We got out of the house this morning at about 10am, and in our sights we had one of the things that Thomas Cook offer as a whole day excursion from Albufeira – we were going to go to Tavira.
It wasn’t that far away – just over an hour – but then I suppose if you go with your tour company then the bus travels more slowly, possibly avoids the toll motorways, and spends an hour at the start picking everyone up. Anyway, we arrived in Tavira late in the morning, a bit early for lunch but not by much.
By the time we’d found somewhere to park we were somewhat closer to lunch, and were starting to wonder why we’d bothered coming. Eventually, on our second lap of the town, we found a single parking spot by the side of a narrow street that someone was just leaving. A-ha! It is ours. Although it was a bit tight, and I was still struggling with the car that had a button instead of a handbrake.
We decided it was time for a coffee break, if only because we also needed some loose change for parking and didn’t have enough. Kas sat down at a roadside cafe with the girls while I went off in search of some loose change. After a quick walk up the street and down again I ended up in the cafe where the girls were sitting. Unlike the response you’d likely get in the UK, they were very happy to change a €5 note into coins, so we decided it was a jolly nice cafe and stopped for our coffee.
From here we walked down the road to the medieval bridge over the river. It was here we noticed how very, very hot the weather was. Too hot. It’s a nice old bridge though.
We walked up the hill into the old town and sought refuge in a big church that had a small display of religious art (for a modest entry fee). It was cool inside. The church itself was quite pretty too, and also quite cool compared to outside. Eventually though, we had to brave the outside again.
It was a short walk around to the castle, and as seems to be the way around here, we found an interior almost completely given over to ornamental gardens. There was also a geocache, but that’s a whole other matter.
From the castle there was a steep staircase leading back down the road where we’d parked, and whilst descending here we decided it was far too hot in the town, so we were going to head for the coast to look for somewhere to get lunch.
This is where the disappointment started.
We drove down to the Ria Formosa from the town centre, which looked like it might be reasonably interesting, but when we got there it was a building site. It was difficult to park, and there were two restaurants which might have been OK if you could reach them, but you couldn’t. We plodded along a bit to a jetty that was the home of an Earthcache, but there were no further restaurants or cafes. The jetty was just a landing stage for a little boat that runs out to one of the barrier islands. We did have the kit with us to go beaching, but we needed a drink and weren’t sure if there was a cafe over there. Looking at the map in retrospect, there are a few cafes over on the island, but we didn’t realise at the time.
So we returned to the car park and left. At least we got out free because we’d been there for less than 30 minutes.
We drove in a westward direction along the coastal roads looking for somewhere that might offer the combination of a beach, a nice looking restaurant and a parking space. None of the places we drove through matched up to all three. In fact, most of them only managed one of the three. I guess this is why the coast around Albufeira is more touristy than here.
We made it all the way to Olhão before deciding to give up on that plan. We saw signs for MacDonalds so thought we’d go there for lunch, because at least they have stuff that all of us would eat, but somewhere in the middle of town we lost all the signs and couldn’t find it. Boo! And hiss! This day was not working out quite as we planned and I was suffering a major sense of humour crisis by this point, so we decided to just go home again.
We stopped at some motorway services near Loulé to get some lunch (and grab the random carpark geocache). The food was actually not too bad.
On the way into home we stopped at our new favourite supermarket for a few goodies and then retired to our apartment, where we were quite surprised to discover that England had bowled out Australia for just 60 runs on the first day of the fourth Ashes test match at Trent Bridge. The kids had an appointment with the swimming pool, as ever, and I decided that I’d now got an urgent appointment at a nearby sports bar that had Sky Sports. We all went, but Kas looked tired and the kids were getting a bit uppity, so after the (short) highlights of various Australians walking onto and then off the pitch Kas took Ami home. Izzy stayed with me while I watched the England innings and then we walked home and had a fairly early night.
Presumably if you take the full day excursion with the tour company they know the good spots to go to, and you don’t have to fart about looking for parking, and maybe they even know a nice restaurant or two, but we were both glad that we’d not had to pay to go there, as even with some better planning on our part I’m not convinced there’s a whole day out to be had in Tavira. It was quite a pleasant little town, but there’s not really a lot to do.
