You know when you’re scrolling through Pinterest and one of those gorgeous paradise beach pictures shows up of somewhere that couldn’t possibly be real? That pretty much sums up the Algarve Coast. Located on the southern end of Portugal a mere four hours from Lisbon, I knew we needed to witness this little slice of heaven in person. There are numerous places to stay on the coast, from bigger cities like Faro to smaller neighborhoods like Aljezur. Since we were eager to see all the sea cliffs this region was known for, we opted for Lagos, a walled city with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Per the theme of Portugal, there was a castle thrown in there too. We planned to spend three and half days there to ensure we wouldn’t be rushed. Unlike some of our other vacations (ahem, four countries in two weeks, oy), we were eager to take this week slow and soak up all it had to offer.
How to Get To The Algarve Coast
It took quite a few internet searched to figure out how to actually get to Lagos from Lisbon. Although they were relatively close to each other, we weren’t really looking to drive between the two and wanted to put less stress on us (aka Dan who does the international driving). Though, a friend drove the distance and says the views were amazing, so I fully support that option as well. We initially settled on taking the train down with a stop in Tours, but I was a little nervous with having to switch trains. I kept at it and finally came across the Rede Expressos bus schedule. Buses drove directly from the center of Lisbon to a small station in Lagos, a ten minute walk from our hotel. While bus rides can be hit or miss, especially international ones, these were the fanciest of fancy buses. We had assigned seats with lots of space which was one less thing to worry about, plus free WiFi. The station was insanely easy to navigate since it was just one giant room with buses and destinations labeled clearly. Be warned, there are bathrooms on the bus but it seems that you can only use them on the autoway. The rules were unclear so I just stayed away from liquids that morning and was able to hold it for the four hours.
Once we walked (aka hiked) up from the city center to our hotel, we arrived at our sought after destination, Casa Mãe. More of a wellness oasis than anything else, Casa Mãe consists of gorgeous white buildings with floor to ceiling windows surrounded by a giant garden that supplies the majority of the meals. The place exudes peace with morning yoga classes, light and breezy decor and various activities you can sign up for throughout the day. Our room was spacious and carried the same breezy feeling as the entrance along with a balcony that overlooked the quaint city walkways. We were even greeted with oranges picked fresh from the garden that morning! After taking a quick nap, we changed into our hiking clothes and headed out for what we came for, the sea cliffs!
Praia Walk from Lagos
It takes a mere five minutes to leave the city before you’re confronted with the first beautiful beach. Meia Praia is located across from Lagos and consists of miles of white sand beachfront. We viewed it from across the bay and then headed upwards to Praia da Batata, Praia de Dona Ana, and Praia do Pinhoa, secluded coves west of the city. We forged onward to get to the main event, Farol da Ponta da Piedade, about a 45 minute walk from our hotel. With rugged cliffs and expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean, we spent some time here to stroll through the winding hiking trails.
Dinner at Calhou
After struggling to find a restaurant that accepted credit cards (word of the wise: bring euros for smaller cities), we stumbled upon Calhou which had rave reviews. We got to sample some of the freshest fish in town along with an abundance of bread and olives. While the food was delicious, it truly was the atmosphere that gave this place five stars. Calhou is all about a true Portuguese experience. After sharing a delightful berry cheesecake, the waitress brought over three bottles of different types of liquor to conclude the meal. It was so fun giggling over the vodka shots and trying a new-to-us honey vodka (yum!) which put the meal above the rest.
Casa Mãe Breakfast
The next morning we enjoyed a sit down breakfast at our hotel (which we had paid for ahead of time). With food coming fresh from the garden, we knew we were in for a real treat. We began with his/hers spinach-avocado-orange smoothies and proceeded through a meal consisting of oat pancakes, smoothie bowls, dried figs and freshly baked bread, amongst other items. Not only was it absolutely delicious, but we felt so healthy and energized after gorging on one-too-many custard tarts during our time in Lisbon. While we loved all of Lagos, I can honestly say this was one of my favorite parts of the trip…so much so I’ve been trying to recreate their recipes at home! Paired with a relaxing morning watching the sun rise over the patio, this was the vacation we were searching for.
Drive the Western Coast of Algarve
Fully stuffed from our morning feast, we took a walk outside of the city limits to rent a car for the day. We lucked out getting a convertible Fiat and were excited to hit the road! The entire west coast of Portugal is lined with ocean cliffs tipping into the aqua waters so you really can’t go wrong with where you go. I’ll give a full recap on each stop later on but for now, here’s the sights we highly recommend!
With limited traffic and a paper map, we eased into the day by identifying four different beaches we wanted to see and a small town to stop at for lunch. We started at Sagres where we took in the beautiful surf and walked around Sagres Fortress, an intriguing sea fort with cliffs as barriers. We then headed up north to Praia do Castelejo followed by Praia do Amado and then Praia do Boreira via an enchanting dirt road with picturesque stops along the way. We detoured into Aljezur for a traditional lunch at Restaurante Pont´a Pé that was excellent. The “delicious Algarve tart” on the menu was, in fact, delicious. We made one final stop at Praia da Arrifana before heading home for a night in with ciders and snacks.
On our last full day in Lagos, we signed up for Surf Excursions’ surfing lessons through our hotel, Casa Mãe. Surfing has been on my bucket list since I first saw it at seven years old and I was so excited to finally try it out! We traveled with a small group to a beach in Lagos and hit the waves. It was surprisingly way more challenging than I anticipated. I thought my snowboarding background might help me out but, alas, I nose dove into the salty water with the best of ‘em. While Dan and I had a good time attempting to stand on our boards, we weren’t exactly thrilled with our instructor. He seemed to be more concerned with enjoy the warm weather than actually helping us surf which was a tiny bit frustrating. However, I won’t speak for the company as the other instructor was out there with his students in on the action. Oh well. It has simply fueled our desire to try surfing elsewhere!
Sunset at Alma Cafe
After a tiring day riding the waves, we were eager to find some good eats at an earlier-than-acceptable time for dinner. We stumbled upon Alma Cafe on the boardwalk across from the water and were thrilled when they allowed us to seat early before the restaurant officially opened at 6:30pm. (What’d I tell ya? We’re gettin’ old). Cheesy prawns and a simple pizza was the perfect end to our time in Lagos, plus multiple two euro ciders and beers for both of us. We topped it off with a decadent chocolate cake cause hey, vacay.
Our following day began with another incredible spread at Casa Mãe before a 10:30am bus ride back to Lagos. As we waited in line to board our bus, we started talking to some other travelers who were wrapping up their annual seven week stay in Lagos..and planning to come back next year for nine. Clearly, the salt air and fresh fish is worth coming revisiting.
Are you more of a beach person or mountain person? Does Lagos interest you?