In case you are wondering about which country to pick for your next holiday, better yet, in Europe, think nothing beyond Portugal. This diverse country has a lot to offer – both for your senses and the soul. You’ll soon find out why.
Saying Bomdia to Lisbon
As I landed at the airport, a 13-hour long flight later with Turkish Airlines, my first point of contact was the info section, where I got to know that if you simply stood in the queue for the cab, you would eventually be in one. And so, with my bags tuck toed in the cab, I was off to an enchanting start as the vehicle zig zagged its way across the slopes and troughs with my eyes set at the picturesque city wading by. The first encounter with a city is always the most exciting one as it unfolds facets previously unknown nor discovered, almost like an exploratory mission, like you can never see the same city the way you do the first time. And Lisbon had me from the word go.
While the beautiful marina and the shore passed by on my left, the wide road ahead made way for curved bents crossing by a famous square and finally converging into a steep narrow slope, making a final halt at the hostel right at the corner. I met João, the host at Old Town hostel as he greeted me and helped find my way to the hostel room. Post recharging phone batteries and self, I pushed off for a quick tour about of the neighbouring areas.
The roads earlier unknown now started to become familiar. Strolling past the popular signboards of Baixa Chiado, my first stop came by in the mini padaria (A Padaria Portuguesa) at the road bent – where my famished self dived into the first bite of Pastel de nata (the famous custard tarts) clubbed with a wholesome sandwich (Sandes Frango).
Having traversed about the four corners of the quadrado, fashionably admiring the streets and soaking in the vibe of Lisbon, I made my way back to the hostel lest it got dark and I’d be lost in w(o)anderland alone.
Although my friend and I were up before sunrise, we literally just reached in time to catch our train to the much-awaited Coastal destination of Lagos (yes, this one’s in Portugal, not Kenya). What was rather funny about the train journey was that we changed trains, not once but three times over while making some time for a quick coffee with the Pastel de nata at one of the stations. Most people detest eating at stations, but I somehow find something interesting about the mini takeaway shops plonked at these stations and always end up checking them out (Duty free on airports, ring a bell!?).
After all the planning, rushing and finally covering a long distance over possibly by all means of transport, I was thankful as the train halted at the cosy looking station of Lagos. The wait was well worth it. On the sunny walk ahead, we crossed some shops advertising water adventure sports, dolphin watching tours and the like on the Algarve coast. The coastal Algarve region in Portugal throws open a myriad of possibilities, more so for beach lovers and water babies. I was already excited! The marina particularly caught my attention with a hoard of sailing boats in sight resting atop the crystal blue waters against the backdrop of a clear skyline.
On the other side of the wide-stance wooden bridge, a long queue of stalls made way for the best-looking cork bags to fancy looking tops being marketed in style. I curtailed my shopping pangs for indulgence later. Wading past the colourful lanes and open street restaurant seating, we allowed ourselves to meander only to finally find our BnB tucked at the sideway of a tri-crossing. Our host, João (yes same name again!) was rather forthcoming with helping us chart our way on the map and the must-do-beaches for our 2 day stay at Lagos.
And so off we set, beach-gear ready to explore the beautiful coastal town afoot. We crossed the snazzy streets in blue-white and yellow hues until we reached the water sprinklers laden pathway across which we would hit the coastline.
The long coastline made way for an exploratory affair with the stunning beaches of Lagos. The sidewalks gave us a landscape view of the coastline in all its hues and colors. For the first time ever, my eyes were beset on something so spectacular – cliffs and the sea!
We parked ourselves first at Praie Dona Ana beach, after a considerable walk along the cliff tops. A hearty meal at Marisol was all that my hungry self had been yearning for all this while! A freshly grilled golden bream(dourada) and mackerel (cavala assadas) was thus served.
The hues of blue, clear skyline, and the cute seagulls on the beach made way for a walking trail spanning the white and blue Portuguese houses until we reached the end of the road with the most spectacular views. Grasslands, the skyline merging with the blue waters, a quaint looking bridge and a lighthouse right by the corner – it was a picture-perfect setting right out of an old classic!