Cruising along the Coast
We had an earlyish start this morning as we had an exciting day in prospect. Kas had an earlier start than the rest of us, obviously, as she felt the need to go and run her way down to and back from a few of the local beaches first thing.
The rest of us had barely surfaced when she came back, and we then began the fairly painful process of trying to get the kids moving after the late night yesterday.
The “exciting day in prospect” was the boat trip we’d booked the previous day. It required us to be down at Albufeira Marina for 10 am, so we set off at 9:30, having not yet realised that it was only a 5 minute drive. So we had ample time to get parked up in the underground car park, which turned out to be free, and then to get checked in and have a coffee next door to take advantage of the boat company’s 15% discount (cough!). OK, the coffee was reasonably priced rather than extortionate, but I’m not so sure about the “discount” business. The waiters were well practised in ensuring that you got your drinks and your bill in sufficient time to catch your boat though.
The general gist of the boat ride is that the coastline here is remarkably pretty, and you can get a much better sense of that if you’re just out to sea rather than just on the land. The coast in this area is formed by the meeting of smallish, rolling limestone hills with the sea. The overall effect is that the limestone forms near vertical cliffs, many of which are being undercut by the formation of caves. Where the land is lower and where caves have already collapsed then you get a series of small bays, each of which has its own pristine little beach, with a cafe and a (bad) car park. The part between Albufeira and Gale Beach is really pretty.
Then you get to a not-so-nice stretch from Gale Beach over to the other side of Armação de Pêra, which is your more traditional vast-expanse-of-sand-with-dunes-behind sort of beach, formed where a barrier beach has formed (or has been formed, possibly) in front of the wetlands at the mouth of the Ribeira de Alcantarilha. From the sea it doesn’t look so nice. Neither does Armação de Pêra, which looks for all the world like a tightly packed collection of apartment blocks conveniently stuck next to a beach. I suppose that’s what it is, to be honest. It doesn’t look particularly filled with character, unless the character you want it to be filled with is Rab C. Nesbitt. Maybe I’m being a bit snobbish. Oooh! Get me!
Once you get past there you’re back into the pretty bits of coastline again. The trip took us nearly all the way over to Carvoeiro, and this stretch was much the prettiest. One of the best bits was a rock in the water which was used apparently by The Beatles as the inspiration for their Yellow Submarine animation. If you’re not familiar with the animation and someone tells you this, you’re likely to believe it. But if you then compare pictures of it to the actual animation, it’s not a great resemblance. It does look like a submarine, and the rocks are yellow, but it doesn’t look like the Beatles Yellow Submarine, if you see what I mean.
On the way back home again the boat made a brief stop so people could jump off the back and have a bit of a swim. It was only for 15 minutes, which suited me because I’m not a fan of open water swimming, but was not as much as expected, and was maybe a bit disappointing for those who thought they were “getting a swim”. Kas and Ami both jumped into the cold water with gusto and had a good old splash around. Izzy was a bit more tentative, but would probably have gone in had it not been for the boatman telling her it was cold, and also hinting it was more or less time to pack up and go home. She got her feet wet.
The way home was quite uneventful, especially for Izzy, who used the relative quiet to catch up on some zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s.
When we got back we had a late lunch at a different cafe beside the marina (different from the one where we’d had coffee earlier), and then Kas dropped me off at the far end of Gale Beach so I could go and do a bit of caching, while she and the girls did some shopping for tea and then retired to the villa for some pool time.
I walked from the far end of Gale Beach grabbing a few caches, I passed the one cache we’d done on saturday when we arrived, and continued my way on to through an excellent series of caches along the coastal path, nearly all of which I gave a favourite point to. I found 11 in total and spent the last hour or so in and around the very lovely Evaristo Beach – there was some backwards and forwards action here, as I stopped for a drink, realised I’d missed one cache (because it was off the coastal path), then returned to the beach to grab the final one of the series, and then calculated the bonus cache to be back behind the beach where I’d just been. It was a nice enough area though, and it had the distinct advantage of being only a few hundred metres away from the villa.
As I was walking back up I noticed a text from Kas asking if I could stop to buy matches, as she’d done a great job of provisioning us for an evening barbeque except for forgetting matches. I found a little tourist tat shop on the main street which didn’t sell matches but did sell little touristy cigarette lighters for €1 each.
