Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice

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Expats in Portugal: 5 Tips for Summer 6

Posted on July 22, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Expats in Portugal tend to have a love/hate relationship with the summer. While we look forward to the arrival of sunshine, atmosphere and things to do, we usually start to complain by mid-July when the roads get busy, restaurant service becomes shambolic, and timing a trip the supermarket badly can mean queuing like it’s Christmas Eve!

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana - Lagos

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana – Lagos

So, in honour of the fact that we’ve now arrived at the time when we all begin to complain, here are five lighthearted tips to help residents in the Algarve cope with the summer.

 

1.      Time trips to the supermarket carefully

The worst possible time to arrive at the supermarket is when everyone’s on their way home from the beach. Sunday afternoons can be pretty hateful too.

All you have to do is think outside the box. Go early, when the tourists are sleeping off their hangovers, for minimal queues and maximum choice. Late doesn’t work quite so well, as although there may not be many people there, there’s probably not much stock either. Right in the middle of a hot day can work too – if, of course, you don’t have to work!

Sunshine - it's here all summer

Sunshine – it’s here all summer

2.      Get out of the expat mindset

It’s hard to get used to the fact that the sun is guaranteed to shine every day in the summer, and break out of the expat mentality that makes you feel compelled to get outside so as not to “waste the weather.”

Four years on, we’re still struggling to break our conditioning, but we’re getting there. We just have to get our work done and trust that the sun will still be there tomorrow.

 

3.      Go off the beaten track

There’s no getting around the fact that you may resent the thousands of people on “your” usually-near-deserted beach, but the tourists are the lifeblood of the Algarve economy.

Solitude - it's there if you know where to look!

Solitude – it’s there if you know where to look!

Instead, you must learn to go to places that the tourists haven’t discovered. We know a river beach that is never thronged, and also plenty of busy beaches where solitude can still be found after a 15 minute walk.

Best of all though, get to know some people with a house in the hills and ideally a pool. Then, spend your weekends there and save the beach for mid-September. We’re very lucky to have relatives in the country!

 

4.      Put water under the air conditioning

We always thought that putting a bowl of water in an air-conditioned room was an old wives’ tale. It’s not. If you spend a lot of time with the air conditioning on, the extra humidity from the water will prevent the worst of the peeling lips and sore throats.

Summer festivities

Summer festivities

5.      Remember you’re not on holiday

If you’ve retired then go ahead and enjoy yourself. If, like us, you still have a hefty Monday to Friday workload, you’ve still got to get it all done, and doing it with sunburn, heatstroke or a hangover is no fun at all.

 

So, sad though it is to accept, you must get your head down and get it done – and what better incentive is there to hammer through it than a beach at the end of the road – even if it is really bloody crowded!

 

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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Holiday Weekend in Portugal 4

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Those outside the UK may not be aware that this past weekend was a bank holiday. As my wife works for an English company, we observe UK bank holidays and not Portuguese ones. While this is a shame in that Portugal has far more than the UK, it meant we just got to enjoy a three-day weekend.

Our only objective was to have the kind of weekend that makes you feel sad when it’s over. We succeeded, and managed to fit plenty in, including the exploration of a couple of places we hadn’t been before.

After getting ahead and doing our grocery shopping in Spain on Friday night, we were ready for a day of exploration on Saturday. We set off in the car in the direction of Alcoutim, a small riverside town facing Spain over the border.

Alcoutim River Beach

Alcoutim River Beach

Our intended destination was the Praia Fluvial, a picturesque river beach we had seen in a tourist guide.

The drive itself was a great surprise, being on a modern road cut into the mountains and featuring some stunning views. Upon arrival at Alcoutim, we spotted some signs to an archeological site, so decided to go and find the monolith in question before heading for the river beach.

The signs led us up a treacherous mountain road and then onto a gravel path that got narrower and bumpier as we progressed. We eventually found the monolith.

