After many weeks in Spain, we finally made it to Portugal. A new country for both of us. When we drove in, we expected some kind of immigration but instead, we were stopped so we could give the highway guys our credit card for their toll roads. We had to chuckle.
We decided to stay in the middle of the southern coast, in Albufeira, so we could check out the towns in either direction along the coast. Since we planned to stay for 6 days, I booked an apartment. Aparthotels are very common in European resort towns. You get a full apartment and the services of a hotel, such as a pool spa, and restaurant.
When we arrived at our Aparthotel, they wanted the EU QR code verifying our Covid vaccination, as required by Portuguese law. We didn’t have them, so they made us take a rapid test at our expense. Surprise, it was only 2.90€. The only bummer was how long the line was for check-in and the 20-minute wait for the test result. The small hotels took our US vaccination card but we had to take another test while in Portugal. No verification was required in Spain.
Shortly after we got to our room, we found that the WiFi was terrible. I couldn’t connect at all and Mike barely had a signal. In addition, Mike seemed to have a weak LTE connection but I only had weak 3G. As a result, we frequently used Mike’s phone as a hot spot just to get some connectivity.
The WiFi situation made me really mad because we had work to do. So I moped at the front desk and the next day we moved to a room on the ocean view side of the building because there seemed to be much better WiFi there. So we bought the WiFi card and Mike spent hours trying to get the WiFi to work. He finally gave up, but we did stay in the upgraded room with the nice ocean view.
It turned out that the WiFi most places in the Algarve left us wanting, including Starbucks. We drove for about 40 minutes to Starbucks only to find out that their WiFi wasn’t stable. Eventually, we found an English Pub with good WiFi about 30 minutes from our hotel. We camped there twice in order to get our articles out on time. We did have to buy some food and beers, oh well.
The rule of thumb for Portugal is that every place is hilly. I mean lots of steep hills with steps. Of course, our aparthotel was at the top of a hill. Google said it was a 7-minute walk to town but our 7 minutes included 97 steps. We didn’t count them but a girl we met on the steps did.
That said, we got the chance to improve our climbing skills, nearly every day. The town of Albufeira is quite small but is filled with bars and restaurants. There is lots of energy, live music, and good food. Basically, the place was packed because it was summer. I have no idea what it is like in winter. There are two beaches in this town separated by a big hill.
For people thinking of retiring in the Algarve, there were lots of available properties in the cities, towns, on a golf course, and in the countryside.
We were told that Lagos is a big party town but we didn’t see it ourselves as we were there in the late afternoon. There is one outdoor attraction, Ponta da Piedade, with a natural bridge, caves, and clear blue grottos. Many people take a kayak tour out there and then get towed back to town, which is funny to watch.
We stayed up on the cliff and watched as different groups came and went into the caves. If we happen to be there longer in the future, I would like to kayak to the caves.
Sagres and Prince Henry the Navigator
As soon as we entered Portugal we saw that the highway was named “Via do Infante de Sagres”, which means Road of the Prince of Sagres. The reference is to Prince Henry the Navigator. Born in 1396, he was responsible for encouraging sailors to set out toward Africa and beyond in the time before there were any foreign voyages.
The Portuguese are very proud of their role in the Age of Discovery and world navigation and colonization in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are statues and other tributes throughout the country to Henry the Navigator and Vasco de Gama. We even read one account that theorized that Columbus was actually Portuguese.
To facilitate the education of sailors, it is said that Prince Henry started a navigation school at Sagres on the southwest most tip of Europe (aka The End of Europe). There is a fort on the site of the school so naturally, we had to visit. Having a navigation school near the port in Lagos made sense.
Another town on the water near Lagos, Portimão seemed to have a lot going on. But we only investigated a new golf course development a short distance from town. The prices aren’t what they used to be. The minimum for a one-bedroom apartment with an ocean and golf course view for about 300k €.
Another takeaway from the Algarve is a tradition of decorative chimney caps. I was fascinated by the variety of different designs. We thought it was a Portuguese thing but we didn’t see them anywhere else in Portugal. Of all the towns in the Algarve, we liked Albufeira best. That said, people, we met later in Lisbon seemed more interested in Lagos. My only conclusion is that Lagos is bigger and has a better bar scene. There were some families in Albufeira but the majority of the holidaymakers were young adults, something to consider.
Faro is the first town you encounter coming to Portugal from Spain. We took a day to visit the town, which has an ever-present port. But it seemed very industrial and run down. It didn’t seem to have a thriving old town, it was more like the suburbs. Not really our cup of tea.
Nearby Faro is a golf course community called Vilamoura that was a little more to our liking. We even found an English pub there, so you can guess who lives in the golf town.
I thought you might be interested in Portuguese food. Their cuisine is very meat, seafood, and potato’s focused. There is a dish that is a specialty in southern Portugal called Cataplana. It comes in a pot with a very distinctive shape and is basically a seafood stew with potatoes.
In Albufeira, Mike had a good steak but our best meal in Albufeira was in a French restaurant, Bistro. The Portuguese are also very fond of Bacalao, salt cod, just like the Spanish.
We arranged a wine pairing dinner and we didn’t know what to expect. We got to the small lodge on a dirt road through the vineyards. The wine served was all made by this winery and the food was good home cooking. We didn’t learn anything about Portuguese wine but the setting was spectacular and we had a good time. We did get a little lost in the vineyard trying to drive back to the main road in the dark with no signage.
Portugal seems to be an entire country of hills. The locals certainly know how to drive on the one-lane roads going up and down the hills. Mike got the hang of it too, while I just hung on.
At first, we thought there were a bunch of Russian tourists. However, we realized that we were listening to Portuguese, color me surprised. I have Brazilian friends and I don’t remember it sounding like that. After all, it is a Romance language. I mentioned this to our son who has been to Lisbon. He said, “so you’ve heard the Russian Spanish,” an excellent description. I did observe that it sounds more Russian when they are yelling at one another, rather than talking quietly.
We enjoyed our time in the Algarve and we might visit again for a few weeks. But there isn’t enough going on to hold our interest long-term, except maybe the golf.
Which town would you like to hang out in?