We enjoyed an amazing holiday in the Algarve in Portugal and I wanted to write a blog to share things to do in the Algarve that we found.
Our First Holiday Without the Kids
Recently my fiancee and I went on our first ever holiday away without our children. Since having Bella 9 years ago we had never been away for longer than 1 night and even that was very rare, so the chance for us to go to the Algarve for 4 days together we both jumped at it.
Instead of getting each other Christmas presents, we put the money together to buy a well deserved holiday for us both. As I work full time, Dino works away from home Monday to Friday night and then we have the kids to look after and housework to be done, you can imagine we don’t really see each other very much.
This was going to be the longest we had ever spent in each other’s company in a very long time.
We were both looking forward to just relaxing and taking things easy on holiday, lazing by the pool or the beach and taking in the sun.
In reality, our holiday turned out nothing as we had envisaged, we didn’t once relax by the pool or lie on the beach. In fact, our holiday was so busy and action-packed it turned out to be our best holiday ever.
Thinking about it now we are both active people so relaxing all day was not really our cup of tea and I am sure we would have got bored. We turned in to travellers for the 4 days and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Turning into Travellers
We always hire a car when we go on holiday as you get to see so much more of the area rather than staying in one place and relying on taxis to ferry you about which can be expensive. We used Europcar in the Algarve and we have used them before on previous holidays and had good service. We were given a nice fairly new and very clean Renault Megane and when we handed the car back to Europcar we had clocked up a huge 411km in just 4 days.
Things to do in the Algarve
One of the activities we participated in was the dirt buggy tour around the country hills in Loule with a company called Buggy Safari which you can find on TripAdvisor. When we arrived the ladies running the tour were very friendly and spoke English. They gave us a quick briefing and got us to fill out forms.
They told us before we set off that halfway through the tour they stop so the drivers can swap over. I am not a confident driver back home when driving on the left side of the road so the thought of driving an open dirt buggy around unfamiliar roads on the other side of the road was out of the question I was happy to let Dino drive us around, especially as we forgot to get any travel insurance before we left (something I do not advise doing, always get travel insurance).
Dino and the ladies running the tour persuade me to fill in the form anyway just in case I changed my mind and did want to drive.
We were strapped into the seats given our huge goggles to shield our eyes from the dirt and mud and off we set. The dirt tracks were very rocky but surprisingly the buggy was very comfortable and you did not feel the bumps. We were at the back of the group so we bore the brunt of the dirt flying around. Lucky for us it had not rained for a few days so the track was quite dry as the guides had warned us that when it rains people come back from there tours covered in mud from head to toe.
We were taken all around the countryside up and down steep hills, Dino enjoyed driving the dirt buggy even with the wonky steering that he had to fight with to keep in a straight line and I enjoyed sitting back and taking in the view with the wind blowing through my hair.
Eventually, we stopped at a lovely local pub in a quiet little village of Tor for a drink. The village itself was so quiet it was like a ghost town with not a soul around until we reached the pub where there were a few locals relaxing with a beer. After having a rest stop and a drink we were off to hit the road again.
That’s when our guide said it was my turn to drive and Dino was egging me on to drive. I was really nervous but knew if I didn’t drive the rest of the way I would be regretting it, so I plucked up the courage and off we set. The buggies were parked one behind the other and before we had even set of I nearly went into the back of the buggy in front as I was looking behind to see if any cars were coming and didn’t notice him stop. After that little hiccup, we were off and within minutes my fears had melted away and adrenaline took over.
I was constantly fighting with the steering wheel to keep the buggy in a straight line and the breaks were a little stiff. Despite the difficulties driving the dirt buggy, it was exhilarating; with the wind blowing straight onto our face and the dust that was flying around it felt that we were going very fast. If the speedo was working in the buggy I could have told you the speed that we were doing but either way, it felt fast to me. We survived the next part of the trip with me driving and for once Dino got to sit back and enjoy the views. We drove over big rocks and down really steep hills that had a huge drop off at the edge.
Unfortunately, because it had rained so much the week before we arrived in the Algarve the river was too deep for us to cross in the buggies as they normally do but we still came across some big puddles we had to get through without getting too muddy.
When we arrived back and got out of the buggy we all started laughing at each other as it was the first time we had noticed just how dusty we all were. From head to toe, we were covered in orange dust, I looked the worst as with my pale skin I looked like I had streaky fake tan all over me. We shook ourselves as clean as we could still laughing and ecstatic over the amazing experience we had just had and watched the dust fly out of clothing on every shake. The trip was a bit pricey at 120 euros for a 2 person buggy but the experience was well worth the cost.
I had seen pictures of the rocks and caves around the Algarve and wanted to do a boat trip out to see them, Dino wasn’t so keen on the idea of going on a boat but as we looked through the leaflets at the hotel we came across Kayaking trips around the coast of Lagos. We both jumped at the idea and set off to Lagos to book the trip. Dino had been in a canoe before but I had never done anything like this and it was going to be a completely new experience and another activity off the bucket list.
