Wednesday, June 04, 2014


First impressions: Before coming to Portugal, the Algarve was the region I most wanted to visit. I envisioned sandy beaches, lingering Moorish influence, and a quiet, somewhat isolated place of natural beauty. This Algarve does exist, but it certainly wasn't the case of Portimão, the town where we stayed. Portimão was tacky, overbuilt, and the absolute definition of a tourist trap. For the "other Algarve" head up the Costa Vincentina and stop off at the small surfer beaches and quiet towns.

Tourism wins: We stayed in a very beautiful hotel, the Bela Vista Hotel & Spa, at one end of Praia da Rocha (visually the hotel was out of this world...but so was the sense of entitlement and snobbishness surrounding the other guests). Driving around the other parts of the Algarve was fantastic, and we discovered the little town of Salema where we'll most certainly stay if we ever go back. We also visited many other hole-in-the wall towns, stunning beaches with cliffs that reminded me of the Cape of Good Hope or California's Highway 1, and had a lot of fun driving aimlessly along back roads and tractor trails, just checking out the scenery (we had an old GPS, so this may or may not have been on purpose!).

Fails: Ugh, Portimão in general was a fail, at least for me. If you are in your late teens/early 20's, are from a place with no beaches or sun, are in need of cheap and plentiful alcohol, and are single...then maybe Portimão would be an exciting destination. Otherwise, steer clear. It's tacky, tacky, tacky.

If you go there do this: Visit Salema, with its perfect little beach somewhat protected from the wind (wind is a big thing in the Algarve, so strong and constant that it makes going to the beach impossible in many places).

Food and drink highlights: The family-run restaurant called U Venáncio, just along the river near the old bridge in Portimão. Perfect food, and you really feel at home. They grill fresh fish on charcoal, have house-made desserts, and the girl who waits the tables is really nice.

Interesting observations: Portimão really caters to tourists from the UK. It seems like every other tourist we saw was either British or Irish. Makes sense, as it's probably one of the closest and cheapest warm beach destinations for them to visit...although the Algarve in late May wasn't exactly tropical! Anyhow, English is spoken everywhere and it is a really easy destination even if you don't speak the language.

A selection of photos below...

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