I never knew too much about Portugal. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know how to say “hello” in Portuguese when we first got to Portugal. After a 3 day excursion in Algarve, I can say it is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have been to yet, with the nicest, friendliest people who go out of their way to help you.
The Algarve the southern coast of Portugal. It’s a popular tourist destination because of the short winters and good year-round temperature. It is a mountainous region well-known for its awe-inspiring coast, most considerably Praia da Rocha, or Rock Beach. Most of the coast has incredible rock formations where falling rocks have created cliffs over time that drop right into the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the constant waves crashing against the cliffs, you can also find many sea caves, and secret beaches accessible by boat in some locations.
SEA CAVE TOUR BY BOAT
The best way to explore the coast is by water, whether by boat or kayak. James and I visited in March and it was a little too cold for a kayak, but we took a boat tour on a small gondola type boat that was able to enter the caves. The boaters were experienced sailors that knew every nook and cranny from Portimão to Silves and took us into the best nooks and crannies for photos. They also pointed out popular beaches such as Paradise Beach and sea towns like Carvoeira; it was a unique perspective to see the towns and beaches from the water rather than by land. If ever in Portimão, I recommend the River Trip To Silves boat trip with Adriano. Adriano and his father are excellent guides and are one of the few companies to offer trips out of the high season (as long as the weather is good!)
We stayed at Hotel Santa Catarina, just across from a beautiful, big beach in Portimão. The hotel itself was wonderful! Fancy 3 star hotel with a big balcony that gets sun all day long. Our beach view was beautiful, although slightly blocked by Hotel Algarve across the street. Beach access was a little tricky: we either had to walk pretty far to get public beach access or sneak through Hotel Algarve to go out that way. Also across the street in Hotel Algarve was a pretty big casino. The water was very cold still, being the Atlantic Ocean, but the beach was wonderful. Hotel Santa Catarina had big spacious rooms that were very comfortable to be in, but there’s so much to see in Portugal that we didn’t want to be in the hotel room! We started with the free included breakfast then went on the sea cave excursion, to check out a biergarten in Porches, and to wander the city of Portimão. Hotel Santa Catarina was only a few steps to the main street of restaurants, pizzerias, cafes, bars, clubs, pubs, and entertainment. Even in the off-season of March, there was plenty to do!
As a sub post to the Hotel Zone, I have to mention Bacchus Bar, a cool spot to eat in the hotel zone of Portimão. The owner, Artur, opened his bar 41 years ago and was the first bar in town outside of a hotel. He and his wife rescued a parrot and dog who are now iconic residents of the bar. The parrot will greet you as you walk in, and you may even see him wandering around the bar (be careful where you walk not to step on him!) The dog makes her appearances to each table for a scratch and a pet throughout the night. Artur is a world traveler who speaks many languages with good enough fluency to crack jokes and make nicknames and is very friendly. He has flags from Europe, USA, and Canada outside the bar and flags, jerseys, banners, and other goods inside from all over the EU. The food is delicious and very well priced, offering everything from a full dinner of Portuguese style steak for €12 to a small but so-good-I-dreamed-about-it chicken sandwich for €2.75. The tables make it easy to eat, and the couches make it a cozy place to relax with friends. This bar is a must-visit when visiting Portimão!
PRAIA DA ROCHA
Praia da Rocha, or Rock Beach, is a must see if you visit Algarve. The beautiful rock formations form cliffs that drop off into sand, then the rocks rise up in the sea again. Unfortunately that makes it not very safe for swimming outside of the designated area, but you can take a long walk and admire the beautiful natural scenery. There is a big rock in the ocean (pictured above) that has a rope attached to climb also. There are beach caves the cliffs here which allow some sunlight if hit at the right angle. Some of the cliffs protrude into the ocean so at high tide, walkers have to wade knee-deep to get around them. This is the perfect place to sunbathe with amazing views and constant sunlight, but watch out for falling rocks!
BY THE WAY…
I learned the very basics of Portuguese while in Portugal. Olá is hello, adeus is goodbye, obrigado is thank you, por favor is please, amigo is friend, bom dia is good morning, boa tarde is good afternoon, and boa noite is good evening/night. Other than that, everyone speaks English wonderfully, especially being a big British tourist area. But it is always shows appreciation of other cultures to greet people in their own language, if possible!