After a week in Lisbon, it’s time to travel south to the Algarve region of Portugal, which is known for sandy beaches, amazing scenery, sunny weather and tourism. After the three hour train ride to Faro, we make our way to the airport via Uber to pick up a rental car and head out on the highway for the one hour drive to Luz.
Immediately we learn that there are three types of drivers on this particular motorway – us and a handful of others that stay in the right lane and drive the speed limit (120 km/h equals roughly 75 mph), a large number who pass us in the left lane traveling a little faster – likely 80-85 mph, and super speedsters that appear out of nowhere every 2-3 minutes and zip past at warp speed. No law enforcement officers are spotted during our drive to Luz.
We arrive in Luz without incident, and Google takes us directly to our Airbnb. Or maybe not. She announces that we have arrived, but among the many apartment buildings in the area, we don’t see one with the number we are looking for. And parking the car to take a closer look is out of the question, so we circle around and try again, this time taking the opportunity to park when we know we’re in the vicinity. Then we set out on foot to find our apartment. Still no luck, and our host isn’t around (he lives in London), so we venture into a nearby restaurant to summon help. A helpful server points us in the right direction, and we’re back in business.
The apartment is quite nice, and the location is superb – just a few blocks from a stunning beach with great views and a nice promenade along the shore.
After taking a walk through the downtown area and buying a few provisions at a grocery store, we make plans for our short stay, hoping to explore points in either direction of our home base in Luz.
Cabo de Sao Vicente Lighthouse
Our first destination is the iconic lighthouse located at the southwesternmost point of continental Europe, which is still functional today and a major attraction for tourists and, therefore, vendors of bad food and overpriced merchandise. For us, the attraction is the scenic view, and we spend about an hour wandering around the immediate area.
From the lighthouse, we drive north with no particular destination in mind but with the idea that we can cut across to the Atlantic coast at some point. We do so in the little town of Carrapateira (population 2,000) and follow an unmarked road to one of the most spectacular beaches we have ever seen – massive sand dunes, rugged limestone cliffs, beautiful shades of blue water, and rows of white capped waves breaking off shore. This is surfing country!
We spend a couple of hours walking the many boardwalks that overlook the expansive vista while protecting the fragile vegetation underneath. Words cannot describe the beauty, and we could stay hours longer except we’re starving!
After a relaxing lunch in the town of Carrapateira, we head back to Luz for an evening walk on the beach and through some upscale neighborhoods.
We spend the next day in Lagos, a town of about 30,000 residents situated just six miles east of Luz. Lagos seems much larger than its official population would suggest, because it’s a major holiday destination for tourists, many from the U.K., even in the off season. (Difficult to imagine how crazy it would be during the height of summer!) We eventually find parking and take off on foot to explore this resort town.
Because of its strategic location, Lagos played an important historic role during the so-called European Age of Discovery between 1400 and 1800. In the 15th century, Lagos was Portugal’s hub for maritime exploration of foreign lands and development of profitable trade routes. Lagos was also ground zero for the beginning of the African slave trade in Europe. In an effort to come to terms with Portugal’s role in trade practices that ultimately enslaved over 12 million Africans around the world, Lagos recently opened O Mercado de Escravos, or the Slave Market Museum, to tell the story.
After several false starts with Google, she eventually leads us to the museum, and we explore the exhibits. The collection is a work in progress, with additional efforts needed to weave the seemingly disparate exhibits into a compelling narrative about the origins and impact of slavery across the world. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction and adds an important and sobering perspective to our brief visit.
Ponta de Piedade – our primary reason for visiting Lagos – is an amazing area on the coast known for colorful rock formations, rugged cliffs, calm coves, hidden caves and small beaches. In other words, it’s a required stop on the photo tour of the Algarve. Not surprisingly, it’s crawling with people just like us who want to experience it up close and personal. We spend at least two hours exploring on foot, including a trek down (and back up) the nearly 200 steps to a tiny beach and more walking up top on an extensive network of boardwalks.
Another spectacular day in the Algarve. If you visit Portugal, we highly recommend spending a few days exploring this region!
Our next stop is Tavira – another coastal town in the Algarve located about 75 miles east of Luz. Stay tuned for more adventures from Portugal!