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How's the drive from Lisbon to the Southern Algarve?

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We're taking a family trip to Portugal. There will be 6 of us and our research shows that a passenger van would be more expensive than renting two (standard) cars. One of our sons would have to drive one of them.
My question is...

How's is the drive from Lisbon to the Algarve (Tavira)?

also

Can a 21 yo drive a rental in this country?

Thank you.

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    We drove from the Algarve back up to Lisbon. It's an easy drive on main roads but remember that it's always a little confusing driving in a foreign country because you can't easily understand the signs. That on top of driving a stick makes the drive more tiring and less automatic (didn't intend the pun but can't think of a better word.) I don't know the answer to 21 year olds renting but I'd hesitate.
    Our family enjoyed Portugal, have fun

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    We drove from Lisbon to the Allentejo area then south to the Algarge-smooth sailing. The only problem we had was on returning the rental car back to the airport we got gas on the other side of the bridge-then missed the offramp we needed-had tjo circle around. At the car rental place they siad our tank was NOT full!! We maybe had put 10 miles on it. they said there would be a huge fee but if we gave him $ they would fill it when they washed it. SCAM but what do you do. Be forewarned. The Algarve is wonderful. Lots of interesting towns. We were in Spain/Portugal in 89 and I knew I wanted to go back to Portugal someday. We were there for about a month last Sept-Including Madeira-enjoy

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    It's a doddle (you might say 'it's a breeze'). There are two Mway routes from the Algarve to Lisbon, both starting west of Faro. One is toll and from memory costs around €30. May seem steep but the road is empty so it's an easy run of 2-3 hours to the new bridge on the east side of Lisbon (airport side). Service stations are good too. The old mway is good too but i think takes you to the 25th april bridge on the west side of the city.
    Tavira is lovely - very portuguese, good food, boats to the beach, salt flats, lovely river pools inland...a great choice. this article might help with general info though it's a few years old now...
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/portugal/algarve/728130/Tavira-Weekending.html

    general portuguese tourism website: www.portugal.org

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    BenciaChris and portuense, thank you very much!!

    Today we booked our tickets and reserved our car. We decided to go with a 7 passenger van. After doing the calculations, we decided with tolls and fuel, we were really better off with one car instead of two. We also didn't want to end up with the young ones having all the fun in one car and DH and I stuck together in the other. We are going to endure the family togetherness (even if it kills us, lol). ;)

    Tavira is a lovely fishing village and we are looking forward to returning.

    Thank you for the driving suggestions. They will be very useful.

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    If lreynolda1 checks this-tell this family of the restaurant you advised me to go to in Tavira. She suggested a fish dish that was to die for. She also gave me other reccomondations in the Algarve area that were right on. I write notes before I go and then throw them away on the triip. I am bad. I should keep better notes-Thanks Chris

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    The drive is now extremely easy if you take A2 the main road to the Algarve. At the posted speed limit it should not take more than 3.5 hours to reach Tavira.
    However, if you really have time (all day trip) and want to see one of the most scenic drives in the Iberian Peninsula start on A2 and then take the exit to Sines (nothing exciting until you get to Sines). Sines is a fishing town and also home to a major powerplant (go figure). From that point on just turn south and follow the road all the way along the ocean. Stop in Vila Nova de Mil Fontes, if it is the right time have lunch there. Continue south as close to the coast as possible and end up in Sagres. Sagres is where Henry the Navigator masterminded the plan for the Portugese discoveries of the 15-16th centuries. From that point go east and take as soon as you can A22 which takes you to Tavira. Other towns to visit in the Algrave are Lagos, Portimao and Albufeira (pretty much a British enclave in Portugal). Have fun and eat a lot of fish. To return the car there is a gas station right by the airport in Lisbon, so don't fill up before and you will be fine. My scenic route is pretty much an all day drive.
    Enjoy. Luis (born and lived in Portugal for the first 28 years).

