We traveled to Portugal to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. We broke our 3-week trip up between mainland Portugal and the island of Madeira. This post pertains to the mainland.
After arriving in Lisbon we picked up a rental car and headed to Carvoeiro. Carvoeiro is a picturesque coastal town located in the Algarve region of Portugal. It is a popular tourist destination due to its stunning cliffs, golden beaches, and crystal-clear waters. We stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel, the O Castello Guest House, which sits upon a cliff overlooking Praia de Carvoeiro, the main beach in the town. The photo below was taken just up the street from our hotel. You can actually see our hotel in the photo. It is the yellowish, and nearly last, building on the far left side of the photo.
We enjoyed breakfast one morning on our patio, overlooking the ocean and beach. I knew I was in Europe when I looked down to the beach, which was fairly deserted at the early morning hour, and I spotted a woman stripping off all of her clothes before putting on a bathing suit and heading into the water.
We found wonderful restaurants within walking distance of our guest house, as well as some interesting pubs with great music. Also within walking distance are some great hiking trails along the cliffs.
On our way back from a cliff walk I captured this sunset photo, looking back towards our hotel.
On another evening I walked up the street from our hotel and captured these sunset photos.
Walking was a bit challenging, as I was (and still am) suffering from Perineal Tendinitis in my ankle. The streets and walkways are cobblestone and hilly; hard on the feet. The worst part was that each time we walked into town we returned to these torturous stairs leading up to the street where our hotel was. My ankle screamed vigorously – Ugh!
Having a rental car gave us the opportunity to explore more of the Algarve Region. Although I will say that driving the narrow streets in Portugal can be challenging and even more so since our rental car was a stick shift. It is nearly impossible to find an automatic transmission rental car in Portugal. I was pretty good with driving a stick shift before I got to Portugal. Now I’m an expert!
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the Algarve region is Benagil Cave. It is a stunning natural wonder, believed to have been formed millions of years ago by the erosion of the cliffs that line the coastline. Over time, the seawater carved out a large hollow space within the cliffs, and the roof of the cave eventually collapsed, creating an opening to the sky.
I took the following photo during our cliffside hike from Marinha Beach. It was pretty neat to look down into the cave.
The photo below was taken on another day, while we were on a boat tour that took us into the cave.
In the photo below you can see kayakers and boats going in and out of the cave. Up on the land, above the arch in the middle of the photo, you can see the cave’s opening. It is the black area in the center of the photo, with people nearby.
The cliffside hike from Marinha Beach was amazing. The landscape is stunning.
As mentioned earlier, we took a boat ride into the Benagil Cave. The tour started in Portimao and continued to Marinha Beach. We really enjoyed seeing the cliffs from the water. We especially found this rock formation interesting. Can you see the elephant?
We also explored Lagos and Praia do Camilo, located in the southwest area of the Algarve region. We found Lagos to be too commercial and Praia do Camilo, while beautiful, to not be too different from the quieter cliffside area of Marinha Beach.
After a wonderful few days in the Algarve region, we headed north to Sintra. Along the way, we stopped at the 18th-century Quelez National Palace. The palace was built in the 1740s by King João V, who wanted to create a summer residence that would rival the grand palaces of Europe.
The Quelez National Palace is known for its striking Rococo architecture, with ornate facades and a grand staircase leading up to the entrance.
We arrived in Sintra mid-day and decided to check into our AirBnB and then drive over to the Monserrate Palace. By the end of the day, I parked the car and decided not to go near it again until we were leaving Sintra. The traffic was horrendous. The roads were unbelievably narrow and often times with 2-way traffic on one-lane roads, steep hills, and tight corners. Crazy! Parking near the AirBnB was not fun either. The streets are narrow and you have to park up against the wall.
Fortunately, we were within walking distance of downtown Sintra and getting an Uber up to the palaces turned out to be a great solution. Our AirBnB was nice, but carrying around our room key was crazy.
We enjoyed our visit to Sintra. It is a small village that can get pretty busy with tourists during the day but is quiet in the evening.
We discovered that the Portuguese love sardines. There are large stores dedicated to selling them.
I love Octopus and was thrilled to find it on the menu at nearly every restaurant.
Walking along the street we came across this fountain. I love the creativity of it.
One of the best places in town, in our opinion, is Fabrica da Nata. This is where you can get a freshly baked pastel de nata. The pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart, is a popular pastry in Portugal that has its origins in the 18th century. There are varying stories as to how the tart came about, but the most popular one is that Catholic monks from the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon were looking for a way to use up excess egg yolks that were left over from the egg whites they used to starch their clothes. They decided to use the egg yolks to make a sweet custard filling, which they baked in puff pastry.
The recipe for pastel de nata remained a secret for many years, with only a select few bakeries in Lisbon producing the coveted pastry. In the mid-20th century, one bakery, Pasteis de Belém, decided to commercialize the pastel de nata and began selling them to the public. To this day, Pasteis de Belém is one of the most popular bakeries in Lisbon and is renowned for its delicious pastries. We visited this bakery while in Lisbon and can attest to how good their pastries are! We ate at least one pastel de nata a day while in Portugal. It is a good thing we don’t live there!
