Monday, August 1, 2016

Sintra, Portugal

Before we even left the US, we were already aware of one snag in our travel plans. The direct flight planned from Lisbon to Tangier, Morocco was pushed back from its original 11:00 am departure (several times) to an ultimate takeoff of 10:00 pm! We found ourselves with a full day to fill, and only a two hour drive from the coast back to Lisbon. Initially, we thought exploring Lisbon would be best, because I'd heard great things, but Pinterest intervened and the rainbow-colored allure of nearby Sintra won out. 

Only thirty minutes outside of Lisbon, Sintra is an idyllic, colorful town filled with 19th century Romantic architecture that's earned a spot as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated among picturesque, lush green mountains, the town is home to both the Pena National Palace and Sintra National Palace, as well as the Gothic estate Quinta de Regaleira.

We both fell in love with Sintra from the moment we pulled into the main square, and were so glad we made the trip... even with the seemingly endless stairs and uphill treks to reach the worthwhile sites at the summit. 

Main Square

Quinta da Regaleira
The Initiation Well - two deep underground wells sit on the property of Quinta da Regaleira, which were never used for water collection, but rather for secret Masonic initiation ceremonies. 
Pena National Palace (aka Candyland in real life)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Faro, Portugal

A few days into our time in Portugal, the weather was chilly and showers were dotting the forecast. We decided that another beach day wasn't in the cards, so we hopped in the car and took an impromptu trip east to the old town of Faro. I had researched the town a bit while planning, but put it on the "if we have time" list. With no expectations going in, we had the best time exploring this charming city.

Our first stop was a quick walk around Pousada Palacio de Estoi, an 18th century palace turned boutique hotel. The palace and grounds were immaculately kept and restored, with pink exterior walls, an array of hand-painted cement tiles, and interiors fit for a princess.

We left the palace and headed into the center of town, which was one of the cutest old European towns I've ever seen. The sun came out in time for lunch, so we stopped at a quiet outdoor cafe for rosé and cheese (a perfect lunch). The whole day turned out to be a huge success, and we were both so happy we made the trip.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve, a region on the southern coast of Portugal long known for having the best beaches in Europe, seems to finally be creeping onto bucket lists of travelers around the world. It's nearly impossible to scroll through Pinterest and not see images of Ponte da Piedade or the unusually beautiful Benagil Sea Caves, and with good reason. The coastline looks like California on steroids, with dramatic cliffs and rock formations jutting down toward clean, sandy beaches. Unfortunately, we hit several days of unseasonably cool temperatures that limited beach time, but it was just as beautiful to explore (with a light jacket).

EAT // Albufeira Gourmet Churrasqueira Take-Away
SEE // Praia da Falesia, Praia do Camilo,  Ponte da Piedade

Our lovely hotel, the Epic SANA Algarve, was located on Praia da Falesia, a beach known for its dramatic red rock cliffs. A series of walking trails along the cliffs and a private stairwell to the water showcase breathtaking views of the beaches below. Finding the silver lining in jet lag, I got up before the sun on our first morning and was met with possibly my favorite sights of our entire trip (sorry Adam, you were sleeping). I had the entire beach to myself, and I will never forget the experience.

Moving west along the coast, we drove to the town of Albufeira and Praia dos Pescadores. The beach here had a totally different vibe, busy with coastal shops, restaurants and bars. We stopped for lunch at the most famous and acclaimed Portuguese chicken spot in the region, which looked like a hole in the wall, but tasted like heaven.

We then set off further along the coast, hitting several must-see beaches (around the Lagos area) along the way. Each was more stunning than the last, with curious rock formations, panoramic views, and natural sea caves.

Praia Dona Ana
Praia do Camilo

The journey culminated with a series of beach views along the peninsula south of Lagos, and the rock formation Ponta da Piedade. We grabbed some beers at a local grocer, zipped our jackets up, and stayed here to watch the sunset. In the end, it was an exciting and fulfilling day of exploring that far surpassed lounging on a hot beach.

Me drinking a beer on a rock summit
My favorite view of Ponte da Piedade