Epic Adventure: UK to the beautiful Portuguese sun and Algarve Coast.
We struck gold with Portugal. Not literally, but for Sam and I it has been an absolutely epic adventure under the Portuguese sun, on the Algarve Coast. For a couple of Aussies used to warm weather and rolling sand dunes, it felt like we fit straight in with the easy-going nature of the Algarve coastal villages. We set ourselves up in a great little flat with a sunny rooftop terrace. It had beautiful views over the water and hinterland. Close to the Skydive Algarve drop zone and a stones throw away from Alvor town and Praia de Alvor. You don’t really need a car unless you want to explore a bit more of the coast. “The End of the World” otherwise known as Sagres goes highly recommended… by me.
Cobble stones everywhere, beautiful beaches stretching along the coast, and some serious cliffs rising high above the crashing waves… or glassy, lake-like waters as it’s usually pretty calm along the South Coast. Here’s a little road trip story of how we got to this summery-winterland from the UK. I hope that after reading it you’ll find some inspiration for a trip of your own, or even just to learn from our successes and mistakes.
We spent much of our winter driving up dirt roads, or down steep tracks meant more for four-wheel-drives than the 1999 Audie A4 wags we picked up for three-hundred pounds in the UK in Summer. She made it though, for all we put her through, what a trusty little rattler she’s been…
We bought her with the last little bit of Pounds we had scraped together after a couple of weeks work at Hibaldstow. At the end of the season at Hib, we packed her up to the brim and started our camping road-trip South to the Port in Portsmouth and Portugal beyond. The boat was probably my least favourite part. I always knew it would be, which probably makes up half of the problem. I do not travel well on the ocean. As far as cruise ships go though, this one was pretty good 🙂
the ferry trip
We chose to go with a basic two bunk room with no window and a private bathroom.
Somewhere between 250GBP and 350GBP, we considered it a bargain. We’d be able to take along everything we’d accumulated in the past 6-months. It also included a night’s worth of accommodation, and a hassle-free boarding experience.
We pretty much got ushered straight through. They didn’t seem to even consider searching through our things. In the light of that, I recommend taking something to nibble on because it can get pretty pricy, very quickly.
After a fairly uneventful trip of about 28hours rocking gently across that big salty body of water between the UK and Spain, we arrived at Santander. Once again, we were ushered straight through the gate. Make absolutely sure you get your passport stamped on entrance to Spain. Especially if you are from a third country nationality. That means all Australians not lucky enough to carry UK or European passports. Oh, and when driving non-EU cars in the EU, make sure you have all the mandatory car safety gear packed.
Once on solid land again with sunset coming on fast, we hightailed it to our first night’s accommodation which as it turns out didn’t involve any camping, but it did involve a beautiful castle called Hotel El Castillo, built on the edge of a cliff with magnificent 360′ views, and the most charming rooms and oh-so-comfy bed, plus they gave us a free upgrade. Winning! We thought maybe one night in the luxury of a warm bed instead of the back of our wagon would be the perfect cure for my wobbling sea-leggs. It was worth it and at a reasonable price, thanks to booking.com.
So after a night of sleeping in clouds we set off again. Going along the North Coast of Spain gradually turning our way to Portugal. We hugged the coast for a while in the hopes of glimpsing good waves. Pretty soon we started hunting for campsites while the sun was on the decent. Having found a spot, we settled in for the night with some more spectacular Spanish coastline views.
The next morning we woke with the sun. Thinking we had a massive day of driving ahead of us we set off bright-and-early. We got hit by a nice surprise. Our GPS birdie crazy was going crazy while we drove straight through the countryside on a very well constructed motorway. The 6-8 hour trip became less than 4, simply by forgetting to update the GPS. Yippee! The Portuguese border came closer much faster than expected. We could barely contain our anticipation as we drove across the bridge taking us from one country to the next.
If you’ve done a little bit of research about driving in Portugal you’ve probably come across those warnings about the toll road prices. These warnings are not rumours. Although, individually they are not too dramatic, the tolls come often and start adding up quickly. But set your GPS to avoid them, and guess what! You’ll be in for some awesome views, and dodgy little roads that aren’t really that dodgy except for the fact that you forget to look at it and keep looking slack-jawed out the side window instead. Oops.
As for the two of us, our slack jaws and inability to follow simple instructions meant we missed about 3 turn-offs within the first 10 minutes of entering Portugal. That’s not an exaggeration. Luckily for us this lead to driving through beautiful natural scenery, then some awkwardly narrow cobbled streets of the local rural dwellers. Portugal is beautiful and foreign, and like nothing we had ever seen before. I wouldn’t exchange our random accidental wanders for the world.
When we finally managed to snake our way through the countryside back to the coastline we encountered the most magnificent barrelling waves. Having not seen so much as a dribble of whitewash in close to a year it seemed like the most amazing waves we had ever come across. Though truthfully these waves were incredible. Boasting a clean consistent 6-8ft and glassy power curling it’s way towards shore. It was also the first time I had worn shorts in a year, a big highlight for me. We spent that first night in Portugal close to some whitewashed sandy beaches, and watched the sun set over the Atlantic. A view I hadn’t seen since my life in South-Africa. Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes; for us, it’s on a beach with some music, a little cooker sorting out dinner and a cold beer ready to wash it down. Bliss.
Once again we set off early and this time we went straight for Sam’s dream location Nazare.