Road Trip From Lisbon to Lagos
The landscape while travelling down south to the Algarve region is quite different from that of southern Spain’s. The landscape changes colour many times throughout the journey from deep foliage green to light brown crops. On the rolling hills are the whitewashed homes with terracotta red-brown roofs and throughout some fields are dots of ancient olive trees with their twisting thick trunks and small green leaves.
We turn off the A2 near the southern town of Faro and head west along the A22 towards Lagos. The scene to our left is one of commercialisation: water parks. Multi-coloured twisting slides rise up from the ground in the distance and cause some excitement in the very back of the car for Billie and Dacey. But we’re not going there on this trip. All goes quiet again. The Portuguese landscape now changes from farmland of brazen wheat crops, rows of deep green wine grapes and olive groves to manicured light green golf courses. The Algarve area of Portugal is well known for its range of pristine golf courses, beaches as well as adventure water parks.
We call our Airbnb host Tiajo 20 minutes out from arriving into the town of Lagos. GPS TomTom takes us down some very quiet and roads with overgrown grass and scrub on either side. We drive along a road that’s just not wide enough to comfortably manage two cars passing by each other so we breath in each time a car approaches. The first thoughts of Lagos: rugged, untouched, natural. We’re in love already.
We settle in and meet Tiajo who opens up the externally white apartment and gives us a tour – three bedrooms all upstairs, rounded outdoor balconies on each with a view, a shared bathroom upstairs and another downstairs, a large open kitchen and lounge area that opens up outside to a tiled patio where there are outdoor chairs, a table and an umbrella as well as an outdoor BBQ. From our bedroom’s balcony we climb up the external staircase and enjoy a roof top view of the beach directly in front of us with the sprawling whitewashed town of Lagos to the right. Just perfect. I know the girls are happy because they’re even unpacking the car for us while we’re preoccupied talking and getting a quick overview of the best spots to go and visit from host Tiajo.
Tiajo pulls out a Lagos tourist map and marks up all the great spots to eat, drink, club, and visit. Lagos it seems is a destination that has lots to offer the wandering soul. Now I’m wondering if we’re going to fit everything in that we want to do and see here in just the two days we’ve dedicated.
After Tiajo leaves us, Steve and I drive to the local supermarket and stock up on food supplies while the kids stay back at the apartment and relax. We return to a bunch of slugs sitting on the couch happily occupied on their devices. It’s been a long day of driving and although we haven’t done much physical activity, we’re all feeling drained so very content to chill at the apartment. Steve and I go up on the roof top and sit up there with a wine, beer, cheese and crackers and enjoy the million-dollar view we have as ours for the next couple of days. The beach is just a stone’s throw away across the road and the train tracks and the views towards Lagos are amazing. Heaven!
Charlie and Ash decide to walk down to the beach Sao Sebastian with the drone to get it up on the beach. It’s been a while since we’ve had a bit of space to play with the drone. They return to the apartment a bit disappointed as it’s still not working properly for some unknown reason. Charlie seems to have lost her confidence with flying the drone and all the technical aspects that come with it. I think she’s just petrified of losing it to the water or crashing it into a tree! Ash thinks it’s go to do with her as each time she and Charlie do something with the drone, something goes wrong!
So Steve and I walk down with Charlie and the drone and Billie and Dacey follow too and we get the drone back up in the air and it’s flying great. Charlie is so happy and is able to get some fantastic footage of the beach and the town of Lagos in the distance. Billie and Dacey roll around in the sand wrestling and playing together. They’re a funny sister-duo these two together and now their hair and pockets are full of white sand.
It’s peaceful and calm and quiet down here. I imagine sitting myself down on the edge of the sand, where the still soft and dry sand meets the compacted wet, and watch the waves roll in and crash on the shoreline and contemplate life. The sand is a beautifully soft and white with scattered bits and pieces of shells throughout.
I’m already thinking can we stay longer? Charlie gets some footage from her drone for me to use on my blog. So here’s my romantic perspective of Lagos so far…(thanks Charlie!)
The sunset is spectacular tonight and presents a sky show of vivid pink and yellow streaks that paint the bright blue sky. It’s breathtaking to be within it. We’re excited to be here in Lagos.
When you have access to a location such as this, there’s no time for sleeping in. Charlie sets her alarm and we rise early to see the sunrise and we’re out the door and down the beach with drone and camera in hand for some magical first light photography and videoing at Sao Sebastiao beach. There’s no one here at 6.30am except for a couple of dedicated solo walkers along the beach. It’s vacant and it’s all ours.
