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6 days on the Algarve and 3 in Lisbon, March 2018

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Apr 12th, 2018, 04:41 PM
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6 days on the Algarve and 3 in Lisbon, March 2018

This was my second trip to Portugal, the first was 12 years ago - about a week in Lisbon and another driving around the center of the country (Evora to Coimbra) a trip I really loved. So finally got to return. This was my friend's first time to Portugal. Last March we went to Italy, had great weather and a kind of whirlwind visit to the 'big three' - Venice, Florence and Rome. So this trip I kind of kept comparing it to both last March and my last trip to Portugal - unfortunately it didn't live up to either of those. I'm always searching for somewhere that is great weather in March and the Algarve promised to be that - average high temps for this time of year is about 22C/71 F with mostly sunny days. What we got was 10 to 15 degrees lower, very windy and about half the time rain. So obviously that impacted my impressions.

My photos are at: Zenfolio | Isabel's_View | Portugal

Last edited by isabel; Apr 12th, 2018 at 04:49 PM.
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Apr 12th, 2018, 05:13 PM
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Lisbon was a lot more crowded (with tourists) than it was twelve years ago, and also seemed to have a lot more construction going on, overall impression just wasn't as wonderful. Still, we loved Lisbon, it's a vibrant city with very interesting architecture and great views as it's built on numerous hills.

The Algarve was a bit of a disappointment though - kind of underwhelming. We spent 3 nights in Lagos and 3 nights in Faro with day trips to Tavira, Estoi, and Olaho. All the towns have quite a high percentage of buildings that are rather dilapidated and run down, lots of graffiti, lots of places undergoing renovation and many more awaiting it. Overall pretty drab. The percentage of pedestrian only streets is small, so even some of the 'nicer' streets/squares are marred by a lot of parked cars. There are a few nice streets in each town, some pretty churches with bell towers, storks nests everywhere, but not really the charm of a lot of places in Europe. Many of the pavements are geometric mosaic designs which is really pretty. But none of the towns really made me want to just wander around and 'be' there. After I'd seen what there was to see I didn't feel the need linger. And all of the town centers are very small so didn't take long to explore.

Certainly the cliffs in Lagos are beautiful and the Ria in Faro is pleasant. Tavira was an enjoyable day trip. But the guidebook descriptions call Tavira the "Venice of the Algarve" or the palace in Estoi the "Versailles of Portugal" - not even close. Of course Portuguese tile work is gorgeous and there was a good deal of that.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 01:02 AM
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So happy to see your trip report! we are currently in southern France visiting our daughter, son in law, and grandchildren. We will be in Lisbon on April 22 for 5 nights so eager to read your report about Lisbon.

I love your photos! Even though you were disappointed in the Algarve, the photos are beautiful! Where do your photos of Lisbon 2018 begin?

I hope the weather will warm up before we arrive in Lisbon. It’s been chilly & rainy here in southern France since we arrived.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 01:20 AM
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Your photos are gorgeous. I am visiting at the end of August and looking forward to seeing some of Portugal.
Can you tell me where you stayed in Lagos..I am finding it hard to find somewhere to stay which is not a resort, or overpriced.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 04:11 AM
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Karen - the Lisbon gallery is mixed with photos from both trips, but they are labeled either 2006 or 20018. The majority are from this most recent trip. There are photos of a few places that I went to in 2006 that we didn't get to this time but most of the photos - Baxia, the Castle, the Alfama, Belem - went to those on both trips and most of the photos are of the recent trip.

I hope you get better weather. Guess it's unusually cold and wet all over Europe and lots of the US as well this spring.

Millie - In Lagos we stayed at Hotel Marina Rio which I recommend. It was only 88€/night double for us but I suspect it's higher in August. It's right over the pedestrian bridge (train station is on other side) on the edge of the old town so short walk to everything. It's pretty upscale hotel with a great breakfast and nice view from the roof top terrace (also a tiny pool up there which was closed the whole time we were there). They must have some parking arrangements cause when we checked in they asked if we needed parking, but since we didn't, I didn't pay attention to it, I didn't see an obvious off street paring though.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 04:17 AM
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TAP Airline, Lisbon airport, Portuguese trains.

