Algarve's Secret Sea Caves
In the midst of an historic heat wave, we headed to London for a four-day work trip, which consisted largely of practicing even hotter hot yoga, consuming various Pret a Manger and Marks & Spencer takeaway items in our hotel bed and hanging out with friends in too loud but very chic London hotspots. Once we finished up our short work week, we woke up at 3am on a Thursday with a plan to take the train from London Blackfriars to Gatwick ariport for a 6am flight to the Algarve region of Portugal.
"These sorts of travel days, with adventure, exploration, physical activity, fresh, delicious food and a little indulgence are what make us love travel and continue to explore, especially in the summer."
We slept a few hours and were out the door of our hotel by 3:15am, plenty of time to make the 3:41 train to the airport, except our Uber driver took a wrong turn, causing us to miss the train by 90 seconds. Tired and sweaty after sprinting through the station with our bags, we ordered another Uber and spent the next hour and fifteen minutes racking up an exorbitant bill, only to arrive and have to sprint again to drop our bag and rush to the gate just before it closed.
All that morning action allowed us to sleep on the two and a half hour flight, and we landed over deep blue Atlantic waters in Faro airport by 9am. We picked up our rental, a mini Smart car. The rental lady told us not to drive on the highway. When Dave asked, "Why, for safety reasons?" she replied, "Because I said so." We drove west along the coast, first hitting Albandeira beach, a small sandy beach with a rock arch and small water cave, which can be waded through to reach a larger stretch of sand with barely any people. After our long morning, we rushed into the water, which was unseasonably cold, causing Erin's limbs to go numb. We swam through the cave with our belongings above our heads, dropped them at the deserted beach, and then embarked on a swim adventure around the rocks, swimming from cove to cove, into open sea caves and climbing the rocks to jump back into the sea.
Praia do Marinha
Since our beach time on this trip was only a few days, we quickly moved on to the next beach - Praia do Marinha, known as one of the most emblamatic and beautiful beaches in Portugal. We parked on a dirt road, followed the visitors carrying candy-colored floats, and came upon a cliff with a steep staircase leading down to a thin slice of sand punctuated with giant rock formations set against neon cerulean waters. We decided to start our visit with a hike along the coastal cliff to scout for hidden beaches, and within 10 minutes we came to a perfect spot - white sand, perfect water and no people - except it was only reachable by boat, kayak or a long open ocean swim from Marinha.
We continued on and made it to Benagil beach, famous for its nearby sea cave. From inside the cave you will see the blue sky through an opening in the ceiling, also known as the eye. To reach the famous cave, you have to either kayak or buy a ticket to take a small tourist boat, which enters the massive cave, floats through the cave lagoon and out another hole. One other option, though, is to swim through the rough ocean waters from the beach, around the massive cliffs and into the cave directly - we chose this option as it allowed us to explore the cave and hang out on the rocks and beach inside. We eased in to the cold water and swam out to sea, pushing through visitors trying to reach the cave atop rafts.
Within a few minutes, we arrived and were mesmerized by the famous geological formation. Inside the cave was a broad beach, a few giant boulders and a rotation of tourist boats cycling through. We considered coming back at dawn the next day, to explore alone. We explored and then headed back to the beach, up onto the cliffs and back towards Marinha. After getting our fill, we picked up some fruit from a vendor, who sliced us up a giant canary melon as a snack, and then had a fruit feast in our smart car as we headed towards our hotel, an original airy beach house seated just on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea.
On the way back, we squeezed in a short stop at Lagos to scope out its grottoes.
Canico Restaurant by the Sea
We checked in to our room, which featured a porch opening out to a grassy courtyard overlooking the sea, took a rest and then headed to dinner at Canico, a restaurant on Praia Tres Irmaos - known as the "beach of three brothers" due to the three rock formations just off of the shore.
We arrived at the entrance to Canico and took an elevator down the steep cliff to the restaurant and were greeted with a tasting of local rose wine and a giant platter of live fish and shellfish to choose from for our entree. For the next two hours, we watched the sun set over the sea and watched as the restaurant projected an under the sea documentary onto the seaside cliffs while we feasted on local olives, chickpeas and tuna, sea bass, tuna tartare and chocolate cake, all washed down with local beer and wine. We've found the food in Portugal to be some of the best in Europe - everything is fresh, has a lot of flavor and is super cheap.
Praia do Martinhal
We rolled home in our smart car (which we started to love, as it can be parked nearly anywhere), passed out, and woke just after sunrise to continue our drive west to check out Praia do Martinhal - a perfect, still bay surrounded by sand dunes, a beach bar shack, a windsurf rental spot and a few perfect beach houses staggered up the hill overlooking the powder-soft sands. Immediately, we started looking up real estate at this seemingly ideal spot. We walked along the beach, contemplated renting a wind surf, and explored the neon green mossy rocks in the nearby cove while enjoying a beach picnic of local strawberries.
