07 June 2017


Lagos, Portugal

Portugal? You're going to Portugal? Why?
Cos we have never been before?
Reason enough for me with the itchy feet, small wallet and a love of exploring new places.
Given that my age is against me with my long Bucket list, our annual holiday seemed to far away.
I also love the planning stages and trust that all will work out......and it did!

Portugal was an amazing destination - wonderful beaches, glorious medieval, walled villages, mind-blowing scenery in Serra de Estrela, delicious cheeses and hams, olive and cork trees, mouth watering pastries, fresh fish dishes and excellent highways, and the narrow cobbled streets.

Join us as we travelled nearly 3000 km around Portugal. 
Just be aware of the tolls:
Total cost was 98 Euro + 20 Euro for the transponder!
Setubal, Portugal
Our introduction to Portugal was the delightful downtown area of Setubal, approx 46 km from Lisbon. Parking is a problem here but we managed to find a metered spot which cost about 5.50 euros for the 24 hours we spent there.
Our apartment was beautifully furnished and we felt like locals having only a narrow street between us and the neighbours opposite! Cats popped out of the windows and an old lady was surveying the scene from her apartment opposite. The inevitable washing hanging outside on thin wash lines - we should have asked how they actually manage to do this!
We loved the serene atmosphere with the cobbled streets, tiny shops, stunning decorations above, made of plastic bottles and the tiny pavement cafes.

The market in Setubal in Rua Oriental do Mercado, was pure delight! The most amazing array of fresh fruit and veg, gorgeous flowers and orchids, fish for Africa, including live crabs! Everything was so clean. No flies and no smells!
Finding a supermarket was a problem! We passed a pet shop,electrical repair shop, and even a psychologist but no supermarket! Luckily, Casa do Arco served us a delicious 4 seasons pizza, watered down Super Bock (or so it seemed!) and Portuguese cheese cake

Setubal Market, Portugal

There is also a flea market - these always could be in any country, somebody's old castoffs! Why do we buy so much stuff and then it is discarded?

The very green ferry takes one on a short, but choppy ride across the bay to the Troia peninsula.
Apparently, Setubal was not popular even 5 years ago but things have changed and it now attracts more tourists, mainly from Spain. The old chimney stacks still rise high, although the sardine canneries are long gone.
This was a lovely intro to Portugal and boded well for the rest of the trip.

Sines, Portugal
On our way down to the Algarve we detoured to the beautiful, although industrial, town of Sines.
The walls of the old fort offer incredible views of the tranquil beach. Being the birthplace of Vasco da Gama it has its place in the history books. The towns crowning glory came around 1460's when Portugal’s legendary explorer Vasco da Gama was born in the castle here. He went on to establish trade routes between Portugal and India.

Vasco da Gama died in Cochin in India - we have been there as well.The only trace of da Gama in Sines these days is a statue in front of the Parish church.
There is a huge tanker terminal flanked by refinery pipelines so pollution is apparently sometimes a problem. Still a stunning setting!

Albufeira, Algarve - what can one say? Overpopulated, noisy and a concrete jungle filled with tourists intent on drinking beer and watching soccer? Hopefully not!
We walked around the famous Albufeira - more pubs and restaurants that one can count, loads of tourists, a long beach with brown sand and lively nightlife! The best was a wander around some of the original houses high above the beach. And some luxury - an escalator to get one up and down from the beach! Great for the knees! If you are looking for a lively spot to holiday, this could be it.
Sanlucar, Spain taken from Alcoutim, Portugal

Take a step back in time while visiting  this unspoilt village. Lying on the banks of the Guadiana River, which forms the natural border with Spain, the village on the Spanish side is Sanlucar De Guadiana. A short ferry ride will get you into the white washed houses in another country!

History in Alcoutim dates back 5000 years and one  an just imagine how important this river was for both smugglers and conquerors.
The views from the Castle are stunning while the sturdy walls withstood the earthquake of 1755. In 1878 it was used as a meat market. Today history is preserved in the museum. It is hard to imagine the many  conquests and battles when this tiny settlement was seized by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and the Moors.
There a number of places to eat - if you like meat try O Soeito which offers views of the river.

This ancient city is bigger than Alcoutim yet situated on the same river, Guadiana.
The river is navigable for about 60km to the sea from this point so it was a very strategic settlement for trade. Merchants would exchange silken cloths and exotic spices for wine, olive oil, wheat and ore. The history dates back to the Phoenicians, then Romans and the Moors
Unfortunately, the Castle is not open on Mondays but we still enjoyed walking these ancient streets and marvelling at the history that the walls could impart!
Well worth an overnight stay to see it all.