Now, perhaps there’s just no historical romance in my soul, but I must confess to being….underwhelmed by the fenced off bits of rock we drove all that way to. Perhaps my naming it the “shitolith” was a tad harsh, but it wasn’t exactly the highlight of my weekend.

The Shitolith

The Shitolith

The river beach, however, met all of our expectations. Small but relatively undiscovered, it was peaceful even on an August Saturday. We were surprised to see that it had been awarded a blue flag for clean water as we didn’t realise they applied to river beaches. The flag gave us extra reassurance when we took to the water, which was clear and surprisingly warm.

Praia Fluvial Alcoutim

Praia Fluvial Alcoutim

Saturday evening was spent at the medieval fair in Castro Marim. Having already visited the fair in Silves, we were interested to compare the two and surprised that all present agreed that the Castro Marim fair was far superior to the more well known event in Silves. The stalls seemed to offer far more authentic and unique items and the place just felt “more medieval,” however subjective that may sound! On the down side, if was frantically busy, so not the place for those who dislike crowds and/or waiting for food and drink.

Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Plans for a swim and a barbecue with relatives on Sunday were scuppered early in the morning by the discovery of a flat tire, probably picked up during our dirt-track journey to the shitolith. As it turned out, we had an unexpectedly enjoyable day, ending up with friends having a fish feast at a beachfront restaurant, followed by some time paddling on the beach and (unsuccessfully) flying a kite.

Unfortunate flat tire

Unfortunate flat tire

The weekend was rounded off nicely by an impromptu Monday trip to Praia da Rocha, one of our favourite beaches, and an enjoyable meal at Casa Algarvia in Cabanas.

We certainly made the best of our weekend and felt suitably melancholy about returning to work today. We could do with cheering up, so, if you’d like to help, please take a look at our new Moving to Portugal book on Amazon and consider buying a copy!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Until next week ☺

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Back in Portugal 2

Posted on April 18, 2011 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Apologies for my brief absence, which was caused by a busy couple of working weeks in the UK. I won’t go over old ground on this occasion by comparing life there with life in Portugal—I’m sure no one needs to hear the same thing six times per year. Suffice to say, on this occasion it was actually rather enjoyable, helped by some spring-like weather and lots of socializing.

London by Night, returning from dinner with friends

London by Night, returning from dinner with friends

When we arrived back in Portugal on Friday night, it felt a little disorientating , as it usually does.  I can never quite get my head around those days when 8am sees me rushing, slightly hungover, through London on the way to see a client, and 8pm sees us back in the Algarve picking up grilled chicken for dinner on our way home.

There is no real period of “re-entry” any more. Portugal definitely feels like home as soon as we arrive. Much of the weekend was spent pottering around the house, making everything clean and tidy ready for the weeks ahead, where we have a bit longer than normal to enjoy being at home before our next short work trip.

As per usual, our trip to England coincided with the best weather of the year so far in the Algarve. Seriously, if you want to find out which six weeks of the year will boast the best weather here, just ask us when we have to go to England – it happens every time!

Although we missed out on some sun, the “garden” on our terrace certainly didn’t. In just two weeks it had turned into a jungle! We were delighted to be able to pick an entire salad from our own plants on Saturday, complete with radishes and spring onions, which are like gold-dust here as they are so hard to find.

Portugal Peach Blossom

Portugal Peach Blossom

Out home-grown salad accompanied some barbecued fish from the market – tiny sardines and juicy skate wings.  This coupled with a bottle of sub-2 euro dry white wine got us right back into the pace of Algarve life!

Looking forward, the splendid run of UK bank holidays which is just round the corner marks some proper time off for both of us, and we will be exploring some more of Portugal and Spain in the next couple of weeks. After that important regrouping time we have to start playing the bureaucracy game again, with our tax return to submit and a car to buy. After excitedly completing our car finance application over three weeks ago, we have experienced total radio-silence from our bank, and in the interim there has been the small matter of the whole country going bust. So, needless to say, I am not hugely hopeful they are going to help us! For now though, we intend to enjoy the sunshine and use our time off to boost our resolve, ready for the red-tape fun and games that I am sure awaits us.

