The last time I visited the Algarve region in Portugal (let alone any other part of Portugal) was 17 years ago, so as you can imagine my memory was a little rusty when I went back in August. Being there was exciting for me and like my first time all over again. I was lucky enough to be traveling with a good friend of mine who just happens to be Portuguese and whose name also happens to be Tania. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend and travel partner! We chose Portimao because it’s one of the bigger towns of the region and has less of a ‘party’ vibe which was perfect for us. It’s not like we didn’t go out, but towns like Lagos and Albufeira are renowned for their ‘busy’ nightlife scene which didn’t appeal to either of us. I loved the easy-going vibe that Portimao offered and would definitely stay here again. We opted to stay in the old town which had a lot more character and history than staying in a high rise by the beach. This meant we had a 30 minute walk to reach the seaside but that was my excuse for having a Portuguese Tart with my coffee every morning!
So what did I like best about Portimao?
The overwhelming friendliness of the locals
I always considered Italy to have the friendliest and most welcoming people, however I found Portugal to be equally on par. Most people spoke English which made it easier to communicate (without having to pull out Google Translate every five minutes) and I also found the Portuguese people to have a relaxed, helpful and laid-back nature.
Compared to other places in Europe, Portugal was relatively cheaper which definitely helped me and my student budget. A sunbed with an umbrella at the beach set me back 4 euros, a 1.5 litre bottle of water from the supermarket was 12 cents and an espresso cost 60 cents, just to give you an example. Meals were generally very affordable at most of the restaurants we dined at (especially when I was fulfilling my Piri Piri chicken craving), and transport such as buses and Uber were super-cheap!
Praia da Rocha
Praia da Rocha means Rock Beach… yes there are a few rock formations which added to the amazing scenery, but the long coastline of soft sand reminded me of the Sydney beaches back home (minus the beach chairs and umbrellas available for hire, of course). There were also beach bars and restaurants and fun water sports on offer. We spent almost every day here swimming and working on our tans and this stretch of beach was very lively with lots of activity which really gave me the feeling of a holiday atmosphere. I loved taking long walks along the shore passing families and friends playing volleyball, soccer and watching children build sand castles.
Day trip to Ferragudo
Ferragudo is small traditional fishing village located across from Portimao which can be reached by foot in approximately 40 minutes. I would see it daily as we’d be walking home from the beach and was eager to check it out because of my love for small towns. We didn’t get a chance to eat there, however I did notice a square upon arrival full of restaurants and cafes. I loved walking the narrow, cobbled picturesque streets which eventually led us to a church that overlooked the waterfront.
We did a couple of boat tours while we were in Portimao which gave us an opportunity to see some wonderful sights along the coast – I found both to be affordable and good value for what they offered:
Benagil Caves – Sunset Cruise – I had seen many pictures of the Benagil caves online and was keen to experience them myself firsthand, so what better way to do so via a sunset cruise which took us from Portimao to Algar Seco (Carvoeiro). The whole coastline had breathtaking views but the caves were a truly amazing sight, and one thing I regret not doing was going for a swim. That just gives me a reason to come back! We did pass a dolphin route on the way home but unfortunately didn’t get to see any.
Discovery Tours– We were picked up by a catamaran in the morning in Portimao which took us to Lagos where we got the chance to wander the streets of the old town and have a lovely seafood lunch before our relaxing afternoon cruise. We experienced so many wonderful sights along the way where we passed beaches, caves and cliffs. We also got the opportunity to have a swim in the ocean which I loved! There’s nothing worse than being on a boat and not being able to swim. The boat captain made the trip all the more entertaining with his humor and great attitude and the crew were just as friendly!
Churrasqueira Guerreiro – Having lived in a small town in Italy for the last few months, I was craving Portuguese Piri Piri chicken like you wouldn’t believe – you just can’t get that in Sorrento so I was definitely making the most of it in Portugal. The best one in the area, which I also loved the best, is about a seven minute drive from old town centre of Portimão. It’s very reasonably priced and you can eat in or take away (which is what we chose to do).
A Casa Da Isabel – is a pastry and tea room and just happened to be next door to our accommodation so we obviously visited daily for coffee and a sweet treat, especially when the pastel de Nata (otherwise known as Portuguese Tart) was made fresh on the premises every day! Of course there were other traditional pastries on offer which I sampled but this only happened on days when I woke up too late and realised everyone else was here for the same thing as me.
Tapa Latina – I always love Tapas because of the multiple options on offer. It means I get to try more than one dish and I most definitely did here. Not only was the food fresh and of high quality, so was the service. Be sure to book a table otherwise you’ll be waiting a while. Some of the dishes we had included fried baby squid, chicken wings with BBQ sauce, warm camembert cheese with honey and nuts and roasted green peppers.
No Solo Agua – is a beach club by day and dance club by night and we couldn’t let the holiday end without a visit to figure out what all the fuss was about. Well two visits actually – once during the day at the beach and another time in the evening for dinner and a boogie at a special MTV summer event. Lunch consisted of a caesar salad and salmon bagel and I couldn’t go past the Japanese sushi for dinner (which is one my favourite cuisines).
Japones Fu – We paid 12.95€ for ‘all you can eat’ at this Japanese restaurant. At first I was skeptical because of the cheap price, however I was pleasantly surprised at the great quality and wide selection of options on offer.
Ti’Alzira – This place was fairly new and offered typical Portuguese dishes, tapas style which were cooked daily there was no way I wasn’t going to the homemade bread and chicken wings (you may notice a theme here?). I loved the The bright blue and white decor an brown ceramic dishes that the food was served on which gave it a traditional vibe.
I have some really wonderful and fond memories of my time in Portimao which have left me wanting to discover more of Portugal but next time I’m planning a trip to the North of the country. I’m already salivating at the thought of my next fix of piri piri chicken!