We visited five of the palaces/castles in Sintra. Our first stop was at the 19th-century Monserrate Palace. It was built by Sir Francis Cook, a British merchant and art collector, who fell in love with the area’s natural beauty and decided to create a luxurious residence that would blend English and Moorish architectural styles.
The most popular palace in Sintra is the 19th-century Romanticist Palace of Pena. It was built by King Ferdinand II, who wanted to create a grand residence that would reflect the diverse cultural influences of Portugal’s history.
The palace is known for its vibrant colors and eclectic architectural styles, which include Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish influences. The palace’s exterior is decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures, while the interior features a blend of luxurious furnishings and historical artifacts.
The Palace of Pena is surrounded by beautiful gardens and small lakes. We spent an hour or two walking the trails that wind through the gardens, taking in the views of the palace and the surrounding landscape.
From the Palace of Pena we walked down to the Moorish Castle. The Moorish Castle is a medieval fortification built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors, who ruled the Iberian Peninsula for several centuries. The castle played a significant role in the region’s history, serving as a strategic military outpost.
We enjoyed walking along the fortress walls, taking in the spectacular longrange views.
The Quinta da Regaleria looks mid-evil but was built in the 20th century by a wealthy Brazilian businessman. It features a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Romantic.
The estate features a separate chapel building that is quite unique.
We were only able to tour one level of the house, as the other level was being refinished. Very unique architecture.
One of the most notable features of Quinta da Regaleria is its famous “Initiation Well” – a deep, spiral staircase that leads down to an underground chamber and tunnel.
The last palace we visited was the National Palace of Sintra. It sits right in the middle of the town. It was built in the 14th century and served as a royal palace for several centuries. The palace is known for its unique blend of architectural styles, which includes Gothic, Manueline, and Moorish influences. One of the most notable features of the National Palace is its pair of conical chimneys, used to vent the palace’s kitchens. It must have been very hot in the kitchen!
After spending a few nights in Sintra we headed down to Lisbon. Our first stop was in Lisbon’s west suburb of Belem. We walked along the waterfront to the Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tower was built between 1514 and 1520 by the Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda. It was built for the purpose of defending the city. It was later transformed into a lighthouse and then a customs house.
Just down from the tower sits Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries). The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. I really liked this monument. There is so much detail in the artwork, telling so many stories that you can walk away with.
Across the street from the monument is the historic Jerónimos Monastery. It was built in the 16th century. It is considered as one of the most important examples of Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline architecture.
The monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501 to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India. The king wanted to build a grand monument to commemorate the discovery of a sea route to the East, and the monastery was intended to serve as a symbol of Portugal’s wealth and power. Construction of the monastery took over a century to complete, with work continuing long after King Manuel’s death. Many of Portugal’s most renowned architects and sculptors contributed to the design and decoration of the monastery.
Over the centuries, the Jerónimos Monastery has served a variety of roles, from a monastery and a church to a school and a resting place for monarchs. It is also home to the tomb of Vasco da Gama.
After visiting Belem, and eating a couple of pastel de natas from Pasteis de Belėm, we headed over to our Lisbon AirBnB, which was centrally located, just a block away from Praca do Comėrcio, a waterside public plaza.
We dropped off our luggage and then drove to the airport to return our rental car, as we did not need a car while staying in Lisbon. I was very excited to return the car. I had a love/hate relationship with driving in Portugal.
We grabbed an Uber at the airport and had the driver drop us off in Principe Real, a northern suburb of Lisbon. We then took our time walking back to our AirBnb.
We took in the city view from Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara (that’s a long-winded way of saying viewpoint). It is a great viewpoint, as there are food and beverage vendors in the park there. We grabbed ourselves a cocktail and took in the view.
We enjoyed walking through all of the quaint neighborhoods. There are so many side streets filled with lovely restaurants.
Many of the restaurants are just tiny holes in the wall, but they have great food.
One of my favorite appetizers was the Octopus salad. Yummy!
We took in the views from another viewpoint; Miradouro da Graça.
On the way up to the viewpoint we passed two interesting tiled walls. Not sure what the story behind them is, but I’m sure there is a story there.
Adjacent to the viewpoint is a very interesting church; Igreja Paroquial da Graça. The interior is full of intricate tilework.
Chestnut roasting vendors were scattered around town.
and interesting artwork….
and of course we found more pastel de natas…….
and sardine stores……
and a really cool bookstore, where Charlie sat through a private puppet show.
and more steps….. UGH!!! Can you hear my ankle screaming “No, don’t make me walk up those steps!” ???
“…..I’d rather take the trolley.”, but we didn’t.
The highlight of our Lisbon visit was that we finally got to meet RV bloggers Laura and Kevin. Well, they used to be RV bloggers until they sold their RV last year and moved to Lisbon. Now I guess they are Portugal bloggers :-). We had a fabulous dinner with them. Check out their blog at https://www.chapter3travels.com/
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Portugal. The Algarve Region is stunningly beautiful. Sintra is unique with all of the castles and palaces, and Lisbon has so much character. I hope we make it back to Portugal in the future. We didn’t make it up to Porto, so that gives us a reason to return.
We departed Portugal and flew over to the island of Madeira. My next post will cover our stay there.