The next day was spent basking in the sunny glory of my favorite beach on the island- Pinhão. It is a pure delight in terms of the calm glistening ocean waters, tall-solid golden hued cliffs, and the privacy one can enjoy minus the commercialism!
The night life at Lagos had turned its sass on with peppy music keeping the street alleys abuzz on a starry night with gentle breeze and the most lip-smacking food comprising of mussels, clams, goat cheese, pâté, and garlic shrimps.
Bags packed, trailing our way past the harbour, we were off to Albufeira in the cutesy train. The charming coastal town of Albufeira had me going right from the picturesque drive from the train station to the time when I parked myself at our abode – Casa dos Arcos. A century old boutique hotel refurbished with antique furniture, dazzling chandeliers, paintings, book shelves and a beautiful verandah!
A change of clothes later, we toured about the buzzing city centre square before reaching the lane with a wide rocky tunnel leading up to the beach! The beach at Albufeira had a vibrant air to it. With a line of sunbeds, restaurants and ice cream parlors around, and a huge coastline – we chose a spot before taking a dip in the waters yet again!
A treat for the eyes, with the morning boat cruise, we spanned the waters cutting across the various islands, some, as our lady guide (with a bold voice) described, with houses worth 6 million euros! We crossed several channels and caves, while learning on the go of St Rafael beach, where Portuguese football team is known to party, to others like old rabbit, salgados and castle beach.
The highlight of the stay at Albufeira besides the scenic settings was our host back at the Bnb, Maria. One of the most charming, warm and hospitable people I have met, we made friends with her right from the time we checked-in. She played our local tourist guide when it came to the restaurants around, and we trusted her for her word.
Tasca do Viegas was thus chosen as our dinner spot and we gorged on yet another course of fresh sea catch teamed with Sagres and Super Bock, the two variants of popular beer! The town albeit with its chirpier night life (as compared to Lagos) and some club music in the open bars made for a ravishing stay.
Venturing onto the next big adventure, the last leg of my trip was spent getting lost in the charming streets of Lisbon! Our AirBnb hosts in Anjos, a less popular choice to stay at, were heavily into music and held practice sessions during day time with people joining in.
Rummaging about the city, we explored the various nooks and corners in the more popular areas of the upmarket Baixa Chiado, the romantically famed Alfama, Baira Alto, Cais do Sodre, and the neighbouring district of Belem.
While the mornings went by admiring the architecture, and wading past the nooks and corners, the evenings dazzled by its charm with the skyline exploding in a myriad of colors, and cool breeze gushing.
Lisbon felt like a strong concoction of memories worth cherishing forever. The sunsets by the riverside Cais de Sodré, the light fado music fading into the intriguing alleys of Alfama and Baira Alto, the sheer joy of discovering Nepalese dinner joint in the streets of Anjos, the sweet lady on the train who helped us master a few Portuguese words while we took turns to read the news in local paper, or the helping hand that came by with my suitcase in tow, which I mistakenly left at the coffee shop at the Albufeira station (yes, that happened for real!).
Velho Macedo by the street side was a golden find, we ended up going there twice.
Later that evening, we bought drinks from the street corner (quiosque do carmo), and enjoyed the breezy evening sipping away while admiring the city architecture.
The intriguing t(r)ails of Sintra made for an impressive getaway from the city rush. I had my share of paparazzi moments soaking in the sunlight with the colourful Pena palace (the highlight of any day trip to Sintra) in the backdrop. The rather vintage-gothic and grand 20th century residence, Quinta da Regaleira, should not be missed too. It makes for an interesting trail of cave, passageways, stunning viewpoints, and the famous Initiation well.
Last of my encounters with this city, the airport knocked a bell with me gobbling down the finishing bite of pastel de nata(this one was officially my last!) and going over a muted ‘Obrigado – prazer em conhecê’ (definitely worth googling the phrase) in my head to this wonderful city and it’s people.
If I had more time on my hands to explore an alternate Portugal itinerary, I would well spend it also exploring the old city Porto, famous for its bridges & port wine production, and then head back again, to enjoy a sun downer in the lesser known towns in Algarve.
Portugal is a thriller of a ride, not to be missed in this lifetime or any.