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Portugal Travels in the Algarve and Lisbon, Feb. 15 - Mar. 1, 2024

Doug Phillips

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Algarve

“We’ve rented an apartment in the Algarve for 8 weeks. Want to come over for a visit?”


Lifelong friends had rented a 2-bedroom apartment for 2 months in the oceanside village of Salema, west of Lagos. They invited us to visit – and that’s how we got to the south of Portugal in February. We had ten days visiting our friends and 4 days in Lisbon, before returning home to Canada.

It wasn’t our first time in the Algarve

In October 2002, Liz & I made our first Slow Travel visit to Europe, a few years before I had heard of the term Slow Travel. We spent 12 days in the Algarve region and 4 days in London. We had a great time. It was the start of our almost annual excursions to parts of France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey until Covid. We have traveled by ourselves or with up to five friends. We have traveled with our four children and one of our grandsons at different times. But we had never been back to the Algarve.

In 2002 Europe was in the early years of the Eurozone. We could see signs of the onset of significant development. The skyline of Portimao, for example, was dominated by construction cranes. But most restaurants and tourism-related businesses were about to shutter their doors for several months. Twenty-two years on, the results of all the development were evident everywhere we looked – expanded and improved road network, thousands of low-rise and high-rise residential buildings, new commercial hubs and services, and vibrant economic activity in the middle of February.

We revisited some familiar locations from our previous time in the area – Lagos, Silves, Alvor, Porches, Sagres, Praia do Vau, but most days our friends took us on roads less traveled – to beaches on the west coast - Castelejo, Amato, Monte Clerigo; to the nearby Vila do Bispo for shopping at the local market; to the remarkable restored village of Pedralva; to the remains of the Forte de Almadena; to the village of Alferce high in the hills beyond Monchique; to the traditional village of Burgau, more than once. We stopped in Figueira for a drink one day – had thoughts of returning for dinner, but didn't make it back. All of these places were a reasonable drive from our base in Salema. Salema is an attractive village with evidence of recent construction and renovations along with some traditional charm – a lovely beach, some good restaurants, and a pharmacy.

When I posted about our upcoming time in Portugal, I received two "blasts from the past". One was from a friend who we have seen twice in the last 48 years - well, she lives 3000 miles away on the west coast of Canada. Our times in the Algarve overlapped - so we met for lunch one day in Lagos. The other was from a friend who we visited in Chicago about 10 years ago. We were going to be in Lisbon at the same time & they had already booked accommodations on the advice of a friend. So we followed suit and stayed at the same place. We shared two dinners with them.

Some of our best days were unplanned. An American couple in another apartment in our building invited us to an evening of Fado music in a restaurant in Sao Joao. A novel experience for me, who knew nothing about Fado. At the restaurant, we sat at a long table with a few other people, one of whom, a former English actress, has operated a B&B guesthouse in Burgau for 50 years. This charming lady invited us for breakfast at her home, Casa Grande, the next day. Wonderful experience & memory!

Another day, coming back from a visit to Silves, my friend saw a sign for Alferce and turned right instead of continuing down the hill. We drove up and through several valleys planted with thousands and thousands of citrus trees, mainly oranges. And we came upon a grove of cork trees outside the village. Alferce is an attractive village, but it was almost deserted when we were there.

Where we ate:

Best Breakfast – Casa Grande, Burgau

Best Lunch – O Sargo, Monte Clerigo beach

Best Mid-Afternoon pause: O Sapinho, Figueira

Best Dinner – (Tie)
  • Love Burgau, Burgau
  • O Cangahlo, Sao Joao
  • Boia, Salema
  • The Spice Cottage, Salema
We had most breakfasts and some dinners in the apartment, with produce from the local market at Bispo, but there were several options in Salema and nearby. On our first evening, we dined at The Spice Cottage, an Indian restaurant steps from the apartment. Another evening we splurged a bit at Boia, a local fish restaurant. There was also a popular sushi restaurant in Salema, but we never made it there. Our night of Fado music was at O Cangahlo, a restaurant in Sao Joao. On our second-last evening in the Algarve, we returned to Burgau once more for a most enjoyable time at Love Burgau, a pizza place with a lively atmosphere. Lotsa fun.

Lisbon

We had never been to Lisbon. We spent 3 full days in the city getting acquainted - a 2-day Yellow Bus hop-off, hop-on pass, a tram tour of the hills of the city, a day in Belem, a trek up to and down from the Castelo do Sao Jorge. We took the elevator up to the Carmo district, a very attractive part of the city, We spent some time in and around Rossio Square and the impressive Praca do Comerico on the Taigus River. One of us visited a few stores on Rua Augusta.

Our apartment was great! We stayed at Casas da Baixa Jules & Madeline. A place to consider if you are planning a visit to Lisbon.

Where we ate:
  • A Primavera do Jeronimo - a small family-run Portuguese restaurant on a narrow street a short cab ride from our apartment. The cab gets you close, but you have to find the street and address on your own. Recommended by Deborah Johnson Horn. Well worth the effort
  • Carnal - a Mexican restaurant in Lisbon!
  • Pizzaria Tapas La Famiglia - our last 2 nights. On the same street as our apartment, only about a 2-minute walk. Excellent reviews. We enjoyed our time there. There is another highly recommended restaurant even closer to our apartment - Sto Restaurante & Mercearia - but the were no tables available when we were in Lisbon.

What was the best part?
  • That’s easy – spending time with friends we have known for decades.
    • ... and having somebody else do the driving.
    • ... and the new places we visited. I thought I knew a bit about the Algarve, but my knowledge was woefully out-of-date.
    • ... and meeting up with other friends in Lagos and Lisbon
    • ... and spending a few days in Lisbon, a new city for us
    • ... and escaping our Canadian winter for a couple of weeks
 

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Last edited:
Thank you for writing up your trip! I enjoyed following along. Your photos are great and what fun you had with your neighbors and learning about Fado music! It seems the most fun experiences are those that just happen in the moment.
 
Thanks for writing. Down on the Algrave everything seemed very lush and green, with flowers, it looks nice....
Was Lisbon as impossibly crowded with tourists as people say?
Lisbon was busy, but the only place we were inconvenienced was Belem - long lines for both the monastery & the Tower. Likely more crowded in the warmer months.
 

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