Tavira, Portugal

Climbing the walls of an old Moorish fortification allows for wide views over the city. Lots of steep steps though! Once again a town which straddles a river; this time the Rio Gilao. With an air of understated elegance, Tavira boasts over 20 churches, interesting buildings and a modern Camera Obscura. Having visited the old Camera Obscura in Grahamstown, South Africa we had to view this via a convenient lift! It's amazing what a mirror and 2 lenses can depict. 

The Torrens de Tavira is housed at the top of an old water tower.
The clock face of Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo must be the most photographed going by the number of tourists shooting their memories.
Tavira, Portugal
The Roman bridge just begs to be crossed and offers great views of the town.
If time permits a trip to Ilha de Tavira can be enjoyed via the ferry. 
Lunch at a pavement cafe provided some entertainment in the form of a local lady singing, carrying a battery for her mike on a tiny, handcart! 

Alte, Portugal

So many Portuguese villages are situated on hills and Alte is a fine example. The river Alte is a favourite summer picnic spot with rough stone picnic tables and chairs. The filigree chimneys draw the eye while the cobbled streets offer both dilapidated plus well kept homes. There are many restaurants but we were drawn to the one that offered traditional Portuguese Custard tarts - Agua Mel. Beautiful interior plus outside deck seating overlooking the valley. A delicious toastie with pepperoni, tomato, cheese and herbs followed by a traditional Portuguese Custard Tart - all very yummy plus the tea in a glass cup.
Agua Mel, Alte, Portugal

We then wanted to visit the Castle at Silves but the rain came down. It's very impressive on the skyline but we decided that getting wet would not be such fun! This area is covered in orange groves as far as the eye can see.
Armacao de Pera, Portugal

Thunder and rain.....but we decided to drive to Armacao de Pera for a long walk in blustery conditions. The promenade is lined with modern, high rise apartments, the cliffs all have warning signs for rockfalls and the beach loungers have wind breaks! Lovely long beach - at one end there are many laid up boats waiting for the weather to change so that they can go out fishing again.

Sand City, Pera, Portugal

Our next stop was Sand City at Pera. This has the largest sand sculptures in the world and they are all truly amazing. A great find and a privilege to view such incredible talent.
FIESA – the International Sand Sculptures Festival is the only event of its kind in the Iberian peninsular, and, given its dimensions, is the largest in the

world. The festival is dedicated to a different theme each year, and occupies an area of 15,000 square metres, showcasing the work of the skillful hands of artists of various nationalities that shape over 35,000 tonnes of sand during a one-month period. Normally open April to October.
Faro, Portugal

Portugal overall has a total population of around 10.5 million - Faro had 8 millions visitors arrive during 2016. While on our boat in the Ria Formosa we saw countless planes arriving. Our guide said it was actually very difficult to make himself heard during the summer months when planes are landing nearly every 2 minutes! For most holiday makers, Faro is just the point of entry as it does not really cater for family entertainment and the beaches are about 20 minutes away from the city.

Faro is situated on the edge of the Ria Formosa National Park, a series of saltwater lagoons and mudflats that are a haven for migratory birds and wildlife. Beyond the Ria Formosa national park are the three sandbar islands, which are the location for Faro’s beaches and are some of the least developed in the Algarve. Only 1 island is accessible by car and the homes are mainly for summer residents. The beach at Faro was not too inspiring.
Faro, Portugal

Whilst we did not see many birds as the weather was rather topsy-turvy, I liked the Spoonbill the best. What an amazing bird.
The reserve follows 60 km of coastline and was created in 1987.

We passed a very large oyster farm. The tidal waters are ideal for this as the sea water comes in so 80% of the water gets recycled, bringing fresh nutrients. Apparently, the oysters here only take 1.5 years to mature instead on 3 yrs in other places.

The Old Town of Faro is sheltered by some of the ancient city walls. The peaceful square in the middle, Largo da Se, is lined with orange trees. The Bishops Palace is still in use and not open to the public. It's easy to wander around on foot either before or after a boat trip to Ria Formosa.
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Fishing is allowed on in certain areas and then only with a land line. The wetland is protected by barrier sand dune islands - we saw one from the water and then again via car.
We landed a Euro 8.50 parking ticket as we did not realise that it was a "Paid" parking area - no machine was visible! We realised afterwards that the parking machines are very slim and narrow so often difficult to spot. We did not make that mistake again, rather putting in too much money than too little!

Alvor Portugal
This charming fishing village, situated on the estuary of the Rio Alvor,  faces the small harbour that is surrounded by restaurants. We spotted a lone fisherman was cleaning his fish, surrounded by very hungry seagulls!

