Portugal tem meu coração
After spending five short weeks in Portugal, I was heartbroken to have to say goodbye. But unlike your typical summer romance, I knew that whenever I was ready to come back, Portugal would be waiting for me.
From Vasco da Gama to Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese have done some pretty cool stuff. And yet the country as a whole is so humble. People here are universally kind - you walk out your door in the morning and virtually everyone greets you with an enthusiastic "Bom dia!" And to top it all off - they're beautiful! Did I mention Cristiano Ronaldo?
Equally as beautiful is the landscape. As you make your way up the coast, you'll find everything from mountains to beaches, open grasslands and urban streets. I'm going to call Portugal "The California of Europe."
Driving out of the Faro airport gave me a strange feeling of déjà vu. The streets were well developed, clean, and fast - much like the Interstate 5. There were abundant cacti perched upon arid hillsides, as if driving into the Coachella Valley. And the temperature was a cool 75, despite the fact that hours had passed since the sun had gone to sleep.
However, as we drove into the heart of Lagos, I realized this place was much different from home. The cobblestone streets (heavy on the cobble) were still teeming with life at midnight: cash registers pinged from not-your-average gift shops, gelaterias had a line out the door and restaurants were still servin' up dinner. Not even Paris does nightlife this well.
But the real magic started when the sun woke up the next morning...
With unique rock formations jutting out of the Atlantic, a landmark known as "Ponta da Piedade," Lagos has one of the most photogenic coastlines in the world.
A group of 4 of us rented a private boat with Nando* from Happy Time Turismo. And despite this gimmicky name, we really did have such a happy time! For 300 euros, we spent hours exploring the grottos, swimming to private beaches tucked along the cliffside and we even got to drive/nearly crash the boat! Visibility for snorkeling wasn't great but with a landscape like this, you'll want to stay above the surface anyways. So while $100/person might seem like a lot, I say, splurge!
*Nando's cell: (0035)1914569098
And after a day on the water you'll need to refuel! Here's a list of my favorite spots to eat in town:
Tasca da Lota: It doesn't get more authentic than this place. It's loud and messy and they serve it up family style. The perfect spot for a big (yet fairly affordable) seafood dinner.
Taquelim Goncalves: A sweet tooth's paradise! Gotta try their pastel de nata (traditional Portuguese desert) & chocolate salami (tastes like brownie batter, yum!). Wait 'til you see this place!
Nah Nah Bah: Homesick? Reggae music, burgers, and packed with surfers... this hole in the wall might just be the taste of home you've been craving. I got the "Virgin Veggie Burger" and didn't need to eat for a week! (exaggerating)
Harley's: "Oh my gosh, where did you get that?!" I shouted, as I chased someone carrying an acaí bowl. So I picked one up from Harley's, too, and headed down to Praia da Batata for sunset.
Vitaminas: The oh-so necessary juice bar. And cheap!
THE place to visit while in Algarve. When you arrive at the beach, tour companies will tell you that the only way into the cave is by boat or kayak. But that's not true. As long as you're a strong enough swimmer, you can totally swim around the corner into this magical fort. You won't see a lot of people taking this approach...but it's definitely the most fun mode of transportation into the cave. One of the highlights of my summer for sure!
About an hour west of Lagos is "The End of the World." Or the end of Europe at least. Powerful waves, untouched beaches, and lots of farmland give this mysterious surf town an almost eerie feeling. That being said, I loved the trippy vibes and spent a couple of days soaking in the peace and quiet of Sagres.
Everything here is so spread out you might want to consider renting a car to explore. Otherwise, a bus ticket from Lagos is 10 euros roundtrip.
Lisbon and Tagus Valley
I'm not much of a city girl, but I'll admit, Lisbon won me over a little bit.
Warning: The gypsies are alive and well in here. But so is the Portuguese culture. And not only is Lisbon a great hub for food, sight seeing, and entertainment, but its central location makes it the perfect home base while you explore nearby beaches and towns.
Like living in a fairy tale!
From the colorful Palácio da Pena you can see miles of natural beauty. But maybe the highlight of our day in Sintra was the medieval square we stumbled upon where we had these serisouly good mushroom & leek empanadas. There were pigs just roamin' around and everyone was wearing burlap - something straight out of Shrek. Random AF but hilarious!
Never in a million years did I expect to find Caribbean-blue waters on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. Protected by the Nature Park of Arrábida, these pristine beaches have yet to be discovered by tourists. And I kinda hope it stays that way... so keep this place on the DL.
One of the coolest features of this coastline is the fact that you can safely walk along the street, which was great for us since we were traveling on a budget and taxis are expensive. A couple miles down from Figueirinha is the large beach of Portinho da Arrábida. But I recommend stopping at one of the many sandy nooks on the way. Our favorite: Praia de Galapos. Dreamy!
So, if I were a mermaid headed to Portugal in the summertime, I'd be sure to add "Setúbal" to my list. Hypothetically speaking.