When I got back I had time for a quick dip in the pool. Izzy was getting quite brave in there. Soon we dragged everyone out to get cleaned up before cooking the evening barbeque. When we do barbeques overseas we generally always manage to palm the girls off with local sausages (so long as they have plenty of ketchup), and Kas had bought some chicken kebabs too. The sausages were really nice, and it turned out Kas had also tried out the other nearby supermarket (not the Spar we’d used before), and discovered it to be a much better experience. Still small, but with a much better selection and seemingly cheaper prices. And a nice meat counter. You can’t beat a decent meat counter.
The boat trip had taken us to some very pretty locations that we wouldn’t have seen from the land, so it was worthy from that perspective, and it also had the advantage that being on a boat out at sea was somewhat cooler than sitting in a windless enclosed space on the land. A jolly good day was had by all. And the follownig day we discovered the cleaner had cleaned all the ashes out of the barbeque too, saving us a job.
We had a late start today after a long day yesterday. It was one of those slow mornings where we were all up at different times and eating at different times and swimming at different times. And in Kas’s case, running, but probably at the usual time.
Nothing much happened all morning to be honest, apart from a fairly busy hour where we met the site manager (and he showed us how to make the washing machine work), the villa was cleaned, and we met up with our rep from Thomas Cook and bought some tickets for Zoomarine.
I also took a walk up the road to find the nearest cache to the villa. It was disabled but after a few minutes and a bit of poking around with a stick I found it and it was in perfect condition.
Just after lunch we set off for Albufeira with a few things on the plan. First up we went to the Marina to book ourselves a boat trip and some paragliding for subsequent days. That all went swimmingly well.
After this we drove up to the Miradouro Casa do Cerro to do the geocache there. It was quite a strange place. A nice overlook but rather shabby, full of bins, and with a couple of people that we had to pick our way around. We did, however, manage to find the cache and move on fairly quickly. There was also a fairly challenging sequence of steep roads and dodgy roundabouts to get up there. Portugal is really hilly, isn’t it !
From here we headed up to one of Albufeira’s very ornate roundabouts on the main road that runs around the back of the old town. There were supposedly two caches nearby, but one was disabled due to some reworking of a bus stop and we didn’t find the other, which was annoying because it’s a puzzle that I’d spent ages solving. Ho-hum! The moment is lost now.
From here we decided it was time to go and find parking in the middle of town ready for the rest of the evening. Well, being honest, we had done some checking on car parks after a bad experience driving in circles round some dodgy streets a couple of days previously. We found the car park we used via the cunning technique of spotting things on Google Satellite View and then zooming in for a bit of Street View. In this instance it proved a lot more useful than the random Google Search route, which yielded a bunch of half-arsed comments on Trip Advisor (other travel review sites are more or less the same) and some location pins in totally the wrong place. Funny, that!
After parking up we totally failed to find a nearby cache and so descended the outdoor escalators onto the Fishermen’s Beach for an ice cream. Well, the ice cream wasn’t on the beach, it was at the back of the pedestrianized bit, away from the sand. The ice cream was good. Very good.
We had a bit of a walk from here up into the old town and totally failed to find another couple of caches, making 4 DNFs in a row, and making me wonder why I bother doing it for a pastime. Sometimes it can be very irritating.
It was rather warm and the kids hadn’t been soaked through for all of 3 hours so we went back down to the bottom of the hill and Kas took the girls for a bit of sea and sand action while I wandered off for a bit more caching. It was already about 5:30 pm by this time, as the day was running quite late. We agreed to meet up no later than 7:30 so we could have some dinner before attending a caching event on the beach.
Back at the plot, the caching continued in its rather average state. The first target was a trad I had to replace. The second was on a beautiful outlook point but I couldn’t find it, and the third was overlooking the marina. Thankfully I actually found the third one. I ran out of time here so legged it quickly all the way back to Fishermen’s Beach and back up the escalators to have another pop at the one on the cliff there. This time I found it, mainly because the one I replaced had exactly the same situation (in the top of a post). Marvellous.
We had dinner at a rather posh Italian restaurant whose “bloke at the front of the house” bore a striking resemblance to Paul Hollywood. It was a very nice restaurant. Ami tried gnocchi, which surprised us. And she ate quite a lot of it, which surprised us even more.
