Portugal has never been on my top list of places to visit. Have I been missing out! The most beautiful coastlines and beaches I’ve ever seen are nestled quietly along the Algarve coast of southern Portugal. Better than the Caribbean, Thailand, Hawaii…I can’t think of more emerald, green waters, majestic cliffs and my added bonus – not seeing other American tourists! Algarve reminds me of Tulum before influencers exposed its charm. ***Influencers, in case you come across this, don’t ruin this gem either. Let’s keep this treasure on the down low, please?***
The first tip I’d like to share. DO NOT BOOK with TAP Airlines: Portugal’s main airline. All 3 of my internal flights with TAP on this trip were canceled both months in advance to right before boarding. Pay more for a larger airline for ease of mind.
I booked a wonderful night in a hotel right on the beach in Albufeira, Portugal, since I lost the first night at my original hotel further down the Algarve Coast due to my canceled flight to Faro.
My new route from Madrid to Lisbon to Faro added a 6-hour layover in Lisbon, which means, I was able to tour this city’s rich history and culture I originally would’ve missed out on.
While my flight was canceled, and I was luckily rebooked on another flight 2 hours later, I furiously researched what activities I could do in Lisbon during a long layover. During my short flight to Lisbon, I had the good fortune of sitting next to the sweetest and most generous Portuguese flight attendant named Sandra. Sandra even insisted I contact her if I needed anything. Sandra gave me insightful tips on what I need to see in Portugal. Here is her list below.
· Lisboa (Lisbon)
· Praia de Melides
· Praia de Alberto Nova
· Sunsets in Sagres
· Ponta da Piedade
After almost 24 hours of travel and layovers, I was too exhausted to navigate a tour of Lisbon myself. I found the perfect excursion: a private Vespa tour! Under 2 hours’ notice, Marco picked me up and dropped me off at the airport with an in-depth tour of Lisbon. Withlocals is my new favorite travel tour/excursion site for Europe. He whisked me through every neighborhood of Lisbon explaining the history of the city, and how the magic of Lisbon comes together. It was so freeing to be out of an airport and feel the air. Zipping around a Vespa was the perfect way to get a taste of Lisbon in 3 hours. I look forward to returning one day to really see this enigmatic city that was once part of the Roman Empire, Germanic Empire, and Moorish rule. (Scenic Vespa Journey Around Lisbon! - Withlocals)
I arrived in Faro very late on my first night on the Algarve Coast. I grabbed my rental car at Sixt (never heard of them before, but their service was better than any American car rental experience). I rented the cheapest level, a Fiat. They gave me a complimentary upgrade without even mentioning it. Driving in a foreign country added to the adventure. I can’t wait to do it again.
Upon returning my car, Waze wasn’t the most accurate in Portugal, and I was stuck in a parking lot just on the other side of the rental car return. Nothing was working. I was starting to worry I would miss my next flight. My parking lot ticket was ultimately even eaten by the machine. The helpful people at Sixt let me leave the car in the parking lot, while they took care of the rest. They were AMAZINGLY helpful. One of the employees even gave me 1 Euro to help pay the machine because it wasn’t taking my credit card. The helpful nature of people in Portugal inspired me to be a more patient person!
I booked a restful night’s stay at the Pine Cliffs Resort. They upgraded me to an ocean suite, which felt almost too indulgent for only a 1-night stay. I LOVE KITCHENS in my hotel room. I like to bring my own food, make my own shakes/smoothies, and make sure I’m fed well without being at the mercy of restaurant food. I also had a two-part deck with an ocean view that I couldn’t wait to explore and do morning yoga. I felt like I was surrounded by beauty that lived up to all the travel photos. I choose hotels that honor my membership points with Marriot or IHG (Intercontinental). It's a fun game to never "pay" for a hotel and only use where points are redeemable.
The next day, I drove about an hour to a small town south of Tavira along the coast to Conversas de Alpendre. A boutique, family-run hotel surrounded by orange and olive groves. The family runs this place with love. Even though the location and amenities were not as ideal as Pine Cliffs, my cozy room with candles lit every night at turndown service with a multi-course breakfast every morning (included in the price of the hotel, as well as a daily snack of cake and tea)… all of these details made me feel at home - and had the most impact on my impression of Portugal. They also ask you every day if you’d like to join them for dinner every evening for an additional 40 Euro which is a chef’s tasting of multiple courses. I tried the tasting my first night. It was so much food. I couldn’t eat so much by myself – and plus I’m in training mode and didn’t want to be overindulging!
During my short 3-day stay, I went on a beautiful hike to Seven Hanging Valleys Trail for a 7.6-mile hike along the beautiful coast. It was one of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever walked along the ocean.
Afterward, I visited a horse sanctuary called the State of Being, north of Lagos, to walk with rescued horses. I find horses fascinating in how they can read and heal people. I was paired with a beautiful, majestic horse named Flame. He looked out for the other horses and was very kind and gentle towards me. He was a bit naughty at first and would nibble on my hands. After I told him that scares me when he bites, he stopped! We walked very closely side-by-side together. We were warned the horses may slightly step on our toes, so be careful. He stepped on me a few times, but when he learned it was my foot beneath him, he would immediately lift his hoof not to put all his weight on me. This almost off-the-grid rescue center is not the easiest to find. It was one street off the GPS coordinates listed on the instructions. Take note if you visit.
My last day in Portugal was exploring Tavira and Villa de Real near my hotel. These were sights of real Portugal away from the droves of tourists. I felt incredibly grateful and happy to experience such a lovely and loving country. I can’t wait to return to visit with my family and see Sandra, Marco, the family at Conversas de Aprende, and more of this beautiful country. Portugal is now one of my most favorite places ever visited. If you haven’t been, you won’t be disappointed.
On top of all the love I felt for Portugal, the food was also amazing. Fresh oranges that tasted like candy, raw almonds that tasted so fresh and sweet like a dessert, vegan fare that was healthful and flavorful, what more could I ask for?
Thank you, Portugal for your beautiful energy, kind people, and the most delicious food. I can’t wait to see you again.