We have been home for two weeks now, from our AMAZING vacation! In those two weeks, I do not think there has been a single day where one of us has not wished out loud to go back to Portugal!
We absolutely fell in love with this region of the world, from the beaches, to the pace of life, to the food, to the wine and sangria. We LOVED it all! We have even talked and done a bit of research into buying a vacation home here, “some day.”
Algarve is the southern region of Portugal. The international airport is Faro Airport and both budget airlines (Ryanair and Easy Jet) travel there. You will not necessarily need a rental car if you plan on staying only in the city of your accommodations. There are plenty of taxis and airport transfer companies to choose from.
However, we wanted to explore a bit of Portugal and Spain so we opted for a rental car. We had a little issue finding a rental car company that would accept debit cards. Most will want a credit card and will put a certain amount on “hold” (typically $500-$1000) as a deposit.
We did find the rental car company Luzcar that would accept our debit cards. They were about $10/day more than the “cheap” options. However, I am sooo, sooo happy that we ended up with Luzcar.
Luzcar was located in Carpark 4 (with the rest of the companies). However, they actually had rental cars in the parking lot! Once you filled out the paper work, you were handed over the keys. Unlike, the other companies where people were standing around for quite some time waiting for shuttles.
Plus the car we were given was NEW (not always the case in Europe for rental cars) and was fabulous!
Portugal does recognize U.S. driver’s license and therefore you are not “required” to hold an international license. However, Spain does require an international license if you plan on crossing the border.
We wanted to stay in a condo/apartment because we enjoy cooking some of our own meals while we are on vacation. Plus it helps stretch our budget. After some research, I found Estrela da Luz via Expedia. The reviews were great and I loved the price (~$50/night)!
This complex is located in the very small village of Praia da Luz (“Beach of Luz”). The apartments are some of the nicer ones in the area. It is a gated complex and we lucked out that our studio apartment included the use of a garage.
The complex has three pools (baby, family, adult) and a pool bar. It also has a gym (looked great, but did not visit LOL). There is also a restaurant and cafe that is part of the complex although we did not have a chance to check it out (next time).
Estrela da Luz is located about a 5 minute easy walk to the beach and there are quite a number of restaurants and a small grocery store with in a 5-10 minute walk. Our favorite restaurants were Chicca’s (small menu that changes daily, Portuguese/Italian influence) and Barroca (grill/bar with lots of seafood options).
Praia da Luz is extremely small, so if you are looking for more than sunshine, beach, and good food/drinks. You may want to stay in a larger beach town. Although, we loved the slow pace and quietness of Luz and we plan on (fingers crossed) to make a trip back next spring.
Our main objectives for this vacation was to soak up some sun, enjoy the ocean/beach, and relax. However, we did go on a few “adventures” outside of Praia da Luz.
Fiesa is the largest sand sculpture exhibition ever built. This year, was their 13th edition and the theme was “music.” Every year is a completely new theme, with new sculptures.
Fiesa is open from Mid-March through Mid-October. The price of admission is €9 for adults, €4.50 for children between 6 and 12 years, and children 5 years and younger are free.
My husband was absolutely amazed and loved this outing. In fact, it was the ONLY tourist attraction that he really wanted to attend and he was not disappointed in the slightest.
Fortaleza de Sagres
Fortaleza de Sagres (“Fortress of Sagres”) is located at the most south western point of Portugal. This location and original fort was important in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the original fort was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake from the resulting tsunami. It is difficult to imagine a tsunami that overtook the ~200 foot cliffs and washed away the fortress.
The entrance fee is €3 for adults and €1.60 for children. We did not go inside the fort. There were plenty of amazing views from just outside of the fort. There is plenty of free parking at the fort to park your car and walk along the cliffs for some amazing scenery.
The fort is just on the border of the small village of Sagres. This area is known for their surfing, which you can see the few surfers (dots) in the water. So the village has a few surf shops, restaurants, and gas stations.
Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
We then drove through the National Park to see quite a different scenery than the southern coast of Portugal. The road was narrow and quite curvy. Although, it’s “nothing” compared to many of the “country roads” in the United Kingdom.
Quite a few large hills/small mountains and lots of trees. We even saw some “wildlife”… the BIGGEST weasel I have EVER seen! Seriously was the size of a dog/raccoon! LOL.
Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha is absolute breath taking! The clarity and color of water absolutely blew me away while we were in Portugal. We were here in late May/early June so the ocean was still quite cold for us. However, there were many people who were swimming.
This beach is east of where we were staying and the water is slightly warmer the further east you travel. Unfortunately, we did not through in our swimsuits because I think we could have tolerated the water here. We will definitely “next time!”
The beach here is quite small and the waves break quite hard onto the beach. So probably not the ideal location for small children. To get down the beach there are quite a few stairs. However, the stairs are extremely nice (best I’ve seen in Europe). The stairs are even and gradual with hand railings in most locations. Also, there is a snack shop at the beach level. It was closed when we were there. So possibly only open during the weekends/summer (???).
This beach is also known for the rock formations and caves. So even if you do not feel like climbing the stairs down to the beach. Park your car (absolutely free) and view the several lookout points of the rock formations. Absolutely gorgeous!
We drove 280km (~2 1/2 hours) to Seville, Spain. My husband had visited Seville about 7 years ago and since then (hearing about his experience) I have wanted to travel there. So, we did just that without thinking much about being in the car for 5 hours and only have a few hours actually touring the city. Although, after spending ~3 hours in the 90 degrees with blazing sun, we were ready to get in the comfort of our car with amazing air conditioning. LOL!
Catedral da Sevilla
Caterdral da Sevilla (sorry, Spanish site) (“Seville Cathedral”) is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and is also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Admission is €8 and children under the age of 12 years are free. Photographs are allowed inside the cathedral. However, it is a very dark (very few windows) cathedral and flash and tripods are not allowed. So pictures did not turn out the best.
There is a beautiful courtyard with orange trees as you exit the cathedral. If you are lucky enough to visit in January/February, the trees should be speckled with oranges.
The Seville Bullfighting Ring and Museum. Entrance fee is € 7 for adults and € 3 for children between the ages of 7 and 11 years. This bullfighting ring is considered to be the finest and oldest in all of Spain. The building took 130 years to complete, which was finally completed in 1881.
We did not tour the bullfighting ring. It just happened to be between the car park and the cathedral.
As for the rest of our time in Seville, Spain we had a delicious Spanish lunch (with of course “arroz” (rice) that my husband has been raving about for 7 years LOL). We also walked around the city a bit and took in the different architecture (one of my favorite things about the Spanish/Portuguese cultures).