Around the World – Algarve, Portugal

The second part of the summer holidays we spent in Albufeira, Portugal.

The perils of booking ultra last-minute… Besides plenty of options regions with political instability and/or temperatures in excess of 40C/104F, the only reasonable and affordable option was a 10-day stay in an all-inclusive hotel in Albufeira (without a possibility to book half-board or just lodging).

After booking at a travel agent, we read some recent ghastly online reviews about the hotel. The hotel had been taken over earlier this and the new owner wanted to get rid of the all-inclusive option (even though booked by the guests). Hence, we were preparing for the worst, but it turned out to be not too bad. The apartment was OK, albeit a bit outdated, but the airco worked and we had a balcony facing the pool. Luckily, it was not facing “The Strip” with all the nightlife and clubs, so we only had to endure the evening entertainment / karaoke sessions… Needless to say that all the food options (especially those from the chafing dishes) were mediocre at best.

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The wine assortment at the hotel: not chilled either…

In short, without any reasons to stick around at the hotel, we rented a car and started exploring the Algarve.

Foia, close to Monchique, is the highest point of the Algarve (902m): spectacular views guaranteed! Making a full day scenic drive over the R124 – passing though quaint towns like Silves, Alte, Salir and Benafim – is also highly recommended.

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Near Pêra, you have Fiesa, world’s largest sand sculpture festival which is open from early March till late October. This years theme was music although some other movie characters were included in the mix. Quite some astonishing pieces! Do visit early in the day as there is little to no shelter from the sun.

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In Albufeira, we did a 2-hour boat tour booked via Dream Wave. First part is on open sea: the kids loved it as the choppy sea made it a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Alas, no dolphins were spotted, but we did catch one wayward bouy and some nets and ropes discarded by fishermen. On the way back we traced back the 25km coast line from Carveiro to Albufeira to see some amazing beaches and caves.

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We also did a day trip to Cabo de São Vicente (about 100km from Abufeira) which is also dubbed “The End of the World” as it is the most southwestern point of Portugal.

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Beside many stalls donning curios of the lighthouse, “the end of the world” or commemorating the fact that Sir Francis Drake pillaged Cabo São Vicente in 1587, there were also 2 that really stood out:

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Selling knitted wooly jumpers and ponchos at 36C: good luck!
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The end is indeed nigh…

Wasn’t there any anything eventful from a culinary perspective? Yes and no.

Portugal = pastry heaven: Pastel de nata (short crust cups filled with custard) and Bolo de Arroz (rice flour cupcake with a crispy sugar-coated top) are great. Obviously, wines and port are very nice too. If you are craving sea food, just go to the harbour-side restaurants for excellent seafood.

However, in the coastal Algarve, especially in Albufeira, the tourism is massive, so it’s all-day English breakfasts, fish & chips and curry house galore. Pretty much all international cuisines are there too, many mediocre, so you really have to look for decent Portuguese cuisine. I couldn’t persuade the rest to go to a churrascaria for some leitão (whole spit-roasted suckling pig) or frango piri-piri (spicy roasted chicken), so below piri-piri pizza at Paulu’s Pizzeria (Edifício Oura Cláudios Estrada de Sta Eulália, Albufeira) was my closest encounter to frango piri-piri. This one was quite nice, but actually needed a lot of additional piri-piri sauce for a proper kick…

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However, we did find a very nice local restaurant nearby the hotel: O Cantinho Português (Edificio Paraiso Da Oura Rua Jose Fontana)

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Beef Portuguesa (Oven roasted fillet of steak with gravy and topped with garlic, dried ham and fresh laurel leaf) The potato chips are both crunchy and soggy, but in a good way as they take up the flavours from the beef as well as the gravy. We washed this one down with an excellent 2013 Touriga Nacional Reserva Estremoz from Herdade das Servas. The Touriga Nacional grape is mainly used for blending of port, but is increasingly being used for table wines from the Douro and Dão regions. It’s a full-bodied wine, with high tannins and concentrated black fruit and jammy flavours. Perfect companion with the Beef Portuguesa!
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As dessert, I chose this Algarve specialty: Tarte de Alfarroba, Figos, Amêndoa. Carob Tart with Figs and Almonds; quite sweet and dense, but very tasty.

Of course, holidays are not complete without having a proper look at the local supermarkets for interesting stuff. We came home with some different piri-piri sauces, wines and these 2 Portuguese gins and UK crisps:

Only back at the hotel I saw the fine print on the Nautilus: distilled algae gin… WTF??? Anyway, we have tried them both when back in the Netherlands. The Tangerine gin has a more intense perfume than tangerine flavour, but you can still taste the tangerines and get the hint of almonds. As citrus fruit always works well in a G&T, it’s a pretty versatile gin. The Nautilus is far more interesting due to the maritime flavours which luckily are quite subtle. I reckon that a Nautilus G&T will be a great pairing with seafood dishes, but very enjoyable on its own too.
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Normally, I am not too fond of the exotic flavours that crisps get today, but this one from Ten Acre was pretty awesome. It tasted meaty and the pastrami flavouring was spot on: it was just as if you were eating a pastrami on rye sandwich in a NY deli. (note: these crips are completely vegan)

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