Well, it’s been a little while. Although over the past 9 months, I’ve written some historical blogs and worked on the website quite a bit, I didn’t do much travelling myself. Having had the most amazing 3.5 years travelling the world I returned home in May 2022, settling back into life at home in England. This meant moving back in with my parents and finding myself a job. Life has been pretty routine since returning home, which in some ways has been refreshing, getting back into some kind of normality. On the other hand, it’s been hell haha! It certainly took time to adjust back and to be honest, I still don’t truly feel settled here, which I think is quite the sign. But overall coming home and having a chance to work through things and what I want out of life has been good. It refocused me on the things I still want to do and achieve as well as reaffirmed what means the most to me and makes me happy.
Anyway enough of the life update – this is actually a blog about a trip I just took. Over the last 7 years, firstly through coincidence and now choice, I’ve developed a bit of a habit of celebrating my birthday in a different country. Having since turned 21 celebrated in 5 different countries over the past 6 years. Therefore, for my 27th birthday (which equally feels a bit mad to think about) it was the perfect excuse to take a break from work, and saving money and treat myself to a birthday trip to keep the tradition going. One I feel I shall have to keep for many years to come! I decided to visit Portugal, a country I had never been to before and would be country number 34 for me. It would be a much shorter trip than I had been used to, totalling 8 days. But I had a truly amazing time, and felt right back in my natural habitat, exploring somewhere new, and meeting amazing like-minded people. The trip began by flying from London Stansted to Lisbon. Although I’ve solo travelled loads, you still have that little twinge of “I hope I meet some nice people and don’t spend the whole time on my own”. I need not have worried, having booked my hostel in Lisbon via Hostelworld, they have this great feature whereby you get added to a chat, with fellow travellers also staying in the hostel & City for the period you are there. This meant ahead of time I posted in the chat my travel plans and Instagram handle letting people know I was keen to explore Lisbon. Now I’m not going to lie, no one came back to me haha! But the post wasn’t all in vain. While I was waiting in line to board the plane, up popped a message from Monika, which read “Hey, I think I recognised you at the airport, I am also going to Lisbon this weekend from Stansted and shall be in the same hostel”. As it so happened Monika had seen my message on Hostelworld, then seen me at the airport as we were catching the same flight and sent me a message to say Hi! It also happened she was sitting directly in front of me on the plane. Life has a funny way of just working itself out. Monika was meeting a friend in Lisbon, Viky, who landed in Lisbon at the same time and the 3 of us made our way to our hostel in Lisbon, getting to know each other on the metro ride there. My worries were instantly gone and it felt sooo good to be out seeing new places and meeting new people again.
Having arrived at our hostel around 10 pm (Home Hostel highly recommend) the three of us had a bite to eat before heading out for a few drinks in Lisbon on a Friday night. Only one place to go and that’s the Bairro Alto district, which is a section of the city filled with bars that all spill out onto the street where everyone parties and drinks together. It’s a hip place and a must-do for nightlife in Lisbon. However given we had all had quite a long day, we took it pretty stead and rolled into bed at 3 am.
The following morning albeit a little begrudgingly I pulled myself out of bed around 9 am and headed out to explore the city on foot. First stop was a local café for a famous Pastel de Nata, a local delicacy which consists of an egg custard tart pastry optionally dusted with cinnamon. Which I must say are delicious. As well as a coffee to help blow the morning cobwebs away. The weather was a little cloudy and overcast, but it was perfect for wandering around the streets of Lisbon. Given the number of hills and steps, you’ll get acquainted with, you really wouldn’t want to be exploring here in the height of summer. Although you’ll read extensively about just how hilly this city is, you still don’t believe it until you’re there. After breakfast, I headed to Acro da Rua Augusta, which leads on through to the big open square of Praca do Comercio, where there are loads of options to jump on a free-talking tour of the city if you wish. From here I made my way to R.Nova do Carvalho or Pink Street, which as the name suggest is a road painted pink. Very much a bit of a gimmick but a nice little stop en route to Elevador da Bica. One of the city’s many cable cars that transports locals and now mainly tourists up Lisbon’s steep streets. Certainly worth a ride or spending some time watching the cable cars run people up and down the hills. Once at the top of the street, it was then a short walk to Miradouro (Portuguese for viewpoint) de Santa Catarina, which offered some nice views over the city and several café options to grab a snack or drink. From here it was onto Santa Justa Lift via Luis de Camoes Square. The cast iron lift was built in 1902 to connect the lower streets with Carmo Square. At the top of the lift (which you can get to without taking the lift), there are panoramic views over the city below, as well as a close-up glimpse of Carmo Convent – the ruined gothic church destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
By this point, I’d worked up an appetite and just so happened to stumble across Bifanas do Afonso. A tiny little restaurant that serves the most amazing Bifanas (Portuguese pork sandwiches). For only €2.50 it was delicious!!! After lunch, it was onto Lisbon Cathedral, before a walk through the district of Alfama to reach two more of the cities Miradouros, Portas do Sol and Santa Luzia. They overlook the Tagus River and are great spots to relax enjoying the view. In fact, I met here with Monika and Viky that evening for sunset. From here I wanted to explore Castelo de S. Jorge, but the line to get in was just too long so decided to give it a miss. That night a few of us from the hostel headed back out to the Bairro Alto district to celebrate Neil’s birthday, Neil and I were sharing a room in the hostel in Lisbon. Tonight was a little more lively than the previous night, but again nothing too over the top with a group of us bar hoping for a few hours between the various bars.
