Our trip to Portugal lasted 4 weeks. We planned to see a lot of the country. Exploring Lisbon for 4 days gave us a great introduction. The day we left Lisbon dawned cloudy but not the pouring rain the weather forecast predicted. We packed, ate and headed out for the short walk to get our rental car. Then we would head south to the Algarve.
I was prepared for changeable weather. David let the brief bouts of sunshine fool him. Within 2 blocks of our Lisbon hotel, it started to rain. We got to experience walking on the slick cobblestones both up and down hills. A few times we stopped in stores to try to get an umbrella. We finally found one just as the rain stopped and half a block from the car rental shop.
We went through the upgrade sale process at the car rental shop. This is one of the things to think about when you rent a car in Portugal. It made sense to pay for the road toll transponder. Not all of the toll roads were manned so you could pay your toll as you passed. If you went through an automated toll without a transponder, you needed to go pay the toll in person at the post office. After dealing with a parking ticket on one Italy trip, we were not looking to waste our days paying fees.
Our car was upgraded to a cute Alfa Romero Giulietta and to automatic transmission. While we both drive standard, it was not a skill we had practiced lately. We were happy for the auto transmission when we hit first the twisty beach cliff roads and then the mountains.
It was a short hop to get on the highway. We went over the April 25 Bridge. We saw the Christo Rei statue from another perspective than we had seen on our visit to the Belem area in Portugal. Once over the bridge we said goodbye to Lisbon and were on our way to head south to the Algarve.
Finding The Beaches On the Atlantic Coast
We had enjoyed a visit to the beaches close to Lisbon. This would let us see more of the beaches on the Atlantic coast.
The smaller roads were well marked as we headed to Sesimbra. It was great to be out of the city. We saw county roads and small towns. Far ahead we saw the Atlantic Ocean. As we wound our way down the cliff, we reached the seaside town. This was our first view of the Portugal beaches.
From Sesimbra we drove along the coast road. Up and down we went. Every now and then we would catch sight of the awesome blue water.
We took the road less travelled and followed the low road to Portinho Arrabida. The last portion of the road was single lane with a stop light halting traffic in each direction. We arrived at the small fishing town of Portinho Arrabida. There were a couple of small places to stay if you really wanted a quiet stop. We could see the beach in the distance. It was possible to walk from here or from a parking lot we found on the road above the bay.
After a brief stop, we kept driving. We waited for the light to signal that it was our turn to leave the little cove. And off we went.
From the road high above the water we saw several great beaches along the way. We passed the Praia de Galapinhos (which won best beach in Europe for 2017).
There were few places to stop on the roadside, so we pulled over in the parking lot at the Praia da Figueirinha. On a Friday afternoon in early May there was not a soul to be seen.
A Seafood Stop
We continued to follow the coast road to Setubal. The great staff at Intercontinental Lisbon had provided us with a long list of food and restaurant recommendations when we left. We found Novo 10 and ordered Choco Frito. David initially thought this was something chocolate but it turned out to be the best fried cuttlefish. We made the mistake of ordering a second dish and we went home with a big doggy bag. Food plates are often big enough for sharing.
Heading South To The Algarve
Finally we headed back to the highway to head south to the Algarve. It had been a great detour along the beaches of the Atlantic coast. We saw many places we would like to spend more time in when not en-route somewhere else. We also now knew where to find the more great sand beaches close to Lisbon.
Driving along the highway we could have been anywhere on the highways back home in Ontario. Fields, trees and hills in the distance. Then we hit the mountains and the rain. We were glad we had stayed on the highway and not chosen the long mountain route.
It was hard to believe it was a Friday and we were heading south to the Algarve. The highway was empty. When we passed the toll booth with 8 or 19 lanes, all were empty.
A First Stop High In The Mountains
Our first stop in the Algarve was high in the mountains in Monchique. Since rain was likely, we chose to take the highway most of the way rather then head into the mountains early. This first stop gave us a very different perspective over the Algarve. From high in the hills we could see over the Algarve coast.
Most people don’t think about finding mountains when they head south to the Algarve. But the Monchique area is good if you want to see a high perspective of the Algarve or if you are a hiker.
The Stunning Algarve Cliffs
We headed to our next stop outside of the town of Lagoa. Our hotel was at the end of a long single lane road high on the Algarve cliffs above the sea. Our first view of the crystal blue waters below the cliffs was stunning. We could look down the cliffs to the beach at Albandeira.
When we headed for a day trip to the most southwest point in Portugal by Sagres, we discovered more stunning cliffs.
