Last Days in the Algarve

DECEMBER 1-2, 2021: Last night we arrived to our apartment in the Monte Santo resort in the dark. Today when we woke up to another bright sunshiny day, we finally could see the surroundings. The large, modern one-bedroom apartment had a big balcony (perfect place for breakfast) and was in a two-story building with five other apartments. There were several of these buildings on the resort, and they were connected by large grass lawn, ponds, and beautiful landscaping. The resort has several pools, a gym, a restaurant, bike rental, spa treatments, and other amenities. All this for 71 euros (about 250 shekel) a night per apartment. In general, especially compared to vacationing in Israel, Portugal is a relatively cheap destination.

We leisurely got organized and drove to the nearest town – Carvoeiro, a picturesque seaside village. We climbed up the stairs to the top of the hill overlooking the beach to take some photos and discovered a cliffside boardwalk. During peak season this must be a crowded place because it is clearly marked to walk only in a one-way direction, but now off-season, with very few tourists, people were walking back and forth along the 600-meter walkway. A very nice way to start the day.

From Carvoeiro, we drove to Ferragudo – a small fishing village known to be not as spoiled by modernism and tourism. The fishermen still go out and fish in the more traditional ways. Ferragudo was a good lesson in perspective – like most things in life, everything depends on which way you look at it. In photos on the internet, the town looks very quaint with the small fishermen’s’ boats and nets along the water. However, from the opposite angle, it looks very different. The small town sits exactly opposite a large city across a narrow inlet. From this angle, you see a large urban area, a big marina with huge yachts and even a cruise ship, all just a few meters from the sleepy fishing village.

This juxtaposition of natural and traditional on one side, and built-up on the other, is true all over the Algarve. It was evident in the natural marshes of the Rio Formosa on one side, and a golf course and private homes on the other. It was seen during yesterday’s cliffside walk with the amazing beach scenery on one side, and apartments, hotels, and private homes on the other.

From Ferragudo, we had a one-hour drive to Sagres. About halfway there, once we passed the turnoff to Lagos, the houses got further apart and the landscape became more natural.  Being in a more populated area, we once again had the option to go to a vegan restaurant. On the way, in the small village Vila Do Bispo (population 5,258) not close to anything, was Izzy’s Market Vegetarian Boutique – a small restaurant that turned fully vegan a few months ago. Once again (still find it surprising) the place was packed. The only table available was outside, which was not so pleasant – only 13 degrees Celsius and very windy. Luckily as we were waiting for our food, someone sitting inside finished and we were able to move to eat indoors.

In a blog about this area, I had read that nearby was a ceramic pottery store that was highly recommended. As some of you know, I collect a ceramic fish from each of our vacations. Sometimes these are fish that I hang on the wall, and sometimes these are free-standing ones that join the collection on my kitchen windowsill. We were getting towards the end of this trip, and I still had not found the perfect fish. We hoped that this pottery shop would have it. Unfortunately, when we got there, we discovered that they were closed for vacation for two weeks. Still no fish.

We continued onward to the Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress), the southwestern most point in Portugal. The huge fort is built on a narrow headland that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can walk around the outcrop, enjoying the panoramic views over the ocean and the rugged coastline. As we walked along the perimeter enjoying the beautiful scenery, I was worried about the many fishermen there. They cross over the fence and sit on the very edge of the high cliffs. Scary just to see them there.

As we returned to the fort entrance, despite the waveless ocean, we saw a beach with many surfers. This southwestern area of Portugal is known as a good surfing area. As we drove through the town Sagres, there were many surf shops, surfboard rentals, signs for surfing lessons, etc.

From the fort, in the distance we could see the Cape of Saint Vincent Lighthouse. This was our next destination. Although according to the internet, it was supposed to be open on Wednesday afternoons, when we arrived it was closed. We took a few photos, and then started the drive back to Lagos.

In Lagos, we were once again staying in the old historic district, but here our street was paved (not cobblestone) and relatively wide. A parking lot was available not too far away. We were going to stay here for the next two nights. We settled in, then lit Hanukah candles, had dinner and computer time. As a special, last day in the Algarve treat, we ordered a boat tour for tomorrow afternoon to the grottos near the Lagos coastline.

We had a lazy Thursday morning – woke up late to the loud patter of rain. Since we were staying here one more night, there was no organizing and packing to do. Today our goal for the morning was to find a ceramic fish for my collection. We hoped the weather would become sunny again soon. The rain finally stopped, and we left the apartment after 10:00, but many of the stores were still closed. In general, we learned that despite signs that say they open at 9:00 (maybe that is true during high season) now it was usually between 10:00 and 11:00. In walking around and going to several stores, we actually found two fish. Once we returned home to Israel, I sent a photo of the two fish to my kids with the caption – this was a two fish trip. My daughter in South Africa answered, “So I am guessing you bought the green one first, and when you saw the other one you decide it is nicer and you wish you saw it first, so you decide to splurge and get that one too” My kids know me very well – that was exactly how it happened.

After shopping, we walked towards the Lagos lighthouse. This was not pleasant – the strong wind made it difficult to walk. We gave up on reaching the lighthouse after a short while. We needed to be at the marina for the boat tour only at 14:45. There was still time to go to lunch at a vegan restaurant not far from the marina, but the marina was at the other end of the downtown area. It was a long, slow walk against the wind. We arrived at Fava Mercadio Café and luckily there was one table left indoors. As we ate more and more people came and waited for a table. They serve only one dish – the dish of the day (which was rice and curry) and soup.  For drinks, they had YAYA KOMBUCHA – Yaya is our daughter’s nickname so of course we needed to try it. The food was tasty, the drink was bubbly, and the room was cozy and warm – perfect.  

We reached the marina an hour before we needed to be there. By now, the sun had come out. We sat outside in one of the marina coffee shops and had coffee (me) and freshly squeezed orange juice (Mark). This was one hour of sitting in the sunshine and doing nothing – the most relaxed hour of this whole trip.

We met the tour operator and a woman touring from Germany who joined us on the boat. We did a spectacular 1 ½ hour trip along the coast and saw sandy beaches, rock formations, blue clear water, many cormorants, seagulls and some pigeons nesting. The driver was very skilled and took us through narrow passages and into small caves. Very, very enjoyable.

At the end of the boat tour, we returned to the marina and from there walked back to our apartment. The boat ride was a wonderful way to end our trip. Tomorrow we drive back to Lisbon, spend Shabbat in the same apartment we had a month ago, and on Sunday we fly back to Israel.

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