Have a good week.

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From Portugal to….Southampton?! 3

Posted on October 12, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Does absence truly make the heart grow fonder?

On my first few visits back to the UK from Portugal I couldn’t find a single thing to be happy about – I just sulkily longed to be back in the Algarve. Now the visits have become more routine, I am finding a few (just a few!) reasons to not completely hate the time I spend back here. (The usual disclaimer with regard to it being great to catch up with friends and family applies!)

This time round, our works brings us to Southampton, somewhere I have never been before. It was quite exciting to put the TV on in the hotel yesterday just at the point when the

The new Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise ship

The new Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise ship

queen smashed the bottle on the new Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, down the road.

Other that the obvious satisfaction in knowing that the queen herself made an appearance during our very own maiden voyage to Southampton, I have actually found this city to be quite agreeable, with a relaxed student vibe.

As with most places in the UK nowadays, Southampton does also seem to have its share of “got a spare fag mate?” chavs and troops of young single mums with hoop earrings sufficiently large for dolphins to use them for tricks, but the trendy students seem to dilute them down to the level of minor irritation rather than major annoyance.

Once again, being back in England is making me notice new differences—both comparisons between here and Portugal and differences in how I am, now I live such a vastly different life.

I walk a lot slower nowadays. I have already got used to London seeming faster on previous visits, but if Southampton feels like a fast-lane to me now, I must have really slowed down to a Portuguese pace!

A lot seems unnecessarily complicated and illogical around these parts too. How on earth a tourist is supposed to select the correct train ticket from the vast array of choices at the Gatwick ticket machines is beyond me—and I lived here nearly all my life.

A few more days and we’ll be back in Portugal again, until then, time to do some work at UK pace and enjoy a few things we have been looking forward to – Thai food and fish and chips being the priorities.

So, I’ll be back when I am back in the hopefully sunny Algarve, by which time I am sure to have found some reasons to moan about England again!

Have a good week.

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April – Ten Fabulous Things 1

Posted on April 26, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Monday mornings are a lot easier to deal with when the sun floods through the curtains as soon as we pull up the shutters. I am very thankful that I really can’t find a lot to complain

Montegordo - just before sunset

Montegordo - just before sunset

about right now, and yesterday as I sat on the beach, I started thinking about all the great times we have had this month. It’s time for a list! Here are ten fabulous things that we enjoyed in April:

1. Spending three hours (yesterday) bobbing around in an over-sized rubber ring in a calm and surprisingly warm Atlantic Ocean.

2. Learning how to prepare and cook fresh squid.

3. Watching fish swimming in the top of the waves at Barrill beach on the Isla De Tavira.

4. Sharing our new home with several of our nearest and dearest.

5. Going to the beach with our friend’s eight month old baby and introducing him to sand.

6. Mastering the use of our new barbeque, with the exception of learning how to stop having to clean it being a HUGE chore.

7. Playing boule on the beach. (Hmm, a bit of a beach theme emerging here…)

8. Driving around somewhere that now truly feels like home with loud, sunny music playing.

9. Sitting outside drinking cheap wine on the first of the really barmy, warm evenings.

10. Exploring some more of Portugal (some the Alentejo and the area around Coimbra – more to follow on the blog at some point!)

It is interesting, when I read back over the list, that none of these things really cost money. Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson were spot on: the best things in life ARE free!

In the interests of balance, as always, here are a few less fabulous things from this month!

1. Discovering that Spain, as well as the UK, must have its share of noisy chavs, demonstrated by the group of children throwing wood at each other on Montegordo beach while their tattooed parents shouted at them. Thankfully this was an isolated example!

2. Coming to the realisation that having to go back to the UK every few months to work is never going to stop being rather depressing.

3. Trying to sleep when mosquitoes are determined to make noisy dives at your ears.

4. Finding out that even though Portugal is a far more friendly country than the UK, there are still a few people in customer facing jobs who need to learn to smile. Chinese restaurant on Montegordo seafront, I am thinking of you :-)

That’s it for today. Have a look at my other blog, www.foodandwineportugal.com for five fabulous foods from this month!

