My Review of Pretty Portimao, Portugal

I've Been Here
My Review of Pretty Portimao, Portugal

 

I had the pleasure of travelling to Portimao, Portugal in the fall of 2016. We chose to go Sept 21 for 2 weeks using Air Canada Rouge’s nonstop flight to Lisbon. Upon arrival we picked up our full size rental car and headed south. The highways were in perfect shape and this route took under 3 hours down to Albufeira in the centre of the Algarve. From here we drove right to the seaside town of Portimao, close to Lagos on the western end. Our villa was in town, with many bedrooms, bathrooms and three balconies so we never felt crowded. We had a small restaurant right around the corner, handy for a quick lunch out. Our villa was only 2km from the beautiful, long, Praia da Rocha beach. This stretch of sand has huge golden rocks with many caves in them. Walking the beach for miles our 1st day we settled on a lovely Greek Restaurant on the cliff top for dinner at sunset with fabulous views of the coast.

Our first real outing was to the nearby town of Carvoeiro, to take a tour to the amazing caves just off the coast there. It is a great place for photographers as many caves have holes where the sunlight beams through. If you take a small boat they can get right inside the caves for better exploring and photos.

While venturing out one night to the closest town, Alvor, which was only ten minutes by car, we discovered the popular southern Portuguese dish “Cataplana”, at one of their seaside restaurants. This dish is usually made with mussels, clams, monkfish, wine and potato—delicious and we couldn’t wait to try it again!

We rose early one day for a road trip to Loule, near Faro, in the east Algarve to a Gypsy Market, operating only once a week there. We arrived early and were in amazement at the dozens of stalls with clothes, jewelry and hats available for purchase. Cork is everywhere in the Algarve and the purses, wallets, bracelets and necklaces made from it were stunning and a quarter of the price than in the stores in the larger centres. We had a great time here all day and were exhausted when we left to return to our villa in the late afternoon, all wearing our new 5 euro sunhats and cork bracelets.

A few days of rest by the pool and we were off to the most westerly point in all of Europe, Cabo de Sao Vicente or Land’s End as locals call it.  We enjoyed walking the flat, orange land up on a high cliff with views of the Atlantic Ocean’s crashing azure waves below. We shopped in a huge pottery store on the way back not worrying at all how on earth we get all these items back home.

We decided to barbeque some local fresh caught fish at the villa. It was very reasonable to eat out, so we hadn’t cooked a lot at the property except for our breakfasts although we often made afternoon snacks of cold meats, cheeses, and of course homemade Sangria after a tough day by the pool! The fish turned out perfect and we wished we could find it in Canada!.

Heading north to Lisbon after 10 days, we returned our car at the airport and spent our last 3 nights in an apartment we had rented in the city. There is no need for a car in Lisbon as it is hilly and has many one way streets with no parking, a lot like San Francisco. Our transfer taxi - van for 5, from Airport to downtown, was only 14 euro total and he loaded and unloaded our luggage. Our location could not have been better - Chiado area, near Bairro Alto section which is perfect to walk anywhere in the city. Our apartment was great for 4 or more travelling together, since we had a modern kitchen, living and dining room and several bedrooms and baths. I did inspect 4 other hotels, all in great locations, so if you have questions about accommodation, tours, cars etc. please give me a call.

The sidewalks are all uneven cobblestone as are the streets, so if you have bad feet the walking may be a bit hard for you, however, we quickly found a solution for that, there are electric “Tuk-Tuks” for rent all over the central area (fairly new to Lisbon) .They hold 5 people plus the driver, similar to a golf cart and can navigate the very narrow and steep streets no problem. We paid 10 euro each for an hour and half tour through the oldest ‘Fatima’ area of the city, up to the castle and to the highest point in Lisbon for great panoramic photos. Right across the street from our apartment there was an abundance of fabulous restaurants, bars and wonderful live music with no cover charge. There was Jazz, Blues, Fado (Traditional Portugal music) and something for everyone’s taste. We felt very safe walking at night and down every alley there were plenty of small, charming restaurants, all very busy!

We visited the church with no roof in the central area with a wonderful museum in the back to explore and cost 3.5 euro entrance fee. A grey roofless edifice is all that remains of the gothic style, Carmo Convent Church, beautiful for photos with the royal blue sky as a backdrop through the open roof. It serves as a reminder of the horrific 8.9 earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1755 in which 40,000 people perished. Of course we had to stop at a bakery for the best “Pasteis de Nata”, or Portuguese custard tarts that melted in your mouth!

It took us two days to really get the transit system down pat and on our last day we were in the lower part of the city shopping and found a yellow tram shown on our map. We took a short 1 minute ride up a steep hill and when we got off we thought we were in a new area, we turned left and realized we were almost right back at our apartment! So our 1 hour walk to the lower section could have been done in 1 minute if we had turned right not left leaving our building! There are many tours offered for those who prefer to be escorted and of course “Hop on Hop off Bus” tours are always available in major cities and are a good way to 1st get an overview of your new destination.

I can see why Portugal is such a popular destination - wonderful people, great food, lovely weather with accommodation and restaurant prices much cheaper than the rest of Europe. Please give me a call if you want to know more about this beautiful country: (519) 472-3232.

by Karen MacKenzie, London (Byron) Office