Note from the author: An article similar to this was published in the Dana Point Times, San Clemente Times, and The Capistrano Dispatch, papers which are owned by Picket Fence Media in south Orange County, California. I am a columnist for them. I have also added more photos to this Finding Love After 50 website blog post.
When tourists travel, they often try to see too many sites in the limited time they have. Hence, they might overlook interesting items in the area where they are staying. Such is the case in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, where my partner Greta and I are spending the first two weeks of May.
Normally, we like to travel between European cities by train, but in the Algarve, trains are limited, although some Algarve beach cities are connected by rail. So, we rented a car, out of necessity--to reach the private home where we are staying, and to visit the beach cities of the Algarve, which has 120 miles of coastline.
The home, called Casa Sams, is remotely located in the hills above the town of Estoi, five miles from Faro, the main city and capital of the Algarve.
Casa Sams had a salt water pool
To reach the home, there are left turns, right turns, hairpin turns, a pack of friendly but wild dogs, and a myriad of unmarked single lane unpaved roads.
We stayed at Casa Sams for two weeks, April 30, 2017, to May 14, 2017. The first 10 attempts to reach the house we got lost, usually making at least one wrong turn. But, the view is panoramic of the ocean and the property is on five acres of orange trees and olive trees.
View from Casa Sams - the Atlantic Ocean in the far distance
It is an incredible house, very well stocked and obviously a proud spot for the owners. We stayed there via a Home Exchange.com transaction. The owners stayed at our home in San Clemente, California, the month before.
There are so many beautiful beach cities within 30 miles to the east and west that we immediately started exploring them.
On May 1, Labor Day, we drove to Tavira, a fishing village; it’s sidewalk cafes were packed. We thought we’d give Portuguese food a try and ordered sardines. I ate two of the five on my plate and that was enough for me.
Tavira Marina beer sign with a little humor
Driving to the next port city, Olhao, we saw all kinds of stuffed mannequins along the side of the road, with people stopping their cars to admire them. Strangest thing we’ve ever seen. We learned via the Internet later that those stuffed mannequins were to honor International Workers Day, and were unique pretty much to only that portion of the road we were on, in all of Portugal. It was like we hit it big, just by coincidence—right time, right day, right road.
We returned to Olhao on the day before we left to return to Madrid. This was to visit the incredible outdoor flea market along the beach promenade and the fish market, which is housed inside one of the buildings next to the flea market area.
Olhao - home of the Saturday fish market in this building
Had a great lunch in Olhao as well:
Lunch at this restaurant, O Bote, in Olhao, Portugal
One of our favorite beach cities was Vilamoura. It has a horseshoe-shaped marina with hundreds of fancy yachts in the center. We estimate there are at least 70 upscale restaurants—including three Irish pubs–-facing the yachts.
Even more restaurants are on the beach boardwalk with access from the marina. We had lunch at Buzios Beach Café.
In the city of Portimao, the beach had more than 200 volleyball courts and nets set up on the sand. A tournament was taking place featuring women’s and men’s doubles. We watched the action while having lunch at a beach café there.
Portimao from above the beach where the old fort is located
On the way home, we visited another beach city, Albuferia. It is well known for cakes made with almonds. These are so tasty it’s mind-boggling. On our first visit there, we stopped by the Marina, unaware that just a cove or two away was the bustling town square that is a huge tourist attraction.
A week later, Greta and I went there for lunch and a stroll on the beach.
Albufeira - beach area town square
The olive oil, seafood, olives, oranges, pastries, bread, cheese and wine in Portugal are delectable. Great wine is less than five euros per bottle. One day, we stopped at the tiny country market near where we were staying. There was a bottle of red wine for 1.75 euros, about two bucks. It was not only drinkable, but very tasty--somewhat like "Two-buck Chuck" back in Orange County at Trader Joe's stores.
On our fifth day, we decided to walk around Estoi, the closest town to us. It appeared to be sleepy, not much there. We saw a sign describing a palace, hidden away. We tried to get to it but there were walls all around and gates were padlocked.
On a deserted back street, a couple walked by us, and said in an English accent, “It’s worth going inside, we can show you the way.” Tony and Josephine were from Manchester, England.
The ancient palace had been converted into a hotel. It was beautiful inside. There were murals hand painted by Italian artists on the ceilings throughout the main floor of the hotel.
Also in Estoi, there are Roman ruins dating from the 3rd century A.D. This is a perfect example of trying to see too much elsewhere and missing wonderful things right where you are staying.
That night, we met Tony and Josephine for dinner at a local Estoi restaurant that Greta and I had driven past several times, thinking it was just for villagers. It was Tony’s 58th birthday. The dinner was delicious and reasonable.
As we concluded our first week in the Algarve, Greta suggested we explore Faro, the nearby city where we had only shopped for groceries.
We did not realize that it also had a wonderful marina and historic district. Why had we overlooked a city so close to us? Faro has its unique characteristics: within the large Carmo Church, there is a chapel constructed out of the bones of 1,245 deceased monks. A little morbid but that’s what makes travel so interesting.
Bones Chapel adjacent to the main cathedral in the old walled city
And below, the more famous Bones Chapel behind the Carmo Church. The one below is a large chapel with the bones of over 1,240 monks
Also in Faro, storks from the nearby Ria Formosa nature preserve build their nests on top of churches and buildings for protection. There were four nests built out of sizeable tree branches atop the Town Arch leading into the old city. The preserve is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal. We also saw storks who built nests on the towers of high tension wires along freeways in some areas where they nest. Below, the stork nests atop the entry arch leading into the old city of Faro
Most cities in the Algarve had supermarkets called Jumbo. We drove into Faro to shop there about 4 times during our two weeks. That store was like Walmart in the states; my gosh, it had everything--fresh spinach, wine, bottled water, meat, seafood and lots of sweets for dessert. We loved shopping there.
For Greta's birthday, May 9, we took a charter boat tour of the Ria Formosa and visited the island that houses the impressive Faro Lighthouse.
When we returned to the Faro Marina, we visited two churches that had chapels made of the bones of monk's--quite interesting.
On one of the days in Portugal, we drove 180 miles each way to Lisbon. We only had four hours there so we took a Hop On, Hop Off bus around the city. A good thing to do when time is so limited. Lisbon is a beautiful city, but it needs 4-5 days to do it justice. We're glad we saw it, but we were bushed when we got back to Casa Sams, logging a total of 7-8 hours in the car.
On the second to the last day, we drove about 60 miles to Lagos, another beach city, one of the most Western ones. We had a nice lunch there, and cashed in $100 for euros at an exchange place. There was no commission and we got 88 euros in return, which was about the same rate we paid in the USA before our trip. Lagos, being so far from the Faro International Airport that serves the Algarve Region, wasn't as packed as the other beach cities.
Products made of cork can be found in southern Portugal. We found incredible bargains in Lagos, like small coin purses, made out of cork. Lightweight and inexpensive.
Cork purses in Lagos flea market
Credit cards are readily accepted throughout Portugal, except for small stores and flea market stalls, where cash (euros) is king.
When you enter Portugal from Spain by automobile, you immediately come to an automated toll booth. You can enter your credit card and all tolls during your stay there will be automatically charged to your card for up to a month. When you exit Portugal, you must notify the toll company and they will ensure no more charges are posted to your credit card. In two weeks, we racked up euros 69 to our credit. But, it sure cut the hassle of stopping every time you passed through a toll booth.
Articles similar to this blog post appeared in these newspapers:
Dana Point Times
San Clemente Times