Keen on continuing our exploration, we headed to Salema, which Rick Steves recommended as his favorite beach and little fishing village in all of Europe. We drove through the seaside hills to the picturesque little town and parked on a curb - one other observation about Portugal - pretty much anything goes. We walked down a small pier, passed a few brightly colored fishing boats and walked down the beach to a perfectly flat, angled rock, where we alternated between laying out in the sun and taking dips in the ice cold morning sea.
After our seafood feast the night before, we decided to keep it simple all day, focusing on fruit, to prepare for our dinner. We walked down to the beach just below our hotel to a long boardwalk dotted with classic Portugese beach bars. We sat down outside with a view over the sea to watch the sunset, ordered a pitcher of sangria, and chilled while the chef prepared seafood shish kebabs stacked with shrimp and local monkfish - a delicacy we recently became enamored with in Spain. We enjoyed the seafood and accompanying fresh vegetables, and then walked along the coast to a cliffside shisha bar, where we enjoyed a few more drinks, a very talented acoustic singer, and a very chill Euro-summer-night vibe, followed by some gelato as a nightcap. These sorts of travel days, with adventure, exploration, physical activity, fresh, delicious food and a little indulgence are what make us love travel and continue to explore, especially in the summer.
We woke up early with the goal to hit one more beach en route to Lisbon, where we would spend the next couple days of our trip. We drove west and then north along the Atlantic Coast, and made it to Odeceixe, a wild, rugged beach known for its surf, Game of Thrones-like rock formations and sea caves. Since the beach lies within a natural park, it was pristine and totally natural, despite the brave souls hiking down the cliff with umbrellas, surf and skim boards in hand.
We started our beach morning with Dave having a quick skim session on the giant beach, and then waded around the cliffs surrounding the beach to find another beach, which ended up being a nude beach (we learned this by witnessing a fully nude large family playing soccer). This beach was super epic, despite the nudity, because its rock formations made it look like a movie set - we did some climbing and explored giant caves and grottoes. We made our way back to the main beach only to find the tide had come in, and Erin had to swim with our phones above her head to make it back to land. We continued our adventure by exploring the other end of the beach, which included a small river that formed a natural kiddie pool and also a series of sharp rocks to climb to watch the massive waves crash against the cliffs.
We could have stayed at Odeiceixe all day, but we had tickets to a Van Morrison concert just outside of Lisbon that evening, so we jumped back in the car and motored up to Lisbon, arriving at our posh, urban hotel sandy, sweaty and hungry. We checked out the rooftop pool, took much-needed showers and enjoyed room services of soup, salad and wraps in our bathrobes before heading out to the concert. We drove to the polo fields in Cascais, about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon. Expecting a sort of hippie vibe, we dressed in our recently acquired Vicente Ganesha Ibiza vacation wear, only to find the venue filled with very preppy, proper senior citizens seated neatly in arranged rows on the lawn.
Van Morrison Concert
We both love Van Morrison, and it was super cool to see him live. He played a few classics, and, since it was a blues and jazz festival, played some standards that were new to us but still fun. We rebelled against the more serious vibe and stood alongside the stage, dancing with some drunk middle aged women as the sun set over the venue and then headed back to Lisbon, where we indulged in some late night falafel from a kebab shop on a shadowy side street.
Last Day in Lisbon
After all of the adventure over the previous four days, we decided to keep it low key for our last full day of the trip. We started the day with watching the UFC fights from the night before in bed, then headed to the hotel gym for a quick workout followed by a tanning session near the rooftop pool. We enjoyed a late trendy brunch of shakshouka, banana bread and tumeric lattes before retiring back to our place for a nap, and then headed out on a long walk through the picturesque winding streets of the Alfama district to dinner at the restaurant one of Lisbon's most famous chefs.
At Minibar, the motto is "not everything is always what it seems" and this was certainly true of our all-time dinner, a 12 course experience of small dishes, each designed to trick the senses. We started with what looked like green gumballs, but when we bit into them were actually a thin outer coating filled with local cocktails. Next up were the "olives", which turned out to be balloon-like sacs filled with pureed olive juice. The crazy textures and flavors continued from there, and we enjoyed foie gras "Ferrero Rocher" topped with gold leaf, prawn ceviche served atop a lime that you squeeze in your mouth as you eat, scallop tacos made to look like an ice cream cone, braised tuna with sushi rice, oxtail, and various other courses that made us feel like we were in Willy Wonka Land.
After the wild dining experience, we walked up and down through the maze-like streets of Lisbon, heading towards a city lookout spot we discovered on our last trip, where a reggae band played. When we arrived, it seemed like the city didn't like the reggae summer night vibe of last year, because the lookout point was fully fenced off for an "urban improvement project". Sad to miss one of our favorite chill spots in Europe, we took a long walk through the graffiti-covered streets back to our hotel. We flew out the following morning, and landed in Luxembourg early enough to start the work week.
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