Happy July 4th from Portugal!
Special Note: I apologize in advance for this long Nouvellettre®…a full week of writing, all in one package! Just take it slow or by each of the sub-headlines to fully enjoy today’s travelogue!
MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS, AND WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS, TOO!
This is the one week a year I take a real vacation—no Nouvellettres® to write, minimal emails to read and answer, and just a lot of time to do something different with people I love. My daughter and I have the habit of taking a few days or a week together to explore something new and different. This was our opportunity and it’s what we consider “quality time.” I realize how precious this time is and I’m lucky she still likes having mother-daughter excursions. I know many people who wouldn’t want to be traveling with their mothers, but she seems to enjoy it as much as I do!
The American news the previous week of the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not good news to two women such as ourselves, or to humanity who treasures freedom over their own bodies and selves. I can’t even begin to express my disgust for the direction my own native country is taking on such issues and how many more freedoms Americans may end up losing at the hands of their own countrymen who fear losing control of both women and minorities. This could be just the beginning if we don’t vote for the right kinds of leaders. Our company inboxes are filling up with letters from Francophiles seeking exile from America and an escape to France. Ladies and gentleman, we welcome you with open arms.
Young women, take note. You’ll be more secure in France! “Abortion in France is legal on demand during the first 14 weeks from conception. Abortions at later stages of pregnancy are allowed if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable. The abortion law was liberalized by the Veil Law in 1975.” (Wikipedia.org) 1975!
VACATION HERE WE COME
This year Erica and I chose to visit Portugal for our summer vacation. It’s Europe’s hot spot, or so it seems. Apparently everyone is traveling there this year, much more than in years past. We flew into Lisbon, but stayed less than two days, which might be regretful considering all there is to do and see there. But my sights were focused on the beautiful beaches of the Algarve. I wanted to explore as many as possible, much like we have done in years past in Corsica, testing out a different beach each day. This is the lizard in me yearning for soaking up the sun with the ability to slither into the cool water for respite.
The trip started off a bit rocky for Erica thanks to a cancelled United Airlines flight, an overnight in an airport hotel and many hours to kill before catching another flight more than 24 hours later—with no fresh clothing to wear and missed time in Lisbon. Such is travel this summer. ABC news reported that “The summer of 2022 is likely going to go down as one of the most miserable summers for travel,” one expert says. “You could call it the perfect storm for the airline industry and consumers: bad weather, staffing shortages and high fuel prices.” My TAP Portugal flight from Nice to Lisbon was thankfully much less eventful.
I have a few clients and friends living in Portugal. They all really like it, but they all say the same thing —that it lacks the sophistication and culture of France. It’s what they miss most about living there and they’re talking to me about moving to France. That doesn’t surprise me as France and Italy are likely the two countries of Europe which offer the most of cultural things to do. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t giving Portugal the benefit of the doubt.
The Sunday before leaving for Lisbon, I stopped into the Musée de la Photographie Charles Nègre in Nice to see the Nick Night exhibit, “Roses from My Garden.” Photos of roses; more photos of roses; roses of every color; freshly bloomed roses and roses fading from life. That may seem boring to you, but the images were so beautiful that I welled up with tears in awe. If you’re in Nice now or will be soon, it’s on till September 25th, so, don’t miss it if you can help it.
Entry into Lisbon wasn’t a good beginning. I waited 45 minutes for the luggage at the airport and another 30 minutes in a very long line for a taxi. A recent survey by AirHelp revealed that Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport was considered the worst in the world among 132 airports. I am not surprised. It seemed like I’d never get to town. But once at the Casas de São Bento, where I had booked for two nights, the welcome was warm and the room lovely. Starving from the long travel day, the hotel desk clerk, a young woman named Valentina, directed me to a well-known Lisbon steak restaurant just up the street, Cafe São Bento, where the door is closed and one must ring a bell to be let in.