There were loads of excursion companies offering trips around the caves but after looking at the leaflets and the TripAdvisor reviews we decided on a company called Days of Adventure and booked our tickets which were 35 euros each and went down to the meeting point to get on the boats.
At the start of the trip, we jumped on to a normal boat that carries us out to sea from the marina with the kayaks on board. Once we had reached the point at the begging of the caves we were loaded into the kayaks and pushed off a special ramp at the back of the boat and into the sea. Having never been in a kayak before I was surprised at how buoyant they were, I was worried that once I started moving trying to paddle the kayak would rock and we would fall in.
As it was the very beginning of April the sea was cold and at first, the splashes of cold water on your legs as you paddled made you jump every time but after a couple of minutes paddling and working up a sweat, the cold splashes were a welcome feeling.
Paddling was quite easy and we managed to get into a routine and were able to glide through the water and keep up with the guide and the other 4 kayaks in our group.
The guide stopped us at points of interest and explained some history of the beaches and rock formations. The guides were all friendly and a real good laugh. As we went around they pointed out ancient rock formations that the old fisherman had named after the object they looked like and after the guides pointed it out you could really see the object in the rocks. Some of these formations were ‘The Portuguese Titanic’ where there was a rock shaped like a boat with another rock to the side shaped like an iceberg, ‘The French kiss’ this is a rock that looked like 2 people kissing, ‘Skull cave’ where what looked like a skull carved into the recess of the rocks, there were many more that we visited on the trip.
Our guide also took us through cave openings that were just big enough for the kayak to squeeze through really putting our new found skills to the test.
We all came out unscathed and got to wonder at the inside of these amazing caves carved into the rocks over millions of years. Inside the cave, the temperature was so cool and the water as cold as ice glowing a deep blue in the shade of the cave.
Once our tour had finished we headed back to the boat where we were pulled aboard and told that the boat would stop here for a while for people to go swimming.
Having already felt the water I knew it was going to be cold but didn’t want to miss the experience of jumping into the sea from the boat. I made my way to the front of the boat where I saw some of the other passengers mainly the young teenagers jumping off into the sea and happily swimming off. That was it I had to jump I couldn’t be the only one on the boat that had not been swimming so after sitting on the edge for what must have been about 5 minutes trying to pluck up the courage I finally thought it is now or never and I jumped.
The coldness of the water pieced through my body, as soon as my feet hit the water I regretted the decision and started flailing around. The shock of the cold meant I was struggling to breathe and not being the strongest of swimmers I did start to panic a bit, I scorned myself for not jumping off the other end of the boat by the steps then I could have easily got back on board or at least had something to hold on to until I calmed myself down.
Instead in my panic state, I now had to try and swim to the other end of the boat before being able to get back on board. I was really struggling until I heard the Dino call to me asking if I was ok with a slight hint of worry in his voice. Hearing his voice helped me to calm down and I was able to begin the slow swim round to the other side. Still slowly panicking, once at the side of the boat the guide was leaning over the side unaware of my predicament, he proceeded to wind me up, saying that he could see a fin sticking out of the water behind me and it was getting closer. For a moment I forgot about the cold icy water around me and when he had finished with his fin in the water joke I was a lot calmer and managed to swim round to the other side of the boat and climb back on board. I quickly wrapped myself up in a towel and looked up but Dino had gone I rushed to the side of the boat to see him casually swimming along.
I would highly recommend this trip to anyone visiting the Algarve it is a great experience, just be warned the sea is freezing so make sure you put it into consideration before jumping in. If however you did not want to do the kayaking but wanted to still do the trip there are loads of other boat tours available from the port.
The company we went with ‘Days of Adventure’ also gave us discount vouchers for 2 local restaurants located in Lagos. We went to the Orangery restaurant, the staff were very friendly and the food was fabulous which was well needed after all the hard work of kayaking.
Day Trip to Silves
We took the day to look around the historic town of Silves, which is rich in history and full of beautiful old buildings. I do love the old Portuguese Architecture it is always so grand with beautiful detail.
In the centre of town is the imposing Silves Castle (Castelo De Silves), which is stood high up on the hill where it can be seen for miles. This Moorish stronghold has been used to defend the town in both the 12th and 13th Centuries. With its impressive stone-built walls and amazing 360-degree viewpoint it is easy to see how it has stood the test of time and helped to defend the city.
Inside the Castle are remnants of houses that were once situated within, mainly as excavated foundations now. The entry cost for the Castle De Silves is a very reasonable 3.80 euros each and this also includes entry to the town’s museum.
Round the castle, there is a beautiful landscape garden with blossom and orange trees and a lovely water feature built around a restaurant. The restaurant is a great place to stop for a spot of lunch or even just for a quick drink.