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A Busy Month in Portugal 5

Posted on April 20, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Just time for a quick update today. April has been our busiest month since arriving in Portugal – three groups of visitors back-to-back, with just enough time to make our home presentable in between times!

It has been wonderful to share our new life with some of our nearest and dearest and as usual it has made us freshly appreciate how lucky we are to be here in the Algarve. We have introduced people to their first iberico ham, shared a range of potent Portuguese liqueurs, and, best of all, enjoyed joining some dear friends on their first expedition to the beach with their 8 month old baby.

SuperBock - no shortage of this at the moment

SuperBock - no shortage of this at the moment

It is strange having so many people here because the house feels so alive one moment and then strangely quiet and empty the next – it then takes a couple of days to adjust back to having the place to ourselves. It doesn’t help that at the end of our visits we have to go on yet another whirlwind trip to the UK to attend a friend’s wedding (volcanic ash permitting!)

One other thing we are learning quickly is that when people come to visit it means they are on holiday – that in turn means they intend to eat and drink at holiday pace. Whilst it is wonderful to have this infectious holiday feeling around all of the time, I don’t think it is doing our livers or waist-lines an awful lot of good! We have to enforce alcohol-free days and a strict salad-eating regime between guests!

Next month is a quiet one, as we have no more guests until June, so we intend to have a nice, quiet month. We will try not to spend all of our month’s money by the 15th, accept that we have now had enough restaurant meals to last until Christmas and eat a lot of cheap, healthy food. This is the intention anyway! Let’s see how it goes :-)

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Moving swiftly on…. 8

Posted on March 02, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

As promised in my very short update last week, here follows a big update as to the eventful recent happenings of our Portuguese “dream.”

Regular readers will know about the ongoing battles we have had with damp and mould, in the traditional Algarve townhouse we spent many months dreaming about before our arrival. Just like the rest of the world, Portugal has experienced freak weather this winter. The Algarve has had so much rain this year that the area, which experiences frequent summer droughts, now reportedly has enough water in the reservoirs to last for the next three years.

New mouldy discoveries

New mouldy discoveries

About ten days ago, my wife had a closer look in some corners of the house and discovered whole new areas of mould we had not previously noticed. She also noticed more of our possessions had been destroyed, including irreplaceable items from our wedding. We decided enough was enough, and set off to the letting agency in an attempt to get moved somewhere else. We had already planned to move in May anyway to a lovely modern apartment which, frustratingly, we knew was dry and free of mould, having been to look around in the midst of the December rain.

The letting agency was not as helpful as we had hoped. It seems that all year they have been faced with a constant procession of owners and tenants, all with similar problems, some with collapsed ceilings etc. Initially, all they offered to do was send in the cleaners yet again. This proved to be to our benefit, as the cleaners took one look at the place and declared it to be uninhabitable.

Feeling newly empowered, we set off back to the letting agency armed with this information. Underestimating our new ability to understand a little Portuguese, the boss proceeded to dress down the cleaner over the phone for daring to tell a client their property was uninhabitable. At least that was how we understood it. We made clear our desire to move somewhere else as soon as possible, but were not met with a lot of helpful suggestions. We left downhearted, just being told that the best they could do was see if they could persuade the owner of our new property to stay elsewhere when he visits, therefore enabling us to move into our new property straight away.

Fired up and slightly angry, we got in touch with someone we had met, and by the end of the same day were being shown around another property in town – a beautiful luxury home which we liked a lot, however, it just didn’t seem to feel right. The place was supposed to be empty, but it had tenants in there when we got there, and it was frustratingly difficult to work out exactly when the place was going to become available. The place was better than any we had seen, but our instincts told us to steer clear. We also saw the beginnings of some mould in one of the rooms….not what we were looking for…

Fortunately our evening of feeling dejected was turned around by an email from our agency confirming that the owner of the place we were due to move to in May had agreed to let us move in straight away, very kindly making different arrangements for his own accommodation for his next visit.