A waiter in a plaid vest opened the door and looked at me funny, as if who was I and what was I doing there? In English I immediately said, “I hope you have a table for me, because I am starving. You were recommended by the Casas de São Bento,” and I put on a big smile. He smiled back and said, “That might not be easy, but let me see what I can do”…and he found me a table right in the center of it all. The decor was dark, woody and warmly lit. I felt at home.
I ordered the ”Bife à Portuguesa”—a sirloin traditional steak with garlic and bay leaves, accompanied by sliced fried potatoes (just like basic potato chips) and if you’re really hungry, you can order it with an egg on top like a “steak à cheval” in France. It was delicious and just what I needed for Lisbon to make a better impression than the chaos at the airport. “Obrigado, Lisboa.” (Thank you, Lisbon, in Portuguese).
The first morning at an outdoor café near the São Bento Palace, I had sticker shock. A coffee and a fruit salad cost a whopping 3.70€—what just a coffee in Paris would cost. This was a good sign of what was to come for visiting Portugal as a bargain. The São Bento Palace is the seat of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic, a.k.a. the parliament of Portugal, which is just across the street from our hotel. We have a perfect view of it from our window. The famous Tram #28 is just steps away, so the location was superb.
Erica arrived after 30 hours of traveling from New York and lucky to have found her bag sitting all alone on a different baggage carousel from the one marked for her flight. Once settled into the hotel, we took off to have lunch and explore Lisbon…as much as we could in one day…and boy, did we ever!
Lisbon is not an easy city to maneuver by foot. The streets can be quite steep and the cobblestones make it tough on your feet. Be sure to wear good solid thick-soled walking shoes and be prepared to hike. We did the smart thing with such limited time and energy—we flagged down a “tuk-tuk” that had no passengers and bargained with the driver for a one hour tour of the city.
We might have overpaid slightly, but we got almost two hours and went all over the most important parts of the city, saw fantastic views and stopped long enough at the Feira da Ladra in Alfama (flea market) to score some new fun clothing. The market’s backdrop consists of surreal mural paintings of old Portuguese tiles that makes it a special spot beyond just the offerings at a bargain.
The ride on the tuk-tuk was bumpy and rough, again thanks to the cobblestone, and poorly maintained streets, many of which are striped with tram tracks. Traffic was in gridlock at just about every turn we made, making it challenging for the driver, “Hugo.” In all honesty, we in the back seat didn’t care. We just sat back and took in the sights and sounds of life in Lisbon…while getting bruised bums.
After quite an extensive tour of the historic districts, he dropped us off in the Chiado district, a shopping and theater hub, where we scored even more fabulous clothing (at my favorite—Desigual) before working our way to dinner at Santa Bica, a restaurant that had come highly recommended by a close friend. This was typical Portuguese food at its finest, with an outdoor patio open all year round. From the patio, you have the pleasure of watching the constant passing of the Elevador da Bica (a funicular that connects the Rua de São Paulo with Calçada do Combro/Rua do Loreto), as well as getting to know the neighbors that spend time on their balconies…that all added to the charm.
THE ALGARVE…HERE WE COME
Wednesday morning we picked up a rental car at the Europcar office on Rua Rodrigues Sampaio that was perhaps the cleanest, nicest rental car station I’d ever seen. The floors glistened and the cars all looked appealing. We declined a tiny Fiat 500 for a more substantial and reliable Toyota, exactly the car Erica had once owned and knew to be worth the extra 150€ for our five day rental. Automatic cars are generally twice the price as manual transmission cars, but that’s necessary for many Americans who never learned to drive one…like my daughter. So, before you set out for Europe, learn to drive a stick shift if you want to pocket the savings.
Two and a half hours later, on excellent highways and roads, we found our apartment rental in Carvoeiro with a view of the water from both the first floor terrace as well as the rooftop terrace. The Apartment Casa Alessandro mit Meerblick—a German name meaning “apartment with a sea view”—had all the basics we needed…but basic, is what I’d call it. The gentleman who runs it has a German accent and a German name, so one must assume he’s the German side of the equation.
