To The End Of The World And Back: The Algarve

Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade, Lagos

Our journey to Portugal very nearly took us to a very different destination. My thrifty desire to book flights using Virgin Airlines points led us to consider a variety of last-minute flight options to Lagos. Thankfully, before booking and after consulting a friend from Portugal I realized that those flights were going to Lagos, Nigeria, a city that Newsweek rated as one of the world’s worst places to live. No wonder so many seats were still available. Why Branson’s purple-lit party planes are flying people there daily remains to be explained.

In any case, it was too late. My curiosity for a different and much more lovely looking Lagos had already been piqued, and some late night Googling had yielded refreshing, luscious results. There were octopus fritters with coriander rice, craggy, terracotta-coloured clifftops, deep blue waters, and many varietals of vinho verde that we needed to explore.

It was April, and the roads from Faro airport into Lagos wound Westward into a never ending field of deserted white holiday homes. Our Airbnb host, Karen, explained that the weather had been rather awful and although Porto de Mós is a bit of a ghost town, we can guess that a more vibrant world exists here in summer time. For now, the penthouse patio is all ours, and the empty collection of bright blue and white deck chairs circling the still, icy pool are for us alone to enjoy.

We don’t mind the silence. We’re blessed with sunshine, we can see the sparkling sea from every window, and there’s a mini market only a ten minute walk up the road where we have already stocked up on everything essential for our rooftop reading session: gin, wine, crusty rolls, fresh bread, soft cheeses, raspberries, sun tan lotion, and of course – a bag of Cheetos. Our host has generously left us a bottle of vinho verde (“green wine”), a refreshing, fizzy white wine produced in Portugal’s Douro region.

Despite the lotion, we somehow manage to sunburn our scalps on day one, and curse ourselves for not packing any hats. But it was April! At least we’re not as red as we were that time in Miami. Live and learn.

Our first meal is at a large seaside restaurant, Campimar, which seems to comfortably bridge the gap between serving tourists and locals. Our unabashedly honest waiter tells us that we definitely don’t need any appetizers and brings Chris a whole, freshly caught red snapper fish. I marvel at its open mouth, while lifting the lid off of my local stew, which arrived in a large, clay pot brimming with sumptuous chicken swimming in a sauce of baby mushrooms, onions and herbed tomatoes.

The next day we ventured into Lagos’ Old Town Centre to sip smoothies at Goji Lounge while taking in the sleepy atmosphere of abandoned souvenir shops. In addition to a plate of meatballs, we sought out the famed “flaming salami” at Arribale restaurant where we had the pleasure of sitting in the restaurant’s open air courtyard beside a coal stove and watching the chef lovingly adorn the grill with heavily salted slabs of lamb, pork and fish. The flaming sausage was – as one might hope – lit on fire dramatically at our table, and we watched its skin slowly blister to perfection over the blue heat before indulging in its salty richness. The owner’s warm hospitality made the experience even more cozy: he let us arrive early, stay late, and came out onto the cobblestones to wave goodbye when we were on our way.

Although we didn’t need it, we couldn’t resist the allure of the funky surfer bar, Green Room, en route home so we stopped in for a bedtime snack comprising of whiskey and crispy churros with hot chocolate sauce.

On day three, the sunshine continued so we spent the afternoon lounging close to home at Bahia Beach Bar with our feet in the sand. Tucked away at the end of a long pier behind Lagos’ busy marina strip, we were greeted by a friendly Jack Russell terrier who couldn’t hide his interest in our bowl of olives and fried chicken wings drenched in honey, citrus and soy sauce. We lingered on the cushions of wicker couches, sipping mojitos garnished with dried pineapple and lime slices until we had mustered enough energy to venture to one of the city’s most famous sites, Ponta da Piedade.

After making our way up Algarve’s weathered cliff edges, we tiptoe along the uneven ground and peer over the open, steep drops to the sea, accented by stunningly deep peaks of earth, worn away over hundreds years by the steady battery of turquoise waves. The last rays of sunshine pierce through the openings between the rocks, and tourists who are braver than us walk slowly to the peaks of the cliffs to take selfies at sunset. In my £3 flip flops, I choose to skip the summit and instead stand perfectly still, marvelling at the craters’ rough edges, revealing the earth’s undersea secrets in barnacled brown lines. I feel far away, infinite and close, all at once. I am both afraid and in love with the water’s vastness and power.

