The Algarve, Portugal
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
If you would have asked me awhile back where I would be going for a week-long holiday, I reckon I would have laughed if your face if you said to the southern coast of Portugal. First of all, I probably thought I was going to be stuck in the United States and a short trip to Europe would be out of the question budget-wise, secondly, I probably thought that Southern Portugal was legitimately just beaches as well which is not my kind of scene. I like beaches and the ocean, but the idea of sitting in the direct sunlight with my pale complexion and doing nothing at all for a week after paying a hefty price is not my idea of the ideal vacation. That all being said, I like being proven wrong, and this was certainly one of those situations.
Jonathan and I had been saying that we wanted to go on a family holiday for awhile, so when the opportunity arose to go to Carvoeiro, Portugal for a week, we decided to do it. I wanted to visit a new country and Jonathan wanted to go back to the place that he spent countless hours on holiday as a kid. We started our holiday off early by going to Manchester the night before and having a nice dinner and early bed time without having to worry about getting to the airport stupidly early the next day.
Day 1: Saturday, the 20th of October we all got to Manchester airport at the crack of dawn to fly to Faro which was an interesting experience. It has been a long time since I have flown with anyone other than just myself, and I really enjoyed having company. There is something really soothing about having people to talk to while waiting in line for security and not being the emotional peanut moping through all of the airport protocol on my own. Every time I have been flying out of Manchester airport until this point of time was flying back to America on my own also, so it was also refreshing to connect flying with a positive experience.
We flew with Jet2 which was my first time on a "budget" airline and it was alright! Sure, you don't get free snacks and it seemed weirdly loud, but pretty much everything was the same and it was a fraction of the cost. I will say, though, that when we landed in Faro and we had to stay on the airplane for almost an hour because they couldn't get shuttles to the plane, I was definitely mentally knocking off points in my head because that was a really cramped and claustrophobic 50 minutes and all I wanted in life was to stand straight up. Immigration going into Portugal was easy, peasy, lemon squeezy and then we were off to our hotel!
The drive from Faro to Carvoeiro was tight (7 people, a driver, and a lot of luggage was quite snug), but it wasn't that long at all and it was interesting to hear the driver and members of the family that have been there before (literally everyone but me) talk about the places that we were driving past. The hotel that we stayed at, called Hotel Mirachoro Praia, was new for everyone because we got a really good deal with Jet2, and I don't have any complaints! The room was really large and felt very clean (honestly, what more could you want?), we had a beautiful balcony with a view over Carvoeiro and even a glimpse of the ocean, all of our rooms were quite near each other, the pool was freezing but quite large, and the complimentary breakfast was delicious! I know that a few of my fellow travelers were used to something more lush, but this girl has roughed it in bargain Airbnb's and sketchy hostels, so I was very pleased.
My favourite part of the day hands down was walking to Algar Seco, a short ten minute stroll from our hotel. I still can't believe that I could throw on some sandals and wander a few minutes to one of the most unique natural landscape that I have ever seen. The cliffs along the coast are remarkable when they are quite untouched, but where the water has eroded some of the cliffs and created amazing inlets and caves, it is even more magical. As someone who was land-locked for her entire life, I get so overwhelmed and amazed by such large bodies of water, and it was amazing to think that in a certain direction, the first bit of land you would meet would be America. I am so glad that I was able to go back multiple times throughout the week because... holy moly. I am hoping the pictures will speak a bit for themselves because I am finding it hard to describe!
After Algar Seco, we followed the boardwalk into the town centre and I got my first view of the beach and the overall architecture that one sees in Carvoeiro, and let me just say.... I was definitely a fan. It absolutely blows my mind that people can walk past it and not take more than 50 pictures of it because I was going camera crazy. I have been actively traveling for over four years now, and every time I go some place new, I am freshly amazed that people actually LIVE in places like this. Like, some people call this adorable little beach and white buildings home. It has to be a conspiracy, right?
Day 2: Our first full day in Portugal was engulfed by the majesty that is Zoomarine. As soon as you get off the plane, there are Zoomarine posters everywhere, and you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that they are spotted frequently on bilboards along the roads as well. I wasn't quite sure what to expect as everyone seemed to have a different opinion on how it compares to SeaWorld which is the only thing that I have to compare it to. If I had to make the comparison, I would say that there is not as much happening at Zoomarine, but it all feels a lot more intimate and familial. There are loads of shows and exhibits to see as well as some fun little rides and a nice beach, so it is safe to say that you will be busy for every minute of the day that you are there and will definitely get your money's worth. We had a bit of a fiasco getting there (our driver informed us that Zoomarine was actually closed when it turns out that it was not, in fact, so it was loads of fun trying to get that sorted quickly in order to assure we got our full day there). We got there just in time to assure that we got to all of the shows. My favourite was definitely the dolphin show (there may or may not have been large fountains of tears running down my face?), but also I have to say that seals may or may not be one of the cutest things that I have ever seen. They also have a full show for tropical birds as well as birds of prey, and also an acrobat show which was old school slap-stick comedy thrown upon a group of pirates.
