Since landing on Portuguese soil, everyone we have met has told us that we NEEDED to spend some time in the Algarve. That the beauty, warm weather and beaches in that area were the best Portugal had to offer. We kept saying that we were going to go, but life here in Lisbon kept us busy for a month or so and the Algarve was put on the back burner.
But our time in Portugal was growing short, we had made definite plans to start traveling again and going south for some sunshine was put back on the plate.
We made the final decision to go and check out this gorgeous destination after Chad got a tattoo from an artist named Pedro that lives in the Algarve and invited us down to check it out. (By the way, Chads tattoo turned out amazing! If you ever want a tattoo in Lisbon, check out Pedro Soos at Queen of Hearts.) Pedro even invited us to stay at his house, but we decided that we would stay in a hotel as Zoë can be rather loud and we hate to inconvenience anyone. Everyone we have met here has been so welcoming and hospitable and friendly, I just love it!
Instead, I booked a room at the Iberlagos Apartments. Despite some bad reviews, the price and location seemed worth the chance.
Chad researched the best way to get down to Lagos in the Algarve, the trains cost about 25 euros a person, and took three hours, or there was a bus, but we were worried about being stuck on a bus with a toddler for 3 hours. We wanted to see a bit more of Portugal, and take our time to stop if we wanted, so we decided to rent a car. The price of renting a car was just a bit more than taking the train, even with the price of gas and such. Although I will say that our jaws dropped when we had to pay 65 euros to fill up our “economy” car. Yikes! Still, even with the price of fuel, renting a car was not too expensive and gave us some autonomy.
So early in the morning, a couple Mondays ago, we took the metro to the airport and picked up our rental car. We excitedly got Zoë settled in her car seat and headed out to what we thought would be a couple of hot sunny days on the beach.
There are a couple of options when driving in Portugal, you can take the back roads, or the toll highways. If you take the toll roads it costs about 30 Euros and gets you to Lagos in about 2.5 hours. We wanted to take the slow roads so we could see what the country side looked like, it only took about 3.5 hours and it was fascinating to see the small towns and landscape. Portugal’s landscape is so similar to California, especially northern California. We felt like we were home. The way was fairly simple and we only took a wrong turn one time that set us back about 10 minutes. The signage along the way was pretty easy to follow, and google maps helped us out as well.
We arrived in Lagos, to the address of the flat we rented and found a horribly dilapidated building that looked like a mix between a prison and a crack house. It just didn’t seem right, the pictures didn’t match what it showed on the web, the description of the place according to other patrons reviews didn’t match either. It didn’t have any signage to say it was the vacation stay rentals that I had found and decided on. I started to freak out a little on the inside…if we were staying in this building, I would never live it down.
We stopped and I ran inside a restaurant and asked where the Iberlagos Apartments were and was massively relieved when the helpful woman told me they were down the way a bit.
We reached the apartments finally (after having to stop one more time for directions) and realized that the address they had on the website was incorrect (obviously) and that the grounds of the apartment complex looked well-maintained. I breathed a sigh of relief and we set out to find the reception office. It was a little hard to find, but we finally noticed the tiny sign that said “Recepção”. We checked in and were shown to an apartment with an amazing view of the pool, grounds and beach below. It had a small patio, which was exactly what I wanted.
The apartment itself, was small, a studio with a murphy bed, a small kitchen, and a bathroom with 2 showers (couldn’t figure that one out). It was musty, like no one had been in the apartment except to drop off the clean linens in quite some time. Regardless, it was clean and I was happy that it had such a beautiful view and direct access to the golden sand beach below.
The only unfortunate thing about this trip was that the weather was cold, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and windy. Yes, yet again, the cold weather was following us. We decided not to let it get us down and put on our swimsuits to go down to the pool. I was there to work on my tan, and I was going to even if I froze doing so.
There were two pools, an adult pool and a large kiddie pool that had a Super Mario Brothers looking toadstool waterfall in the center for the kids to run through. The water was freezing, but Z wanted to walk around in the water and luckily she has a loving father that is willing to suffer for her.
