Would you like to spend your next vacation enjoying the perfect combination of charming historic city and beautiful natural surroundings? Pick Portugal.
We flew into Lisbon, and right away, we made the two and a half hour drive to Lagos. Lagos is in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, which actually used to be its own country up until a couple of centuries ago.
High cliffs and golden sands
Lagos is known for its beaches. This trip for us came soon after the trip to Greece, and the similarity of the Lagos beaches to those of the Cyclades islands jumped out at me. The same high cliffs, the same strips of golden sand surrounded by walls of rock. We stayed close to the well-known Dona Ana beach and Camilo beach, south of the main town. I would definitely recommend this location, as long as you would rather be close to the beaches than the shopping. You do need a car, though, to drive into town for dinner and so on. Make sure to park outside the old town — you don’t want to try driving down the labyrinth of narrow, cobble-stoned roads crowded with pedestrians.
My husband, true to form, went kite surfing at the first signs of wind. It was nice that there was plenty to do by myself here, instead of having to wait around for him. Such as a boat trip to the grottos, a little further south.
Another adventure for the adventurous — stand-up paddle boarding amongst the grottos.
The trend of gorgeous sunsets continued…
Next day, we drove up west coast, going north to Lisbon. The plan was to make several stops along the way. The first was at Sagres, southwest corner of Europe — the “end of the world”. You can just picture the people sailing away on their ships off those cliffs, saying goodbye to the last glimpse of everything they knew and loved. Our next stop was surfer’s paradise, Bordeira beach. Imagine trudging through miles of sand dunes, buffeted by the merciless wind. But the effort is so worth it.
Soon after, we stopped for fuel. Five minutes later, we discovered the hard way that “gasoleo”in Portuguese means “diesel” (“gasoline” is “gasoline”). Waiting to be towed, somewhere on the remote backroads, we laughed at ourselves.
We discovered the hard way that “gasoleo” is not “gasoline”
And then came Lisbon, immediately claiming a spot high up on my list of best cities to visit. Most people stay in Barrio-Chiado (a big pedestrian shopping street), but the charming old town Alfama suited us better. From the window of our room, we looked down at trams (still used as regular transportation by many Lisbonites).
We made the most of our one day in Lisbon. Starting early to beat the high afternoon temperatures, we took a self-guided walking tour of of the steep and slippery cobblestoned streets of Alfama first. (If I lived here, my legs would be in fantastic shape.) Took in some lovely miradouras (view points), the intricate facades of several ingrejas (churches), the Se (cathedral), and bustling pracas (squares).
After that, we took tram 15 from Praca do Comercio to the UNESCO world heritage site of Jeronimos monastery in Belem. It is worth checking out, and everyone knows it. Popular though it is, thankfully it is large enough to seem uncrowded.
Close by is Torres de Belem, but the longish walk in the searing sun of a Portugal summer, and the impossible crowds forming a long queue at the entrance, make it not worth it, in my opinion. Back to hotel for a nice nap out of the afternoon sun. We took a cab this time – cabs are cheap and easy.
On a side note, the Lisbon metro system is easy to navigate, but you’ll have to make an effort to figure out the tram system there.
That evening, we took the short walk to the St. George castle. It is ideal for a hot summer day, with its pine shaded walkways and vast stone walls.
Just for a change, we headed to Chiado, a more modern part of Lisbon, for dinner. As a bonus, we happened to have picked a spot opposite a plaza where a fado (traditional Portuguese opera music) festival was going on. Free dinner entertainment!
Is Portugal on your travel list? I would go back there for sure.