Come Sunday morning the weather again was very gloomy, so having had a bit of a lie-in, I took the train from Cais Do Sodre a short way to Alges, then jumped on an electric scooter (the city is full of them to rent on apps like Uber) to Belem Tower. The landmark medieval fortified tower sits on a tiny island in the Tagus River having been separated from the mainland in the earthquake of 1755. Once again you can actually go into the tower, but the line was massive so passed. I did though enjoy the live music from the very talented violin player busking. From there I jumped back on my electric scooter and made the short journey to Padrao dos Descombrimentos – which is a statue built in 1940, to mark 500 years since Henry the Navigators Death. One of the central figures in the early days of the Portuguese empire, embarking on countless maritime voyages and discovering many foreign lands unknown to Europe at that time. From here I planned to visit Jeronimos Monastery, but no prices for guessing. The queue was enormous, so gave it a miss too. Also, the rain had set in by this point so I headed back to the hostel, before thankfully the weather cleared, making my way to Miradouro Senhora do Monte. Which I believe is the best viewpoint in the city giving an amazing view of Lisbon, the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge and a great vantage point to enjoy the sunset. Having had two nights on the town it was back for a family dinner put on by the hostel owners, the famous mama herself, which was a delicious 3-course meal, enjoyed with numerous new friends that had been made over the past few days while staying there.
After an action-packed but wonderful few days in Lisbon, I took the train 3 hours south to Faro. Here I picked up a rental car, which would allow me to spend the next 6 days exploring the Alvagre. Sadly the bad weather had followed me south, with it hammering it down on my arrival to Faro. Which wasn’t ideal when I picked up the car seeing as this would be the first time driving on the opposite side of the road to that which I was used to. It did take a little getting used to, but on the whole, it was fairly straightforward. Besides, I highly recommend the use of a car to truly explore this part of Portugal as it gives you so much more freedom. On picking up the car I drove about 40 minutes west to Praia do Carvalho (Praia = beach in Portuguese). Thankfully on the drive, the weather cleared up, turning into a pleasant evening. I spent some time wandering around the various cliffs that stretched out from the beach, getting my drone up to take a few pictures. I also spent some time watching a local fisherman casting his line into the sea below, perched high above on the cliff edge. With sunset approaching, I decided to drive a little up the coast to the town of Benagil, famous for its cave, accessible only by boat. It was here that I sat and watched the sunset as the evening rays cast a magical light against the sandstone cliffs and a small murmuration of starlings took to the sky. Once the sun had set I drove 20 minutes into Portimao, where I had booked a hostel for the night, having an amazing tuna steak and mushroom risotto dinner in a quaint little restaurant in town.
I elected to be back up and out again before sunrise as I wanted to hike the 7 Hanging Valleys Trail and the weather seemed most promising early. It was a great decision. I drove to the start of the trail at Marinha beach, getting there at 7 am just as the sun was rising, which offered amazing light for photos, plus meant I had the beach to myself, crossing paths with a local dog walker as I headed off. The 7Hanging Valleys Trail is a beautiful 5km hike all along the coast from Marinha beach to Praia do Vale de Centeanes. Although I continued further onto the town of Carvoeiro, only a further 20mins or so. I’ll let the stunning pictures do the talking here. But the walk was amazing, nothing too challenging, although a bit unsteady underfoot. The path just hugs the cliff edge, where you’ll catch a glimpse of numerous deserted beaches and rockface cave inlets. I also had the trail mostly to myself, which was great just being out in nature with the warm sun on my skin (the cold and dark winter back in the UK meant this had been missed). I arrived in Carvoeiro around 10:30 having set off about 7:30 and had a lovely breakfast at Levels Cafe, which I had certainly earned. Now you can walk the same route back again as it’s out and back. However, I think the best option is to book yourself an Uber (which cost around €8) back to the car park, which is exactly what I did. On returning to the car park, which was empty when I arrived at 7 am, it was now full. So again, I highly recommend you go early to avoid disappointment.