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    Hi, see the world,

    I think this is the information I gave Chris about our quick trip to the Algarve. Since she went, I have been back, so I've posted comments on two short trips, the first was in 2005, the second in 2008. One thing that had really changed was the restaurant scene in Tavira. The couple I mention in the second report are new and very good. So I think you will eat well in Tavira. LR


    Non-Sun Lovers Trip to Algarve
    We went to the Algarve in early December, when the temperature was in the 50s and the sun was shining. The lack of crowds made things very easy – we just drove right to the center of the town we were visiting and easily found a parking place. In the summer, we were told, the population swells by a factor of about 10. I can’t imagine it.
    Day 1 – Drove from Lisbon to Loule and went to their Saturday market. Nothing hugely spectacular, but the market building itself is nice (kind of a mozarabic motif) and we did buy some home made piri-piri (hot red pepper spice), cheese, figs, and chorizo. From Loule, drove to the church at Almancil. Actually, it’s outside Almancil, on the N 125 between Almancil and Faro. You will see it up on the left on the N 125 after the turnoff for Almancil, so don’t get off at Almancil. From there, we continued on to Tavira, where we stayed at the Vila Galé Tavira (there are two hotels in this chain in Tavira, one right in town where we stayed, the other, out on the coast). Tavira is a very pretty riverside town near the ocean. We enjoyed walking around a lot – be sure to walk over the southernmost bridge to see a really pretty view of the town and harbor. The hotel is modern and functional, but the location in town is really good. We bypassed the row of restaurants on the river and found the Avenida Restaurant (walk up into the Praca Republica and turn left). Very crowded but not a tourist in sight, small, unpretentious, but delicious food – try the tuna in some local agua-ardiente (firewater) made from a berry. It was one of their specialties and just delicious.
    Day 2 – Drove from Tavira (on the east end of the Algarve) to Sagres, on the west end. We stopped along the way in Silves (old Moorish stronghold, a castle built out of really red local rocks, some nice old parts of town). From there we went to Praia da Rocha (it’s near the beach city of Portimao, but you can avoid the town completely by following the signs to Praia da Rocha). There’s a "miradouro" (lookout) that is well marked with a fair sized parking lot. We parked there and then walked for a couple of hours on the incredibly beautiful beach – lots of strange rock formations, long stretches of sand, all very clean. From there, we drove to Lagos, also on the coast. We enjoyed the old part of town, the typical pedestrian zone with some unusual (for Portugal) restaurants – Indian and Nepalese, for example. Part of the slave market is still standing and there is an old fort on the water that is well preserved. We then drove on to Sagres and the Pousada do Infante. This is a new pousada, but it is about 20' away from a sheer cliff down to the ocean and has amazing views. We had a balcony that overlooked the water, and even though it was December, we were able to sit out and enjoy. Dinner at the Restaurant Tasca, down in the harbor. Having had such good luck with the house specialty last night, we tried it again, and were again very pleased – this time it was tamboril (monk fish) in a garlicky, wine, creamy sauce with lots of cilantro. There is another restaurant, located in a house right near the back of the pousada and run by a Dutch couple, which is supposed to be very good, too, but it was closed when we were there.
    Day 3 – After a late and lengthy breakfast (we did an hour of work or so in the very pleasant restaurant drinking coffee and looking out over the ocean), we visited Cabo San Vicente, the southwesternmost tip of Europe. We also visited Henry the Navigator’s fort at Sagres, kind of a bust, but another nice walk around some sheer cliffs with ocean views and pounding waves. Then a drive back to Lisbon.

    Day 1 – time to get out of cold and rainy Lisbon. Got on the highway, headed straight to the Algarve. First stop – Vale dos Centianes, a beach near Carvoeiro. It had been recommended for its walk along the cliffs to Algor Seco and did not disappoint. From there, we drove to Ferragudo, a pretty little not too touristy town on the water across the river from Portimao. Good coffee and quick lunch there in a sunny café on the main square.

    From Ferragudo, we drove to Lagos and its Ponta da Piedade. Incredible caves/rock formations and beautiful clear ocean water. We had another long walk along the cliffs, it was just amazing. From there we drove to Salema, thinking we might spend the night there. I know that Rick Steves recommends it and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. It’s cute (right on the water) and not too touristy, but unfortunately that meant the hotels were closed as well. Since it was 6 pm, we decided that rather than head back into Lagos for the night, we’d just get going and drive over to Tavira, which is where we were going to head the next morning anyway. That worked very well – it’s a straight shot, about one hour and 15 minutes, and we quickly found the big 4 star hotel we had stayed in a previous winter. Not our style really, the Vila Gale Tavira is huge and modern, but its 44 euro price (including breakfast) and very good in-town location were the clinchers.