The Nature Reserve has very long boardwalks that take you along the lagoon as far as the breakwater. The huge granite boulders form a breakwater which simmers in the sunshine. The long, white sand of Alvor beach stretches to the modern, high rises that are in total contrast to the narrow, cobbled streets of the old village. It's a beautiful place.
Alvor, Portugal

As we returned from our walk, we chanced upon the festival "Soul in the Algarve" as we headed back to our car. Lots of interesting costumes, music & dancing for the 2017 Festival ! The festival first took place in 2015 and has been an annual event every since. It was great fun to mix with all the party goers for awhile.

Our first stop was Praia  do Beliche, a stunning beach with steep steps down.
Praia do Beliche, Portugal
Next was Cabo de Sao Vicente. Dramatic limestone cliffs at the end of the earth! They sure give the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland some competition.
Henry the Navigator and his school of Navigation was based in Sagres and a walk around the promontory offers exquisite views.

Cabo de Sao Vicente, Portugal

The beaches in the Algarve are stunning and truly need to be explored.
With over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and a low annual average rainfall, the Algarve enjoys mild weather throughout the year and we were extremely lucky with our May weather.

The longest beach is Meia Praia in Lagos. At 4km long it just begs to be walked. The area closest to Lagos is beautiful and suitable for everybody. Further towards the Alvor boardwalk it seems to be more nudist and perhaps a gay hang- out with lone, naked males under small umbrellas in the dunes! 
Our next beach was the famous Praia de Dona Ana in Lagos. While the beach itself is not great, the scenery is stunning. Lots of boat action from Lagos towards the caves. We managed a swim here despite the cold Atlantic.

A lovely supper at Alvor Harbour rounded off our stay in the Algarve. 
Most tourists favour the Algarve for the incredible beaches, scores of restaurants and lively nightlife.
Highly recommended - one can do as little or as much as your heart desires and come away relaxed and tanned! 

Road Trip, Portugal 
The rest of Portugal was begging to be explored so we ventured forth in our tiny Renault Clio.
This car was ideal for the narrow, and I mean NARROW, streets of the old, medieval cities of Portugal. The locals appear to have no fear and tear around these streets as if there is no tomorrow!
I never quite got used to being a passenger while driving these narrow, cobbled streets.

Our drive to Evora was interesting - mainly agricultural land - hay bales aplenty, cows, vineyards, cork trees, olive trees etc.
The walled city of Evora greeted us with a temperature of 32 degrees! Our B&B was tucked into one of these famous narrow streets and parking in the garage was rather a nightmare.The house is 300 years old and has been in the same family for 250 years - an amazing feat. One always looks at the tiny facades and the houses appear so small but, oh my word, HUGE was an understatement. With many rooms looking like pure museum pieces, it was a privilege to see how the locals live. The garden and pool were beautiful. Orange and lemon trees to pick from, birds creating soothing sounds, effecting a peaceful vibe after some hectic sightseeing.
Evora, Portugal

Our first walk took us to the main square Praca do Giraldo where we enjoyed a homemade bread sandwich before venturing further. A lady beggar accosted us - the first time this has happened in Portugal. Located in the heart of the city, this square is an excellent meeting point, with coffee shops, sidewalk cafés, shops and a tourist information office. On one side is the Church of Santo Antão and the marble drinking fountain (Chafariz) with 8 spouts, representing the 8 streets that lead here.

Temple Romano is a famous landmark. The Temple was built in 1st Century AD - today only the ruins remain. "The Roman Temple of Évora (Portuguese: Templo romano de Évora), also referred to as the Templo de Diana (albeit wrongly, after Diana, the ancient Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt, and chastity) is an ancient temple in the Portuguese city of Évora (civil parish of Sé e São Pedro). The temple is part of the historical centre of the city, which was included in the classification by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It represents one of the most significant landmarks relating to the Roman and Lusitanian civilizations of Évora and in Portuguese territory" (Courtesy Wikipedia).

The many tourist shops specialise in Cork products in Evora. I resisted the temptation!
For supper we chose Mr Pickwick - owner run since 1988 with the son currently in charge.

The church of St Francisco has an amazing exhibit of Nativity scenes from around the world. Its a huge collection and was time well spent looking at the many variety of scenes, all based on the same theme Christian theme. Truly beautiful and humbling.
Nativity Scenes Evora Portugal
 The Chapel of Bones - wow! Eerie stuff seeing walls of bones and skulls peering ghoulishly at us.
By the 16th century, there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Évora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones.
Chapel of Bones, Evora, Portugal

However, rather than interring the bones behind closed doors, the monks, who were concerned about society’s values at the time, thought it best to put them on display. They thought this would provide Évora, a town noted for its wealth in the early 1600s, with a helpful place to meditate on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death.

