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Portugal! Wow, what a country. Totally underrated, in our humble opinion. Etienne and I did not really know what to expect when we went, just that it was somewhere that always seemed like a neat place to go. It was amazing!! We only had 7 full days, but we made the most of it. You could easily spend weeks there, and see something new every day. Castles, beaches, seafood, WINE and more!
Day 1 – I landed at around 11:30 in the morning on Wednesday, feeling pretty tired from the long, sleepless flight but also amped about getting out and exploring. Etienne’s flight from Amsterdam had landed a couple of hours before mine so he was pretty eager to get going. It’s been a long time since I have traveled anywhere that wasn’t English as a first language, so right off the bat I felt a bit of culture shock.
After a tumultuous fight with the train ticket vending machine, we were on our way. We checked in at the hotel and then wandered into the touristy part of Lisbon, through the narrow, village-like lanes of the Alfama and down to the waterfront where I snapped the picture above of King Jose I. We ended up having dinner in the same area (pizza and wine – yay) and then going to bed early!
Day 2 – Such a good breakfast at the hotel. Buffet breakfasts = a very full Katherine. We wandered back down to the Alfama and ended up at the Sao Jorge Castle. GREAT view of the city. There was a delightful little wine cart set up, so what does a kid-free traveler do? Sit down and enjoy the view, with a glass of wine, of course.
After the castle we took a train to the nearby town of Sintra. WOW! This town features on the cover of the Lonely Planet book for a reason. We visited the amazingly beautiful Pena Palace and the nearby Castelo dos Mouros.
The picture above is of the palace kitchen, with the real pots/pans that they used to use. Everything was engraved! I wouldn’t mind testing a few recipes in that kitchen 😉
After all of our castle/palace touring, we were exhausted and ready for dinner. For some reason we were super determined to eat outside and couldn’t find anything to satisfy that demand in Sintra, so we took the train back into Lisbon and finally found a restaurant outside; however, after all that, the sun had set and it was dark out anyway!
Day 3 – We left Lisbon and rented our car. We picked it up at the airport, and it took nearly 2 hours of waiting in line to get it. SO frustrating! Our car was a fun little Toyota Yaris, stick shift. It was the new version of the car I used to drive, so it was a trip down memory lane driving that thing! So fun to drive a standard again. We’re both so grateful that Portugal’s roads are on the same side as ours!!
We drove down South to the Alentejo, Portugal’s largest region. It is known for it’s cork production, traditional food (yay) and wineries. We ended up in the town of Evora. OMG – the town’s roads were impossible to navigate. The cobblestone roads were so narrow, our Yaris barely fit down them. They were basically walking paths. After much, much navigation and re-navigation, we made it to our hotel.
We found a winery for some much needed samples, and dined at their in-town restaurant, Cartuxa, that night. The wine was surprisingly affordable, and the food was simply amazing. We ate so much my stomach hurt!
Our feast included a fresh fish and vegetable stew, and a roasted rabbit salad. The flavors were so fresh and unique. The wine was wonderful, and the price of everything was so reasonable that we went a little overboard….
There was a carnival in town that night so we spent the rest of the evening wandering around through the festivities!
Day 5 – We took off to the beach first thing in the morning, as the coast was about a 2 1/2 hour drive away. We landed at a small town near Albufeira, Portugal’s coastal party town. Of course, we went right down to the beach. THE BEACH! You guys, I’ve never heard anyone rave about Portugal’s beaches, but I don’t know why. They were stunning, from the red rocky cliffs to the golden beach and fine sand. We spent our entire afternoon basking in the sun!!
Dinner that night was at a fresh seafood restaurant right off the beach, where you picked out your meal by literally pointing at the fish, shrimp or lobster that you wanted cooked for you. They brought the cooked fish to you and picked out the bones before serving! So fresh! The fish went very well with our pitcher of red sangria (my new obsession).
We finished the night off with a wander down the beach while the sun set. Amazing!!
Day 6 – We spent our 6th day in Portugal at another beach, about an hour drive away on the island of Tavira. We stopped at a small town for some authentic Portuguese food, and I also picked up a few souvenirs. You might remember the lucky rooster that I bought a while back with my Mother’s Day gift card. I knew it was hand painted in Portugal, but I had no idea that these lucky roosters were everywhere in Portugal. It’s a real thing. I picked up a couple of small ones as gifts.
After lunch we made it to Tavira, where you had to either walk across a long boardwalk to get to the beach, or take this delightful mini train. Obviously, I had to ride the train.
The beach was beautiful, and if you wandered 1 km to the East, you found yourself at an official nudist beach. Enough said.
Anyway, the beach was gorgeous and we spent most of our day there. We had another delightful dinner in Albufeira, sampling an amazing seafood cataplana, which is basically a stew of seafood, potatoes and veggies in a tomato-based broth. Oh, and more sangria and wine. I regret that I don’t have a picture of that cataplana!!
Day 7 – Our last day in Portugal!! We said goodbye to the beautiful Algarve region and started the drive back to Lisbon first thing in the morning. We made a stop halfway on the East coast, at one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to. The bonus was that it was so secluded!! There were only a few people there.
After a sad farewell to the glorious beach, we went straight back to Lisbon to return the car. Oh – and we had a McDonald’s stop. Don’t judge.
We returned the car, and took an Uber into the heart of Lisbon again, where we then took a little ferry to a small island just off the coast, and had our last dinner. We were both seafood-ed out so we ended up just having pizza (and wine).
Etienne’s flight left at 5am the next morning, so by the time we got back to the hotel and packed up our stuff, he had a grand total of 2.5 hours of sleep before he had to get up and rush off to the airport. My flight left a couple of hours later, so I at least got a bit more sleep!
I’m happy to say our boys were ecstatic to see us when we got home, and everyone is happy and healthy. I was so scared to be that far away from my babies but I have to say it was SO nice having that time with Etienne to explore a new country. Please, if you’re thinking of a European vacation, give Portugal a chance!! We only scratched the surface of this amazing place.
Now, where to next….?