The next day, back in our little car, we headed to Lagos, a city with a bustling marina and lots to explore. Along the way, we stopped to see Farol de Alfanzina, the lighthouse at Cavoeiro. This red-domed beacon sits above a sea cave carved into sandstone cliffs. We walked down to Praia do Carvalho, part of the Route of the Seven Hanging Valleys, to explore the cave and marvel at the beach.
We continued driving east with big smiles…but, after a confusing GPS route, several u-turns on very narrow, hilly streets, and an encounter with two pompous “policías” who threatened us with a fine, our smiles began fading. As we were again “recalculating”, we saw a small unassuming cafe outside of town and decided we needed a break to regroup.
Our intention was to ask directions but the delightful owner put us at ease, made us a quick hot lunch, and told us how to find the best route to the town center. We just needed to put Burger King into our GPS! It worked. His hospitality made up for the unfriendly local policemen and Lagos did not disappoint.
Lagos had it all
We not only found the Lagos marina but also a historic city center that combined both old and new: Ancient Moorish city walls a 17th-century fort, the Igreja de Santo António church, Conde de Ferreira (the original model for all Portugal schools), fountains, quaint shops, statues, a police station with tribute to Ukraine, and the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira with its entrance to a drawbridge over a moat. Lots of photo opportunities!!
Just another breathtaking beach
We took the short walk from the fort to the Ponta da Piedade headland and down to the Praia da Batata and Praia dos Estudiantes beaches with an awesome tunnel to connect them. We found a seaside restaurant to relax, eat, and watch the sun set over the water. Sigh.
Hiking the cliffs
The next day we took off by foot heading east to hike the trails along the orange cliffs to Olhos de Água, a beach whose name translates to “Eyes of Water”. The footpaths, varying from rocky and tenuous to flat and easy to navigate, were covered with wildflowers and almost as captivating as the ocean scenery. Almost!
Along the way we encountered two other hikers who were speaking Italian. I stopped to chat, hoping to use my language skills, and discovered that they were from Lampedusa. When I mentioned I knew about the island from Lacrime di Sale by Pietro Bartolo, the man exclaimed “He is my uncle!”. A sweet surprise. He graciously took a photo with me for my Italian book club.
After the hike, we got lazy, took an Uber back to our hotel, and then embarked on the least interesting adventure of our trip, a tour of the countryside in a 4WD Jeep. I suspect that we were spoiled by the spectacular coastline and hard to please. I dubbed it “The Road Trip to Nowhere” and you can read about it in this PDF …or not.
The Benagil cave
The next day made up for it. We saved the best for last, a boat ride to first see dolphins at play and then go in, out, and around the Benagil cave — the most iconic, most photographed cave on the southern Portugal coast.
We started at the colorful Albufeira marina and boarded a motor boat specifically designed for sightseeing.
The dolphins were fun, as always, and we did get to see some of the coastline we had explored from the ocean, but…..
…the cave was the showstopper! It is enormous and, although it was crowded with bathers, kayakers, and other boats, it was still very impressive.
A sweet ending
We spent our last evening in the Algarve taking in the night life, reminiscent of Spring break in the US, then drove — roundabout by roundabout — back to Lisbon, stopping along the way for some last coastline views. We turned in our little car, feeling spent, exhilarated, accomplished… and then prepared for our flight home the next day. It was a truly a “trip full of wonders” and we are still very good friends.