Ahhh, Europe. It had been almost three years to the day since I had been to Europe. We arrived at the Faro, Portugal airport late, so we stopped and grabbed a bottle of Douro wine (one of my new favorites) and some croissants from an airport stand for breakfast the next day. We had a private transfer that picked us up and drove us the 40 minutes to our AirBNB. We were fortunate enough to get an upgrade on our flight, so I was incredibly rested and full of energy. How could I not be when I was sitting on a patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean?
Our AirBNB was one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. I did choose to spend a little more on our accommodations, not knowing if there would be curfews or limitations due to the COVID pandemic (there were not really any). It was on the 3rd floor of a larger apartment complex, so I strapped my bag to my back and crawled the three flights of stairs up; Tony handled the wheelchair and this is how we ascended and descended each day. A good workout I suppose, and I didn’t even notice the cockroaches until the last day. Whew.
The Algarve Coast is a ‘beach town,’ if you will. The tiny cobblestone streets are dotted with women in tiny bikinis and man showing off their pecks. There’s sangria at every stop and retailers selling shades and sunscreen. And while it was a little hilly, it certainly wasn’t unbearable.
Tony and I found ourselves just strolling through the streets, stopping for a drink or a snack here and there. Along the coast, there is an incredibly flat overlook with views of the beach. This was perfect for us – and my wheels. And while we didn’t visit it, below the overlook was a beach with a boardwalk running from one end of the sand to the other end, and even a portion that went right up to the water. The beach itself, we discovered later, was a designated accessible beach. There were accessible restrooms, and elevators, and a BOARDWALK! I’m telling you, this is so incredibly rare and it warmed my heart that the Portuguese have considered such a treasured place to be accessible for those with limitations.
The town we were staying in is called Albufeira, and it is here that I had my first codfish dish and Vinho Verde (green wine), some of the staples for the Portuguese people. The codfish was, well, it was okay. I’m most definitely glad I tried it, but probably wouldn’t order it again. The Vinho Verde, well, it was fabulous. I typically drink more red wines, but if you get the chance to try Vinho Verde, please do give it a shot.
I had read some great things about Lagos and it’s Old Town square. And it did not disappoint. While the center of town – Old Town – was incredibly historic and covered in cobblestone – absolutely stunning, by the way – it was relatively flat. We had the most amazing brunch here where we experienced our first Pasteis de Nata. And I say first because there were dozens to be had after that first nibble. Pasteis de Nata is a creamy, custard like treat that is in almost every bakery and restaurant we visited. It’s another staple and something everyone must try if they can.
Located halfway between Albufeira and Lagos is a small town called Portsmaio. There’s not much to this town other than a few restaurants with limited hours. However, it is something you cannot miss. The Benagil Beach is located here, and it is home to the Benagil Caves. It seemed quite simple – a short kayak trip from the beach around one of the cliffs, and boom, there’s the caves. So we loaded up into the double person kayak. I sat in front and Tony in the back, per the instructions of our guide.
For those that have any experience with kayaking, you know, as do I, that the stronger person should always be in the back. The power comes from the back person paddling to drive the kayak forward. I didn’t think much of our predicament since we were only going a short way, but I also didn’t realize how strong the ocean currents would be. I have been kayaking dozens of times and have immense upper body strength from wheeling myself everywhere I go. Tony despises kayaking; the fact that I got him to come along was a miracle in and of itself. I most definitely should have been sitting in the back.
I worked my tail off trying to get us around the bend, everyone else in our group meters ahead of us. I was constantly yelling, ‘Left, right, left, right. Okay, now we need to row two on the right to get going in the right direction.’ And then lo and behold I’d turn around and find Tony taking pictures. I suppose one of us had to do the work and the other had to capture the moment 😉
We did finally catch up with the group and entered our first cave, only to be greeted by a flying bat. I kept thinking of all of my vaccines and knew that rabies was one of the few that I did not have. ‘Please do not bite me Mr. Bat. Please do not bite me.’
The final cave we visited was the most famous of them all. It was a cave with a circular opening at the top, like a natural pantheon. We learned that it was built over millions of years and shaped by three major earthquakes. It is most certainly one of the coolest ‘natural’ things I’ve ever experienced, a marvel to wonder at for sure.
We finished our time on the Algarve Coast at a tiny restaurant just a few steps from the beach – O Literal. It is here that I had some of the best cheese I’ve ever experienced, another Portuguese specialty.