Great for a day trip but nothing more than that.
We spent a few nights at Ljmonade Hotel & Suites and we had a great time! But knowing what I know now, I would have rather stayed in Setúbal instead...or Lisbon a little longer. Not a whole lot going on in Cascais - the beaches are overcrowded for their size, the restaurants are all tourist traps (which we fell for, dang it!), and the shopping is your typical souvenir junk. I will say, however, that the boardwalk is definitely worth strolling at sunset. The nearby beach of Carcavelos had a little more local flair. And trying to pronounce "Cascais" correctly will keep you entertained all night!
If Baleal doesn't sound familiar, maybe you've heard of Supertubos? Every year, the World Surf League comes to town for these epic barrels.
A week in Baleal is like the best, most affordable version of a wellness retreat.
This place will heal you - mind, body, and soul:
Peace of Mind: Stay at Surfies for a quality hostel experience - private bathrooms, huge lockers, and a bomb breakfast every morning! Marta, the hostess with the mostest, is adorable and so accommodating. Plus, the B&B layout brings a strong sense of community so you really get to know your roommates. Mine were awesome!
Challenge Your Body: Pick up a surfboard at the Peniche Surf Center and head down to one of the many breaks. Jog through the sand dunes along the running path to the town of Peniche. Or rent a beach cruiser and pedal down to Rip Curl. If you're like me, you'll need a beanie, jacket, and pants because it gets real cold once the sun goes down!
Rejuvenate Your Soul: Sign up for a yoga class at the Yoga Center in town with one of their fantastic instructors! They offer an array of classes including Hatha, Yin, Yoga for Surfers, and my personal favorite, Jivamukti.
OH! And don't forget to make a day trip up to Nazaré: one of the most powerful waves in the world! During the fall, surfers charge swells of up to 80 feet. Holy moly!
Ah, if I could live anywhere in Portugal it would be here.
For starters I felt like a baller staying at Laneez Surf House. Talk about prime real estate! Perched on top of a cliff overlooking the expansive coastline, I spent SO much time just relaxing out on the deck - reading, doing yoga, and hanging with all my cool new friends. By the time you wake up, breakfast is waiting for you - obrigada, Ligia! And they even offer surf lessons with really experienced instructors! But if you'd rather go it alone, you can simply rent a board and throw it in the back of the Beach Bus. It stops in front of the house every hour and hits every beach in town, including Ribeira!
Ribeira is a world class point break on the north edge of town. From the water you see the most humbling cliff sides staring back at you. It's a consistent wave with a clear channel to the left. I got my booty handed to me (maybe the worst ever) and snapped my board but still went back for more. It's truly an enchanting break.
I also had a fun little sesh at the river mouth of Foz do Lizandro. Perhaps better suited for beginners!
Once a fishing village, Ericeira is now a booming surf town (with some fish, too). And for being relatively small in terms of tourism, I couldn't believe the number of surf shops! You gotta check out Boardriders Quiksilver! Overlooking the ocean, it's a restaurant, skate park, yoga studio, and warehouse all in one. Pretty impressive.
São Miguel Island
From my bedroom window at the Azores Surf Center, I could see the black sand beach of Santa Barbara. While the town of Ribeira itself is pretty run down, this might be the best slice of beach on the island.
Take a long, but scenic, bus ride across the island and you'll find Ponta Delgada - the main hub of São Miguel. While the town was just okay, I did come across my new favorite restaurant in Portugal: A Tasca! Especially on a rainy day, it's a cozy place with freakin' good food that makes you wanna stay a while.
But my two favorite things about this island weren't in the town or the beach. They are:
1. Lagoa do Canario
RENT A CAR! The drive is gorgeous and it'll cut hours off your commute compared to the bus. First, visit the tiny town of Sete Cidades at the water's edge.
Then drive to the top of the hill for a hike down to Lagoa das Empadadas. And saving the best for last, pop on over to Lagoa do Canario for THE most incredible view of your life!
Blues and greens like you've never seen before!
2. Swimming With Wild Dolphins
Dozens of them! Dare I say hundreds!? Hands down the greatest thing I've ever done. And I've done a lot of things!
The water was shockingly super warm and this rich royal blue color! I've never seen water that color. And despite being alone in the open ocean...in the middle of the Atlantic... it's not scary at all! You kinda just vibe with dolphins and forget where you are. I just remember making eye contact with a mama and her baby as I swam alongside them - greatest moment of my life. So incredibly fulfilling!
I just advise that you're healthy and don't have any injuries before going on this excursion with Picos de Aventura. It's phenomenal but the boat ride out to sea was extremely bumpy and treacherous (for us!). I'd still do it 100 times over though!
I feel so grateful for all these memories in such a stunningly beautiful country! From the welcoming locals, spectacular views, good food and countless things to do...
Portugal has my heart.
Con amor y alegría,