Leave Your Heels Behind: A Road Trip to the Algarve in Portugal

From Lisbon to the Algarve

After renting a car from Europcar, we began our road trip down the coast to Portugal's southernmost region, the Algarve.

Our first challenge: navigating roundabouts—traffic circles—which seemed to appear every few feet. We made our way out of the airport and onto the highway.

South we went. Our route: Lisbon to Evora to Sagres to Lagos to Faro and then a bus from Lagos to Sevilla, Spain.

Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site, more than 2,000 years old. 

Hungry, our first stop after checking into the Vitoria Stone Hotel was lunch at Vinho e Noz where we dined with local families on black pork loin and wild boar stew with chestnuts.

Fortified, we entered the city walls and tackled the sites of Evora: the Temple of Diana and the Church of San Francisco were our main destinations. There is also a craft museum and the Museum of Sacred Art and many stores and cafes.

The Church of San Francisco was constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries. After walking through the beautiful church, we paid 2 euros to enter the Chapel of the Bones. It is a sobering site—the bones of nearly 5,000 corpses are said to be there. The story is that there were too many cemeteries and the monks decided to put them on display as a statement about the fleetingness of life.

The next morning we were off to the Algarve. 

But first, a side trip to Cromeleques de los Almendres.

A supposedly short 17-kilometer trip, we started off on a paved road. We were dubious when the signs pointed to a dirt road. It was a bumpy, slow ride for 5 kilometers. With pouring rain and the muddy road, we began to question the wisdom of the side trip in our Citroen.

Finally, we arrived at a fence with a dirt area for parking. We could go no further. Out of the car and into the drizzle.  

A short walk brought us to the sacred site of Cromeleques de los Almendres. For more than 7,000 years, these megalith monuments have stood in a circle. In the drizzle, with hardly a soul in sight, it was easy to muse about what might have taken place in 4000 or 5000 B.C. What kind of rituals took place here? Who came? Did they observe the constellations in the night sky?

Back to the car for the rest of the trip to Cape St. Vincent—the western most tip of Portugal. We were here to see a dramatic sunset on the coastline of Portugal. It was an easy 3-hour drive along a well-maintained highway (A6) with many tolls (best get the pass that pays for the tolls with the car) and many, many roundabouts. Our fellow Portuguese drivers liked to tailgate and they rarely use their horns.

We arrived at Cape St Vincent—the most southwestern end of the European continent with the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocky cliffs and seemingly stretching to the ends of the earth.

The dusk sky was breathtaking in its glory of pinks and amber hues. We climbed the lighthouse for dramatic views of the rocks.

After the sunset we returned to Lagos and checked into the Costa D’oro Ambiance Village for the night. Dinner was at Restaurant o Camilo right above Camilo Beach. We had excellent fresh fish, wonderful service and a chocolate mousse dessert to die for. We had the seared tuna with sesame seeds and a catch of the day fillet with clams in olive oil (this was very good but would have liked more clams!)

The next morning in the Algarve was reserved for Camilo Beach and Ponte da Piedade.

230 steps down. 230 steps up.

Recommended to us by a friend living in Lisbon, Camilo Beach seemed a bit too many stairs for a morning’s walk. We walked to the edge of the stairs and peered down. It was January. The sunny was shining and it was a pleasant 55 degrees.

What the heck—Let’s go halfway, then decide.

Halfway we stopped to admire the rock formations. Before we knew it, we were on a postage stamp-sized beach. Waves gently lapping the shore. A cave connected us to another beach, nearly the same size. Not a soul in sight. Definitely worth 460 steps.

After Camilo Beach’s 460 steps, we were more than ready for Ponte da Piedade 192 steps down. The steps were not too steep, but we definitely needed walking shoes for this day.

We saw spectacular rock formations rising from the sea with caves and grottoes with waves crashing at the bottom of the stone steps. In the summer there are boat trips to the grottoes but they were not operating in January.

Our road trip in the Algarve was coming to a close. 

We made some brief stops in Alvor to Prais beach for a picnic and to watch some very brave wind surfers, and Portimao which is a bigger town with a business area.

Our last stop was Faro where we stayed just outside the city walls.

fotografia da Villa Romana de Milreu do sítio internet Algarvivo, a quem agradecemos.

One last side trip to the Roman ruins at Nucleo Museologico da Villa Romana de Milreu in Estoi (10km from Faro). 

The ruins date from around the around the 1st century. Once again we had the site to ourselves and in the stillness could imagine the Romans walking the grounds. Most of the ground still sports mosaics and friezes, especially around the bath areas.

Estoi is a small town with a palace that has been converted into a poussada (guesthouse), a lovely church—Igreja Matriz—that is a centerpiece of the village, and a Cemetery.

It was time to drop off the car and hop on the bus to Seville, Spain.

-- Sue Davies and Regina Ang

Sue Davies and Regina Ang have been to more than 50 countries and five continents around the world. They are based in the New York area. Regina grew up in Singapore while Sue is a native New Yorker. They like to go off the beaten track and have adventures along the way—sleeping in an ice hotel, hanging out with bears in the Alaska wilderness, chasing the northern lights across Scandinavia, following a black rhino in Tanzania, racing donkeys in Petra, Jordan, seeing the magnificence of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia and camping in the Sahara desert.

CLICK HERE to visit their travel blog, Travel for Life Now


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