Viana do Castelo 30th June
Our first stop off is the coastal city of Viana do Castelo. The city is spilt by the river; on one side sandy beaches and surf, on the other a sculptured rocky coastline, overlooked by a towering church on the hillside. As we arrive the winds are very strong, the waves crashing over the rocks with ferocity. This unfortunately meant we couldn’t do any swimming!
Labruge 1st July
Stumbled on a pretty beach where Martin took advantage and dived into the sea. 30 minutes after battling the waves, rocks and freezing cold, he finally resurfaces shivering but with a smile on his face as he spotted lots of bass to catch for dinner tomorrow!
In the evening, we decide to try out the local bars. Our first stop is the main beach bar where I have the nicest sangria of the trip so far. We stumble up the road to find a cheap restaurant- Martin thinks the prices are very expensive for a single portion, but luckily I remember that in northern Portugal half portions are the norm, and dishes of the day are probably better value for money. We both choose randomly from the dishes of the day. I get a very large fillet of pork, chips and rice which is delicious and poor Martin gets liver with boiled potatoes! Which if I was given, Martin would have been eating anyway lol!
Quinta Do Cochel 2nd July
We head to a small town on the coast for the day. On the way we stop at several long beaches with large surf. Our GPS tells us the quickest way to the town we are heading for is through some woods; the road is more a track, but confident we head in… The road is a mixture of sand and foliage. As we go deeper into the woods, the road is blocked by a tree so we have the choice to go around cutting through the bushes or head back. We decide to proceed, and manage to navigate through the bushes and trees back to the track. 30 minutes later we are back on the main road. We then head into town where we grab dinner. In the evening we head to a secluded beach to find somewhere to sleep. Suddenly the road turns from gravel to deep sand, and decide its best to stop for the night.
Rows of fishermen with long rods line the banks awaiting shoals of bait fish running the tide along the Azenhas do Mar, closely followed by shoals of sea-bass, the true target of their efforts. Each fisherman, with up to four rods each spinning and bait-casting in the hope of not only bringing food to the table but also some hard-earned cash, from selling the fish to local restaurants.
Pargue Natural de Sintra-Cascais 3rd – 4th July
With its mountains, fairy-tale palaces and exotic gardens, Sintra was a delight. We take a drive through the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, and arrive at a beautiful beach, Praia de Adraga, where the waves are humongous. Looking for a more sheltered beach, Martin spots a very steep gravel path leading up the hill, smiles and asks “can we go this way?” To my shock, the road gets so steep, all I can see is our bonnet bouncing along up the hill. We reach the top and to our surprise there is a two wheel drive Nissan with a lone driver looking scared as he looks down the path. We wonder how the hell he got up there in the first place!
We visit the Quinta de Regaleira, a villa and gardens, filled with exotic plants, lakes, underground caverns and grottoes. The underground caverns are dark so are glad of our torches. Sudden huge gap in the rock ahead-with no torch this could easily equal a broken ankle!
We meet an ex-shepherd who speaks perfect English and explains how rare these beetles are in Portugal; huge but harmless! A stroll around the old town of Sintra-Vila is very pleasant; the square with the palace nearby is buzzing with travellers and locals alike.
Lisbon 5th July
We stop off at Lisbon, situated on a natural harbour, the Rio Tejo.
We spend most of the morning in the huge Oceanario (Europe’s second largest aquarium). Massive tanks are filled with 8000 species in 7 million litres of seawater. It’s definitely a must if you like your sea creatures! Highlights include the zebra sharks, swimming peacefully with their fish compadres; gigantic sunfish which resemble more a big rock moving slowly through the water; filigree sea-dragons, which at a glance look like floating pieces of seaweed; graceful mantas and rays and shoals of glittering fish.
Our favourites are Eusebio and Amalia, sea otters who look as though they haven’t a care in the world, floating on their backs, chewing on some plantation and happily posing for photos!
We arrive just in time to see the Magellan penguins being fed in their icy habitat, their trademark comic walks keeping us entertained as they agile swim through the water and follow each other around on the ice.
We then walk for what seems like miles in the hot sun for some Kilkenny beer- apparently it was definitely worth it!
Whilst wandering through one of the shopping districts, we come across an indoor market, with connecting halls of rooms selling clothes, accessories and food with an array of traditional world-wide speciality foods including bocadillos (filled baguettes), pastries, meats and cheeses.
Porto Covo July 5th
We find a little cove to take an early morning dip in, just outside of the tiny village of Porto Covo. Try out new wetsuit and dry out under the sun , the coastal breeze making it a more bearable 25 degrees from yesterdays 47 degrees inland! Later, we walk the cobbled streets of the town and decide to stop at a restaurant in the square, where we each have huge portions of beef, pork, rice and chips. We then take a 2 hour trip down to Sagres, Europe’s most southwesterly point, to Cabo de Sao Vincente.
Take a detour to Vila de Milfontes to admire their pretty sparkling blue beaches and buy some mouth-watering fruit including peaches and melon from a mini-mercado.
Sagres 6th – 7th July
Another meal, another town; this time it’s the little surfing backwater of Sagres. Martin insists that whilst here, we should try the traditional dish of seafood rice- Arroz de Peixe. It’s delicious and very filling, consisting of a risotto style rice with monkfish and seabass.
Cabo de Sao Vincente, Europe’s most south-western point-sheer cliffs and a red lighthouse on the end. Stalls selling thick woollen ponchos line the road, which seems a little odd seeing as it is 35 degrees! We find a German sausage stall which has been here for over 25 years, and try them out. After tasting Martin’s, I decide to buy myself one! Definitely recommended!
Lagos 7th – 10th July
We head to Martin’s favourite little beach, wow there is an utterly beautiful coastline, small bays shaped out of sand stone, with stacks and caves for miles down the coast. We spend the day on the beach, swimming and enjoying the crystal clear waters.
In the evening we go into town for dinner, where I have some traditional Fango- a small and delicious chicken dish. In the late evening we head up to cliffs to find somewhere to sleep.
The next day we kayak along the beautiful small rocky coves eroded by the sea, to create some of the most breath-taking scenery we have seen to date. With enticing glistening blue waters, cave after cave and deserted beaches around the Ponta de Piedade, it was the perfect stop-off point. A very tiring but great day out kayaking.
We head into Lagos town centre in the evening for some traditional Portugese fare and a couple of drinks. The world cup is still on, the semi- finals, Portugal vs Spain; we decide to have an early dinner and catch the football in a local bar.
Next morning, after a kick-start of coffee and milkshake, with great views of the Ponta overlooking the bay, we head to Silves to visit one of the best preserved castles in the Algarve.
Martin & Nicole