    We went out walking looking for restaurants around 9 pm, and found that the recommended Restaurante Bica was closed for the holidays. We then stumbled onto a small pedestrian street right off the “Roman Bridge” where there were two very busy restaurants. We had Saturday dinner at the AquaSur (maybe that name is not precisely right) – kind of “upscale”, interesting food, delicious desserts and very nice ambiance. As we were leaving, we saw the crowded “a Brisa do Rio” right across the sidewalk, got the opinions of some customers leaving that it was great, and planned to be back on Sunday for dinner. (AquaMar – or is it AquaAzul?– is closed Sunday and Monday; A Brisa is closed on Wednesday).

    Day 2
    We spent an hour or so in the morning walking around the old part of Tavira, visiting the castle, etc. Our plan for the day was to visit some places nearby that we hadn’t been to before. First stop – Vila Real de Santo Antonio, on the Guadiana River, which forms the border with Spain. This is a very nice town, lovely walks along the water – from the Marina down towards the lighthouse. Lots of pedestrian streets, old squares, good pastelerias.

    We then drove up to Castro Mourim – not much going on there, but it looks like there are several places that really cater to the tourists in summer. The castle has lots of places where it looks like vendors set up inside the walls, the old windmill on the edge of town has several very modern looking structures nearby that must have some tourist purpose. Not a big hit, though it might be more interesting in summer – my guess is though that it tends toward the ticky tacky.

    We decided to head back to the tried and true Cacela Velha, a very little hamlet on the water about 15 km east of Tavira. To our surprise, a new restaurant had opened and was very busy, so we decided to eat lunch here before walking around. Casa Azul – owned by a retired Brit and his Portuguese wife, but run by younger people, it has a very interesting menu and good food. There is another restaurant in this tiny place, Casa Velha, but I think the Casa Azul has got a corner on the market (we saw that in summer they are open till 2:00 am!). After some basking in the sun looking out over the water, and walking the couple of kms to Fabrica (another small hamlet nearby where there is a very good looking seafood restaurant on the water), we headed back to Tavira.

    We decided to spend a few hours working, this time in the Pousada’s bar. We had originally planned to spend a night in the Pousada, it is in the Convento da Graca, but decided just to stay put in our cheap-o hotel. The Pousada bar is very nice, it’s modern yet has a very warm and cozy feel to it. From there, on to the A Brisa for dinner, which did not disappoint!

    Day 3
    We did some reading/writing in the cafeteria, sipping bad coffee, and got a late-ish departure back to Lisbon. We decided to stay east on the secondary roads. This allowed us to stop in Alcoutim, another town on the Guadiana River. We enjoyed an hour or so there very much. The castle has a nice museum inside, particularly the little stone house that is filled with recovered artifacts related to games from the Roman times and even earlier. From there, the drive took us to Mertola, where we stopped for a late lunch in a café we just happened to see along the side of the road. It was a decent, tasty meal, 5 euros a pop. Afterwards we had some time to walk around the castle, the old quarter, but since we had already been in the museums a few years earlier we didn’t go back.

    Although it was out of the way, we decided to take a detour to Olharia Pirraca, my favorite pottery store in the Alentejo. It’s in the little town of Redondo, charming in and of itself, but the sole reason for our visit was to buy a few pieces of ceramics. We also got a great recommendation on where to buy good Alentejano bread. A bread store right before the gas station at the roundabout where the road to Evora leaves sells delicious bread of all shapes and sizes. We brought home a couple of loaves to freeze! The drive back to Lisbon was very relaxing, minor roads all the way till just about dark, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset. Then we got on the highway near Evora for the last hour into Lisbon.

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    Sorry, just a clarification. When I said that the Pousada in Tavira is "modern," I was referring to the furnishing style. The building itself is an old convent, http://www.pousadas.pt/historicalhotels/EN/pousadas/Portugal/Algarve/ConventodaGraca/home/PousadaConventodaGraca_Home.htm

    In my opinion, it's a nice pousada, but not in the same league as the convent pousadas outside Guimaraes or in Amares near Braga. LR

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    Thank you, LR!! (And thanks for bringing this back to the top, chris.)

    We ate in a couple of places, located in the side streets, however I do not remember the names. We drove to one place, past the salt flats, to have Portuguese Paella which I enjoyed very much (again I do not remember the name of the restaurant). Our most beloved meal was takeout bbq chicken (Frango) from a whole-in-the-wall place -- absolutely the best chicken I have ever had!

    I understand from my S&BIL, that there is now a huge mall with a theater and bowling now opened in Tavira. The villagers are unhappy about it and I don't blame them. I guess someone felt the need to compete with Faro and the other developed areas. I guess I will be able to judge for myself in August when we are there.

    Thanks so much for sharing your report, LR. I enjoyed it very much.

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