Travel | The Algarve, Portugal

Toes in sand, white sangria in hand. That pretty much sums up the plans I had for our trip to Lagos.

Since a trip to Porto in 2016 I’ve been absolutely obsessed with Portugal and couldn’t wait to go back so when I needed a recharge, The Algarve seemed like the perfect place to come for some self-care with a prescription of Aperol.

I have a lot of city break holidays, but after a busy year and lots of stress, I thought I’d pack the fattest books on my shelf and take myself off to Lagos for relaxation and a healthy dose of vitamin D.

I booked Tivoli Lagos, a 5-storey hotel boasting lots of amenities including a great Portuguese restaurant serving grilled fish on a beautiful terraced setting. The setting of the grill restaurant was a Celtic-Roman-Arab terrace – from influences that came to Lagos through 2000 years of its ancient maritime history.

Tivoli was the perfect location to relax with a beautiful pool, gym and spa on site plus a shuttle bus taking you to the hotel’s private beach. Our stay was made even better by the great staff at the bar who made the visit really personal and introduced us to Sharish, a blue gin that turned pink when tonic water was added to it because of a special flower included in the botanicals.

I have to admit that a holiday with so much time spent in the hotel usually isn’t my first choice, but with the center of town so close it was the perfect accommodation for a stroll. And having your biggest dilemma of the day being “what should I order at happy hour” is a feeling I couldn’t get bored of.

On one of our strolls we headed out to try the Taste of The Algarve food tour. It isn’t really a holiday without a one for me now. I love getting to know about a culture through its dishes and this was a really educational one with the focus being the ‘poor food’ of the city because it gave a real insight into how the flavours were developed.

Throughout the tour we walked around Lagos cosy town center and sampled huge quantities of traditional seafood and Vino Verde, a light spritz wine which was on tap at each stop.

The region has some amazing seafood. One highlight was whitebait, a small fish eaten whole as a snack at bars across The Algarve and in some parts of Spain. Another brilliant delicacy was chorizo barbecued with cider on an open flame, which added a bit of foodie theatre to the tour. We also tried sea snails, cooked simply in salt water – I’m not going to be in a hurry to order more, but they would do in a pinch.

Our guide also happened to run a sea tours business called Discover Tours. If you’re heading into Lagos’s harbour in search of a tour, then you might be overwhelmed by the choice of companies offering Grotto tours, kayaking trips and dolphin watching.

Having been impressed with the food tour, we opted to stick with what we knew and chose Discover for a catamaran trip around The Grotto – a series of rocks and caves along the Lagos coast. Discover also offered other tours including kayaking but we thought the strong winds that you experience at The Algarve might not be the best for kayaks. The water trampoline and paddle boarding on the catamaran sounded like our best option to see the coast.

Heading out onto our journey the crew worked really hard to make it a great trip including giving the names given to the different caves and rocks. We also spotted a group of kayakers weaving around The Grotto who didn’t seem to perturbed by the winds – noted for next time we have to make a decision between the tours! Overall although we had an excellent time we found we’d maybe chosen something slightly too family-orientated for us.

While Lagos is a great city to while away the days, the coast is easily accessible by car and makes for easy-driving. We chose to take day trips to Portomino and Sagres. At Sagres, on the southernmost tip of Portugal we stumbled across a fortress looking out into the sea.

Its land is covered by wild shrubbery and acts as a midpoint as birds migrate from Africa to Europe – so I learned from the signs around the walk pointing out the different species that you can spot. It was a quiet space to stroll around and we also found ourselves a beach bar after for some more seafood washed down with a beer.

Portugal is a captivating place, and The Algarve has a beautiful coastline, but I don’t think the town centers offered quite the same charm as Porto. Although we only saw a small percentage of the coast, it seemed like tourism had a much stronger impact here, especially on the bars and restaurants along the sea in Portomino.

The structure of the landscape was charming and our guide during The Taste of The Algarve helped us pinpoint some incredible places to eat and even some interesting places for souvenirs like an ex-firestation turned into a well curated shop for food stuff and Algarve influenced gifts.

Rachael-Chloe Bell

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