First thing the next morning, we picked up the keys and excitedly started to move the first of our things to our new apartment – relishing the prospect of having our first mould-spore free night in several months. We moved the bare essentials, and a friend came and joined us for an impromptu barbeque on the terrace. Everything was just marvellous and we kept saying over and over that the place “just feels right.”

Guess what? It didn’t completely last. When our friend left we noticed we had no external lights at the front of the apartment building. We also noticed our video entry phone wasn’t working. Exploring more, we found the building lift didn’t work, nor did our doorbell. After a while compiling these details it became clear that although everything in our own apartment was fully-functional, nothing in the condominium itself was working. It was all dead. We checked the fuse-box and everything looked right. We decided the following morning that we would go to the agency and see what had to be done, confident that it would just be a case of someone, somewhere, switching something on.

At this point the story takes on a distinct air of “only in Portugal….” It transpired that the reason the condominium power was off was due to someone, somewhere, not paying the electricity bill. This was quite easily sorted (it has apparently now been paid, we are just waiting for the power in the communal parts of the building to be restored.) It is worth mentioning at this point that the Portuguese utility companies are truly draconian in their approach to disconnections. Unlike in the UK where utility companies are obliged to give plenty of chances to pay and offer prepayment meters it is not that way in Portugal. If you don’t pay, off it goes. It’s just the way it is.

The problem of the power sorted, I received a knock on the door from an employee of the agency. The language barrier was a problem here as I wasn’t expecting the visit and didn’t know its purpose. After a lot of arm waving I established that she wished to photograph one of our sofas. I hadn’t noticed up to this point the arse-shaped mark on one of the cushions, looking as if someone had been for a swim and sat down before being fully dry. I was unconcerned but did ask about it when in the agency office.

“We were going to mention that…” here we go…..It turns out that in the last two weeks, while the place had been empty, someone had let themselves in to the apartment, and left again, leaving just a used beach towel and the aforementioned arse-shaped mark on the sofa. “You couldn’t make it up,” became our phrase of the day.

As it turned out, a locksmith was swiftly dispatched to fit a new lock, the electric bill paid, and over the weekend, we moved into our new modern, dry, mould-free apartment. We love it. Something about being here feels a lot more like we expected arriving in Portugal to feel like. In the four months we lived in the “mould zone” we did have some wonderful times, but looking back, something didn’t feel right. Perhaps it was waking up with sore throats from breathing in mildew and spending every spare moment spraying diluted bleach around?

NEXT POST: Carnival...

NEXT POST: Carnival...

Now we are here, it feels like our Portuguese dream can truly begin….take two…there’s a rumour the weather can get quite nice around these parts, I wonder if it’s true.

Carnival report coming soon….

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A Weekend of Discovery Part 2 6

Posted on February 11, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Continuing my report of a very pleasurable weekend exploring our new home-country, we arrive at Sunday.

The weather was not quite up to the standard of the previous day, and we initially resigned ourselves to visiting the supermarket to get provisions and having a quiet day in. We headed off to Continente, our nearest supermarket, just after midday.

In previous posts I have commented how it is wonderful that the shopping centre opening hours here are so long, and that you can go shopping up until 11 or 12 o’clock every day of the week. Well, since saying that, we have come unstuck and realised that other than at holiday times, despite most of the shops opening until this late hour, the supermarkets in fact close at 1pm. A strange state of affairs which I have yet to understand. Nevertheless, this time we were prepared and had our shopping done before they drew the curtains to the store at 1pm (and they didn’t mess about – when they say “closes at one” that is exactly what they mean…)

Almond Trees

Almond Trees

After enjoying a simple lunch of some of the things Portugal does so well – warm bread, tomatoes, cheese and pate, the sky turned a rather more favourable colour so we decided to go off on another expedition. Each time we had driven east, towards Spain, we had noticed several signs to “Mata Da Conceicao” (Conceicao woods,) and were curious to have a look, so this was where we set off for.