One of the best memories from the day was the "rapids" ride in which you sit in what looks like a very large bottom of a barrel and ride along something that resembled a bumpy mini-river. Wow, what a description that is. We have all been in one before, it's nothing new, but I will tell you what, I have never EVER gotten so soaked on a ride like this before. Let's just say that despite the glorious sunny weather, I was still wet when we got back to the hotel and walking into a freezing room with full-blast AC in a damp outfit was terribly unpleasant. That being said, I had such a lovely day there and would definitely recommend it to others that will be in the Algarve area. The other thing that took place that day was that a handful of us went to a karaoke bar near the hotel and had a nice little evening out after a delicious dinner. This place has live music and karaoke nights which is such a fun and different form of entertainment and everyone is so supportive and lovely there, so I would highly suggest it if that's your kind of scene! Also, they had an Iowan flag on the ceiling which was so bizarre to see on the Portuguese coast! Love finding little things like that dotted across the globe.
Day 3: Day three was supposed to be the day that we took a coach to Lagos and Sagres and see some different parts of Portugal outside of Carvoeiro. I was really looking forward to seeing the spot that some people refer to as "the end of the world" because of history and geography (leave a comment if you have any idea about what I am rambling about). However, because nothing can ever be simple, we ended up binning off the little day trip half-way through. We were seated in the back of the coach, and after lots of winding roads and jerky driving from the driver, the majority of us were feeling really ill and gross once we reached Lagos, so we decided to go off on our own an figure out a way back that wouldn't make us feel gross. While I didn't get to see Sagres or "the end of the world", it was a blessing in disguise because I felt like I really got to explore the beautiful Lagos. The architecture there was stunning, there were fountains that I could run through (and if you've been with me for awhile then you know how much I love fountains!), and I had a really delicious cheese toastie when I was there which is always a good thing. This day felt the most like my past travels that I have had- just wandering around little side streets, slipping into little shops I have never heard of before, eating at the first place that we saw that had something we would like on the menu, etc. Sometimes, you find the most beauty when you least expect it.
Day 4 and 5: The next couple of days, we definitely slowed down the pace a little bit. The first few days in Portugal were so jam-packed that we were just burned out. Our days pretty much consisted of some souvenir shopping in the local shops and markets (I got an adorable hand-painted orange cat figurine), walking along the coast and beach (WOO- I might not like sitting on the beach doing nothing for days on end, but there is something majestic about walking among the waves and feeling your toes squish into the sand), and swimming in our freezing cold pool at the hotel. Pro-tip for people that have a really cold pool at your hotel, waiting until it is a sunny and warm day before you dip into the water. Trying to acclimate to the temperature of the pool when it is dreary and raining is almost impossible and you WILL be covered in goosebumps. While it may not make for riveting blog-content, having a few relaxing days are important when you are on a holiday, so I am glad that we had some time to just chill out. I will say that we found a new favourite restaurant called Bela Rosa that has amazing food, but even better service. The owner and his family were so personable and friendly, and I would highly highly suggest that you check them out. There was a Portuguese dessert that we couldn't find and they promised to make it for us if we came back again, so of course we booked for our last night immediately! Please check them out if you find yourself in the area.
Day 6: Day six was the land safari day which was another long day because we were out and about from early in the morning to late afternoon, but I feel like we did so much that we would never have done otherwise which is a great feeling. The day started off by visiting a Medieval castle, which is honestly how I want to start every single one of my days. Paderne Castle was beautiful, and even though we could not go inside or anything, it was so amazing to walk on the ground that people have been for literally thousands of years. Also, we learned little facts about it because we had Bruno as a tour guide which is such a bonus... so FUN FACT- Paderne Castle is one of the castles on the Portuguese flag.
We then went to Alte, where they have a natural swimming pool that I did not even attempt to swim in because of how cold I knew it would be, where there were loads of adorable street cats that looked a lot like my little Oscar, and most importantly where there was this amazing flaky almond pastry that tasted like a smooth baklava. I am a fan, folks. The views going into and around Alte were absolutely stunning and it was so bizarre to get some amazing pictures while standing up in a roofless land rover. It's official, standing up and feeling the wind through your hair while driving through the rustic Portuguese countryside, is the way to travel.
The day also brought us to a delicious little farm with fresh honey, spreads, and other Portuguese goodies. The brand is called Quinta do Freixo and they said that they ship, so if you're in the market for some Portuguese honey, jam, etc. you know where I would point you to. We also had traditional soups and pork for lunch as well as seeing some amazing views and getting oriented with the local wildlife while off-roading. If you have a large group of people, this is such an amazing and budget-friendly way to see parts of Portugal that only the locals really know about.
Day 7: Our last day was full of routine and just making sure that we did our favourite things one last time. We went to our favourite shops, ate at our favourite restaurants, and visited Algar Seco as the finale to our evening. That, on top of packing and a little bit of relaxation, meant that our holiday had officially come to close. The following morning, we checked out of our hotel and transferred to Faro airport, and in no time we were on our way back to Manchester. By the time we walked through our front door and gave our kitty lots of snuggles, it all almost felt like a dream. If I learned anything from this trip, it's to not judge a place by what the stereotypes may say and that you can never know what little details and unexpected happenings will change your perspectives and steal your heart. I feel so lucky to live in a place and be in a position where traveling to new places is a possibility, and I am so glad that I got to share it all with such an amazing group of people.
Here's to making memories, always.