Charlie has the drone back up in the air and all is going well. She’s wanting to grab some footage up high of the coastline, but the plan changes as we have some friends arrive. Our new interested friends are large gulls who, if given the chance, seem keen on taking the drone down. I’m guessing there must be a gull family or some nesting going near here as the one interested bird brings back a bunch of its friends who are all circling above us. Charlie lands the drone on the beach and turns it off and we walk further along the beach trying to lose our interested feathered friends and it works. Before long the drone is back up buzzing high above us in the sky capturing the Atlantic Ocean and the beach in the soft golden rays of sunrise.
Our Kayaking Adventure
We head back to the apartment and get ready for a morning out of kayaking with The Kayak Centre in Lagos. I had pre-booked our kayaking session back in Lisbon just to make sure we wouldn’t miss out if it was busy in Lagos on the weekend. We leave our apartment just outside of Lagos and travel to Praia Porto de Mos which takes an easy 12 minutes to reach on the other side of Lagos. There we meet Danny and her kayak helper Sebastian near the marina under the big palm tree. I’m glad there is just one palm tree so they’re easy to find.
I discover that Danny is a woman! I assumed with a name like Danny signing off on the emails she would be a man. So I’m surprised to meet Danny the woman! It becomes clear early on in the meeting of them both that Danny and Sebastian are very friendly people. They assist by fitting the six of us out with lifejacket and paddle and before we know it we’re walking down to the beach to our kayaks. Unfortunately, I have to leave my camera behind, as it’s not waterproof and the risk of getting wet and ruined is high. But I take my iPhone along and wrap it securely up in one of the water proof bags Danny provides. The girls are all very excited about this adventure as they haven’t experienced kayaking. When I mention that we’re going into the sandstone caves along Praia Dona Ana and stopping off at Ponta da Piedade (a beach) for a snorkel and lunch (BYO homemade wraps that got a tad wet as the ice contraption that Steve devised leaked quite a bit) they are all smiles.
For three hours we kayak along the coast up to the caves and go exploring hugging the right hand side of the caves and being aware of all the other groups of budding kayakers and tourist boats wanting to see the caves as well. The caves are a wondrous natural specimen and are absolutely spectacular close up while floating on the water. The colours of the caves are shades of ochre yellows and browns while the contrasting ocean changes colour from dark blue to a bright turquoise colour. It’s as if parts of the water near the corners of the caves is lit up by lights underneath.
This activity, I could imagine, would be mayhem in the peak summer months. There are many small speed boats, other tourist boats and other kayakers competing for the same small spaces but we all manage to see the caves and navigate our way in and out in our twin kayaks. Poor Steve has a lower back issue, and sitting in the kayak without any back support while he’s seated at right angles with his legs out front is really not comfortable for him or his his back, so he lies further back, almost flat down, in the back of our kayak to get some relief while still paddling. It’s a funny site and we get some funny looks from people in boats swishing by. Charlie and Ash are doing great and so are Billie and Dacey. It’s not very often that I have hit the bullseye when it comes to EVERYONE really enjoying a family activity. Yay for mum!
Danny tells us that they have had to cancel the last three days of kayaking as it’s been too choppy. So we are very fortunate to have booked on a day that is perfect for kayaking.
Charlie has brought two GoPros along to capture the moment so Billie has the older GoPro in her kayak. There has been a couple of instances where the girls were getting a bit snarky with each other for not paddling in rhythm or hard enough, but overall a great family team building exercise with a lovely view and cool environment. We get to know some of the other kayakers on our paddling adventure too – Meaghen and Tim from Toronto in Canada and two women from northern Germany. We chat about our RTW trip away for 2017 with our family and they to be a part of our family, or as middle-aged Danny says she’ll be our 5th daughter and tag along with us and her kayaks! The girls roll their eyes.
Although they’re having a wonderful time experiencing the world and its people, they are missing their friends and peers back home. And although they keep in contact with their friends back home via social media, making some friends on the road would be a welcome sight right now.
