Portugal Chapter Two: Lisbon and The Algarve

17 Oct

LISBON
After a week in the bucolic Alentejo countryside driving into busy Lisbon was a bit of a shock. I was glad to park the rental car outside our sharehouse and find other means to get about town. Nesha Surfhouse in northern Lisbon has double rooms, one en suite and a dormitory. Guests share use of the well-equipped, living room and patio with its bright blue hammock. Surfboards feature as artworks and lamps and the reading materials feature surf spots around the world.

As we only had the weekend to explore Lisbon we crammed in as much as we could. Highlights were a tut tuk tour of the old town with anthropology researcher Thiago, picnicing in Estrela Gardens, a sunset sail on ‘Vanda’ on the bay and dinner with Fado show.

I imagine every Portuguese primary schoolchild learns the date November 1, 1755, that disastrous day Lisbon was levelled by an earthquake, flooded by a tsunami and burnt out by fires. The number of dead was somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000. Clearly there were other priorities than counting casualties.  The devastating effect of the tsunami was felt right along the coast south and into the Algarve.

 

As we walked Lisbon’s handsome avenues and plazas we tried to imagine what that day and the aftermath must have been like. Today the city is experiencing urban renewal with road works all over the place. The new MAAT, Museum of Art and Technology, is a handsome, white elipsoid structure on the waterfront in Belem. A little further down a modernist five star hotel, the Altis Belem, has an ultra cool bar overlooking the water.

Fado legend Amalia immortalised in mozaic.



Bought a pair of happy shoes made with recycled tire soles, cork and fabric from Marco at Foot Zero.


Our live Fado experience (this was just our second time as we’d heard a singer in Porto on a previous trip) was hugely enjoyable. Thiago had recommended a restaurant in the Fado district as good value and good quality. Restaurant Esquina de Alfama crams diners into a long thin building with tables spilling onto the street. Performers are wedged against the wall. At one point I thought a diner was about to lean on the guitarist mid-song. We had a prime location immediately to the artists’ left. Amidst the ordering, serving, eating and drinking musicians manage to deliver stirring renditions of popular songs. They started with a guitarist and a kind of mandolin, followed by a singer-guitarist, then two women who sang one after the other. When the women weren’t performing they would watch from behind the swing door to the toilets, their heads just poking above. Every now and again the head waiter would join in a duet or a call and response song. He had a marvellous voice but a rather odd, dour manner.

 

We were especially taken by the older, grey-haired woman Ivone Dias. She has a cheeky personality and really plays up to the audience. After her second set she signed a CD for the Brazilian couple sitting next to us and we were able to learn a little about her life. She told us her husband died when she was sixty at which point she started to sing Fado and had an opportunity to perform. Ivone is now 82 and has released two CDs. Proves it’s never too late!

Ivone Dias and Mena Sobral singing from the bathroom. Mena below.

THE ALGARVE

The southweastern corner of Portugal and along the south coast have attracted northern Europeans chasing the sun since the fifties. Flocks of them come for the winter or retire here. The quiet beach of Luz Bay with its white villas is now a completely built up community with ‘All you can eat’ buffets and ‘Full English Breakfast’ signs.

This one’s for you Mum and Dad. Recognise anything?

Much more attractive to us was Mareta Beach near Sagres and Cape St Vincent, the Finnisterre of the old world. Its lighthouse still warns ships away from the treacherous coastline.

We chatted with a stall holder at the cape who said it was probably his father who sold the Portuguese fisherman’s sweater to us 38 years ago as he had been selling there for 45 years and was the only one at that time. Pop was there but had zero interest in talking to us as we clearly weren’t going to buy another sweater. That’s Pop in the photo below.

We stayed at Mareta Beach Boutique Hotel in a room with a balcony overlooking the beach and sea cliffs. Stuart rented a bicycle and pootled out to the fort and cape. We’d done a walk from Odeciexe that morning and a longish drive so I opted for a siesta (Stu does tend to snooze in the car….).

This view from Mareta Beach Bar.

View from our balcony up with the birds.


Sagres ceramics. Dangerous territory.

Our other Algarve stop was the upmarket tennis-golf-beach resort, Vale Do Lobo. Covering 400 acres it’s a mix of established large villas, townhouses and apartments, all privately owned. Owners who want to rent do so through the on site management company which also runs the two 18-hole golf courses and other facilities.

Our sunny apartment was a short walk from the 14 tennis courts and pool. It’s been twenty years since I’ve set foot on a court. Stuart hits up with a pro at the Byron Bay Tennis Club when he can. I didn’t give Stu much of a run around but we had a laugh and didn’t annoy our neigbouring players too much. We appreciated that the club staff weren’t at all stuffy, we were both playing in walking shoes.

  

Whilst we didn’t play golf we enjoyed sunset cocktails at the 19th hole bar, as well as at the beach bar, where a talented covers rock band plays three afternoons a week. We took a twirl on the floor and finished to a round of applause. We’ve still got some pretty smooth moves!

A day trip to Faro and its cathedral and fortified waterfront finished with a relaxed lunch on the cathedral square.


We’re ending this monthlong segment of the trip with two nights at a beach hotel in Isla Cristina just over the border in Spain. The beachside hotel is 90 per cent occupied by Germans. Our sunset yoga class on the beach tonight was instructed by young German, Florian, completely in German – an exercise in serious yoga. No laughing allowed!

If your priority is guaranteed sunshine in October southern Spain and Portugal is the place to be. It has rained precisely once overnight and for a short period on the following day. Tough for farmers but perfect for vacationers.

 

I can’t finish without mentioning how cheap we’ve found the cost of food in Portugal. I’m used to comparatively low prices in Andalusia, but the low cost of groceries in particular in Portugal blew us away. This bag of fruit and veg and the other ingredients for a dinner and two lunches cost 5.40 euros at a mini-mart in Zambujeira Do Mar. We now see the attraction of motor homes in Portugal (Camping Cars in German), they get free camping and super cheap food.

And this was a gift from Cristina our host in Zambujeira Do Mar.

Tomorrow Seville-London for the rest of the week with Stuart’s sister – ‘Matilda’ is booked -then Edinburgh with the offspring for the weekend. Then it depends entirely on what the British weather is doing. We will continue to follow the sun – or at least avoid the worst of the weather. Hasta luego amigos.

Isla Cristina

2 Responses to “Portugal Chapter Two: Lisbon and The Algarve”

  1. operalphotography January 2, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    Hello !
    Your article is very interesting, thanks for the information! I also wrote an article about the Algarve on my website: https://operalphotography.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/algarve/
    Best regards,
    Marianne

    • Sharon Tickle January 3, 2017 at 1:55 am #

      Lovely photos Marianne! Thanks for your link. Travel well, Sharon

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