Why the Algarve didn’t enchant me…

Armacao de Pera

This isn’t one of those posts that you may have encountered before: “10 things that you will hate about the Algarve (just joking).” No, I really wasn’t inspired by the Algarve, However, visiting Portugal in October may not have been the ideal time to see this quite highly recommended part of the country in all its full glory and splendour. And, during our relatively short trip at the beginning of round two of Covid craziness, we bore that in mind as we were underwhelmed by everything but the Algarve coastline. Oh, and Porto. Porto was breathtaking. But that deserves its very own post, which it shall get.

Our short, jet-lagged stay in Lisbon wasn’t enough time to get a real feel for the city, other than the fact that it’s gorgeous and full of pride and history. We enjoyed wandering around the old squares (Praça do Comércio by the sea, was a delight), traversing the hilly cobbled streets and having a pint near the Pillory of Lisbon. We also had an exceptional view of the 11th-century, hilltop Moorish castle Castelo de S. Jorge from our hotel room balcony. Lisbon shall be revisited if or when the world ever returns to its regular level of lunacy, in the aftermath of the infamous pandemic we all know and hate.

“In a crazy world, it’s only your insanity that will keep you sane.”

~ Leo Buscaglia

Following Lisbon, we had booked ten days in Portimão to just catch our breath and chill for a bit (and possibly catch the Formula 1 Grand Prix). We certainly needed the rest after a long and very eventful sailing season on Canada’s Pacific coast. You can find an entire section dedicated to that here.

But I digress, as is my way.

Our ten-day Portimão trip lasted four days. The accommodations were advertised a bit less than accurately online, and the town was somewhat drab and boring, so we left. The next place, an apartment by the sea in Armação de Pêra, more than made up for the disappointment of Portimão. It was a bit older than we generally go for but cozy and clean. And, as is evident in the next photo, it had a great sea-view, was in a good location, and barely cost anything. This left plenty of money for copious bottles of top-notch port, which also cost very little.

Although our stay in Armação de Pêra was pleasant enough, the town didn’t really have anything going on. An ocean view, the daily walks on the beach, and our one attempt at playing in the North Atlantic in October (it was painfully cold) weren’t enough to entice us into staying long-term, so we moved on to see if Albufeira might be more to our liking.

I’m sure we chose the worst time ever to visit the Algarve, and we were rewarded with a very dull experience because of it. However, there is a couple of day trip destinations worth mentioning; Tavira, one of the region’s prettiest little towns with a quaint riverfront, and Silves, with its picturesque Moorish castle, olive trees, and vineyards. The Benagil Sea Caves in Lagoa are truly amazing. You can check out our favourite tour here.

The Algarve

The food, which we had repeatedly heard was amazing all over Portugal, was anything but. There were a few decent restaurants sparsely scattered in the Algarve, but nothing stood out. And the majority of the time, what we ate passed as bland nourishment.

Perhaps the rave reviews over the cuisine come from the large numbers of British tourists, whose home country’s fare is not exactly lauded in culinary circles throughout the world. Haha. How tired must they be of being the butt of bad-food jokes! Too bad, do better. More likely though, the food we subsisted on in Southern Portugal reflected a sort of Covid-induced despondency that doesn’t exist in better times. Not sure. We’ll have to check back at a later date before damning their cooking to eternal mediocrity. It is worth mentioning that the markets pretty much everywhere were fantastic & plentiful.

“Portuguese cooking is the worst on earth. Or, at least, the worst of any warm nation on earth. Obviously, Irish cooking could give it a run. Or Polish. But in its leaden, over-salted blandness, the cuisine of Portugal is, at best, what English cooking would be if we had better weather.”

~ Giles Coren (Restaurant Critic)

Our Algarve adventure, if graded on a colour-scale of the satisfaction rainbow, would be grey. On The Simpsons scale of utterances, I think “meh” would succinctly sum up the expedition. And, because it’s available and all the cool kids are doing it, I blame Covid for the tepid trip. But I can’t help but wonder how much blame Covid can take when, at the same time, Porto was so, so much better… and yes, the food is notable in the North.

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