After an active morning, I drove the 55 minutes to the small surfing town of Aljezur, or more specifically Arrifana. I had planned to do a little sunset surfing, but sadly the weather really came in with it being quite the washout the rest of the day. Meaning other than a quick excursion to the cliff forts at the edge of the town when I arrived. I didn’t get up to much in Arrifana.
Having spent the night at Destination Hostel Arrifana, I awoke here on the 8th of March, which was my birthday. It was a little bit odd as I didn’t really speak to anyone in the hostel so therefore celebrated by opening a card my parents had given me and headed out for a nice breakfast in a nearby café. My plan for today was to make my way down the coast stopping at a few places before arriving in Lagos that afternoon, where I would be spending the next 3 nights. It was very much a last-minute decision to take the coastal route to Lagos but I’m glad I did. First stop was Pontal da Carrapateira, which had stunning views up along the coastline and a hiking route around a headland trial. I opted for the lazy method, driving to the various viewpoints instead. One of which I was joined by 3 massive sea birds soaring high above me on the stiff sea breeze.
From here I was then on the road again further south to Miradouro da Cordoama, which again gave amazing views of the strikingly beautiful and rugged Portuges West Coast, even on an overcast day. From here it was a short drive down to Castelejo Beach, where I dipped my toe in the water and wandered along the sand for a bit, before stopping for lunch at the solitary restaurant here.
Having enjoyed a relaxed birthday morning, I drove 30 minutes into Lagos, arriving at my hostel, Bura Surfhouse (a converted villa-made hostel, again highly recommend) at about 2 pm. The weather by this point had come good again, so I wasted no time driving down to the closest beach, Mos Beach, but then walked a good hour along the cliff top to Praia da Luz. Here I finally spent a bit of time chilling out on the beach, jumping in the sea (which was very cold) and treating myself to a birthday Ice cream. By this point, it was getting close to sunset so made my way back up onto the cliffs to watch the sun sink into the water on the horizon, before getting back to the hostel around 7 pm (having stopped at a local supermarket to buy a bottle of Ginja, Portuguese cherry liquor which I acquired a taste for in Lisbon) in the hopes of sharing this with a few people at the hostel that night. I had signed up for the family dinner put on by the hostel so sat down with a great mix of people to exchange stories and get to know one another. Before long various card games were being played which soon turned into a few little drinking games and in next to no time the whole bottle of Gira was gone haha!! It was a lovely way to spend a birthday and I had such a great day, visiting beautiful places and making some great new friends. I’m sure to some, I must sound a little crazy. The thought of going off to spend your birthday alone / with some people you’ve met literally 30 minutes ago, I get isn’t for everyone. But for me it was perfect. I had greatly missed that connection with people the past 9 months being home, that instantaneous friendship that forms when fellow travellers come together. Hostels bring together like-minded souls and I’d missed that sense understanding between those, who had and wanted to experience the same things as me while I was back at home. It’s hard to put into words but it’s just like my own little tribe of people, who I know I shall always get along with and who welcome me with open arms!
Having had a great birthday, Thursday started with a lazy morning chilling at the hostel in the hope that the sun would come out in the afternoon. Around Mid-day I drove 30 mins or so along the coast to Sagres. Grabbing a pizza for lunch and walking around the coastal cliffs of the town. At the edge of town is Fortaleza de Sagres, which was built in the 15th century and now provides amazing views along the coastline. One of the highlights has to be the Voz do Mar, which is a unique monument within the fort grounds, that due to a geological fault through the cliffs allows you to listen and experience first-hand the immense roar and power of the sea below smashing into the cliffs of the fortress. By this point, the weather had cleared, meaning I spent a few hours relaxing, reading my book on Praia do Beliche, a lovely little beach just out of Sagres. Before making my way to Cabo de Sao Vincente Lighthouse for sunset. An amazing spot that looks out west into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. With nothing but thousands of km of open ocean between you and the east coast of the United States of America. A must-do for sunset if in the area. Sadly the cloud rolled in a bit as dusk crept in, but it was still a lovely spot to finish the day. From there I headed to a restaurant for some dinner before returning to the hostel for a few card games and an early night.