The conditions at the secluded but popular Ponta da Piedade are perfect for snorkelling, and before I can say hey let’s get some goggles to the kids they’ve already grabbed a snorkel off Sebastian and they’re at the shoreline wading into the water to start 20 minutes of snorkelling and following fish. Danny tells us her life story of moving from south Berlin Germany to Portugal and never making it back home. She adores life in Portugal, the weather, the culture and loves what she does – kayaking on the Atlantic. She’s off to Indonesia in January and February working as a dive instructor too but unfortunately we will just miss her as we should be there sometime in November. She’s so warm and friendly I could just wrap her up and take her with me! She’s the kind of person who makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable in any situation. Such a beautiful human being.
The cost of kayaking for our family of six was 170 euros for three hours with The Kayak Centre. Highly recommended if you’re keen to see something different and for some exercise and lots of fun.
We returned to the marina kayak meeting point with lethargic arms and legs. We all had big happy smiles on our faces because it was such an enjoyable thing to do. Danny was so lovely that she came around and hugged each and every one of us goodbye and wished us all the best on the rest of our year long journey.
Sagres: The End of the World
Next it was back to the apartment for a rest and to get ourselves ready for a trip to the southwestern most point of all of Europe – Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vicente. This area is still referred to by its 14th Century Age of Discovery name ‘the end of the world’. I’m excited to see this part of Portugal – the final point of known European land that the Portuguese explorers would sail past before turning into unknown and unchartered territory.
It takes us about 50 minutes to reach Fortaleza de Sagres from Lagos in our hire car. The fort has one defensive wall on its southern edge as the other three are guarded with 60-75m high sheer cliffs. The view is spectacular and completely open to all the elements. There is nothing obstructing our view like walls on the headland or wire boundaries here either. It costs 3 euros each to enter the fort complex and once inside it’s a barren and isolated headland landscape. There is a 1.5km walking track along the cliff edge with a decomposing wooden railing fence. We notice that not much can flourish and grow here due to the sea air and strong gale winds except a variety of low lying scrub with plenty of rocks. But I do manage to find some plant life there.
And boy was it windy! We saw some fishermen casting their lines out over the sheer vertical drops of the cliff on the eastern side of the headland and they were catching fish and getting snagged. Of course it was a great spot for photographs and video. Actually I couldn’t stop (but that’s nothing new)! It was a photographer’s paradise and the girls loved the views as well as the gusting winds as it cooled everyone in the high 30-degree heat.
We drove further along the coast to the most southwestern point of Portugal and we ventured out again fighting against the strong wind to peer over the edge of the cliffs and watch the brutal Atlantic Ocean waves crashing up against the rocks. Wow! At this point there is a small community of pop up shop stalls, a museum, a gift shop with everything marked with the tag ‘Sagres’ or ‘End of the World’ and a cute but powerful lighthouse which, according to my reading, is the brightest Lighthouse light in all of Europe that can be seen 45km away. We are drawn to the comforting shelter of the cafe at the appropriately named End of the World café and sit down and purchase a couple of cool Sagres beers and a round of Pasteis de Nata and do our bit of celebrating for today’s National Portugal Day. And although the name of this town is called Sagres, the beer unfortunately is not brewed here. The Nata’s have a stronger cinnamon flavour to them here which is nice and they taste so good that we order another round. More smiles from the kids!
We quickly hear an accent we’re familiar with. A small group of Kiwis arrive in tight bike shorts and we chat with these travellers who are riding their bikes around Portugal from point to point. They are truly committed international older bike riders who check bikes in under the plane on their travel journeys. They enjoy a much needed cold ice cream as we say goodbye and good luck against the windy conditions. They don’t seem too fussed.
After enjoying the beer and pastries (yes I realise that’s a weird combination), we walk into the gift shop that has a spectacular arched window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the headlands. We strike up a conversation with the young Portuguese retail assistant and after we share that we’re from Australia she tells us that Australia is the country she wants so desperately to visit…but she can’t. We assume she can’t due to some kind of financial constraints (as that has been a general consensus when meeting people from Europe), but she says it’s not that in fact the reason she’s not going to Australia is because she’s afraid of spiders! Really? So the next few minutes we chat to her and try and coax her into still travelling to Australia regardless of what she reads or hears on the internet about the spiders. She laughs and we do too and tell her she must get there before she talks herself out of it! It’s amazing what fears people have about travelling to foreign countries. This one was the most unusual I’ve heard for some time though.
Steve and I walk out to the barren headland again while the girls walk back to the car to take shelter from the unrelenting beating wind. I just want to soak up this beautifully rugged and unique experience of being here and imagining what it must have felt like to be a Portuguese explorer in the 14th Century sailing past the last known land on their left before turning to who knows where – maybe they thought they’d never return to their families and their great country Portugal again. Maybe their thinking was that they’d sail around this headland and over the edge of the world.
