In my attempt to avoid winter in Europe as much as possible, I choose this destination because it was one of the southernmost points I could find in Western Europe (aside from the Canary Islands — but I had already checked out Tenerife for 2 months so I wanted somewhere “new”).
I searched around a bit on workaway.info and found a hostel in Faro that had an opening for a volunteer position that coincided with my travel dates. In my true travel fashion, I simply booked my cheap RyanAir flight without doing much research about where I was going. The more I travel the more I like to just show up in a place and “figure it out”. I like not having expectations or plans – I feel that’s when the travel magic happens and you find the coolest places, people, and experiences! (Want to know how I go about discovering a new city?? Click here —>https://iamatraveloholic.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/5-steps-i-take-when-discovering-a-new-city/ )
Here are my top experiences of the Algarve region of Portugal. But first – where is it exactly??
The Algarve is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal.
1. Taking a stroll around town – With is charming cobblestone streets and tiled facades, Faro is the perfect place to get lost in its streets. Nearly every day I set out with my earphones in, podcast on, and simply walked…and walked…and walked. Even though Faro is the capital of Algarve, it is still relatively small in size and can be walked in a day or two. During my first excursion I hit up the local tourist info office (next to Arco da Vila) and grabbed a map. Once I got comfortable with the layout of the town I would do my best to get lost!
The streets of Old Town Faro
Arco da Vila (one of the entrances into Old Town Faro)
Cat nap 🙂
Downtown Faro (the pedestrian dining/shopping area)
Most of the sidewalks are patterned – so pretty!
2. Watching the sunset at O Castelo – located within the medieval walls of Old Town, this restaurant overlooks the water and Ria Formosa Natural Park. I stopped in and enjoyed a glass of red wine on the patio while watching the sun go down.
3. Walking for hours on Praia de Faro beach – A short bus ride from town, Praia de Faro is a long sandy island with a coastline full of seashell treasures! I spent a few hours one day walking to the end of the island and it was awesome because I had the whole place to myself! On the way back I walked on this “boardwalk” through the little village where people take the whole “live in a shack on the beach” literally. I picked up endless sea shells and managed to find a few bits of sea glass (my obsession!). I ended up visiting the island three times in three weeks!
The more and more I travel…the more I realize I need a beach in my life on the daily
The beach is ALL MINE!
Sand formations at the “end” of the island
Walking back through the little town (looking over to Faro)
4. Coming face to face with skulls of monks at Chapel of Bones – I found this place fascinating! The Chapel (located inside Lago de Campo) was made from the skulls of 1245 monks that were buried on the church grounds. It’s a 2 Euro entry fee into the church and chapel – which provided me with a “Never did I imagine I would…” experience.
Skulls and bones!
I couldn’t stop staring…
5. Day trip to Tavira & Tavira Island – About an hour bus ride east of Faro, Tavira is another charming coastal town. The Rio Gilao (river) slices the town in half, with both sides offering an abundance of churches (4o in all!), cafes, and shops. I also walked 25 minutes outside of town to catch the ferry to Tavira Island (a super popular beach resort in summer). Given I was there at the end of November I pretty much only had to share the island with a few fisherman!
Strolling the streets in Tavira, Portugal
Tavira Island in winter = empty = ALL MINE = Happy
Rio Gilao & the Roman Bridge (the foundations of the low arch bridge are Roman in origin)
6. Playing King’s Cup at Le Penguin Hostel – Flashback to my college days for sure! Many a night were spent sitting on the patio at the hostel playing card games and hanging out. When you get together people for various countries rules are bound to change right?? My favorite card (and then least favorite) was the 5 card which when pulled, everyone had to “gecko”. This required you to jump up from the table and plaster yourself to a surface (usually the wall) “like a gecko”… watching a group of adults do this was one of the funniest things I’ve witnessed on my travels!! It was all fun until the one time I tripped over the guy’s leg next to me and busted my knee… two weeks later and it’s still healing haha! Great times though and memories I will cherish forever.
** I don’t have a photo of this but I totally wish I did!!!!!!!!!
7. Group Dinners at Le Penguin Hostel – I love food and I love to eat. Typically most hostels are “every man for himself” when it comes to cooking dinner. But the staff here go the extra mile to organize nightly dinners for the guests and volunteers. Not only was the food delicious (anything from chicken dishes, to chili, to a paella type dish), but it was really interesting to sit around a table and share a meal with people from all over the world! I met someone who had been driving his motorcycle from Korea (and ended up in a Russian hospital with hypothermia), another dude who was riding his bicycle from Australia… and people from Lithuania, Singapore, Norway – how freaking awesome is that! I love to hear stories from other travelers and meet people from many walks of life.
Dessert time! Homemade “adult” hot chocolate. It was delish!
8. Day trip to Lagos – I took the nearly 3 hour bus ride down the coast to check out this town — and it was WELL worth it because it was December 1st and I was able to be on the beach in a bikini!! HECK YEA! I bee lined to the beach and spent my day baking in the sun. The coastline is beautiful and full of cliffs, view points, and luckily not too many tourists since I was there in “winter”. Take a look below for some points of interest I checked out while there.
Praia Dona Ana – BEACH TIME!
Be gone pale winter skin!
The stairs and beach at Ponta da Piedade.
The Slave Market – the site of Europe’s first soave market in the 15th century
Strolling the streets in Lagos – I felt like I was in a movie…. such charm!
9. Day trip to Albufeira – Yet another charming coastal town in the Algarve… and another beach day (December 6th)! This place seemed like it would be an epic party town come night – it has many clubs and bars. I probably would have torn this place up in my young 20’s… but since I’m more about the “beach scene” these days – I spent my day walking the coastline and laying in the sun.
My pop pop had a landcruiser – growing up we would go on adventures in the pine barrens in New Jersey. Made me smile to find one in Portugal!
Praia De Albufeira (Albufeira Beach)
10. Bottles of wine for 1.50 Euro – This obviously doesn’t need any further explanation! A bottle of wine for less than $2.00 — SCORE!
I enjoyed my three weeks in the Algarve and would definitely like to go back in the summer months! Can’t get much better than sunny skies, beautiful beaches, and cheap wine!