How To Explore Portugal

While travel to a new destination certainly offers new insights, it can also change perspective about thyself. Our recent travel to Portugal was one such experience. Right from landing at Lisbon airport, picking up the car rental, and driving down three hours down south to Lagos – it was a “first” experience in many ways. Never thought, I would ever land up in a new country all by myself, young kids, and parents and try something out of the ordinary. Then it becomes a routine that even parents and kids start complimenting that you know own city better than before :)

Portugal has many perspectives to offer and glad that I decided to explore it by driving around. As we drove down south from Lisbon, the landscape was relatively deserted but very beautiful (reminded me of the time that I used to go on road trips with my parents while growing up back in India), and with an early morning flight from Basel to Lisbon, we assumed that the Lagos resort would be somewhat sympathetic with our request for early check in. Unfortunately, that was not to be, and as we waited for check-in it helped that the views from the restaurant of the golf course and Atlantic shining at a distance were truly relaxing; perhaps the signs of times to come. The resort manager (and a rather smart attendant) got our personal apartment prepared for the ‘on-time’ check-in and more than made up for the waiting with the daily house cleaning services!
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After relaxing for some time, we headed down to Lagos town and got up and close with Atlantic, the cliffs and the beaches around the walled old town are perhaps some of the best that one can capture. The center of Lagos really isn’t very big, but it can Be confusing with many little streets but as long as one heads downhill – it’s not too difficult to get back to the town center with city walls constructed during 16th Century.
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Just across the main road – there Is Praia-Da-Batata, an absolutely beautiful beach with the cliffs and the coves, and walking further down along the sea are the sweeping sands of Lagos bay with the Monchique hills as a backdrop. Old towns in this part of Portugal are truly different with streets lined with small stones (almost feels like marble after centuries of withering down) as compared to big cobblestones in rest of the Europe, and the Moorish influence was clearly visible. It would have been a lovely place to shop but couldn’t do much with the kids around though the sea food was awesome albeit one needs to be careful with what one orders.
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We had our share of misadventures with trying to make a visit to Rio Formosa near Faro, and inadvertently did cover some part of it, but in hindsight it was perhaps best to take the ferry from Faro – as it has far higher frequency and perhaps not knowing fluent Portuguese wouldn’t come in the way of figuring out the right schedule (bit of a surprise though, considering many British tourists were all over south of Portugal).

Next day we decided to head towards Cape Vincent and Sagres. In Alentejo national park there are long stretches of no habitation, but suddenly one is struck by a charming little village appearing from nowhere, and Sagres is certainly one of these. In Sagres, before heading To the Fort, Praia Do Beliche with steps leading down to the beach will certainly catch your attention. And, in Cabo De São Vicente (Cape St Vincent) – Europe’s southwestern most point, one will almost be swept off their feet with the strong winds. It’s for no reason the best places to surf in the Atlantic, and I made a promise to come back one day and learn surfing. Or, at the very least have a beachside holiday with my friends.
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While driving back to Lisbon with a rather late morning start, we decided to skip the more scenic route thru the national park; and instead drove back thru the main highway. It was suitably rewarded as we entered Lisbon thru Vasco de Gama bridge – an architectural marvel.
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Our apartment was also perfectly placed in the newer part of Lisbon with great connectivity to the old town, important sights as well as a nice shopping center at walking distance, Nations park for leisurely walks, and easy access to bars, cafes, restaurants. To keep the kids excited after a long drive, we hopped on top of the tower and, just to take the excitement few notches higher – we got on to the Telecabine for the trip between the Tagus river and the sky. The suspended cable cars gave us great views of modern part of Lisbon, and is sort of Lisbon’s own unique and fun twist on The London Eye.
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The next day was reserved for Oceanarium for kids in the morning with an eye-catching building “floating” in the Ocean. Here, everything rotates around a huge central aquarium and the top floor features water-dwelling animals that live closest to the water surface, while on the lower floor you’ll find deep-sea creatures – including several types of sharks, stingrays, manta rays and colorful tropical fish. I think, the Oceanarium is an essential stop in Lisbon if you’re travelling with children.
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In the evening, we hopped on to The Hippo tour, and it helped us to cover major touristy spots. Our guide was quite jovial and the fun continued as the bus got into the water and continued the trip from thereon. Besides this, getting the ride on Tram 28 is the thing to do in Lisbon – to know it’s hidden secrets, discovering most interesting historical sites and wonderful terraces that offer amazing views of the city, including Graça neighborhood, Alfamaa, Baixa and Estrela. This is a classic Lisbon tram journey, riding in the quaint yellow tram as it rattles through the narrow streets. But, we decided to have our unique take on it. Perhaps, it was the hot weather, or I was scared with the thoughts of managing edgy kids on the tram – we ended up doing something adventurous; to drive the car thru the old town on the same path way that the tram 28 goes on…! So, we didn’t miss anything while also had the ride in our own unique way…
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There is lots to explore around Lisbon with Cascais and Sintra at a short driving distance. Cascais is a fishing town with great beaches and good for water sports and activities as well. On the other hand, Sintra is set amidst pine-covered hills with beautiful Moor’s castle and Pena Palace. However, weather didn’t play along as expected, and it really got very windy at both the places. We realized it’s important to keep a jacket handy even during summers while visiting Lisbon as the weather can change dramatically. I probably need to keep these places for my next visit – as I come back to South of Portugal to enjoy the beach holidays with my friends…!

 

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