We return to our apartment after stopping off at the supermarket for supplies to make dinner. I’m completely windswept and my hair is a knotted birds nest. Plus some of us, including me, have burning shins from too much sun while paddling in the kayak. I’m eager to get back to the apartment tonight to not only apply some after-sun treatment to the shins but also because I’m starting an online course with Global Degree called the Inspiration Series. Since being away I haven’t been wearing my watch so due to not knowing the actual time, I’m already running late. I enjoy these online courses that stretch my mind and my knowledge plus it’s a great way to connect with other likeminded people who are passionate about travel and creating a purposeful life.
I’m feeling inspired after standing at the cliff known as the end of the world and plan on creating something meaningful and purposeful in the world. There are about 20 participants in the Global Degree online course, and now I have some new online buddies who are also passionate about travel and learning some really cool stuff.
PS – We’ve decided to stay an extra night here in Lagos and Steve’s phoned the hire car company as well as the Airbnb owner and all okay to extend out mini-trip away for one more night in the Algarve. This means we can relax a bit more and get out to see the actual town of Lagos and not have to rush off tomorrow. It just means the girls will have to catch up with their missed Monday school work on Tuesday – well that is only Dacey and Ash have to forge ahead as Charlie and Billie are already both ahead.
Since we’re here for an extra day, there’s no need to rush off today. Woohoo! So we plan on getting out to see the city of Lagos – the old and new parts and Steve and I want to enjoy a traditional Portuguese lunch at one of the Lagos restaurants Tiajo recommended that’s open for Sunday lunch. It’s called Forja or “Blue Door”. It’s been highly recommended and we should be there no later than 11:30am as it’s a very popular restaurant and fills quickly. We’re here to order the Sunday lunch specialty of traditional Portuguese duck.
Eating Duck at Forja, Blue Door Restaurant
We drive to Lagos with the GPS TomTom set to get us to the intersection of Rua dos Ferreiros and Rua Dr Faria e Silva but soon enough we’re in hot water. The seven-seater hire car Steve’s driving is being placed into extremely narrow roads and we get that feeling that we may not get the seven-seater hire car out of the old town of Lagos. Steve is really starting to panic, as sweat beads form on his brow but we’re just hoping that the sharp hair-pin turn coming up on the digital map of our GPS TomTom that’s being displayed is not really as bad as it looks.
Let’s just say it gets a bit ugly inside the car with Steve saying this is BS (which he doesn’t usually do). It doesn’t help that I’m cool as cucumber and taking photos of the amazing street scape in the passenger seat as we drive into the old town trying to navigate our way in a long seven-seater car. The kids are sitting in the back with eyes and mouths wide open sitting on the edge of their seats as this situation is starting to look diabolical.
We pass the destination of the restaurant and reach the hair pin turn, and make it. But just. It’s something European drivers are all too familiar with and have expertise in – narrow roads, tight turns and even tighter parking conditions. But we Australians are not used to these tiny spaces. And driving long cars that fit a family of six and possible the family dog in is quite stressful. At one point I had a vision of the car literally getting stuck on one of the tight turning corners and having to call for help and get a crane to lift us out of the situation and escape the old town of Lagos.
But that worse case scenario didn’t eventuate (thank goodness hahaha). And everything was all okay. We made it, and luckily found a vacant park on a hill located around the corner from the Sao Sebastiao Church. After thinking that a traditional Portuguese duck lunch was off the agenda, it was back on. Now we just had to find a cafe for the girls to have some lunch and a wander and we’re set. It was also very hot in the town of Lagos and the level of energy dissolved quite quickly after leaving the comfort of the air-conditioned car. The kids started overheating and no one could think properly. We found a pizza and kebab restaurant near to Forja – as no one was keen on trying duck with us – and it was under the shade. An hour later we were reunited with the kids ready to explore the town of Lagos.
But first the lunch…
It was amazing. We had to wait for it to open in the cobbled laneway for the midday formal opening and once open we walked in and found a table without a reservation sign on it up the back of the restaurant. The 50 seat restaurant filled within minutes of the midday opening.
