Portugal: A Visit to the Algarve for Great Beaches and Good Food
December 18, 2018
by Joseph Kaplan
Three major cities along the coast.
Albufeira is the largest city
Lagos is a 45 km drive west.
You can take the A22 or you can take the slower, two-lane local roads for a better view of the local countryside and small villages. Lagos is best known for its walled old city which is full of shops, coffee and pastry bars, outdoor cafes. The beaches at Lagos are hidden in a sandy cove which is reached by climbing down steep wooden steps.
Faro, the capital of the Algarve
40 km to the east from Albufeira is the only airport in the region. It has direct flights to and from Lisbon as well as flights from many other cities in Europe and England. Faro is known for the remains of an ancient Moorish wall and gate to the city as well as a 13th-century cathedral.
Fun, Food, Sightseeing
Driving in Portugal
The toll roads in Portugal are similar to the interstate highways in the U.S. or the autobahns in Germany. We were warned by the rental car agent that there are no police patrolling the highways. Instead, there are electronic boxes hidden away monitoring the traffic that automatically sends tickets to speeders.
Ah! The beaches of the Algarve. The reason for all the driving was to find and explore the beaches hidden away in coves down the steep, narrow streets of small villages. We quickly figured out that the signs saying “de Praia” were telling us how to get to the beach.
One of the interesting ones is the Beach of Caves. From the top of a hill, open below us suddenly appeared this beautiful vista of a small beach in a cove surrounded on both sides by steep cliffs. The main feature of this beach is the caves that require taking a small boat out into the Atlantic and then around the cliffs to get to the caves which are spectacular.
Other beaches are somewhat less dramatic but each is unique in its own way. The one closest to our resort was a short walk down the hill. Walking down the street and around a curve there below you is the wonderful view of a beach surrounded by high cliffs. This beach has large rock outcroppings on the beach and just offshore that have been created over the millennia. The sand is soft and deep and just demands that you spread out a blanket and lay down in the warm sand for a nap.
What and where to Eat
The Portuguese have a very sweet tooth. Everywhere there are pastry shops and coffee bars selling freshly made pastries, rolls, and various kinds of sandwiches. The one thing you see everywhere is the Pastel de Nata or Portuguese Custard Tart. The small, bite-size little tarts are filled with a sweet, creamy custard; too sweet for our taste but beloved by the locals. It is a must try at least once.
Where to eat is anywhere you see a restaurant or cafe that looks interesting. Restaurant meals will usually start with the appetizers that you didn’t order. You will be charged a few cents or a euro or two for whatever you eat. They usually consist of bread and butter, some olives, maybe some sardine paste and sliced tomato or carrots and some cheese and/or some cured meats. A typical meal cost 15-30 euros
The two most popular and most common fish dishes are Bacalhau (codfish)and sardines. Bacalhau is on every menu for lunch and dinner and is prepared in innumerable ways. The Portuguese claim there are 365 different ways to prepare it. Sardines are another favorite of the Portuguese but are a seasonal fish only available fresh in the summertime. When we were there the season was over but one local restaurant had them on their menu and so we tried them. They are usually grilled or bar-b-qued and served with roast potatoes. Delicious! There is a sardine festival in the town of Portimao in the Algarve in June.
Another popular dish is Frango com Piri-Piri. This is grilled chicken with Piri-Piri sauce. What is Piri-Piri sauce? Depends on the restaurant but generally, it is made from chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon and paprika. Highly recommend this one.
There are many different seafood, pork and other meats served in many different ways. Most everything is fresh and made locally. The fruits and vegetables are locally grown and very good.
What to see Inland
There is more to the Algarve than the beaches. Following local high ways north from the beach area, we visited Silves, about 35 kilometers north of Albufeira. Here is one the best preserved ancient castles in Portugal. Thought to have been originally built by the Romans, it became what it is today by the Moors in the 12th and 13th century. If you’re a history buff this is a must see. There is also an ancient cathedral and the town of Silves as well as other interesting sights.
We drove further into the country on our way back and found ourselves in the middle of an area of miles of fruit trees, predominately orange groves but also carob, almonds, dates and olives as well as the famous cork oak trees. Here was ore beautiful countryside of farms, small villages and scenery.
The End of The World
The south-west corner of Portugal (and therefore of Europe) for centuries has been called “The End of the World”. On this remote, desolate piece of
land, the sound of the sea is ever present and the deep blue Atlantic Ocean is all around you. History tells us that this is the place where, in the 15th century, King Henry created his school to train the seafarers who were sent out to discover the world. It is reached by driving west to the end of the A22 and then following the signs first to the town of Sagres and then out to this spot. It is hard to express the desolation and beauty of this last piece of land before you fall off into the Atlantic, off the high, sheer cliffs where Europe comes to a rather violent end in the pounding surf below. The land appears to be empty but there vegetation growing which has adapted to this strange climate of salty winds constantly blowing over it. From here those ancient seafarers sailed off into the unknown to conquer and change the world.