We flew TAP nonstop Boston to Lisbon and it was perfectly fine. I had read lots of negative reviews but the airline and the flight were at least 'average' (and I fly a lot of budget airlines). TAP has about the strictest luggage weight limits I've ever seen (8kg) but my bag was exactly that. My friend Crista's was 9.6 kg but they let her carry it on anyway (though someone at the next check in desk was arguing about "1 kg", don't know what ended up happening with that. They also say the personal item limit is 2kg which is ridiculous but fortunately they didn't weigh that (in either direction). We landed right on time and passport control was fast and easy. Metro is right outside and it's three stops to Oriente train station (really cool building) where we got the train to Lagos, with one change in Tunes. While the trains were 'average' (not quite as spiffy as some European trains) we did notice a real lack of signage at all but the Lisbon station. Had to keep asking what platform our trains were leaving from. The trains along the coast from Lagos to Tavira are regional and quite old but those trips are short.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 05:34 AM
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I have been to Portugal several times, but always skipped the Algarve because I'm not a beach person. Sounds like I had the right idea! Sorry the weather wasn't good, but I have friends who have been traveling in Italy since the end of February and they have had lousy weather too.

I noticed a significant increase in the number of tourists the last time I was in Lisbon. Maybe an increase in cruises starting/ending in Lisbon.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 05:50 AM
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Speaking of TAP, this is the second time I have flown them, and we have no complaints. And especially praise for the trip we are on now. We flew TAP from Boston to Lisbon. Our flight to Marseille (on TAP) was cancelled on April 8 due to air traffic controllers strike in Marseille. TAP immediately booked us on a flight the next day. They gave us food vouchers, provided a bus to the nearby Marriott, paid for our hotel room, and for the bus back to the airport the next day.

Regarding weather, today is finally sunny but still cool. It snowed where we live in Massachusetts the day before we left (April 6).
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Apr 13th, 2018, 06:35 AM
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Touristy even in March? That sounds kind of scary. Are they the group tour kind of crowds or the independent travelers kind? Portugal has been on my short list but if I have to brave crowds anyway, I have crowded cities of higher priority.

Waiting for more from your report!

ETA: your photos belie your expressed disappointment. They are gorgeous 😍

Last edited by Hnh6; Apr 13th, 2018 at 07:17 AM.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 02:46 PM
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I don't think there were cruise ships in March, I didn't see any. In central Lisbon I didn't see any tour groups, just lots of tourists. In Belem there were several tour buses. But even though I felt it was more crowded than twelve years ago, and more than I expected, it was still nothing compared to the touristy areas of places like Rome, Venice, Paris, etc.

Re the Algarve - while I enjoy looking at the ocean, walking along beaches, etc. I don't travel to Europe for 'beach time', that's why I though March would be a perfect time for the Algarve. Given what I've read, I'd never go there in mid summer.

Re the weather - I guess it's crazy everywhere. In Massachusetts today it was 70 but by tomorrow they say we are getting an ice storm.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 02:49 PM
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Continuing with the trip report -

Lagos – The best thing about Lagos is the setting. There is a series of highly weathered sandstone cliffs that stretches all the way from the mouth of the estuary (Praia da Batata, Praia do Pinhão overlooks the little fort). From there you can walk along the cliffs to Praia Dona Ana – although at that point you have to go inland a few minutes around some hotels and along the road. Next is Praia do Camilo and then Ponta da Piedade the most highly weathered of the cliffs that form the southern headland of Lagos. The ocean has chiselled stone arches, grottos and sea caves into the colorful sandstone cliffs and these cliffs are considered the best natural feature of the Algarve. There are stairs going down to water level at several places – at Ponta da Piedade there are 220 stone steps and at Praia do Camilo there are about the same number of wooden steps. There are also places where you can climb down the paths.

