Portugal has fast become one of my top destinations on par with Thailand and although not exactly comparable, it's right up there in my list of top places. For that reason I thought it'd be good to finally share travel photographs of Lagos, Portugal.
It's affordable, beautiful, the food is great and the kind season extends easily from April to October. And let us not forget its life loving, friendly and hard working people.
They're a strange contrast from their nearby Spanish neighbours, like night and day, and that's a compliment.
Every time I fly to Faro, usually from Gatwick airport. I then make sure I escape the area as fast as I can.
See, it's not the most scenic of places. If you're a Brit and want to spend your holiday with other Brits and not discover any local culture... then you'll want to stick around here.
You'll love it.
Albufeira to be precise, guarantee a true British "home from home" holiday experience, with full English breakfast, English beer and screaming kids who've lost their Pokemon. How lovely!
The place we normally stay is near Lagos, Porto Mos precisely. This is an hour's drive from the airport.
It happens to be a friend's holiday home which he generously lets us use for a very low price, it's convenient and could not have a better view.
The beach itself is really one of the best beaches I've been to. Even at the height of Summer, it's never that busy that it feels uncomfortable. There are two restaurants there which serve good local food, lots of fish and of course delicious yet fairly lethal Caipirinhas.
The sea water is clean, not too cold and perfect for families as there are no dangerous/hidden currents provided you stay within safe distance to the beach.
Evenings are spent either on the terrace enjoying the view with a glass of local wine (very drinkable and very cheap) and a selection of cheeses and cured meats. Alternatively you can always walk down to Lagos city centre, only a 15mn walk from Porto Mos.
Lagos is very touristy but nothing like the rest of the Algarve. It retains a certain charm and peacefulness. Again, I recommend making the most of March, before the high season kicks-in.
The cobbled streets are a real maze in which we happily get lost until luck brings us back to a friendly and busy watering hole. Sea creatures are painted everywhere as a reminder that this is indeed a city with a long maritime and fishing history.
The fish market is a delight for anyone in need of sardines to grill on the BBQ.
Buildings are adorned with colourful tiles and bars offer rooftop terraces to put to shame any other rooftop bar.
Everywhere you are offered to join excursions to discover the coast in kayaks, go out at sea to see dolphins and many many other activities.
Personally I'm not too keen on these. I prefer to explore without a guide telling me what to look at.
Rental cars are cheap and my favourite way to explore any given country, especially in the low season (prior to Easter/April). Late March, a basic entry level car cost us £70 for an entire week, excluding petrol and no deposit required.
But my advice is to forget the big guys such as Entreprise or Hertz and wait to rent a car with a smaller independent company, that's where the deals and the smiles are.
South Portugal is just full of places to explore.
Our favourites include Monchique, Odeceixe, Sagres, Aljezur, Vila Do Bispo and finally Cabo de Sao Vicente (Cape St Vincent) and its lighthouse.
Monchique is a MUST see at around 900m above sea level and only 40mn drive from the coast. If you want cooler air during the summer, head to Monchique.
This relaxed historic town of some 6000 inhabitants is famous for its hot springs and it is clear that this place has attracted wealthy people for that very reason and for some time.
The surrounding mountains are arid and covered mainly in Eucalyptus and Cork Oak with Orange trees here and there.
The intense smell of essential oils of Eucalyptus is truly lung expanding.
We stayed twice in Monchique at the Villa Termal das Caldas de Monchique Spa Resort. Again, try stay there just before April, the weather is kind and prices even kinder.
What a beautiful spa resort, it looks like a mini-village in itself with plenty of old buildings and landscaped gardens.
One of the food specialities is the grilled spicy Monchique sausage. I could eat this all day long. It's essentially a cured dry spicy sausage you grill yourself on a flame as you enjoy a drink. Delicious.
Another culinary speciality is the Piri Piri chicken. Many small humble cafés serve it and you cannot go to Portugal and not try it!
If you seek untamed wilderness then head to the Atlantic on the West coast and you're in for a treat.
We drove from Cabo de Sao Vicente near Sagres, the most South Western tip of Portugal and probably Europe too, all the way up to Lisbon.
My friends, this is THE drive. The road trip.
332 km of uninterrupted beauty. A big part of it consists of protected parks.
Wild coast, mad waves, surf, cool surf people, small white villages, delicious food everywhere, yellow wild flowers, sand, bright blue sky... and not even that many tourists!
A perfect place for reflection and contemplation.
Do we go on holiday so we can suffer the same people we suffer all year round?
I travel to escape, get lost, discover.
The drive North leads to many other gems, one of them is Odeceixe. My all-time favourite.
You can easily rent an AirBnb type of place. This, below, is the view we had last March from the apartment we rented.
Odeceixe is a minute village and a beach. Nothing more.
Oh yes... a bar/restaurant where people don't speak English but smiles go a long way in helping with communication. Food is international, I never have problem on that side.
I enjoy South Portugal like very few other places. I have travelled to Bora Bora, Alaska, Japan, Italy and yet, this ranks in my top 5 places ever.
Go there for amazing people, mind-blowing landscapes, great food, kind prices.