The restaurant was only a couple of hundred metres from the Fisherman’s Beach, so we took a leisurely stroll over there to attend the geocaching event, which started at 9:30pm. It was a bit quiet at the start, with us sitting there feeling a bit “Billy No Mates” and playing a game of “spot the cacher”, but eventually a likely looking family (adults with matching t-shirts) arrived, closely followed by the organizer, who spotted me straight away. It remained quiet for half an hour or so, but then suddenly at about 10 there were loads of people. They were mainly Portuguese (which actually surprised me), with a few other random Europeans and a couple of Americans. Sadly we made all of them speak to us in English all night.
The event was held right next to some statues of fishermen, which was sort of the point, because as the event was closing the host invited us all to go stand in and around the statues to get out photos taken.
This was the first evening on the holiday when we hadn’t been around to JK’s bar, which felt a bit strange, but it was quite late when we got back. It was nearly 11pm when we got back to the car, so it was getting on midnight when we got home. The day went fairly well though, as days go.
We got up early this morning with the prospect of a moderately long drive ahead of us.
The drive in question would take us to the End of the World, which in this corner of the world means the far southwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula at Sagres. Unlike below Land’s End it’s not actually the most southerly part of the peninsula. Southern Spain below Cadiz and Gibraltar is much further south.
OK, so it’s the southwestern tip of mainland Portugal. But it’s not the most southerly part as (Faro is further south and it’s not the most westerly part as much of the coast between Setúbal and Leiria is further west. Let’s settle for it being the most sticky-out bit, and the bit that most looks like a goaty beard.
It bears some similarity to Land’s End in that the part referred to as “The End of the World” (Cabo de São Vicente) is slightly north and west of the more southerly Ponta de Sagres, rather like Land’s End and the Lizard Point, but closer together.
Back at the plot, it was about an hour drive from our apartment, including our first experience of the Portuguese toll motorway system. It’s great if you have the technology. You drive under some cameras, your number plate is captured by an ANPR system, and the car goes “bleep” to tell you that you just got captured. They also very handily tell you how much each section is going to cost you to drive on. It cost all of €3.20 to get to Sagres from Albufeira.
As we were driving west the weather was getting increasingly cloudy, and when we arrived at our destination the sky was decidedly grey. It also wasn’t very warm, and as we hadn’t packed any clothing for cold weather we decided the best remedy was to get some hot coffee in the car park.
Somehow we managed Izzy’s first injury of the day here too, when she tried to corner too sharply on some loose gravel and lost her footing, which resulted in two skinned knees and some crying. The two coffees came with a side order of wet wipes and plasters.
The Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse would probably be classed as slightly disappointing and a failed opportunity if it were in England. It was free to enter but there was no gift shop, no cafe, and one (quite small) exhibit about the Portuguese Age of Discovery). The views from inside were quite good but because access to the actual lighthouse isn’t possible you can’t actually see directly out to sea. You can only see along the coastline in the northerly and easterly directions.
So as there wasn’t very much in the lighthouse we came out again after about 20 minutes and made a short walk over some very rough terrain to find a geocache and to get a better angle for taking photos of the lighthouse. It was very rough terrain – exposed rough limestone blocks (although not an alvar). All jagged edges and knobbly bits. I was quite impressed that Izzy managed to walk across it without falling over at all.
From here we drove back towards Sagres, making a brief stop at the ruined Fortaleza de Belixe to do a cache and have a quick mooch around. By now the weather was picking up, and buying a sunhat rather than a cardigan earlier was starting to look like a good choice.
By the time we reached Fortaleza de Sagres the sun was fully out and it was warming up quite a lot. In unrelated news, the parking was rubbish.
The fort charges an entry fee which gets cheaper if you take children. Not just “kids go free” kind of cheaper, but “take a child and get a free adult entry” cheaper. The two adults in front of us paid €6 for the two of them. We paid €3 for all 4 of us. You do the math, as they say in America.
Once inside the fort we split up for a while. Izzy had managed to get a blister on her heel from some new shoes at some point so didn’t fancy walking the 500m or so out to the end of the promontory to do the Earthcache that was there, so Ami and me hot-footed it out there while Izzy and Kas explored the buildings of the fort in some detail. I think that worked for all four of us.