From the center of Lagos to Ponta da Piedade is less than three miles and you can continue on another half hour or so before you get to an area where you’d have to detour inland and back out to keep going. There’s a nice restaurant at Praia do Camilo with both inside and outside seating that we stopped at both the days we did the cliff walks for coffee and drinks but they also have food.
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Apr 13th, 2018, 02:51 PM
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Lagos is set at the mouth of the Ribeira de Bensafrim as it opens into the ocean.Theolderpart of Lagos is still circled by the city walls that were constructed during the 16th century and there is a tiny fort, Ponta da Bandeira, that is part of the century fortifications. On the opposite side of the road is the Porta de São Gonçalo (St.Gonçalo’s gate) with a watchtower on either side and just to the right of this is Castelo dos Governadores (of Arab construction). Impressive looking from the outside, but there doesn’t seem to be any ‘inside’ (despite guidebooks saying there was, but we couldn’t find any).

There are a couple of small-ish squares in the old town, a few churches, several winding streets paved in beautiful mosaics, and a pleasant walk that goes all along the river from the fort on the ocean to the marina at the other side of the old town (about six tenths of a mile) where there is a footbridge over the river. The train station and the ‘beach’ are on the other side. The beach looked ‘OK’, considering many beaches in Europe are not long and sandy this one is pretty good, but nothing really compared to many along the east coast of the US. There was a decent selection of places to eat and a number of touristy shops, mostly selling cork products.

We got to Lagos about noon the first day and lost one complete day to pouring rain so really had a day and a half which was plenty to explore the old town and take two half day walks along the cliffs. In good weather there are boat rides you can take to see the cliffs from the water, but unfortunately, that was not happening when we were there.
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Apr 14th, 2018, 12:30 PM
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Isabel,you are a great travel writer! I can envision what Lagos looks like by your descriptions.

We don’t go to the beach either while traveling in Europe, but we do enjoy looking at beautiful coastal scenery and eating by the water. I’ve always heard the Algarve is filled with high-rise buildings, so haven’t had the desire to go there. But I am enjoying your Algarve report.
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Apr 15th, 2018, 02:58 AM
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Karen - thanks. Lagos was definitely worth a couple days, assuming going through the Algarve isn't way out of the way on the rest of your itinerary. So were Faro and Tavira. Although the interesting parts of all of them were smaller and less interesting than I had anticipated that doesn't mean that I don't think they had some worth. My research told me the towns between Lagos and Faro were filled with high rise buildings and lots of bars and even though I didn't go to those towns, going through on the train make me think it's true. There are also a few inland towns that sounded interesting but weren't worth the trouble to get to by public transportation. Especially if you have a car and can easily visit several places for just a few hours I think the Algarve would be worth a total of a few days. The area west of Lagos sounds kind of interesting as well but public transportation to that area is not great.

So if I were going from Lisbon to Seville via car and had a couple days to spare in my itinerary I think swinging by the Algarve for a few days would be great. But I've taken it off my list of places that I might want to spend several weeks in.
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Apr 15th, 2018, 03:01 AM
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Faro – We took the regional train from Lagos to Faro. Pretty boring scenery – lots of orange groves but the towns looked pretty dismal. Dirty train windows and cloudy skies didn’t help. The walk from the train station to the main square is only about 10 minutes but passes the bus station and train tracks so is pretty boring. Hotel Faro is a large 4 story modern concrete building, very nice but very blah – could be anywhere, feels like a conference hotel. But there is a restaurant/bar on the glassed in rooftop where breakfast is served. Room is very comfortable but boring, but very clean. The view from the rooftop is spectacular. Breakfast was also ‘spectacular’ – one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had.