The atmosphere inside was pure Portuguese – tables close to each other, lots of noise and an array of delightful cultural decorations around the restaurant. There were ornamental fish on walls, painted Portuguese plates and rough sandstone internal walls that gave it such a good feeling. Our table for two had two Portuguese painted plates and a small glass was filled with coloured sand and a yellow cactus grew out of it. On the other side of the restaurant there’s a tall windowsill and on it sits six or so potted orchids displaying a colourful array of pink and yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Just near the entrance to the left is a table with a display of wine bottles and a large vase that holds a bunch of long peacock feathers and a simple floral arrangement. It was homely and loud.
We ordered a large 1.5 litre bottle of water (2.80 euros) which was more expensive than the 1/4 litre of white wine (1.50 euros) and Sagres beer (1.50 euros). Go figure. The drinks and half portion of the duck came very quickly and efficiently. The duck arrived in a terracotta pot filled to the brim with large pieces of boned duck sitting on a bed of flavoursome rice with pieces of thickly sliced chirizo mixed in amongst the bed of rice. It was delicious. The duck was succulent and tasty, like a traditional Portuguese home cooked meal. And it was large duck and a huge serving. We left completely satisfied and stuffed with both of us saying it was the best duck dish we’d ever tasted in our entire lives.
The whole Forja dining experience cost 18.80 euros! Highly recommended. We departed without ordering a dessert – but they too looked divine. We simply had no room left for something sweet which is unusual but it was the reality. As we left to meet up with the girls at our agreed catch up time there were people waiting outside at the door for a vacant table to dine at.
It was truly a hot day in the town centre, but we soldiered on. Dacey walked in amongst the sprinklers in the square but it just wasn’t enough to get relief from the heat. But we finally succumbed to the heat and made our way back to the car to try our luck at the beach. But it was hot there too. Ash was overheating the worst which is never a good sign, but she refuses to go for a swim to cool off. The other three are keen to get into the ocean since they pulled together all their loose euro coins (that they’ve been pinching off the side table on Steve’s side of the bed) and purchased two inflatable rings – a tyre and a doughnut – to ride the waves.
And they did. While we scoured for a table at the beachside cafe for some direct sun relief, the three beach going kids huffed and puffed and inflated the rings and jumped into the water while Ash sat on the sand near the beach entry with a lowered bottom lip and disgusted with the world. She finally came over to where we found a table and three chairs and became happier after drinking a large glass of cold water. We sat there while we heard the screams of joy echoing up down from the water from our other children. You can see them in the photo below sitting in their rings.
I noticed a walking track to the top of the hill, so I went up along the track passing a field full of Agave Americana plants and when I reached the top I was rewarded some spectacular views of the beach below.
The girls finish up swimming and join us at the cafe for a milkshake and some internet time. Check them out when it’s just too bright to see their screens!
We’ve enjoyed relaxing at the cafe at Porto de Mos beach and head back to our apartment. We head down to our local beach where we enjoy a swim and Billie and Dacey enjoy the inflatable rings in the crashing waves again.
Dacey comes up to the beach where we’re lying down enjoying some beers and tells us that she got dumped and lost her goggles which we purchased only that morning. So Steve goes in the ocean to see if he can find them, while I scour the shoreline but they don’t appear. I’m standing there watching him looking in the water thinking you’re never going to find the goggles in that vast ocean and then all of a sudden a huge unexpected wave dumps right on top of Steve and he’s under. He’s holding a beer in one hand and saves it by placing his finger into the opening as he goes down. But at that moment of saving the beer he doesn’t realise he’s lost his prescription sunglasses that were on his head until we’re lying back up on the beach. We look for them, and yet again Steve dives into the water but no glasses to be found.
Billie and Dace stay back for an extra 10 minutes of catching waves while we wander back to the apartment, and they return home with some good news: a man that had seen us looking for the goggles had found them washed up on the beach and handed them to the girls.
Unfortunately not the goggles we were hoping to be found. This afternoon at the beach turns out to be an expensive swim.
The next day we pack up and say goodbye to Lagos. It’s been a wonderful stay in Portugal’s Algarve region, albeit for Steve losing his pair of prescription sunglasses, but items like those can at least be replaced. It is a place that we’d love to explore more on another trip perhaps.
Before heading back to our home base in Lisbon, we drive along the coast stopping off at some of the other beaches to have a look Salema and Burgau, and having a lovely outdoor cafe style lunch at Luz. All up we have travelled 885km in our hire car on our weekend trip exploring the southern Algarve region of Portugal. It’s been great but now it’s time to head back to home base.