Thursday, November 6, 2014

Carvoeiro, Portugal

How do you go about deciding where to pick up with blogging again when you have a backlog of over a year of travel? You could create a detailed posting schedule could just open up your photos folder and see what pops out at you. Let's go with that. 

And that haphazard approach is appropriate here, because this long-weekend trip to Portugal came about in the same under-planned way.

Labor Day for Graham was a four-day weekend (a "96" in milspeak) and as it was approaching, we casually decided we would go somewhere in the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, along the coast. It's only a few hours by car, we'd been before, it's generally affordable, the beaches are pretty, the food is a nice change from Spanish cuisine, and we could take the dogs with us. We let that non-specific decision hang until two days before the weekend started when we realized that we'd probably need, you know, a place to stay. Cue furious searching on

I set my sights on popular Lagos and came up short. Expanding the search to surrounding towns, a room in I-have-never-heard-of-this-place-before Carvoeiro popped up that seemed like a steal. Click, click, booked.

Off to Carvoeiro we went! And we were happy to find that our procrastination hadn't cost us a great weekend. Our hastily booked accommodation overlooked the beach as promised and we had a giant terrace that dwarfed our somewhat tiny, but typically-sized European room. The town was charming and to top it off was celebrating their patron saint that weekend. Bustling holiday atmosphere, concerts in the town square, religious processions, quirky traditions, and fireworks commence!

We spent the majority of our time hanging out on the beach, relaxing on the terrace, walking the dogs around the little town, and seeking out delicious Portuguese food and wine - whether that was at a nice restaurant or the grocery store. 

Our first afternoon we caught these "beach games". One involved retrieving a flag from the end of a beam extended from a small boat and the other was a swimming race to see who could catch a pair of ducks. The winner of the duck chase was treated like no less than a returning hero, surrounded by kids and being photographed by a crowd. Can't make this stuff up. 

The long line of people is the religious procession that took place.

7€ grocery store lunch for two - olives, cheese, and fish soup. 

Late night party and fireworks, which went off right over our room. We loved it, but the dogs were less than excited. 

Besides general holiday lazing and leisuring and taking in Carvoeiro's celebration, we also made time to check out the end of the world. Also known as Cabo de San Vicente in Sagres, the westernmost point in Portugal. The lighthouse marks the point between the calmer waters to the south and the windswept coast to the north, which generates the waves that attract countless surfers, with the seemingly endless Atlantic stretching out to the horizon. 

Even though we didn't end up staying in Lagos, we still made the quick drive over one day to check out the grottoes and coves that shape the rocky coast. Many of the formations are named after animals or rooms in a house - like the gorilla, the chimney, and the garage. 

I also spent a good amount of time admiring and taking pictures of the stunning tilework and pottery. Even the smallest towns in Portugal have the most gorgeous ceramics, and I really love the use of blue and the incorporation of animals, especially birds and fish. 

Details, tips, and recommendations:

-If Portuguese pottery is your thing, there are plenty of shops that can be found throughout the Algarve, without even looking. I really enjoyed visiting Porches Pottery and watching the pieces being painted by hand. There are some really lovely items (including the plates pictured above), but keep in mind - they are priced appropriately for handmade, handpainted work that is done on-site. If you can overlook a few flaws, they have an interesting section of seconds that offers deep discounts. Porches Pottery also completes custom orders, in case you have something really special or personalized in mind. 

-Avoid the ubiquitous and lackluster pub food that is being served as a result of the high number of British tourists. (Seriously Brits, what is with the cheeseless burgers and sad sandwiches? I know you can do better than that!) For a tasty dinner accompanied by interesting Portuguese wines and served by knowledgeable waitstaff, head to Terroir. You can even pick up bottles of your favorite wines to take home while you are there. Win, win. (Sorry, no pics here because I was too distracted by food and wine, but you can check my instagram for a quick collage I snapped.) 

-Drive to Lagos and do a tour of the coastal grottoes in a fisherman's skiff. We parked as close as we could to Praia Dona Ana, walked down to the beach, and at the bottom of the steps was a man organizing and directing which boat you would get in. Make sure you have cash (I think we paid 15€ per person, without negotiating) and your camera! You can also schedule a kayak tour with a company, which looked like a lot of fun, too. 

-We stayed at the O Castelo Guest House, which I reserved through Excellent location, amazing views, small but adequate double room, great terrace, pet-friendly. There is a also a shared kitchen, which was perfect for making lunches or keeping beverages cold and ready for happy hour or post-dinner drinks on our terrace. Highly recommend. 

So essentially, procrastination won out and we ended up serendipitously celebrating a small Portuguese beach town's patron saint. Ever had a last minute trip work out more perfectly than your original plan? 

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