Before leaving, I consulted the web and found a small amount of information on a local authority website about the woods, along with a few pretty uninspiring photographs. It is fair to say our expectations were pretty low when we left. After a couple of false starts through the country lanes and twice ending up back on the main EN125 road we found the woods. The journey at this point had already seemed worthwhile just for the drive through the orange groves and seeing several pretty little villages in the hills, but we were in for a real treat.

We turned into the woods onto what initially looked like a dirt track and soon became something that, in a small hatchback, felt distinctly like “off-roading.” We have to admit we are not looking forward to taking back this particular hire car: “yes, those scratches are when we tried to reverse out of our cobbled alley, under pressure due to an impatient local. We are not sure whether the dent was there when we hired the car. On Sunday, we accidentally went off-roading. Oh, and someone keyed it when it was parked on our road.” Don’t ever let anyone tell you the extra insurance isn’t worth the money!

Mata Da Conceicao

Mata Da Conceicao

After bouncing along for five minutes or so, we met another car coming the other way and were both delighted that the occupants didn’t look surprised to see us, and reassured that we were in fact supposed to drive on this dirt-track. Shortly afterwards, we caught sight of water between some trees, stopped the car, and had a wander. There below us was a beautiful natural lake, almost hidden from view and only visible from certain places between the trees. It was a stunning sight and nothing like I ever expected to see in Portugal. If I ever find myself missing “England’s green and pleasant land,” I know where to come. My wife described it as a non-manufactured Center Parcs, which I think is a good description.

A lake in the woods

A lake in the woods

We drove away happily and continued to take in the views of the forest, especially the almond trees, now almost snowing with white blossom with the tiniest hint of pastel pink. The lake we had found would have been quite enough, but we then spotted a clearing with a stream, stopped the car again and found what I hope will become a frequent picnic spot. It was a fairy-tale view, and one that our pictures really don’t do justice to.

Neither of us had ever expected to find views like this in the Algarve. Perhaps in Central Portugal, but not here – we had happily swapped these scenes for the beautiful seascapes that are now in our reach. To find out we had this just down the road was truly awe-inspiring.

Already pretty blown away by what we had seen, we drove out of the woods and found ourselves rather lost. It soon became clear we were driving up a mountain! Before we knew it we were on windy roads, some without barriers, and gazing across incredible valleys, where almond trees were growing at what seemed like impossible angles. Once again we were experiencing breath-taking vistas which we hadn’t dared to hope to see here in the Algarve. The undulating landscape was something between things I had seen in South Wales and in Madeira – quite incredible. Again, the photos didn’t do it justice, but then again none of the photos I have seen in guidebooks really give you an idea of how stunning this place can be.

Just before sunset, we arrived at Altura, a beach resort near to the Spanish border. Exposure to so many stunning beaches over the last few months means it is hard to impress us now, and by Portuguese standards, this is a fairly run-of-the-mill beach, but it was still a lovely place to spend the last ten minutes of daylight on one of the best weekends we have had since arriving. We weren’t the only ones – there were plenty of people squeezing the last few drops of sun out of what felt to us like the first weekend of spring.

We fell in love with the Algarve all over again this weekend, and at times it is hard to contain our excitement for what the coming months will bring! After all we have only had winter so far. This coming weekend is Carnival – bringing with it Brazilian style street parties, and lots of samba, and I look forward to reporting back on what it was like.


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New Book Store! 3

Posted on February 10, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista
Portugal book store

Portugal book store

I have created an Amazon book store containing all of the wonderful books about Portugal we have enjoyed in the past few years, and all the titles which provided us with advice and inspiration in the run up to our move to Portugal.

All the books you will find come personally recommended, so please come and visit!

You can visit the book store via the link at the top of the blog, or by clicking below:

Take me to the book store!

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A Weekend of Discovery Part 1 2

Posted on February 09, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Last week was a week of really loving being in Portugal, without a single wobbly “what have we done?” moment. The process of settling in has continued, helped by some beautiful weather especially over last weekend.