As darkness blanketed the seaside, we settled in for the perfect conclusion to the day’s adventure: a shared plate of Piri Piri chicken and a jug of red wine at Mullen’s, a cave-like, candlelit nook with wooden benches that was equally rustic and romantic.

Of course no vacation would be complete without seeking out the region’s finest spa. We took a short drive up into the mountain region of Monchique, its velvety green hillside covered in eucalyptus, cork, and lemon trees. All of the greenery seemed to pump oxygen into the air and our lungs, and when we pulled into the tiny valley surrounding Spa Termal, it was rather like landing in the middle of The Sound Of Music.

Spa Termal can only be described as a ‘no frills’ experience. The sandals and robes seemed to be as ancient as the geothermal waters we soaked in, and we were a little disappointed to discover that the outdoor pool was for use by hotel guests only. Less budget-conscious travellers would be wise to choose the nearby MacDonald Resort & Spa which was twice the price but clearly had much more luxurious amenities. Alas, we can hope that the alleged wealth of wellness-inducing minerals in the water magically detoxified us after all of that meat and booze.

Speaking of meat…

The other reason we took a trip to the Monchique region was to visit Luar Da Foia which arguably has the greatest view of any restaurant, ever. The sunny patio is nestled atop the green mountainside with an infinite view of green hills stretching out to the sea. Chris savoured a plate of grilled pork tossed in parsley, orange and garlic, and after yet another dose of Piri Piri chicken (I needed a frame of comparison!) we sampled some honey cake and spicy red pepper ice cream before being invited to the restaurant’s cellar for some complimentary local port.

Luar

Luar Da Foia, Monchique

The next day, we drove east to the cute town of Tavira to seek out Pasteleria Veneza which a friend had recommended for their pastries. I was delighted to discover countless varieties of ‘cheese on toast’ on the menu, and fine red wines for €2 per glass. We enjoyed an epic grilled cheese toastie, a slice of cake, and a crispy pastel de nata, Portugal’s famous egg custard tart.

Veneza 1

Pasteleria Veneza, Tavira

Veneza 2

A Jujusapien spotted in her natural element.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We climbed the walls of Castelo de Tavira, the ruins of an 11th century castle, and strolled through its community garden where the most heavenly scents of jasmine and honeysuckle floated on the breeze. The sounds of a husky voice reminiscent of Johnny Cash drew us into Café Tavira for an impromptu afternoon serenade. The cute, ramshackle café provided the ideal respite from the rain before moving on to another candlelit corner at Aquasul for an unforgettable dinner. We shared a salad adorned with tender breaded strips of chicken, crispy pink ribbons of bacon, buttery croutons, fragrant parmesan and creamy garlic dressing followed by a plate of melt-in-your-mouth pork cheeks with mashed potatoes.

We couldn’t miss the chance to visit the end of the world, so after a short detour to Boia Beach Bar, where I watched Chris achieve a state of transcendent bliss while devouring a plate of fresh octopus, we paid €3 each to see behind the curtain of sparse, utilitarian military buildings known as Sagres Fort. It turns out that all there really is to see at Europe’s southernmost point, Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente), is the big blue sea and a little lighthouse. But we can now officially tick the box of having been to La Fin Du Monde, and back.

Sagres

The End Of The World, Sagres

We had our last supper at Cachoa, which could have benefitted from some portion control, but still lived up to its rave reviews thanks to a magical location, stellar house wines and seamless service. We came full circle and rounded off the trip with a second visit to Campimar for a farewell glass of vinho verde, and took a quick pit stop en route to Faro airport at Tertúlia Algarvia in the city’s charming Old Town to soak up some final rays in the restaurant’s sunny courtyard terrace.

All in all, it was a delicious trip. Lessons learned: I can live without checking email for 7 days, and my commitment to vegetarianism may be a while off yet.

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About Julie Blake
Julie Blake is a Canadian writer based in London. Her work covers a broad range of topics including travel, health and well-being, food and beverage, spirituality, and popular psychology.

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