Faro has a very tiny old town, once enclosed in walls, which only partially remain. The main gate into the old town is really nice, with several storks nests on top of it, several other impressive buildings in the one block walk between gate and the hotel – and across the street is the ‘doca’ or little marina. Although the old town is really tiny, some of the streets are picturesque, the Se is kind of interesting looking – big medieval stone tower, rest is white, and of indistinguishable architectural type. Outside of the ‘walled’ area are a few blocks of shopping streets which are pleasant to stroll around, but again, not a very large area, and really pretty boring. The rest of Faro (the largest city in the Algarve with a population of about 60,000) spreads out from there but nothing at all really of touristic interest.
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Apr 15th, 2018, 03:04 AM
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We did have a great experience at lunch. It was cool and cloudy and windy and we were in this little square with two restaurants with tables outside and not one person at either of them. We were reading the menus and this guy comes out and asks us to come inside, 'no pressure to eat here', just wants to show us this 'authentic' Portuguese house, Vila Adentro. So we go in and there are some nice beams in the ceiling and tiles on the wall. He shows us an alcove and tells us that when the rest of the house was damaged by the 'great' earthquake, that part survived intact. Then in the next room is a well in the center of the room that goes down many meters, he tells us this is Arab, a thousand years old. Then there is another room with huge tile murals on all the walls and a blue iron spiral staircase. So we decide to eat there. The 'main' courses were quite expensive but I got a cream of cauliflower soup with pesto and almonds, bread, butter and a 'traditional' carrot salad and water for 9€ and Crista got a huge plate of potatoes and vegetables topped with cheese and a glass of wine for 12€. Then as we are finishing the guy tells us he has something else to show us and takes us down the spiral staircase to some tunnels that run under the building, some of which collapsed in the earthquake but some are still there. Tells us that some ran out to the ocean and when the town was being attacked people could escape that way. So all in all a worthwhile lunch experience. As we were waiting to pay we got talking to an English couple who come down to the Algarve every March and said this is the worst weather they have ever had, but then 'back home in England' is also the worst weather they have ever had.
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Apr 16th, 2018, 03:58 AM
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We had two and a half days in Faro. One day we took the train to Tavira, stopping in Olhao on the way back. Another day we took the bus to Estói for the afternoon, after checking out the Se and the Igreja da Nossa Senhora do Carmo, the most impressive church in Faro (although the ‘bones chapel’ was nothing compared to others I’ve visited, including one in Evora).

Estói - A little village 5 miles northeast of Faro (but takes 25 minutes by bus to get to), Estói is still mainly unspoiled by tourists. The principal sight is the Palácio do Visconde de Estói. The villa, with its salmon-pink baroque facade, has been described as a cross between Versailles and the water gardens of the Villa d'Este near Rome (not even close to either, though it is pretty). It was built in the late 18th century. It is now a luxury hotel (Pousada) and the common rooms and gardens can be visited, once you find the entrance which is behind the villa, from the front it looks deserted. At the center of the town is the neo-classical Igreja Matriz de Estoi church, 15th century but was significantly restored after the devastating 1755 earthquake, an interesting fact is that all of the wood used for the construction of the alters were previously used for ships and boats. The main bus stop is half a block from the church (the only ‘restaurant’ we saw in town was on the pleasant square in front of the church). The town itself has a few pleasant streets and two tiny squares, one on either side of the church. Half a day was more than enough.

Tavira, approached on the train from Faro (train takes about an hour) through green fields studded with almond and carob trees, lies on the banks of the Ségua and Gilão rivers, which meet under a seven-arched Roman bridge. A mixture of vacation town and tuna fishing port, it is cut off from the sea by the sandy spit. Hit by both the plague in 1645 and later the earthquake (although many buildings survived it in Tavira including the 16th century houses alongside the Gilao River). It’s the most scenic town we saw on the Algarve. From Praça da República, stretches Rua do Cais, a palm-fringed promenade with waterfront café-kiosks to the former town market building. A stepped street off Rua da Liberdade leads to the battlemented walls of the little castle. Although originally Moorish, the castle remains visible today date mostly from the 17th century and consists of remains of two square towers, one octagonal tower and walls on three sides, in the center is a nice, but very small, garden. Igreja da Misericórdia (16th C, Renaissance, 1541) has blue and white azulejos. Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, 13th Century has the most impressive bell/clock tower in the Algarve. Palacio Galeria is a nice 17th century Baroque palace, now an exhibition space, described as ”wonderfully evocative” but really just a nice upscale Baroque house.

Olhão – Described as “distinctly North African atmosphere” – well it’s a bit different from the other towns in terms of the layout and the house shapes in the few block area just in from the water, but I’d hardly say it felt like another continent. The flat-roofed square houses have Moorish-style terraces and chimneys, an architectural legacy from the days when Olhão traded goods with Morocco. There is a harbor front market and a lively Avenida da Republica, the main avenue. Chapel of Our Lady of Soletude from the 17th century half way between the train station and the waterfront market appears to be the largest church, there is another smaller one a block further on. It’s only about a ten minute train ride from Faro.
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Apr 16th, 2018, 09:56 AM
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Estoi sounds nice. I like towns unspoiled by tourism.