Drive towards the sea and you will find stunning cliff vistas when you head south to the Algarve!
Beaches, Beaches and More Beaches
There are beaches everywhere when you head south to the Algarve. Some are found after a climb down the stunning Algarve cliffs. But not all! When we did a day trip to the far west side of the Algarve we found the surfing beaches around Bordeira.
When we travelled to the far eastern side of the Algarve, we also found large stretches of sand beaches.
Get Off the Beaten Path and Find Small Portuguese Towns
You can visit the large tourist town of Albufeira and feel like you are in almost any beach resort town in the world. There is lots to do but it will feel like a less authentic Portuguese experience. But if you travel off the beaten path when you head south to the Algarve, there are lots of little towns with charm.
When we did our day trip to the western shores, we stopped for our coffee break in the little town of Aljezur. We wandered the main street, had coffee, visited the local market and then went high on the hill to the fort. From there we got a great view across the countryside.
When we toured the more eastern areas of the Algarve, we stopped in the old fishing village of Cacela Vehla. It was a well kept town. There was colour in the flowers and the buildings. Several small restaurants served seafood and local fare. The small church and cemetery were interesting to see. Looking out over the sand beach at low tide we could see fisherman at work.
Look For The Art and History
When you head south in the Algarve you will find small local museums everywhere. There are castles and forts in the seaside towns. Watch for the signs as you drive in Portugal and there are no end of stops along the way.
We were lucky to visit during the sand sculpture festival FIESA. It was a vast expanse of artistry in sand.
If you want to get really close to history, book a stay in a Pousada. We stayed in a palace at the Pousada Do Palacio de Estoi. The accommodations were modern and the food was great. But the treasure was the restored palace. Inside and out you could marvel at the beauty and history of another era.
The Trip Back To Lisbon
We had a great 9 days south in the Algarve. But it was time to head back to Lisbon. We had one night at an airport hotel before we flew to the Azores for 10 days.
The weather for our travel day started out ok so we decided to take the small country roads. The roads seemed to go up forever before they started back down. We pulled over at a lookout point just before the peak of the road. We were not the only one stopped for a look.
Our lunch break in the town of Almodovar provided us with an interesting view of local art. The metal sculpture of the cobbler sat in the centre of a roundabout. It was amazing to see the detail that was created with what looked like spare metal parts.
At the Almodovar convent, there was a stairway made of red shoes that led up to the second floor. When we looked close, we saw such variety in the shoes.
When the skies started to blacken, we headed back towards the interstate highway. We did not want to be on the narrow mountainous roads in the rain. We made it just in time! It was a wet trip into Lisbon. We were glad we were not heading south to the Algarve. We hoped that the weather for our visit to the Azores would stay dry.
Head South In the Algarve
Our visit to the Algarve was far too short. Every day we went out to explore. We found beaches, stunning cliffs, history and small towns. And we only did a small number of the things on our list.
We wish we had spent more time just lounging at one of the great hotels we stayed in. There is just so much to see and do when you head south in the Algarve! We were so glad that we included the Algarve on our 4 week visit to Portugal.
Did you head south in the Algarve? What was your favourite place to stay? How about your favourite day trip?
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Very nice commentary. I was not familiar with this part of Portugal. We are looking forward to visiting the Algarve on a future trip.
Greg, We absolutely loved all of Portugal but the Algarve gave us so many great new experiences – staying in a palace, a great sand sculpture park and the stunning scenery. I would highly recommend it but not in the summer. And stay away from Albufeira unless you want to party. Easy to move across the region if you pick one spot to stay. Linda
I’ve travelled all around the Libson coast and there’s some fantastic places to explore. I recommend Cascais!
Becky, We did visit Cascais area on our last short stop in Lisbon. We definitely will spend more time there on future trips. There was almost no place in Portugal that I didn’t like! Thanks for following our adventures. Linda
Always interesting to see other people’s views of places we’ve visited – we all see different things there. I remember that road in the Serra da Arrábida for the time that the clutch on our campervan started playing up. Fortunately we were able to get back to the campsite in Setubal for a few days while the Portuguese equivalent of the Automobile Association got us a replacement and fixed it. Our second attempt at Serra da Arrábida was successful and we continued out to the lighthouse at Cabo Espichel. Someone tried to break into the vehicle, but we were still within sight of it and whistled at them – we laughed at their attempt to walk off nonchalantly.
I am sure travelling anywhere in a camper van adds a new degree of worries. We are often worried enough just leaving a rental car anywhere. Hope it did not dim all memories of the Algarve.