The reason for the early night is I was up early to go scuba diving. I really didn’t know what to expect from the diving but was excited to get back in the water after around 9 months. I knew it was going to be cold due to my brief swim in the sea on my birthday, but what I didn’t expect was just how bad the visibility would be. Having arrived at the dive shop, got my kit all sorted and then departed from Lagos Marina on our little dive boat, we arrived at our first dive site a short way off the coast of Lagos. You know it’s going to be cold when your divemaster has a full dry suit on and you’re stood there with your 5mm wetsuit… It was only 3 of us diving which was a nice small group, but as we descended the anchor line on our first dive, we might as well have been diving in chicken soup. The visibility was terrible, not quite the warm tropical waters of Thailand that I’ve mainly been blessed with. I had some days with bad visibility there, but this was something else. You could honestly only see about 2m in front of you if that. Still, it was another experience to add to the list. I really wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t comfortable in the water or are new to diving, as I imagine had I not been as experienced it would have been pretty scary. Plus it’s hardly the best advert for the sport, seeing nothing by grey cold water. We did find a few cool things, such as an octopus, some massive spider crabs, shrimp, various fish species, a squid and some beautiful fan coral, which when you shined your touch on were a deep purple or pink colour. After 40 minutes, of probably one of my least enjoyable dives I was frozen to the core. The water temperature was 14 degrees, which doesn’t sound too bad, but you lose body heat 4x faster in water than in air. Thankfully it was a nice sunny day, so I warmed up a little on the boat and drank some hot tea during the surface interval. I did seriously consider giving the second dive a miss, as I just thought it wasn’t worth it. I decided to go down again but asked the divemaster to make it a 30 min dive as there was no way I could safely stay down longer, I do think I would have been at risk from hypothermia haha! The second dive was a bit better visibility wise and we went through a cool little swim through in the rock, but other than that pretty ordinary. While certainly an experience, I won’t be rushing back to dive in Portugal again.
Back on dry land, I made my way to Mos beach for the afternoon where I bumped into Jara and Mayra, two lovely Germans staying at my hostel, who had helped with the bottle of Ginja on my birthday. We chilled out on the beach for a while, heading back to the hostel for sunset, before getting ready for a night on the town in Lagos. After some dinner and pre-drinks with a group from the hostel, we walked 15 minutes into the centre of Lagos. I did have to borrow someone’s massive puffer jacket for the night as I think the scuba diving had frozen me to my core! It was an enjoyable night out though, jumping between various bars in the centre of town and bumping into some staff from the hostel, who kept telling us all the best places to go. Although there were a few strange men around, and I did feel sorry for all the ladies in the group constantly getting hit on by locals or this one large group of Americans. I think at one point I was even Jara’s “boyfriend” in an attempt to fend them off haha. After bar hopping and getting our grove on in most of the bars in Lagos, Mayra was keen to continue in the club that went until 6 am. Jara and I weren’t as excited and thankfully managed to convince her to get a taxi back to the hostel around 3:30 am.
Just like that it was my final day, after an amazing week in the country. That evening I had to return the car to the rental company in Faro, where I was also flying back to the UK from at 6 am Sunday. This gave me most of the day in Lagos. After breakfast I drove Jara, Mayra and me to Ponta da Piedade, which is a beautiful spot on the very tip of Lagos. Again, there is a walking route all around the cliff top overlooking the many bays, beaches, rock formations and caves below. The weather was also warm and sunny, probably the best day of the whole trip (typical as I was leaving). There are numerous beaches here, but most are only accessible from the sea. We, therefore, made our way to Praia do Camilo, which like all the beaches was stunning. Spending a few hours relaxing, making conversation, and swimming in the refreshingly cold water. Which was the best way to clear a hangover!! However far sooner than I would have liked it was time to drop the girls back at the hostel and make my way to Faro to return the car. One of the best but also worst bits about travelling, is you meet some really great people, whom you’d love to spend some more time with because you instantly just get along. But the nature of travelling is sadly someone is always either coming or going so no sooner have you made some great friends than you’re going separate ways again! I guess it’s both a blessing and a curse.
That concludes my birthday trip to Portugal and my 34th country. Having dropped the car back in Faro I had an early night, up at 4:30 am to catch my flight home. While I’ve been used to far longer trips, this little week away was exactly what I needed after the cold dark winter back home. It’s nice to know I can easily slip right back into that way of life. And while it was very hard to leave, just as I was getting into it again. I know I’ve a few more small trips planned this year and hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’m off again on my next big adventure.
Hi Everitt another great blog having been to Portugal on quite a few occasions you really did bring back some vert happy memories for which I thank you
Thanks again for your very informative blogs and delighted for your safe return
Many kind regards
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Hi Ken, thanks for taking the time to read it! Glad you enjoyed it and it brought back some happy memories for you 🙂 First time to Portugal for me, but certainly loved it and hope to return one day!
envy you for the Portugal trip. Fantastic recall of the journey. I booked a flight to get there but it was cancelled when the COVID started. I very much hope to get there one day .
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Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it! So sorry to hear about your cancelled plans, but you should definitely rebook that trip sometime soon!! Wishing you a safe travel when you final get there 🙂
Sounds like a wonderful trip! You can’t go wrong travelling in Portugal. Cheers
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It was such a good time!! Wish I could have stayed longer and explored more, met some great people too which is always such a bonus. Thanks for reading