It’s interesting to hear your opinions versus what the guidebooks say, such as Olhao. Sounds like you visited some off the beaten track places.
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Apr 17th, 2018, 12:58 PM
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Estoi was really just "OK". It was really tiny and quiet and while the 'villa' (which was an open pousada) was pretty, the main grounds were not kept up and you couldn't get to the area where the really nice tile entrance was. The only restaurant that was open had very mediocre food (and I am not a foodie). Sort of the same feeling about Olhao - it was larger but only worth about an hour to walk from the train station to the market (which is on the harbor) and back. Not much to see or do. Tavira was the best, and that was worth a half day. If I were advising someone to go to the Algarve I'd say 1-2 days Lagos, 1 day Faro, half day Tavira.
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Apr 17th, 2018, 12:59 PM
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Lisboa On my last trip to Lisbon we stayed at the Residencial Florescente and while it’s nothing really special, it was nice enough that I didn’t really look around for anything else. It’s got a great location on pedestrianized Portas de Santo Antao and just off Rossio, Lisbon’s main square since the middle ages. Rossío is a grand space, with 2 ornate French fountains and undulating sidewalks, with arabesques of black and white plus you can see the Castle up the hill to one side, and the ruins of Carmo to the other. At one end is the National Theatre and the Rossio Train station, both amazing buildings. Less than a block away is Praca da Figueira, on the corner of which is the Confeitaria Nacional café. I had very fond memories of it from last time and it was even better this time (We literally ate lunch there all three days). Seems like they didn’t raise their prices in 12 years. I got salmon and mashed beets & sweet potatoes and green beans and carrots for €6.90. That would be a $20 entrée in the US. Also got coffee and cheese cake. Everything was amazing. The place is beautiful, 19th century (opened in 1829), gorgeous spiral staircase to the “1st” floor cafeteria. There are also tables both on the ground and 1st floors with wait service and a take away counter to buy cakes. Worth the trip to Lisbon just to eat there.

Then we walked down Rua Augusta and through the Arco Rua Augusta (19th century triumphal arch) to Praca do Comercio – incredibly majestic and very blindingly white in the sunshine, it’s a vast waterfront square. Arcaded buildings line three sides of the square -the fourth is the waterfront. From there we were headed to the Alfama district and the castle but detoured slightly to the Casa dos Bicos, a Renaissance palace (the "House of Facets" built in 1523). The extravagant facade was built in accordance with European taste of that day - similar buildings dating from this epoch are to be found in Spanish, Italian and French towns. It is faced in a geometric pattern with pyramid shaped, pointed stones.

From there it was a fairly short, uphill walk to the Se and beyond to Miradouro Santa Luzia and Largo do Portas do Sol – both with amazing views. We followed signs and kept heading up till we got to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Just outside the castle was a guy selling coins that he saws into pendants. I bought one from him 12 years ago (he said he’s been in the same spot since 2004, and I got it in 2006 so must be the same guy). It’s one of my favorite necklaces and I wear it all the time. The castle was also just as interesting as I remembered it – great views of the Baixa, Chiado and Bairro Alto neighborhoods and as far as the Belem as well as lots of interesting walls and towers to climb around. There are no ‘interiors’ – it’s all walls and towers and courtyards – but still one of the best castles, especially for a city center. Just as we were leaving we ‘ran into’ a couple of peacocks strutting their stuff, which was fun to watch.

We made our way down back to the Baixa and picked up a bottle of wine on our way back to the hotel and then headed back out, this time climbing the stairs from Rossio up to the Convento de Carmo – nice square Largo de Carmo, nice views of the Convent ruins and back across town to the castle. Then on to Rua Garrett, lined with stores (the Armazens do Chiado Mall at one end) and 19th century cafes to Praca Cambes, where we turned down hill to Praca Duque de Terceira and the Mercado da Ribeira where we had dinner. The Mercado has been recently renovated by “Time Out” into a huge food court with gourmet restaurants and bars. I think there were a couple of sit down restaurants in the corners, but the majority of it is a huge area with communal tables surrounded by eateries of all kinds. It was good enough that we ate there two of our three nights in Lisbon.

Last edited by isabel; Apr 17th, 2018 at 01:03 PM.
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