After three fast paced days exploring Lisbon and Sintra, Dan and I were ready to kick back and enjoy a more leisurely pace for the last two days of our trip. We bid adeus to Lisbon and boarded the early evening train south to the Algarve area with our final destination being Lagos, the beach town famous for its rocky coves endlessly pictured on Pinterest.
The train chugged south through Portugal’s Alentejo region and through the prettiest landscape we had seen in Portugal on our trip; verdant green meadows, clusters of trees, and languidly flowing rivers with a heavenly sunset. I only wish that I could have slowed down the train in order to take decent pictures! Dan and I instantly regretted not including this lush, gorgeous region of Portugal into our trip and had to be satisfied with wistfully looking out onto its offerings through the smudgy tinted windows of the train. On our return holiday to Lisbon in the future we vowed to include more than a few days for exploring this area of Portugal.
After changing trains in Tunes, we pulled into the Lagos train station just shy of 9pm and after checking into our bed and breakfast, only a ten minute walk from the beach, we grabbed yet another dinner consisting of bread, creamy sheep’s milk cheese, steak, and french fries at the amazing Onda Norte restaurant. While delicious, after two weeks of the hearty cuisine Dan and I have both agreed that we are missing our juicer!
The next morning we awoke to somewhat hazy skies with the promise of the sun making an appearance later. Beach day! After donning my first pair of shorts and sandals in over 6 months it felt so good to get a bit of sunshine on my pale legs and feet.
After grabbing a quick breakfast, we walked down to the beaches passing beautiful summer homes as well as a couple of abandoned half built shells of behemoth high-rise condos and hotels, victims of overbuilding and the 2008 recession which hit the country fairly hard. The Algarve region is quite tourism driven with its miles of sunny beaches and is a popular holiday and retirement destination for Brits and other Europeans.
The Lajos coastline boasts several miles of beaches separated by rocky cliffs with wooden staircases leading down to the water and we stuck our feet in the sand first at Praia da Batata, praia meaning beach in Portuguese. It was neat to explore the different rocky coves and tunnels that linked one beach to another. The water was quite chilly but felt so good to dip my toes in!
We then walked west toward Praia dos Estudantes, a more secluded section of beach only reached by walking through the water, being careful of slippery or submerged rocks and crashing waves, or by boat. The private house located on top of the cliff even had a stone bridge built to connect the cliffs to a rocky outcrop.
Continuing our journey west, we climbed back up the steps to the cliffs and walked over to Praia do Pinhao, my favorite spot in Lagos thus far for its quiet and seclusion. The steep staircase leading down to the water was made of stone rather than wood and the narrow rail-less design reminded me of Incan ruins. There isn’t much beach really to speak of at Praia do Pinhao as the steps don’t lead all the way down to the water but there are several concrete aprons in which to sit and gaze out at the horizon in solitude like I did on this off-season day.
From Praia do Pinhao we made our way further along the cliffs toward Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo where we stopped to wet our whistles with a pitcher of sangria.
After a few hours spent in the warm embrace of sunshine and the imbibement of a glass or two of sangria, drowsiness overtook us and we made our way back to the hotel to snooze away the rest of the afternoon. Before dinner, we walked down to the Ponta da Piedade where the grotto tour boats operate to try and capture the sunset, but the skies had grown overcast and the wind had picked up resulting in crashing waves into the rocks so we abandoned our dream of a brilliant sunset in favor of our last meal of steak and potatoes in Portugal.
The next morning, it was time for us to pack up our suitcase one final time and board the train east to Faro and the airport for our afternoon flight home to London. After disembarking the train in Faro, we had a bit of time before we needed to be at the airport so we meandered through the city’s cobblestone streets until we reached the elegant Igreja do Carmo church, home to one of the most notable bone chapels in Portugal, the Capelo dos Ossos. Slightly macabre given the building materials but also surprisingly unghoulish, probably helped by the fact that just outside the chapel is an elementary school where one can hear the dozen shrieks of schoolchildren enjoying recess while admiring the human remains of about 1300 monks who had been exhumed from the church cemetery in 1816 when the ossuary was built.
After our 14 day adventure exploring northern Spain and the length of Portugal from Viana do Castelo to Porto to Lisbon to the Algarve, we left Portugal with the impression of a vibrant country whose landscape reminded us quite a bit of my home state of California with its rugged Algarve coastline reminiscent of the Sonoma coast or northern San Diego, the Douro Valley wine regions akin to the vineyards of Temecula or Napa Valley, and the similarities between hilly Lisbon and San Francisco with their red suspension bridges undeniable.
Who would have thought that the west coast of America would share so much in common with the west coast of Europe? For a fascinating read on Portugal’s history check out The Portuguese: A Modern History by Barry Hatton.