Leaving our clifftop vantage in Porto Covo, we drove on, ever southward. We arrived on the Algarve south coast after a very decent and direct drive, on an arrow-straight and very smooth road running southwards, parallel to the west coast. We were heading for the resort town of Lagos, where we had a treat in store; Nicky has a friend who has an apartment here, and he very kindly suggested it would be available to us to use as we passed through it was available. At this point in our trip we had quite fancied a short holiday away from Benny, allowing us to stretch our legs and spread out a little, so this was an ideal opportunity to do so, at least for a little while.
(A big thank you for the lend of the apartment, kind sir, very much appreciated – you know who you are!)
We arrived at the complex and located the apartment and keys without any issues. It was such a welcome change to be in a spacious apartment; all that space to fully relax into, to watch TV for the first time since we left, to complete some laundry; a luxury mini-break from our regular, very tiny home in Benny. We decanted most of our clothes and possessions into the spacious apartment and, looking around, we wondered how we’d ever get it all back in. Considering how ruthless we were when leaving, we are still a little amazed at how much we actually have with us, and how efficient the storage in Benny is.
We first explored the apartment complex, but it seemed that the inviting looking communal pool was closed for the end of season, or at least blocked off at the time of our visit, which was a shame. We walked to the local Praia don Ana, only a few minutes from the apartment door down some stone-built steps, passing a restaurant with a timber walkway leading across the sand. But a change in the weather caused us to dash back indoors, as rain temporarily stopped play.
Later, when the sun returned, we wandered down into the centre. Lagos old town is a pretty whitewashed village, all of uniform appearance and neatly maintained. It was a bustling town, busy even this late out of season. There were many restaurants open and all alive with customers. Walking around we heard lots of British accents, so would assume there are many expats owning apartments in town, and either holidaying, over-wintering or living here permanently; quite a popular resort.
With the weather still unsure of itself, we visited a museum in Lagos that was attached to the side of the Igreja de Santo António, and housed a very varied collection of artifacts related to the local area. There were Bronze Age arrow heads, models of fishermen boats, coin collections, life-size models of local peasants, a real patchwork quilt of items and curiosities that combined to create an impression of life through the ages in the Algarve. But the interior of the church itself was the most striking element; fully gilded on all faces, intricate carvings of saints and cherubs formed the backdrop to the intoxicating gold envelope. The friezes and statues told the stories of St. Anthony’s life and his reported miracles in an impressively garish fashion.
Being on the more protected south coast rather than the wild west, the sea water was warmer and noticeably flatter allowing, we hoped, greater opportunities for swimming in the calm blue. But swimming and beach time would be on hold until the weather behaved.
Instead, we undertook a very damp coastal walk, following the cliff edge with views of eroded stacks and archways, thinking it would be very interesting to kayak around this coastline. We got caught in several heavy showers, with the intervals of bright sun between drying us off just before the next deluge struck. It was never cold, and in many ways quite refreshing, but did distract a little from the coves and rock formations below.
There was a slightly scruffy feel to the clifftop scrubland, and an aged 1970’s feel to many of the nearby buildings. Whilst it was out of season, a lack of maintenance around the town was evident, and many unfinished construction projects looked either on hold or abandoned, potential casualties of the 2007 crash. The outskirts of the town were littered with crumbling concrete skeletons, awaiting further works or deserving only demolition.
The rain stopped as we walked back, and we were treated to a surprising window of sunny weather, the brightness and temperature immediately lifting. We were intending to head back to the apartment, but instead detoured back onto our local beach and had a refreshing 400m swim around a lonely orange stack set out beyond the surf. Having a notional goal to aim for definitely makes a swim more focused and motivated, in this instance a loop around a fixed marker, rather than swimming short lengths parallel to shore.
Drying off, we noticed a scruffy young beachcomber with wild hair and a deep tan passing us, then spotted him later climbing up the cliff face into a shallow cave where clothes and provisions were visible. It looked like he was living in the cave, camping on the rock face, and this made us curious as to his story and reasons, but we never did find out.
One day we cycled, in a roundabout way, to the village of Luz, a nearby beach resort, for a day out and a change of beach scene. We found some nice off-road tracks that led through a half-finished but beautifully neat golf resort, offering a little insight into where the real money in tourism is focused for this region of Portugal. We locked up the bikes and sat on the beach for a while, but despite the sunny day there was a sharp crosswind that was quite chilling, so disappointingly we never made it into the water for our expected swim.
We passed some beautiful, bespoke houses built in a small cluster that had no surfaced road leading to them, with high-end cars having to carefully drive over roughly stoned sand, pitted and potholed, to get to their immaculately finished long driveways. This smacked of an unresolved dispute with the original builders or developers, as the short road between each driveway was finished, but not the final 800m or so connection to the main road. The one downside of the day was that we continued to be aggressively barked at and chased by slavering dogs when cycling in rural areas; not a pleasant experience.
The following morning, we decided to go for a long walk along the Lagos promenade and Praia Meia, the largest beach in the Lagos area. The dander took us from the apartment through the old town, to the marina bridge and along the wide, golden beach. The sea lapped gently on the sands, with small waves breaking neatly on the deposited lines of shells. We walked on the sand to the large stone walls protecting the shallow inlet bay behind, a distance just over 8km one way. Here we approached the small red and white striped lighthouse on the end, where fishermen were quietly plying their trade on the rocks. We found a small ledge on a rock sheltered from the wind but in full sun, and sat here to enjoy the sea view, our packed lunch and the sun’s heat warming our faces.
On our return we watched the pedestrian bridge at the marina open to allow a tall sailboat through, before making our way back, again through the lively old town centre.
After leaving the luxury of a spacious apartment, we moved a little distance along the coast road to visit the next renowned resort on the Algarve – Albufeira. Our resting place this night was a large commercial aire on a roundabout on the outskirts of town. It was a practical stopover place, with wide bays and all necessary services, so suited just fine as a base to visit the resort town, albeit a reasonable half hour’s walk to the main centre.
We had a walk around the town and along the beach front, remembering all the reasons why we don’t really do beach holidays, at least not package tours to resort towns. It’s a pleasant enough place, but restaurant touts and club promoters everywhere made it feel much too focused on taking our money rather than allowing us to enjoy the visit.
We walked along the beach a while, which looked nice from a distance but wasn’t actually very clean; there were discarded plastic bags and takeaway wrappers alongside whatever other debris the sea had deposited. After a short distance we decided to cut back up some graffiti-covered steps to the high level promenade and back into the town, then made good use of some external escalators to bring us back down to the town level behind.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Moving on from Albufeira, we decided to move faster east and so we skipped the remainder of the Algarve, heading close to the Spanish border, stopping near to the town of Monte Gordo. We spent our last night in Portugal in a rather forlorn aire in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. An interesting town in some regards, rebuilt on a grid design after being destroyed by an 18th century earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, but the aire near the harbour was not located in the most salubrious part of town.
The aire was busy with many who were staying long term, and we couldn’t think of a more unsuitable place to pay to live – after all the wonderful free aires we’d passed, and other beautiful cheap campsites we’d visited, we couldn’t fathom why others would wish to remain long term in such an obvious ‘stop-over only’ place, all gritty, dirty and noisy.
We had a short cycle, perhaps 12km or so in total, into the local large town of Monte Gordo. Besides from a long, impressive stretch of beach, we saw little of real interest, and it had the feel of a summer resort town that had closed up shop for the winter. There was little life around, and few people, so we returned to Vila Real and awaited the dawn.
Thus endeth our travel adventures in Portugal – next stop, España.