Friday, 3 July 2015

ms-havachat travel blog 11 - Algarve, Portugal, Part III - Sightseeing

We flew direct from Dublin to Faro for our 10 night summer holiday. It's less than two hours which is brilliant (perfect for city breaks and long weekends).

We asked he Hilton Vilamoura to organise a hire car/taxi to meet us and bring us to the resort (€36). which is about a 35 minute drive from Faro which saved us hassling with transport. We enjoyed looking at the surrounding areas as we drove. Our driver was very chatty about what we were seeing, and made several recommendations for restaurants, tours etc.

Vilamoura is one of Europe's largest private tourist areas, which simply means that the proprietors of the hotels, apartments, villa's and shops 'own' the area and pay a levy for want of  a better word for its upkeep, marketing etc. I'm sure there's more to it, but that's the gist of what the driver told us. You can tell something's going on there. As soon as you enter the area it's greener, lusher, quieter.

You know when you arrive.

With world class golf courses, hotels and resorts across 3, 4 and 5 star ratings, self service apartments, villas, mansions, marina's etc, there's something literally for every budget and taste. Yet, the area doesn't feel crowded or over populated with buildings or people (we were there in June, so July, August and September would be very different)

There are miles and miles of beaches, fabulous coastline and waterparks. We could not get over how many or how big these water parks were. And zoos. There's several zoos. And marine parks. I'm not a shopper so didn't bother going to the shopping centre, but I was told by a lady by the pool I was chatting with, it was great.

You can quickly understand why the Algarve is the perfect family summer destination. In fact, it doesn't get that cold in winter, so it's really an all-year-round playground.

The deal with this summer holiday was we would spend the whole time in the same place. No schlepping around with cases. We would swim, read and relax. G would play a few games of golf; MissM would swim, and we would do 'some' sightseeing.

Simple map to give you an idea of places we went.

Our driver told us that the markets in Quateria were worth going to on a Wednesday, so off I went, leaving G and MissM to have some daddy/daughter time in the pool. Not quite sure how to say this but the taxi driver either took me to the wrong markets OR they were very disappointing.

Lots of imitation handbags being sold as "Portugal's finest quality', hand sewn linen, shoes, and underwear. It was hilarious watching women try on bra's over their t-shirts or sundresses and asking their friends 'what to you think'. I tried several times to take a sneak-pic but wasn't quick enough.

It's not somewhere I'd recommend, but I would recommend checking out the beautiful, long beach at Albufeira.

Albufeira Beach, courtesy of someone else via Google images.

My pics from the market.

The Hilton offered suggestions for all sorts of sightseeing on land and water. After careful consideration we opted for a half day tour to Silves and Monchique with Follow Me Tours. As MissM said to someone who asked her how the afternoon tour was, we learned a lot about the vegetation and not much else.

Maybe our expectations were to high?

Silves is the formal capital of Portugal with a rich history.  We certainly didn't experience that. What they should have said was 'we'll spend an hour here, of which 15-20 minutes will be taken up with walking to/from the Church and Castle up a very VERY steep, slippery slope that we recommend you only do if you are sturdy on your feet, and don't have a pram/stroller. If you want to enter the Church or the Castle there is a small fee that is not included in your tour, so please make sure you have change. As it'll be very hot, if you want a drink, we recommend take-away as you probably won't have time to sit and enjoy it'

We schlepped up the hill, in the heat. We paid the entrance fee to the Castle opting no to go inside the Church. The views from the Castle were lovely, but the Castle itself was disappointing. We bought a cold drink on the way down the hill, then had to wait for the coach to return to the meeting spot as it was late!

Walking up the hill to the Church and Castle (my pic)

The Castle (that's my back)

The Church

Inside the Castle

Thank goodness the coach was air conditioned and comfortable as the drive to the next destination was about 40 minutes (G rekons we spent more  time in the bus than exploring)

Monchique is the highest point on the Algarve and the winding road up thru the hills is pleasant enough. Our guide knew EVERYTHING about EVERY tree and shrub and shared it all with us; the most interesting thing we learned was about the cork trees, and how the are cut every 4-6 years to ensure an average thickness of cork is cut; and they way the people (we still aren't sure who cuts/owns the cork trees as they grow wild) know when the tree was last cut is by painting the last two numbers of the year they were last cut so 14 means 2014, 09, 2009 etc.

Atop Monchique - not much else here to show you

When we got back to the hotel, G organised for a hire car to be delivered and we decided to self guide over the weekend.

Early Saturday morning we took off to explore Albufeira, and the coast. We learnt on the tour that the oranges grown in Portugal are too small by EU standards for export, so they are all kept for domestic sale. The JUICE from the small oranges is very sweet and this is exported instead. The tomatoes grown in the north of the country are too big by EU standards for export, so they are all sold to Heinz and made into Ketchup (even tho it was kinda boring, we did listen to the guide)

Anyhow, back to Saturday's adventure .........................

I was thoroughly entertained by the orange sellers on the side of the road. They were every few meters, with their umbreallas to shade them from the sun, their iPhones to help them wile away the hours, and of course bags of oranges. G amused me by stopping every so often to allow me to take photo's  (I was thinking of you and this chat)

Here's a few pics of the beaches

Imagine how busy this would be in high tourist season!

We went back to the hotel around 4pm for a much needed swim to cool off, and had room service for dinner.

Sunday we headed to Cape St Vincent, the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe. You must be prepared with sunhat, cream, sturdy walking shoes as there's no shade and you need to walk over rocky ground to get to the very edge of Europe.

G and I literally stood on the edge of the continent to take some photos, not thinking for a minute 'anything could happen'. MissM kept asking us to come back ...... we made sure she was a safe distance back but we just kept clicking. In hindsight we were bloody stupid, but the photos are amazing!

Every time we see a map of Europe we know we've stood THERE,
on the very pointy bit.

Up close and personal with the edge of Europe

That's me, taking another great photo over the edge.

We then drove to Lagos and walked around Forte de Ponta Bender. Not much to see, but the views were great and the walk around the perimeter of the Forte gave us opportunity to stretch our legs (you still your hat and suncream, still no shade). We were in awe of the fisherman as the cliffs were very high; and the vegetation was very unusual and pretty.

MissM is a great tourist! She loves reading the boards.

G and MissM watching the fisherman casting their lines down the cliffs

More stunning coastline  we never tired of it

Cool photo, eh?

Going home ........

When we were at Cape St Vincent, MissM bought a keyring for her collection with a unifold postcard of places; she asked G if we could go to Ponta de Piedade, so we did.

Oh My Goodness.

Mother Nature really outdid herself here.

We absolutely HAVE to come back here and do a coastline cruise, and kayak between the caves. I would think, if you were here peak tourist season you would be well advised to BOOK your tours before arriving as this place is one of THE places to visit on the Algarve coast.

Our self drive weekend was a huge success.

The hire car and sat nav worked like a charm; G felt comfortable driving on what we call the wrong side of the road; and we were at our leisure to stay and explore places for as long as we wanted and not be dictated to.

There are probably lots of places we didn't see, but that's ok. We thoroughly enjoyed what we did, and when we go back for a second visit, we'll do a bit more.

Monday was our final all day pool session, while G played his last game of golf in the afternoon.

Tuesday we caught the plane back to Dublin and our summer holiday was a memory .............. thank goodness for our 683 photos which I'm now sorting to make an album with the online mypublisher (another chat)

With friendship

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