As we currently have a car, we took advantage of our mobility, and the sunshine, and went on one of our exploration weekends.

We headed west, initially in the direction of Albufeira – a holiday playground or hell-hole, depending on your point of view. The first

Saturday lunchtime, February

Saturday lunchtime, February

beach we stopped at was Santa Eulaila. This seemed a popular spot, with the trademark orange cliffs and a good mix of locals and tourists. We enjoyed a drink in the sun (overpriced – double what we are used to in the Eastern Algarve) and then went for a walk along the beach, climbing over rocks through sparkly rock-pools to get to quiet coves further east. This beach was a joy, and some people (more determined than us) were even braving the February water.

Continuing our tour, we had a huge selection of other beaches in the area to choose from. We went for Olhos De Agua, as I had seen a recommendation online somewhere. This was, to us, a disappointment. We really aren’t fans of the “Little Britains” that exist all over this part of the Algarve, and this was one of them. Menus entirely in English, lots of English bars and the depressing sight of people sitting in a darkened bar watching English football on the first truly beautiful day of the year. They could have saved their flight money and gone to Blackpool…

Moving swiftly on, as we did on the day, hunger led us to stop in the concrete jungle in the middle of Albufeira for a quick snack. Once again, we lamented the fact that a lot of our fellow Brits come all the way to Portugal and then opt to eat in McDonalds and KFC. This, coupled with encountering one too many of our fellow countrymen ordering food and drink without even attempting a “Bom Dia,” “se faz favor,” or “obrigada,” led us to escape this area and hit the road again, with a fresh understanding of why several Portuguese people have been surly towards us until it becomes clear we are attempting to learn the language. I really don’t blame them.

Heading further west, we made a beeline for a beach called Praia Dos Tres Irmaos, between the busy resorts of Praia Da Rocha and Alvor. We had found this fairy-tale beach over five years ago when we first visited Portugal, during a long cliff top walk. We had walked for a few miles from Praia Da Rocha, and found a lift built into a cliff which took us down to a small bar/restaurant built into the rocks, looking out onto a gorgeous sunny cove. The whole place has a real air of “secret beach,” and I have fond memories of body-surfing in the waves with a couple of other tourists of unknown nationality, united by our enjoyment of the sea and sun.

We had always said one day we would go back again. Our TomTom satnav proved next to useless and we had a couple of occasions of driving into tourist complexes we were pretty sure were out of bounds to us. After a while it seemed the beach was not accessible by car, so we ended up reluctantly parking at Alvor, determined to get the last couple of hours of sun on a beach, even if it wasn’t the one we intended.

At Alvor, we looked left and were pretty sure that we recognised where we were and that a determined walk would get us to the beach we had originally intended. We set off, walking through thick sand, so determined on our destination that at times we almost forgot to take in and appreciate the sparkling sea next to us.

Sun down in Alvor

Sun down in Alvor

After climbing some rocks to get over a cove, our excitement built as we approached the place that we had been looking for. We found the lift, or at least a wooden panel where we were sure it had been. We assumed the place must be closed, it being winter. We then found a gap in the cliff where we were able to peer down, and there it was….what was left of the restaurant. Whether by falling rocks, or bad weather, the place was destroyed. All that was left was a shell. It was rather sad after waiting years to find the place again. Having said that, we were still delighted to have found the beach we remembered so fondly, even if, due to the lack of the lift and the tide being in, we couldn’t actually set foot on it.

After a drink at a couple of friendly bars on Alvor beach, we headed back to the car, by now feeling the usual craving for seafood that a day on the beach brings on in us. We headed into Portimao and to one of our first Algarve discoveries and favourite restaurants, that has thankfully stayed put in the years since we discovered it: Dona Barca. You will find a review over on my Food and Wine blog www.foodandwineportugal.com

The weekend was only half way through and there was still more to discover…it follows in Part 2, which will be posted in the next couple of days.

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