When I moved to Lagos, in Portugal’s sunny Algarve, it was a calm little beach resort, not very well known. In five short years, the city that launched the Age of Discovery has been discovered. No longer a quaint fishing village, it is now building 5-star resorts and fancy restaurants. Everyone is taking full advantage of Portugal’s recent chicness and happy to have the influx of euros that come along with being the new “It Place” on the planet.
It is easy to see why Lagos is popular—beautiful, pristine beaches can be found all along the Algarve, as well as amazing fresh seafood, and beguiling, centuries-old buildings packed along winding cobblestoned streets. There are still fishermen going out to sea as their fathers and grandfathers did before them.
Don’t come here just to lie on the beach, though. The grottos are breathtaking, best seen by kayak. If you don’t want to paddle much, a boat will drop you off and pick you up—complete with guide—for about $35. Or you can try surfing, sailing, stand-up paddle-boarding, dolphin watching, scuba diving, hiking, fishing, horse riding…the list goes on.
The Algarve’s stunning coastline attracts visitors from all over Europe.
One of my favorite things to do once the sweaters are packed up, and summer clothes are finally hanging in the closet, is to hike to the Ponta da Piedade. I stop at each of the altar-like Stations of the Cross. Intricately painted tiles tell the story of each station. When you get to the end, there is a lighthouse and steep stairs down to one of the grottos; it’s easy going down and you will get a good cardio workout coming back up. Beautiful coves with white-sand beaches entice me to go for a swim when I get too warm.
If you don’t like to hike, take the funky tourist “train” that makes regular stops around Lagos for $4. The Lagos city bus (blue line) will take you to all the best beaches; my favorite is Porto do Mós. With my bus pass, the trip is only 90 cents. I don’t have a car because buses are easy to catch and go almost everywhere.
A 15-minute stroll along the Avenida dos Descobrimentos from my apartment is “my” city beach, Praia da Batata (Potato Beach). I am a regular and love to park myself next to the 17th-century fortress and swim in the cool clear water. The local kids and dogs jump off the ancient pier into the ocean, then climb back up to do it again. The beach snack of choice is a bola de Berlim (a cream-filled donut). A man with a cooler walks around selling them, and the Portuguese chow down. If donuts on the beach are not your thing, there is always a café with selections of adult beverages.
Pack light for the Algarve. Swimsuits, sandals, flip flops, shorts, and t-shirts, plus a pair of jeans and a hoodie for the cooler nights. And don’t forget the 50-strength sunscreen…you will need it.