot, although it wouldn’t once we had some more kilometers under our belt.

About an hour north of Sabugo was Obidos, a small village of about 3,000 residents sitting inside the remains of a castle wall. There were lots of whitewashed houses, accented with vibrant blue and yellow paint. Unfortunately, the town itself caters largely to tourists, with most overpriced shops offering porcelain, lace and Portugal shot glasses.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We headed to walk those 13th century castle walls — which without hand railings and its uneven cobble-stone paths, meant balancing precariously close to the edge.

DSC_0035

Thirty minutes later, we were in Alcobaca, home of the country’s most prominent Unesco World Heritage Sight. The Mosteiro de Santa Marie was founded in 1153 by the first king of Portugal.

The surprisingly quiet cloister offered a momentary respite — no tour groups — and for a minute, we could almost envision the silent monks shuffling around among the soaring carved archways and weighed-down orange trees.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

After a light lunch, it wasn’t much further on the A2 to Batalha, with its own impressive abbey (Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitoria) that dates to 1434. Here, we found the stained glass windows were the real draw.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Feeling a bit mosteiro’ed out, we cruised another 90 minutes north to Luso. In the middle of the Bussaco Forest, we arrived at the Palace Hotel do Bussaco, a palace originally built in 1907 as a royal summer retreat on the site of a 17th century monastery. Now, it’s been converted into a hotel, complete with rose garden, period furniture, spires and turrets.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

Outside, our Opel Corsa fit right in. Can’t you imagine it next to a horse-drawn carriage a hundred years ago?

DSC_0035

We splurged on dinner at the hotel’s restaurant — an absurd 7-course affair complete with a salad trolley and grilled wild boar with garlic and rosemary.

DSC_0035

DSC_0035

We felt like royalty. At least for a night.