By Sami Nick
Airlines have added so many direct flights to Portugal from the U.S. so it has quickly become a tourist hot spot. There was so much interest from clients that I had to see for myself what the hype was all about.
We flew into Lisbon and had a driver take us down to the Algarve. We did not rent a car, but you can drive around the country if you prefer. We chose to stay at Vila Vita Parc and it did not disappoint. The views are spectacular and the hotel has its own secluded beach and 10 restaurants on property or beachside at the local beach. The service was top notch and the rooms were renovated and modern. There’s a cliff walk at the hotel and we hiked part of that. The first night, we had dinner at Arte Nautica which is beachside, but owned by the hotel. We picked out our fish and they grilled it for us. So good!
The second day we did a private half day boat and gourmet experience through the Ria Formosa lagoon and barrier islands. We saw amazing birds and other wildlife throughout the lagoon and then visited 3 Culatra islands; one of them was inhabited but there was no electricity and one of them was a little more built up. We stopped there for a delicious lunch of fresh seafood with the locals. We also stopped on a secluded sandbar in the ocean and walked and swam around.
It was so cool and peaceful and like nothing we had ever done.
The Algarve is known for its great golf, so we decided to play. There are many golf courses in the Algarve region that you cannot really go wrong-except with your own game. After golf, we went to the public beach where the hotel has a reserved section of chairs and umbrellas. It was nice to be at a local beach. The ocean water was surprisingly a little chillier than we thought it would be. We ate lunch at Praia Dourado, also a beachside restaurant by the main beach. We stayed at the main beach until late in the day- the sunsets are very late in early summer.
The last day in the Algarve we took a boat to see the Benagil Caves. The boat picked us up right at the hotel’s beach and took us along the south-western end of the Portugal coast which is all cliffs, beaches and caves. On this tour you end up seeing about 15 stunning caves. The boat takes you into the caves and it reminded me of the famous Blue Grotto in Capri. It was really amazing! After this trip, we enjoyed the resort’s pools and beach and just chilled. Then we had our final dinner at Ocean which is a 2-star Michelin restaurant. The restaurant view was one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen and the food was outstanding!
The next day we left the Algarve and traveled to Lisbon. We stayed at the Four Seasons, which was nice but a little outside of the main part of town. We met a private guide and did an afternoon tour of Lisbon. We visited the Old Quarter (Alfama), Castle of St Jorge, Praca do Comercio, Baixa, Chiado, Barrio Alto and Belem districts. We drank cherry liquor at A GinJinha and ate pastries at Pasteis de Belem. Lisbon is a beautiful city to walk around, but it is as hilly as San Francisco so you need to be careful where you turn and always wear sneakers. We shopped in Chiado and Barrio Alto and next time I’d probably choose to stay in that area. That night we ate at another 2-star Michelin restaurant- Bel Canto. The chef is very famous in Lisbon and owns a few restaurants.
On the final day we got picked up at the hotel by a driver and guide and went to Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. We started in Sintra and took a long windy road up to the Palacio de Pena. This palace was breathtaking. Set on the top of a mountain in its own micro-climate. It really shouldn’t be missed if you are in Lisbon. After seeing Sintra, we drove along the coast to Cascais and saw the western most part of Europe. Cascais is a beach town outside of Lisbon and is known as the Portuguese Riviera. Many people choose to stay here instead of the Algarve if they want a beach, but want to be near Lisbon.
Lastly, we stopped in Estoril which is known as the entertainment part of the Riviera where there is a famous casino. For our last night, we ate at Sea Me in Lisbon, which is a very lively place. At Sea Me you also get to pick out your fish and they grill it for you. It was another delicious meal.
Overall, the trip was perfect. The weather was mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky. The food was amazing and fresh. The people were very friendly and welcoming of tourists. While, we did not get a chance to travel up north to Porto and the Duoro Valley, I have planned a few trips there as well and know a fair amount about those areas. I hope to visit that area and drink a lot of Port wine on my next trip or seek adventure in the Azores- can’t decide yet…. If you ever need any help planning a trip, I am a travel agent at Valerie Wilson Travel, so please feel free to email me at [email protected]