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

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A Delightful Discovery 8

Posted on April 23, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

We headed further west along the Algarve coast this weekend, for a minibreak in the lovely town of Lagos. Lagos is a fabulous town to explore, with cove beaches, a marina and a huge variety of shops, bars and restaurants.

Lagos Marina

Lagos Marina

While further along the coast, we took the opportunity to revisit one of our favourite Algarve beaches – Praia da Rocha, by the city of Portimão. This was the first place we ever stayed in Portugal and it has remained close to our hearts ever since. The huge expanse of golden sand is backed by stunning (and steadily crumbling) cliffs and the seascape is peppered with rock formations of all shapes and sizes, inhabited by noisy, squabbling seagulls. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know this is a place we speak of a lot!

Praia da Rocha - the rocks for which the beach was named

Praia da Rocha – the rocks for which the beach was named

The highlight of the weekend, early on Sunday afternoon, was a trip to the lovely, quiet beach of Alvor. It was here that, some six or seven years ago, a clifftop ramble led us to discover a tiny restaurant built right into the cliff, facing the neighbouring beach of Praia Dos Tres Irmãos. Accessed via a dingy-looking lift from the land-side, this restaurant and its little area of beach felt like a hidden gem when we first discovered it.

In February 2010, shortly after we moved to Portugal, we set off to find this secret beach once more. After some hours of searching we finally found it, only to be devastated when we saw the restaurant had been destroyed since our last visit. We could only assume that the winter storms or falling rocks had caused its destruction.

The Secret Restaurant

The Secret Restaurant

It was with utter delight, therefore, that we discovered on Sunday that the restaurant is up and running once more! It has the same, secret feel that it did when we first chanced upon it and we were happy to be among those few individuals splashing in the sea in front of it. We had eaten shortly before finding it, but now that we know it’s there again, it won’t be long before we return to its sun-drenched terrace tucked into the cliff, to feast on clams whilst looking out over the sparkling sea.

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Top Five Algarve Beaches 9

Posted on March 11, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

The climate in Portugal at this time of year is unpredictable – there was even a mini tornado in the local town of Cabanas last week that damaged boardwalk sunshades and sent tables flying. Last week’s rain and strong winds have left me yearning for the sunshine so that we can get back out to the beach and enjoy days of basking in the sun and splashing around in the sea. It got me thinking about my favourite beaches, so here are my top five beaches in the Algarve.

Praia da Rocha

Praia da Rocha - sunlight sparkling on the sea

Praia da Rocha – sunlight sparkling on the sea

Located by the city of Portimão, Praia da Rocha (‘beach of the rocks’) is a beach of contrasts. The beach itself is in two halves – Praia da Rocha is a huge flat expanse of man-made beach backed by a boardwalk with small cafes and restaurants. Around a large outcropping of cliff, is the adjoining Praia dos Três Castelos – a long stretch of rock-strewn coves. It’s all backed by some stunning, dramatic cliffs. The top of the cliffs are crowded with hotels, gift shops and bars, some nice, some not so nice. The ‘strip’ is hellish in summer, crowded with drunk tourists and men selling fake watches, cheap ornaments and worse. All of that is forgotten though the moment you step onto the white sand after walking down the (many) steps from the cliff top.

Praia da Rocha was the beach we stayed at during our very first trip to Portugal and was one of the reasons we moved here in the first place, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The light sparkles on the sea there in a way that I have yet to see anywhere else.

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana is near the town of Lagos. It’s a fairly small cove beach, accessed by a clamber down the cliff via a steep staircase. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The water is crystal clear, with deep blues and greens – perfect for swimming in. Small boats can be hired for cave trips along the coastline, which are well worth doing. I will always remember our 90 year old grandmother braving the steps down to the beach and then insisting on going on one of the cave trips, much to the astonishment of the boatman.

There is one restaurant on Praia Dona Ana and it’s well worth a visit. Prices are very reasonable and the food is really good – much better than you would expect from a beachfront restaurant. We always include a stop there when we visit this beach, although it can involve a bit of a wait during busy periods.

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Praia Verde

Praia Verde (‘green beach’) is a lovely, flat beach of soft, white sand that seems to stretch on forever, backed by a dense, green forest (hence the name). It’s located a few kilometres east of the town of Tavira, about 10 km shy of the Spanish border. Praia Verde is a great beach to visit if you have young children, as when the tide goes out it leaves long, shallow tide pools behind that are perfect for splashing around in and offer greater safety than playing in the sea.

I haven’t tried the restaurant at the beach for anything other than drinks since it was renovated a couple of years ago. Before the renovation, it was a rather charming ramshackle place, serving good quality seafood at reasonable prices. It is now much larger and smarter and although I haven’t eaten there recently I suspect that its prices have gone up along with its size, if the drinks prices are anything to go by.

Praia da Cabanas

Praia da Cabanas is in the fishing village of Cabanas (meaning ‘huts’), in the eastern Algarve. It is accessed by a short boat ride (lasting about 60 seconds) across the river and then a walk along the boardwalk up and over the dunes. It’s a delightfully pretty beach, which boasts endless flat sands and usually a few kite surfers to watch idly while you laze in the sun. Although it attracts large numbers of tourists, it seems to absorb them better than most of the Algarve’s beaches, making it a haven for residents during the summer months.

Forte de Rato beach

Forte de Rato beach - perfect for boating

Forte de Rato beach – perfect for boating

This last one was a difficult choice. Although Ilha de Tavira is unquestionably one of the Algarve’s most beautiful beaches, with sparkling waters and sugar-soft sand, the beach near Forte do Rato in Tavira has to be my final choice. This is essentially a small, tidal river beach on the edge of the delightfully pretty town of Tavira. I’m not sure what it is actually called, as it’s not signposted and everyone I know who has been to it just calls it, “the beach near Forte do Rato.” If you want to find it, just follow the signs to Forte do Rato from Tavira.