It’s so interesting how different cultures manage rental property differently. If Americans owned the property, it would have been outfitted much more luxuriously. The furnishings were the cheapest they could find, the kitchen had the bare essentials and the linens were in very short supply. I never did find extra garbage bags. It didn’t make our stay any less enjoyable, but it certainly didn’t enhance it. The key points are, of which we were quite happy: location (as always), beautiful views, nearby amenities (there’s a Spar supermarket just up the road), air-conditioning, a washer and a big drying rack. It had all that plus it was sunlit and quiet (except for the seagulls who can make a bit of a racket).
For lunch we headed out to the nearest beach, the Praia do Vale de Centeanes where the O Stop restaurant serves up substantial seaside fare overlooking the beautiful scene—grilled calamari and sardines, sautéed clams and other local delicacies. The wind came up, rendering the parasols closed, so plenty of sun is what we got. Lounge chairs and parasols were rentable on the sand making that afternoon our first experience on an Algarve beach. We learned very quickly that the Atlantic waters are much colder than the Mediterranean, so swimming or floating was not in the cards. No noodle for me. My first thought: “Well, it isn’t Corsica.”
Corsica is the benchmark for my perfect beach vacation. Over the years, close friends and I have taken a week’s vacation in Corsica, but every other year, so that we can compare it to others and not get too spoiled. Spoiling it is, as nothing seems to live up to the French island for beach perfection. I was told that the Algarve has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and that could likely be the case, but if you can’t fully enjoy frolicking in the water…then that’s a big mark against it…that is if you enjoy the pleasure of floating as much as I do. Once in Algajola (Corsica), I fell asleep on a raft, while floating for two hours, because the cove was so calm, warm and lovely.
There are so many little beaches along the Portuguese coast both west and east of Carvoeiro that it was tough to choose which would be best for our second day in the Algarve, so instead, we sought out a beach with at least a good restaurant. There, we could lunch first, then head down to the sand for the rest of the afternoon. O Pescador in Benagil seemed to be a good choice, and was it ever.
The waiter brought out a tray of all the fresh fish on the menu, so we chose a grilled snapper steak, shrimp sautéed in olive oil, garlic and “piri-piri” (a small red pepper originally produced by Portuguese explorers in Portugal’s former Southern African territories, particularly Mozambique and its border regions with South Africa, and then spread to other Portuguese domains) and a salad.
When the Drunk Pear Salad came, we gasped. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a salad so beautiful, nor had one as tasty. We didn’t want to touch it for the longest time, just so we could ogle it, but then once we dug in, it was too delicious for words. Everything we had was exceptional. In fact, we had such a fantastic meal and experience there that we made a reservation for lunch there the following day…at the same table with its perfect views of the water below at the Praia de Benagil. We tasted a new variety of dishes the second time around, each one even better than the next. Erica and I agreed that we could eat at O Pescador every day and be very happy indeed.
One afternoon we drove from beach to beach to find a favorite. Each is a little different—some have easy access and others don’t; some have amenities (such as lounge chairs and parasols and/or a café or restaurant) and others don’t; some have dramatic views and others don’t. At every beach vacation, I vow to start a quest and a written guide about the best beaches around the globe—a dream I’ve had to, do a personal ranking…of course, based on my own personal taste in beaches! (Ha!)
First we landed at Albandeira Beach where we vegetated on the sand under the shade of limestone rock for a couple of hours before letting the incoming tide wash us off the sand entirely. After an iced coffee at the café perched high above the beach, we headed east again by car and found ourselves in a kind of fabricated new town, Armação de Pêra.
This was a town of 5,000 in 2011, which surely has doubled in size from the look of the numerous apartment blocks being built all at one time. The “village,” now a budding metropolis, is a popular tourist center with fine-sand beaches, a few hotels, cafés and restaurants. It’s on a broad bay that stretches from Pont da Galé to Senhora da Rocha so the dramatic scenery is lost to its neighboring towns. We found it a very strange, yet an interestingly spooky place and it was here that we ate one of the most delicious snacks of our trip: sautéed fresh clams with garlic and parsley that we dropped onto buttered toast and ate like mini bruschetta. It was memorable, even if the town was a bit of an enigma.
