After our 1500km drive we made it to Alvor in the Algarve region of Portugal just in time to meet up with Sue’s sister Lindy and her husband JB. They drove from Slovenia to Zagreb in Hungary, flew to Lisbon and hired a car to drive to Alvor. They finally made it about 10pm, the perfect time to crack open a bottle of champagne and chill out.
They stayed in a nice apartment in our camping ground, which also had quite a nice pool. On our first day together we explored the town of Alvor. This is a village, not too large although it was packed with tourists at this time of year. It has a million restaurants and bars and some decent shops. We walked out to the beach, which was long and white and sandy. When the breeze sprang up in the afternoons there were 40-60 kite surfers out there.
We wandered around before choosing a charcoal fish restaurant and all shared a fantastic sea bass. This guy really knew how to cook and didn’t overcook the fish like so many charcoal places do.
After talking to a few operators we chose a boat trip along the coast and into the sea caves that are under the cliffs. We saw lots of pretty beaches, marking a couple to try and go back to one day and we surely saw every cave along the coast. It was low tide and calm seas so we could get into them all. The water was so clear!
Lindy and JB had a hire car so we went off to explore the area. First we headed to Lagos, pronounced ‘lar-gosh’. We decided to look at the food market first, as we usually do, and saw some amazing fish. One looked like a long silver satin ribbon. We also spied some of the huge coral-coloured prawns that we all love. After finding out that the market was open every day we agreed to come back another day to purchase some prawns for our BBQ. Then we headed on to Sagres and Cabo Sao Vincente that marks the most westerly point of Europe. There was a long boardwalk across the top of the cliffs that gave a great view of the caves and sea grottoes far below.
On another day we drove to the town of Albufeira to have a look around and so Michael could get the tattoo he wanted, by the tattooist he wanted. He now has a small dolphin tattoo on his bum, very simple and stylized (the tattoo not the bum!)
Albufeira was a very big and bustling town with a few nice beaches complete with the usual European beach clubs. But we were glad we chose to stay in Alvor, which was so much calmer and easy to walk to and around.
On the way home we went through Portimao to Alvor on the hunt for a lovely cove we saw on the boat trip. We found it, but unfortunately it was private for all the hotels out there. At least we finally understood where all the thousands of people who turn up in Alvor each evening are coming from- the coast is lined with large hotels. We hadn’t realized that because the village itself seemed quite small.
It was incredibly hot when we were in Portugal. 350 in Europe feels like 400 in Adelaide. Poor Grubie couldn’t walk into town except at night, the pavement was just too hot. So unless we were taking the car we left her in the van in the air-conditioning. We had planned on driving inland to some of the hill-top ‘white villages’ but there were fires in the area where we wanted to go, so we decided to give it a miss. On a couple of days it was just too hot to do much at all, so we sat in restaurants all afternoon playing cards and then hit the pool in the early eveving. That didn’t matter though, because the purpose of the week was to spend time together. We had a lovely week together and really missed Lindy and JB after they left. Even Grubie was flat!
Michael and Sue moved to the town of Armacao de Pera, intending to stay for about three weeks having a ‘beach holiday’. Oh dear! The campground was terrible and we were camped on red dirt, surrounded by flies and ants and with dreadful facilities. The pool was small and had no lounges and the weather continued to be stinking hot. We looked at each other and thought “What are we doing here having a miserable time when we know a beautiful campsite in Spain that is right on the beach, with a great pool and spotless facilities and where we can ride our bikes into town everyday?” So we packed up, got up early and drove 480km to Torre Del Mar. We had stayed here a couple of weeks last winter and loved it. It’s easy to find – just look for the black bull on the hill!
We soon settled in to a routine of late starts, lots of beach walking and swims and simple food. Market day is Thursday and there are two large markets within riding distance. They’re packed! We like to go quite early to buy fish, meat and veggies but often that’s from the little shops around the perimeter of the market. The market itself is mostly other things than food. We bought some material shades that are invaluable in the summer heat, and we also ‘inherited’ some bamboo mats to keep the dust down. Our site now looks a bit like an oasis.
Grubie had a summer haircut, a No 1 and the shortest she’s ever been. We hardly recognise her; she looks like an overweight whippet! But she’s more comfortable in the heat and not carrying as much sand into the van.
We found out that the Summer Fiesta was on in Malaga (about 30km away). So on Sunday we left Grubie in the air-conditioned van and walked up to the road to catch the bus to Malaga and check out the Festival. We are lucky to have great neighbours at the campsite, so just left the van unlocked and they promised to get Grubie out if she was distressed or anything happened. As expected, she just used the opportunity to have long nap and the neighbours didn’t hear a peep out of her.
We probably left our attendance at the Malaga Fiesta just a couple of hours too late for the organized performances, but there was still lots of action in the bars and dance clubs. Everyone was very dressed up. The older women seemed to be having the most fun, dressed in gorgeous Spanish flamenco-style dresses and travelling the streets in groups singing and dancing.
We had a bit of an adventure on the way home, catching the wrong bus and ending up in the town of Torre del Mar. Luckily there were taxis around and it wasn’t expensive to get back to the camping ground. When we returned our neighbor Paula said she had a Spanish dress and let Sue try it on. Wow, it was so heavy! Frills can be a killer!
There are lots of restaurants along the beach within walking distance of our campsite. Lunchtime (2:00pm) is the time to go –they’re deserted at night. We love how people go to the beach for the whole day and set up really well with lots of shades, loungers, and floating toys. At 2:00pm they either have a very elaborate picnic/BBQ or put on a nice cover-up and leave the beach for their favourite restaurant. After a few hours eating under the shade they go back to the beach for a siesta then a swim. Many don’t leave the beach until 8 or 9pm. Our favourite restaurant has pork on a spit; espetos (sardnines) or calamares cooked on the chargrill. We’ve never seen a menu, we just watch what goes past and order what looks good.
Our Dutch neighbours took us on a walk on the back-roads through the farms and market gardens to the closest little village called Almayate, where we had breakfast. This area is very rural and traditional. You still see bullocks pulling carts and cows right in the middle of town! The market gardens are full of tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and sweet corn and the onions are just being planted now.
August for us was what summer should be all about – fun and warmth; beach and relaxation, with the occasional adventure thrown in.