This is made clear by the thought-provoking message above the chapel door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”

We walked someway around the Medieval walls until we reached the Aqueduct of Agua De Prata. In use since 1537 the Aqueduct carries water from local springs to supply the city. It was declared a National Monument is 1910. There are homes beneath the lower sections of the aqueduct - what an historic place to live!
Aquaduct de Agua de Prata, Evora, Portugal

A wander around these narrow streets of Evora brought us to a local Portuguese bakery. Delicious Veal pastry and the famous Portuguese Custard Tart!  The owner was born in Pretoria South Africa but now back in Portugal.Tucked away, the delicious smells draw one ever closer and once inside, resistance falls away like the leaves of the trees in autumn. We just had to pay a return visit!

Marvao, Portugal
Listed in the book "1000 places to see before you die" this tiny village, situated within the town walls lies at 843 metres altitude and offers great views over the surrounding countryside. One truly feels on top of the world here.
The narrow streets offer pretty gardens, windows adorned by flowers, tiny shops and a peaceful atmosphere.
The Castle stands proudly on the crest of the hill and there are many steps to climb. Well worth it for the never-ending views.

The lovely lady in the shop that we visited was reading a book on Nelson Mandela. Amazing to find somebody interested in South African history in such a remote, hillside village.
The village is quiet - one has to experience the peace and tranquillity while reflecting on so many generations who trod these streets. We had a drink at O Costella while listening to the African Grey parrot keep up a constant stream of whistling! When I approached the cage, he came looking for a head scratch. I call this a "koppie krap" and tried to teach him the words! If he did get that right, blame me! A rather "under the weather" local came out to feed him peanuts!
Marvao, Portugal
We had another chat to the shop lady - she lives in the valley below. And says the bus loads of people rush in and rush out again without buying anything. We saw them - they don't have enough time to breathe and enjoy the tranquil village atmosphere. 

Serra da Estrela - Covilha
The GPS took us through some very dicey looking areas in Covilha and I was freaking out, thinking that I had messed up our hotel booking. But we continued climbing to reach an amazing hotel, Pousada Serra do Estrela with incredible views of the city below, a 23 degree indoor pool, outdoor pool, fabulous breakfasts with fresh orange juice (squeezed right in front of one's eyes) and very helpful Jorge in Reception. Built at 1200 metres, this hotel was originally a sanatorium for TB sufferers. The architecture is beautiful and makes for a gracious building
Serra de Estrela, Portugal

The mountain, Serra da Estrela - what can I say? Incredible landscapes - simply breathtaking
The glacial valleys were shaped 20,000 years ago by the ice and the highest point at Torre offers the only ski resort in the country. This is mainly for beginners. The winding roads offer views from just about very bend and the fauna and flora are breathtaking, both in looks and floral scents. The silence of the mountain needs to be listened to - it restores the soul.
Serra de Estrela, Portugal

The shops at Torre are amazing, all with different owners. Such a generous selection of cheeses and hams.Taste, buy, enjoy!

Our circular drive was recommended by our kindly receptionist, Jorge. It took us into the glacial valley Zezere down to the town of Manteigas, then around to highest village, Sabugueiro, where there are many tourists shops but no customers. Incredible woollen products and beautiful jerseys. One imagines that these shops do well during the winter months, but the huge amount of stock must be worth a fortune! Our route then took us past a dam, Lagoa Compriba nd then back to hotel after passing Penhas da Saude, a small mountain village. We were very sad to leave this beautiful spot - the mountains really begged to be explored in more depth with more time to breathe in and glory in the splendour.

Aveiro, Portugal
Today's drive to Figueira De Foz was mainly on the excellent highways of Portugal.
We stopped at Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal.
The delightful “Moliceiros” boats, similar in design to gondolas, are painted in bright colours and have motifs that depict scenes from the town’s history. These boats, originally used to harvest seaweed, now serve a much more glamorous purpose in transporting tourists around the town’s canals. The salt pans are still worked from June onwards. The fisherman's houses line one of the canals and we passed the oldest pub in Aveiro facing the canals.

The old blends with the new in this town with many modern apartments built after 2000. The very modern hotel extended the canal so their guests could have access!
The Forum Shopping Centre has won awards with its distinctive green spaces and stone facades, which are harmonious with the historic centre.
The local speciality is Ovos Moles, sweetened egg yolk in candied pastries. These are shaped like fish or barrels and the original recipe is credited to the nuns.
A great town to visit! Wish we could have stayed longer!


