February 6 – March 5, 2022 (Winter)

The beaches in Espinho are among the best in northern Portugal. The beaches in the Algarve are among the best in the world. After two months in Porto’s orbit, we boarded a train south to Lagos to watch the sun set on our time in Portugal.

Our apartment this month was much better located. Just off the train station and a few minutes’ walk from the best beach around: Meia Praia.

Gorgeous golden brown sand and turquoise surf dance and play to the horizon.

Barefoot walks along the endless stretches were our favorite way to pass the day. Even in February, temperatures were near-balmy. The only hazards were from stray shells or (non-stray) dogs, not biting chills.

The wide open coast often meant decent breezes. Danielle bought a kite at a local toy store. They were bemused that we intended to use it ourselves, but we absolutely got our money’s worth.

South of Lagos’s old town are the picturesque rock formations at Ponta da Piedade. The unique sea stacks and arches stand alongside the best of Malta or the Washington coast.

The stunning cliff views are reminiscent of the Cliffs of Moher, only redder, drier, and far, far sunnier.

In a few spots tunnels cut through the rock walls lead to secluded beaches completely surrounded by the cliffs.

The best way to experience the sea arches is to get on their level… sea level.

Sunsets on Meia Praia reminded us of the good parts of La Floresta. Long stretches of sand with few others in sight to spoil the brilliant skies.

The town of Lagos features a small old center surrounded by huge new touristic developments and retirement communities. Since it was the offseason, many beach bars and some restaurants were closed. But the scene was still far livelier than the Croatian coast in winter. Ol’ Bastard’s had good pot pie once we endured the hour+ wait. Empanadas & Co. had a much quicker turn-around time and was also tasty.

There were even a few beers to be had. Beer & Co had a decent enough flight by Lagos standards. Still, the offerings felt a little underwhelming after the absolute bangers in Porto.

The resort-slash-retirement community feel of Lagos rubbed us the wrong way and we never really vibed here like we did with our other stays in Portugal. But with sunsets like this it’s hard to fault its popularity.

Besides, whenever it got to be a bit much we always had the option of getting out of town. An easy hike across rolling hills and clifftop paths brought us to the neighboring Praia da Luz.

The blunt, crumbling edge of the continent was beautiful from afar but sometimes unnerving to traverse. Especially the parts where the brittle sand had fallen away and undercut the trail precariously.

The wind was a constant and sometimes robust, but never too chilly.

We aren’t the surfing type (yet), but others took full advantage of the waves. The cliffs approaching Praia da Luz were an ideal spot to watch them bobbing on their boards, waiting for just the right swell.

The water was stunningly clear compared to the roiling Atlantic surf up the coast. It was a pleasure to pop in and out on long walks for a cooling splash without worrying about what unseen shells or urchins might be lurking underfoot.

World-class beaches felt like ours alone. The famed summer crowds of the Algarve were nowhere in sight.

Lagos is the end of the line for Portugal’s rails heading west, but have frequent connections to attractions further east. We made an easy day trip to Portimão for some light shopping.

Silves is another quick trip worth a visit for its ancient castle. The walls have been restored numerous times and offer some nice views over the local terrain. Strangely, the most interesting thing is its cistern. What now holds a few (very echoey) exhibits provided water to the town for around 800 years, right up until the 1920s.

There are no trains to the end of the (old) world however. We had to reach Farol do Cabo de São Vicente by bus. A lighthouse marks the very tip of the country that is itself the very tip of the continent. Looking west, the vast expanse of the Atlantic. East, the entire rest of Europe.

We weren’t going to be able to walk all of that, but we could at least make it back to the nearby base of Sagres. It’s a lovely hike. Occasionally we passed fishermen perched terrifyingly on the middle of the cliffs, fighting the wind to cast far out into the water. Hopefully their catch was worth the trouble.

We probably would have overlooked the Algarve entirely if Covid-related caution hadn’t encouraged us to stick to one country for our entire Schengen stay. But we’re glad to we got to see so many different sides of Portugal. There’s so much more to this beautiful country than just Lisbon. We can’t wait to come back and see it all.

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