The sand itself is nothing to shout about, but the water is where this beach really comes into its own. Shallow and clear, it is perfect for paddling, swimming, or (if you are as young at heart/just plain childish as we are) buying an inflatable boat in the nearby Gran Plaza shopping centre and rowing around in circles for hours on end. It has no facilities whatsoever, so be sure to take a supply of snacks and drinks when you visit.

Forte do Rato from above - plentiful shallow water to play in

Forte do Rato from above – plentiful shallow water to play in

This beach is backed by the Ria Formosa nature reserve, which is lovely for walking across and seeing the salt pans and wild flamingos (in the winter months) and also has the tumbledown Forte do Rato (‘fort of the mouse’ – also known as the Fort of Santo Antônio de Tavira and Forte da Ilha das Lebres) which is fun to explore and pretend you are fighting off marauders. Or maybe that’s just me :-)

This is not the most beautiful beach on the list, but nonetheless it’s one of our favourite places in the whole of the Algarve.

And a quick mention for…Alcoutim

Alcoutim - don't be put off by the green water!

Alcoutim – don’t be put off by the green water!

Although it didn’t make the final cut, I have to mention the river beach at Alcoutim, a small riverside town facing the Spanish border. The water is clear but with a greenish tinge, though there is a reassuring blue flag flapping merrily on the beach. The water is warm and still and although the beach itself is tiny, we found space to relax there even in mid-summer. It has a rather hippy-ish vibe, which makes a lovely change from the intense tourism of the Algarve’s coastal beaches during the summer months.

 

So while the climate in Portugal continues to frustrate us this year, these are my all-time top five favourite beaches in the Algarve. Do you have one to add to the list? If so, we would love to hear about it – please leave a comment below.

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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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So why Portugal? 4

Posted on May 19, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

 

Praia Da Rocha was where it all started. On our last visit to Portugal, my wife and I were trying to remember how we ended up in The Algarve the first time some 5ish years ago. Much as I would like to claim a cultural or intellectual reason,  I think it was no more than the typical Brit “it’s hot and cheap” rationale.

I certainly don’t think we expected to fall so head over heels in love with the place! Our approach to holidays was always to start off with where we could fly to cheaply, then TripAdvisor our way to a well reviewed hotel within whatever budget we had at the time. We always managed to get ourselves a bargain and had great holidays every time. We did, however, usually go to a different destination every time, working on the basis that there is a whole load of world to see in the short time we have on this planet….

Portugal was different. Within a couple of days I had this strange feeling that I didn’t really need to see anywhere else in the world. 

Anyone who has been to Praia Da Rocha in peak season probably thinks I sound insane at this point. For those who haven’t, Praia Da Rocha (Beach of the Rocks,) is a truly stunning resort, with a huge beach divided in two distinct parts – the Eastern end near the fortaleza (fort) being a huge, deep expanse of sand rather like some some of the resorts of Spain’s Costa Da Luz, and the western end featuring beautiful coves with high orange cliffs and various rock formations along the coastline. 

The thing is, in the kind of terms the travel books talk in, Praia Da Rocha is an over-commercial resort, “destroyed” by high rise apartments and hotels. There is even a “strip” featuring a huge range of bars showing UK football, and  “ALL REALITY SHOWS!” Don’t get me started. Why anyone would watch Bradford City vs. Rotherham when the sun is blazing and there’s a beach 50yards away is truly beyond me, but each to their own…

The thing was that wife and I went off season, so although we could imagine the true hideousness of this resort in July and August, we were able to avoid the worst of the Brit tourist invasion and appreciate all that was good and beautiful about the place. After our first 7 days, we ended up somehow convincing our respective workplaces to let us extend our holiday by another 5 days. We don’t pay the kind of fees the airlines charge for date changes lightly. This wasn’t the usual feeling of hoping to win the lottery so as not to go back to work, this was the start of something.

I always knew that one day I would have to live abroad. I am a firm believer in it being better to regret things you have done than those you haven’t. I also think it strange to assume the place you were born is the place you were meant to end up. A plan started to form.

We went back. Again and again – between then and now we have explored a lot of Portugal.  By the second or third time we knew for sure we were going to move there someday. At that early stage we weren’t sure how, but I remember that we started the countdown about 3.5 years ago. The last time we went, when I was in the usual slightly distraught state I am in when I have to return to London life after time in paradise, my wife pointed out it was now only 8 months to go. Bloody hell.

In the years inbetween, many things have happened. We have paid off a mountain of personal debt, visited both Portugal and Madeira many times, learned a little bit of the language (just enough, as it happens, to say a sentence convincingly enough for the Portugese recipient to fire one back that we do not understand a word of) and secured UK work that can be done from Portugal. The slightly OCD side of me has researched everything to the finest detail. Looks like we are actually doing it!

Back to the original question though: “So why Portugal?” Time for bullet points:

1. Some of the nicest, most polite and relaxed people I have ever met.

2. A culture where people love, enjoy and appreciate good food as much as we do, whilst keeping things simple and not resorting to the kind of truffle-oil based competitiveness you get in the UK. 

3. A Climate that won’t make me miserable for at least 6 months of the year.

4. A desire to bring up our children in a society not as fundamentally arsed up as that in the UK.

I could list many more (I haven’t even mentioned wine yet!) but my eyes are tired. This blogging business is exhausting, and I don’t think I’ve written this many words since school!

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

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