Coimbra is situated on the banks of the river Mondego, and is famous for its University, the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe, which over time has shaped its image to become "the city of students". It's a 700 year old university town and we were so lucky to visit on graduation day! The students were all in their black robes, adorned with many coloured ribbons. The air was abuzz with excitement with many proud parents/siblings/friends taking photos of the happy graduates. It was something special to witness and to realise that graduation has been going on here for 700 years. 
Coimbra is up and down like so many towns and villages of Portugal - we have certainly got enough exercise in this country!
Portugal dos Pequenitos, Coimbra

We also visited Portugal dos Pequenitos, the name of which translates as "the little ones of Portugal". Everything here is a world in miniature, a scaled-down versions of Portugal's most cherished national monuments, finest buildings, and traditional villages.Within the grounds are three museums specialising in furniture, traditional costume, and naval artifacts.

Figueira da Foz 
Figueira da Foz, the city at the mouth of the Mondego River, boasts THE hugest beach that I have ever seen! There are many outdoor activities on the beach such as running tracks, cycle tracks, soccer and basketball areas and skateboard area. We stayed in a lovely B&B situated on a narrow street and within walking distance of the beach, many restaurants and a casino.

 Obidos is one of the most picturesque towns of Portugal. The compact town centre is filled with cobbled streets and traditional painted houses, while the entire town is encircled by the solid city walls. Obidos was traditionally owned by the queen of Portugal and this has ensured that every house or shop has been lovingly cared for and maintained.

The best monument in Obidos is the beautiful Porta da Vila. The Porta da Vila was the main gate into Obidos and is decorated by traditional azulejos tiles which depict the Passion of Christ. A busker was playing here on his instruments called "Handpan"
Obidos, Portugal

The Obidos region is famed for the cherry liqueur called Ginja de Obidos. Ginja is produced by infusing Morello cherries in Aguardiente (hence the strength of the drink!) and is served straight with a cherry in the shot glass or in a chocolate cup.

The town buzzes with many tourists, all exploring the many tourist shops but maybe not actually buying much? There are many restaurants in cute, cobbled streets, unfortunately our time was limited. I would have loved to have spent a night here to enjoy the atmosphere of this beautiful village.
Obidos, Portugal

Cascais and Estoril
Estoril has had a long association with Europe’s elite and famous, with many attracted by the glamour of the grand casino. During the Second World War the Casino was a haven for spies, who undertook secret negotiations and covert monitoring, and these were the inspiration for Ian Fleming's first book James Bond, Casino Royale. The reputation of Estoril was enhanced when the casino was centrepiece for the 1970s James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service!

We parked at the casino and wandered down to the promenade where it is possible to walk for a very, very long way.

Carcavelos is a big beach, frequented by surfers, young and old. We stopped at a cafe playing reggae music - it was a great vibe!

The Praia do Tamariz is the large beach that is directly in front of the Estoril Casino. There is a tidal pool and the station is close by.

The beaches were busy in Cascais - seem sheltered from the wind as it was crazy in the Marina! The town area is full of shops and restaurants - pity we did not have more time!
Cascais Portugal

A pleasant walk out of town leads to "Boca do Inferno" which is an interesting cliff formation. The name of Hell’s Mouth comes from the ceaseless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean on the cliffs which  chiseled out a small cave, which subsequently collapsed forming a small bay and natural arch.

The Praia da Rainha is a very pretty but small beach that is surrounded by cliffs and overlooks the fishing harbour. The beach is named the Queen’s Beach (Praia da Rainha) as it was the private beach of queen Dona Amelia (the last queen of Portugal). This beach is right in the centre of Cascais but can get very busy.

The Praia da Ribeira is the beach directly in front of the Cascais fishing harbour and was where the fishing boats were brought ashore. The sheltered location means that the waters are some of the calmest in the region

 Our last day in Portugal was spent exploring the West coast in the Serra da Sintra National Park.
The beaches in this area are so very beautiful, the winds are strong and refreshing and one's lungs really enjoy the blustery, clean air!  It was one of the most beautiful 9among many!) spots in Portugal.

Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe, comes with mind-blowing cliff views but a disgusting public toilet, overflowing bin and the toilet did not flush -  all this for 50c!
Cabo da Roca, Portugal

As with all good holidays, they have to end sometime!

Portugal was an amazing destination - wonderful beaches, glorious medieval and walled villages, mind-blowing scenery in Serra de Estrela, delicious cheeses and hams, olive and cork trees, mouth watering pastries, fresh fish dishes and excellent highways, and the narrow cobbled streets.

Good-bye Portugal!

© Judelle Drake

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