After visiting the castle we went down to the archaeological museum (Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves) which is built around an excavated 12th-13th Century well.
Inside the museum, there are plenty of artefacts to look at and you are allowed to take photos of all the exhibits as long as you do not use a flash. The well itself is fascinating it is around 20 meters deep and made out of Silves sandstone.
Around the town of Silves, there are some lovely little cafes and local bars serving Portuguese cuisine. When we visited, there were a lot of tourists around but I do mean tourists who have come to enjoy the culture, not holidaymakers who are there for the sun and the booze. Slives was a very peaceful town with a lovely friendly atmosphere. Everywhere you looked there was beautiful architecture in the old buildings and churches.
There were loads of stalks flying around the town and they had nests everywhere from the rooftops to the ruins of a house, to the pylons. It was the first time I had ever seen a Stork, I did have to google them to find out what they were.
Also when we were in the gardens of Silves Castle we saw a chameleon walk really slow from the bushes across the path and up the tree. He was a beautiful creature with really big looking eyes.
A day out in Lagos
After we finished our kayaking tour and had lunch at a local restaurant we took to the streets of Lagos to do some exploring of the town. Lagos is also a historic town but unlike Silves, it is a popular holidaymakers destination so there are a lot more bars and restaurants with nearly everyone we meet being able to speak English. There were quite a few holidaymakers in Lagos but as we went off-season the town was still peaceful, I can imagine it being quite busy in the summer with the bars and restaurants very full.
Largos still boast its historic walled old town with historic buildings and beautiful churches.
There was a market along the promenade when we visited offering clothes, bags, ceramics and gifts. There was also the main shopping parade with lots of well known and local shops so great if you would like to do a bit of shopping whilst on holiday. There is also a cliff walk you can take around Largos, although we didn’t get time to visit.
We stayed in Portimao in Vitors Plazza a lovely purpose-built hotel with outdoor and indoor swimming pool (not that we even went in it). Our room was a good size with a large balcony and the room was very clean and looked newly decorated. We enjoyed watching spectacular sunrises from the balcony with the sun shining through the palm trees.
The nearest beach to us was a 5-minute drive from the hotel and had a wooden promenade spanning the width of the beach. With quaint little restaurants serving delicious local food, the beach was made up of beautiful white sand and deep blue ocean with the cliffs in the distance. We went down to the beach every night and watched the sunset then stopped at the restaurants for dinner. After we had finished we left under the starry night sky.
Praia da Rocha in Portimao
About a 10-minute drive from our hotel was Praia da Rocha (meaning beach of rocks) as the name suggests this is where you can walk along with the rock formations and into some of the caves made from erosion. The beach is picturesque with its golden sands, blue waters and the limestone rocks. We spent some time walking along the beach into the caves and through small archways carved into the rocks. The tide was out when we visited so we were able to fully explore the rocks.
Once we had finished we headed up to the top where we were greeted by cafes and restaurants where we spend the time resting in the sunshine looking out onto the ocean.
Faro was the last town we visited, as the airport is in Faro we spent the day there before catching our late flight home. We started off in the new part of town where we ended up walking around the biggest shopping centre I have been too.
There were lots of well-known shops like Zara, Addidas, Lacoste, Levis and so on anyone who loves to shop should definitely visit the Forum Algarve shopping centre. As we had travelled light with only hand luggage we were limited to what we could buy but enjoyed pondering around the shops anyway.
When it got to lunchtime we headed up to the food court and were hit with so much choice. There were the usual Macdonalds and KFC but we didn’t come to Portugal to eat English food so we picked a Portuguese restaurant chain and picked what we wanted from the pictures at the side. I ordered a frango (chicken) deluxe salad and I have to say it was the best salad I have ever had. The salad came with orange, fennel seeds, balsamic vinegar, salad and chicken. We also had freshly squeezed lemonade with chopped mint, this was the most refreshing drink I have ever had, it was so nice we got one each to take away as well. Even in a food court fast food restaurant the food was still amazing it is hard to find anywhere in the Algarve that doesn’t serve good fresh food.
We had a walk around this part of town and saw the dried-up beds of the mudflats and saltwater lagoons where there were small fishing boats that had been stranded.
After we had finished exploring this part of town we headed to Faro old town to explore yet more Portuguese historic architecture. Faro old town is a very scenic town especially with the old walled part, with medieval cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, it also boasts a marina.
Faro has a very Portuguese feel with a few tourists visiting and not holidaymakers so there is a very relaxed atmosphere. There are still a lot of restaurants dotted around selling authentic Portuguese cuisine and with more of a Portuguese vibe and once again serving delicious food. What a great end to our holiday in the Algarve.
We only had 4 short days if we had longer there is a lot more activities that you can do Viator has a great selection of excursions on the Algarve.
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