Being in a long distance relationship comes with its ups and downs, but meeting that special someone in a place you haven’t visited is a major perk almost making you love the circumstances.
Portugal was on my list since many of my Portuguese friends became family. And, as you may know, your curiosity spikes and in turn want to know more about your families’ homeland. And so, the circumstances have allowed me to spontaneously decide to explore the undiscovered and very under-rated region of the Algarve.
To my disappointment, the first day has greeted us with rain, wind, and everything else crushing my expectations of sun. I didn’t realise Portugal was still in its winter season, but nonetheless, we made it work with a couple restaurant trips and an active day of bike riding around Faro beach and Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Later on in the day the weather has finally gave in and gave us some clearer skies (yay!). After warming up with some soup, drying our clothes with hand driers, having countless pastel de nata and almond tarts, it was time to hang out at praia de Faro. This beach stretches out for five kilometers! The stormy weather has surely allowed me to feel the power and strength of the ocean, which I found so nostalgic as for some reason it brought me back to my childhood (visiting the Baltic sea when I was a little kid).
Jumping with joy about the fact I have the opportunity to hop on a plane and see beautiful places all around the world (!) (or Europe, so far). This time however, my visit hasn’t at all been focused on getting to know the history of the place, mainly due to the nature of the Algarve, and I loved it this way! And so for that reason I took a chill pill (not literally). I didn’t make an itinerary and went with the flow for the majority of my stay.
This rainy day had a pretty cool ending, with picking oranges off trees, casually growing in the back garden of our Airbnb (say whaaat!?), and a laid back evening at a local cafe, Tasquinha Cruzeiro, sipping on some sangria – we took it easy!
The Algarve calls for a roadtrip! To be perfectly honest, I’m never the one for car hire, as I truly believe in the power of public transport (#betterforyoubetterfortheplanet) but this time, I couldn’t let that limit me from seeing the abundance of stunning spots in the area. Felix the Fiat has come out to play (with our hair too).
Albufeira is only 40 minutes west of Faro, and is home to some stunning beaches, one of which was on my list of places I HAD to see (drumroll, please) – the gorgeous, breath-taking, praia de São Rafael.
I had NEVER seen anything like this! Mainly travelling to cities, I often forget about the real beauty mother nature created for us. I was stunned by the coloured cliffs and couldn’t be more grateful for being there during the golden hour, when everything looks even more beautiful.
And just as it couldn’t get any better, we took a quick hike up the cliffs to take in some more landscape views from an incredible perspective. Ah… 😍 isn’t life just beautiful?
And then it happened. An evil pack of mosquitoes decided to have some fun and nip at our legs right after our hike, so we’ve jumped into our emergency clothes (yes, always ready), took a drive down to Albufeira and spent the evening having more pastries (oops!).
Hey! We’re near the ocean! How about trying out something new? Okay, I might have lied when I said I haven’t had anything planned. I finally tried paddle boarding, and it was great. A morning paddle boarding session courtesy of Algarve SUP Tours has set our day right. The tour gave us an opportunity to have a great hang out session with the guides, learn a little about paddle boarding (I wasn’t as great as I thought I’d be) and have a glorious morning experience of the Ria Formosa, all for £35 each. Experiences over possessions ❤️.
With a cool start to the morning and another visit to praia de Faro, our evening held yet another road trip. Where to this time? Praia de Barril has been the winner of our Google search, located 30 minutes east of Faro, near Tavira.
A twenty minute walk (or a five minute drive by train, pictured above) through a forest will bring you to a beach surrounded by tropical plants and a family resort. This beach has been considered as one of the top ten best destinations in the world for family travel by the Lonely Planet magazine – I’m sure you were wondering. As we arrived in the late afternoon it was pretty much deserted, which didn’t bother me one bit. I have soon realised this spot was the perfect choice. I’m sure you will agree. 😍 The S U N S E T. WOW.
…and yes, the mosquitoes still persisted! Ouch 💔
Ah, the famous caves! Un-missable, once-in-a-lifetime experience you say? Let’s see what all the fuss is about, shall we?
It was our last full day of this amazing adventure, and with the temperature growing higher and higher day by day, we had to make the most of it. Early starts = longer drives! Last day trip couldn’t have gone anywhere else than to Praia de Benagil to see the famous grutas de benagil…
…but it so happened that we didn’t get there on time for a tour and had to leave before the next one has been starting. I was devastated! (especially as after I got back home, Google has kindly told me I could have walked to it instead of getting the boat!). But hey, another excuse to come back, right?! Nonetheless, what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you, so I quickly got over my FOMO and continued to appreciate the beauty that has been surrounding me.
The water was freezing! I spent the month sneezing… ;). Another wow moment pictured below – come on nature! Top tip: don’t go too far into the ocean as it might sweep you away. Thought I’d throw in this safety precaution for all you adrenaline junkies out there. I didn’t dare to have a full on swim (awww).
Next stop: Praia da Oura in Albufeira. Okay, in reality the next stop was actually an Irish pub (ironic). With a beer in hand, I tuned into a very (emphasis on very) important football match. The magic of compromise…
…and was then rewarded with this gorgeous candy floss sunset! We turned back to Albufeira after a little drama with our car hire, missing out on Lagos but hey – check this out. The train back to Faro has only cost us €2.50 each, and was extremely comfortable, not mentioning an absolute steal.
The last morning topped all of my take-off experiences with this beautiful aerial view of the Faro and its islands 😍. Endings aren’t always so awful eh?
Top tips on visiting the Algarve:
♥ Hire a car. You might be a little apprehensive but it can work out cheaper in the end, and you will have the freedom of unrestricted movement – just remember to pay the toll charges at a post office three days later, or you will be surprised with a lovely fine (10 times the toll charges).
♥ When parking near Praia de Benagil, don’t park at the hill as if you’re not experienced there is a 90% chance you will roll well back when trying to drive off. Trust me, you don’t want to go through this – park on a flat road at one of the restaurant’s parking lots.
♥ Pack a selection of warm clothes. Especially if you are travelling within the October to March season, known as the raining season in Portugal. It can get chilly!
♥ Ask locals for recommendations on restaurants, and don’t give in to the tourist traps surrounding the beaches – unless you are in an emergency, of course.
♥ Go down to a market and relish in the abundance of fruit. If you’re a fan of avocados, Portugal will be your heaven. P.S. the avocados sold are actually ripe! (how crazy…).
♥ Mosquito spray. I’m sure you know the pain. No explanation needed.
♥ Enjoy every moment – don’t sit around in your hotel/hostel/airbnb/etc room unless you’re sleeping or planning. Go out and explore! This is why I believe I don’t ever need to stay in fancy hotels! It’s what I do outside of it that I will cherish forever.
Portugal, you’ve been great. You’ve been freezing cold and tropical, your waters have made my toes numb and your epic landscapes have made me breathless. It’s hard to believe it took me so long to finally have met you, but hey, better late than never! Expect me to come back in the very near future, but until then, stay gorgeous.
Much love, Karolina ♥
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As always, all views are my own.