We were told by the “lifeguard” that we needed a pass to enter the pool area, so Chad ran and got the pass (it would have cost us 4.50€ a person otherwise). Then he told us that we were not allowed to use the lounge chairs without renting them either. We laid in the grass for a bit and then the cold got to all of us and we headed back to our apartment.
We went to the grocery store and picked up some local cheese, meat, bread and wine and had dinner on our apartment patio. Zoë went to bed and Chad and I sat bundled up in our warm clothes and took pictures of the sunset from our patio. It was a great start to the trip. I prayed that the weather would improve the next day so we could have some fun together.
The next morning Z woke us up bright and early and we headed down to town for some breakfast at about 8:00am. It was only about a 10 minute walk, a beautiful seaside walk. I loved it! Not only did I love the walk, but the weather was already warm! It looked like it was going to be a hot day!
We ate some breakfast at a cafe, it was really nothing special and headed down to walk by the water. All along the way there were kiosks of people selling tickets for boat rides to see dolphins or to the grottos, or for fishing trips. We stopped and talked to a few of them and decided to get tickets for a sailboat trip out to the ocean, with a speed boat trip through the grotto and sea caves. It was 2 hours long, 15 euros a person (Z was free) and the sailboat was fully fitted with a restroom and bar.
We were supposed to check in to board the sailboat in 45 minutes. We only partially rushed home to get our things, thinking that the walk back to the apartment was quicker than it was.
As I was putting sunscreen on the babe, Chad tells me we are supposed to check in at that moment! We ran around, threw some stuff in my purse incase we decided to swim, and ran to the car.
After hitting every red light along the way (it seems so cliché that that happens every time one runs late don’t you think?), we made it to the marina. I jumped out of the car to go check in 15 minutes late. A lady was looking for us and told us where to go… Chad went and parked the car, I ran and helped him get Zoë out of the car and the lady ran with us to where the sailboat was already sailing away. Lucky for us, people running late happens often, and they had a motor boat on standby ready to take us to the sailboat.
We made a rather embarrassing entrance onto the sailboat, and after a few moments and some quick instructions from the skipper, we were running after Z, trying to make sure that she didn’t fall over board. She is such a brave little kid, she had no problem getting her sea legs and wanted to help them raise the sails too. It was so much fun to watch her.
After an hour on the sail boat, we hopped on a motor boat to go to the sea caves. It was fascinating and fun! Zoë thought we were looking for Captain Hook’s treasure cave, and she kept calling out for the Lost Boys. It was incredibly cute.
After seeing all the caves, we returned to the sailboat and then to the port. We walked to have some lunch at a restaurant by the dock, I was starving! I had some pretty good typical Portuguese bacalhau (salted cod) and Chad got the most amazing stuffed baby cuttlefish I have ever had. He had to practically put a barrier around his plate so he could eat some without me stealing it off his fork.
We drove back to our apartment and went down to the beach below our apartment. It was the Dona Ana Beach, and it had bathrooms, and a restaurant and bar right on the beach. We laid out in the sun while Z played in the sand. The water was freezing, so I did my best to stay out of it, but my two year old told me what to do, and finally I relented.
We stayed on the beach until the sun went down. It was a great day. Z went to bed and Chad and I spent another night, this time a warm one, sitting on the patio, enjoying our blessed life.
The next day we checked out of our apartment, sad that we didn’t plan to stay one more day, ate breakfast and then started the drive home, more tan and happy than we were when we arrived.
On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped by Pedro’s’ house and had lunch with him and his lovely wife, Vanessa, and their two amazing and smart kids, Lilo and Bruno. I had such a great time getting to know Vanessa, Pedro and the kids. That is one of the things I love most about traveling, getting to know new people, making new friends, and learning more about other cultures. It was truly the best way to end our trip to the Algarve.
We have been back in Lisbon for almost two weeks now and we have spent that time preparing to leave for the next leg of our journey. I love Portugal and am sad to say good-bye, especially to all the lovely people that I have gotten to know. I know we will be back though, we have so much more of Portugal to see and experience.
Tomorrow, we fly to Paris, France, to celebrate Zoë’s second birthday at Disneyland Paris! I am very excited! I will have so much to tell you on Wednesday! Until then, ciao!