After about 45 minutes at the fort the girls had had enough so we moved on to the Tonel Beach in Sagres to get some late lunch. We ended up staying on the beach until home time.
The cafe we found was really good apart from not taking credit cards, so we ate reasonably well and had the obligatory ice cream before retiring to the beach for some plodging and general sunbathing. The sea was cold again but the beach itself was really nice – it was clean, the sand was soft and it wasn’t too busy. As this is the Atlantic Ocean there were also some fairly decent waves on it, despite this being around the leeward side of that big promontory that has the fort on it. Much mirth was to be had by running in and out of the waves.
We stayed there until around 5:15 but then heard the call of home, so we packed up and jumped into the car. It took us a bit longer to get home but once we were there we had a quick clean up and headed round to JK’s (again) to have some dinner. On this evening they were really busy so the service took a while, but we wren’t too bothered and the food was really good again, once it arrived. The kids are starting to get the idea that “going out for dinner” doesn’t mean just going somewhere to eat as quickly as possible and then go home again.
We also couldn’t figure out how to make the washing machine work, but I did manage to figure out how to make my “travelling” laptop talk to the apartment’s wi-fi, and hence I’ve been able to start typing some of these blog posts whilst still actually on the holiday.
A busy day, and we’d all had enough when we got back home to bed.
We must have had a long day yesterday. Izzy slept until after 9 am. That’s a full 2 hours later than her normal “lie-in”.
Kas went for an early run down to Galé Beach, where we’d had lunch the previous day, and I stayed in with the girls trying to get them to eat some breakfast, but it was obvious from an early stage that they had other things on their minds. Wet things. Right outside the apartment things. Things involving a swimming pool. So I pretty much gave up on trying to get them to eat and just let them get ready for swimming.
So we all spent the morning lazing by the pool, taking a dip, drying out in the sun, getting sunburned and generally doing as little as we could get away with. I, for one, was not even remotely bothered about this lack of activity, as a result of me having had far too much beer in much to short a time the previous night.
Eventually, we had a quick lunch at the apartment and then packed ourselves up for a trip into Albufeira. There wasn’t really much of a plan. And it showed.
We drove down through the marina area, and, not having made a plan, we didn’t know where there was any parking. So we went up the hill towards the town centre around the marina and ended up right in the middle of some very small streets with one-way systems and really steep hills. I’m not sure Kas appreciated the test of her ability to drive a left-hand drive car so early on in the holiday.
Still, she managed to get us out again without hitting anything, and we found ourselves back at the marina again. We saw a bit of a car park down at the marina reception so we drove down there. (Hindsight says that the massive underground car park with 3 hours free parking is a better option, but we were newbies).
We walked along a bit of jetty down to a flat area that contained a) a geocache and b) a bunch of little huts belonging to vendors of various boat-based activities (parasailing, dolphin spotting, and so on). These looked interesting but we were also aware that the tour rep would be offering us the same kinds of thing, so we skipped it for now and went for a cache.
All the hard work of walking 500 yards in the sunshine had taken its toll, so we retired to the first available café and grabbed an ice cream and a bit of shade.
Having successfully found the cache and bhaving been surprised by someone driving their car right up to where we were searching, even though it didn’t look remotely like a road, we decided we’d call it a day, so we walked back down to the marina and grabbed a few flyers / had a chat with the lady at one of the boat-trip places before driving back towards home. We had limited time anyway because we needed to stop at Spar again for more food and we had an appointment with our tour rep at JK’s Bar at 4pm.
There wasn’t a lot to be said really – just a few excursions, which helped us make our own self-drive “shopping list” and a few basics about the resort. I guess we’re used to self-organised travel so the concept of having a tour rep to “look after” us is a bit alien now.
We had pizzas for tea, followed by a healthy pudding of crisps. While we were making it the girls stole another hour or so in the pool. It’s getting to be a habit.
As the sun was setting on the day the girls were still outside playing with some of the other kids in the complex. At some point Izzy managed to fall into the pool whilst fully dressed. The actual details of the incident seem sketchy. She might have tripped. She might have been pushed. She might have over-balanced whilst trying to fish something out. She got a nice graze on her stomach to show for it.
This was enough for one day, so we got Izzy to bed, and afterwards I sat with Ami and did a few of my puzzles whilst drinking some more beer.