Our apartment in Carvoeiro was on the edge of the cliffs, along which is a path, part of which is protected from a fall and part of which is not. We investigated it on our third day, but wished we had ventured out earlier in our stay to have enjoyed it more. One could take the path all the way to Praia do Vale de Centeanes…and I got as far as the big staircase down, then stopped before it meant having to climb back up. Erica found it a perfect spot to meditate, while in the beginning, I could envision myself falling to a certain death!
It was from the Praia do Vale de Centeanes that we took a one-hour boat tour of the grottoes. On a small speed boat with a total capacity of about 12, we went full speed on choppy water, under gray skies, to see the grottos along the coast line. The sea caves along this stretch of the Algarve are thought to be some of the most photogenic locations in Portugal. The Benagil sea cave, the jewel in the crown, is accessible only by sea, with two natural arches and an absolutely stunning ‘skylight’ in a cathedral-like vault. Our tour went right past the “Elephant Arches” at Praia da Marinha, saw beaches one can only access by boat and explored grottos that were so dark we were rendered blind. There are dozens of boats of all kinds giving the same kinds of tours, but there’s a reason—it’s well worth it!
The beach at Vale de Centeanes turned out to be one of the best overall for easy access, beautiful landscape and good amenities. O Stop’s food was on par, but still not quite as special as O Pescador. That one topped our list and would for a long time to come.
Sunday we drove an hour to Tavira in the east part of the Algarve to have lunch and an afternoon on the beach with old friends from Paris. They were in the property business in Paris and then moved to Lisbon to do what was rendered illegal at the time in Paris—short-term vacation rentals. In Lisbon they were successful and ended up extending their holdings to the Algarve. Smart cookies!
The eastern side of the Algarve, in and around Faro (the region’s international airport is here) is very different from the west. It’s flatter and the beaches aren’t as scenic. A Google search immediately tells you that the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve are west of Faro. But if what you want is access to Spain, then the east side is for you—it’s less than a two-hour drive from Tavira to Seville.
BACK TO LISBON
Today Erica and I head back to Lisbon for one night before going our separate ways. I will fly to Nice tomorrow afternoon and Erica will stay in Portugal to travel more with a friend. All in all, Portugal was delightful. I didn’t get a chance to float in warm waters as I’d have liked, but it was a perfect way to spend a summer vacation in Europe, among nice people, beautiful scenery and fabulous food! What more could one ask for?
• The vacationers are generally young; this is not the spot for geriatrics
• The bodies on the beaches are amazingly beautiful, and they’re happily showing them off. No one seems to mind
• The architecture in the Algarve is contemporary, yet Moorish in style. Thanks to Portugal’s colorful maritime history and centuries of Moorish occupation (Morocco is so close!), the region is a distinctive cultural destination known for North African-inspired architecture (and you see the influence in other ways, too)
• The Portuguese people are relaxed, gentle and soft-spoken…really pleasant and likable
• The quality of the food is exceptional, and interesting. The menus can be similar to one another, but not so cookie-cutter and usually variations on a theme. Seafood was abundant and fresh, but meat is still a big winner and steaks can be found on every menu
Would I go back? Sure! But I’ll need a Corsican fix first!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian in a Tuk Tuk with daughter, Erica
P.S. DON’T MISS IT!
“Californians Take Tax Practice to France”—our newest House Hunters International episode—airs this week on HGTV!
“A Los Angeles accountant hunts for a starter home as she plans to expand her business internationally in Nice, France. While she wants to take things slow with two kids still in school and many unknowns about the expansion, her husband has other ideas.”
Set your DVRs!:
July 5, 2022: 10:30 Eastern/9:30 Central
July 6, 2022: 1:30 am Eastern/12:30 am Central
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