Portugal - A week in the Algarve...

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Well Sue & I spent a week (5-June to 12-June) relaxing in Albufiera in Portugal. We flew from Birmingham simply because it meant an early afternon flight out and an evening flight back. We'd secured parking for the week in the long term Car Park 1 within walking distance of Terminal 2, our point of departure. Sue had booked the holiday through and with Thomas Cook, and they had chartered a FlyBe jet to get us there - an excellent choice as it was simply the most comfortable flight we have had from anywhere to anywhere with only XL Airline (now defunct) coming anywhere close, and streets above economy class in either Virgin Atlantic or British Airways.

The weather
Was good on landing and stayed that way through Sunday and Monday. Tuesday started grey and is best described as cloudy with sunny periods. Wednesday started under rain/drizzle and ended in glorious sunshine, but Thursday through to our departure on Saturday was a repeat of Tuesday.

The Hotel
Located at the top of the hill leading down to the old town, and on the main road through Albufiera, it was acceptable for a weeks stay. The room was nothing special, but, that’s as it is these days especially when on package holidays. Twin beds instead of a double (and too low for our liking) says it all really. The shower lead was kinked and restricted flow to the shower head, the plug in the sink slowed the rate at which water left the sink but never got near stopping it, and the cistern didn’t hold enough water for a clean flush so the loo always had to be flushed twice. What annoyed me most was that the door to the balcony was very difficult to lock and while I managed

The "Train" - great for getting about Albufiera and saving shoe leather.

The view from our hotel room out to sea and over the pool.
The Hotel, cont...
it the cleaning staff never did so it was always unlocked every day on our return –not a good security feature.

We stayed on a Bed & Breakfast basis. Breakfasts were from 07:30 – 10:00 so unless you frequented club land until the early hours there was no excuse to miss out, and there was plenty of choice when you got there. All done self service buffet style, with choices of cereals, breads, “cakes” , yoghurts, hams/meats/boiled eggs, fruits (prepared and fresh) and a hot selection (scrambled and fried eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, quiche, mini sausages (boiled?), bacon and more). Coffee, tea, milk (hot and cold) and a selection of fruit juices and all the condiments and sauces you could want for. About the only thing missing was butter/margarine/spread to go on the selection of breads/cakes/toast which was a strange omission as the jams and marmalade spreads were all little packs branded as Flora. There was no barging and shoving so typical of some of these types of breakfasts and it was all nicely relaxed. Only the toasters provided were a disappointment with one machine regularly needing the bread to be passed through 5 – 6 times before coming out as toast rather than warmed up bread.

Reception was spacious and clean, the staff polite and helpful with a “bell hop” in daily attendance of the left luggage room (provided free of charge). Outside was kept clean and tidy with the pool and pool area getting a regular daily wash and clean (hose and broom) while the early breakfast takers watched from within. Considering the size of the hotel (4 floors means several hundred rooms) there was on-site parking for only a dozen cars or so, with the rest having to battle for street parking (free) or a space in a local street car park (cheap day time rates, free at night).

Watch roundabout - one of a number of "themed" roundabouts.

Albufiera beach at the end of The Strip.

The location
We liked the location of the hotel and the local facilities with a supermarket, a mini-mart, various shops and restaurants all within easy walking distance (as was the ubiquitous McDonalds if you like that sort of thing). The Old Town was 10 minutes walk and 2 (linked) escalator rides away into the eastern end. The beach was nice and clean with traditional fine sand for ball games or sun lounging, and at the westerly end there was a lift to get folks back up to the top of the cliff. Between the escalators and the beach was a large expanse of open, smoothly paved, area used for display activities (more later) and R’n’R. Beyond that a number of parallel narrow streets take one into the square (more a triangle, but it matters not) around which were bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. The further back you explored the higher you got up from the sea level square to the cliff tops.

Getting around
Buses are infrequent and rarely run to any printed timetable, but within Albufiera there is the option of “The Train” which isn’t a train at all but a tractor unit towing a line of carriages dressed up and painted to resemble a train (of the Thomas the Tank Engine variety). Run by the local authority, there were at least two (one blue/yellow and the other green/yellow) which trundle round a clockwise circuit of the resort stopping at 3 locations – outside the Brise Sol hotel (conveniently situated next to our hotel) then at the top of “The Strip” and finally at the top of the escalators that take you down to the Old Town. For 3.5 euros per person you can ride the train all day, hopping on and off as you like. Other than that it’s shoe leather (walking) or taxis – which were always readily available, cheap and fast/reliable with most being Mercedes kept in immaculate condition considering the use they were getting.

Southern end of "The Strip" in Albufiera, just above Cardiac Hill.

Southern end of "Wide clean open spaces.
Car hire
We hired a car as we had some touring planned for Tuesday and Wednesday so we were not overly put out when we awoke Tuesday morning to find it grey and overcast. A brand new Seat Ibiza was delivered to us at the hotel around 10:00 and after completing the paperwork we took the coastal route to Cape of St Vincent before heading up into the mountains, looping back round and down to Albufiera. Wednesday we worked our way back up into the mountains and continued our journey east before descending back down to the coast at Tavira and then heading back, stopping off at places of interest along the way – including Vilamoura with it’s marina full of boats.

The car was received with 54km delivery mileage and returned with an additional 598 on the odometer. While it was a nice motor and good to have a new car on it’s first hire I’m not about to rush out and buy an Ibiza – engine noise was too loud for our liking and Seat appear to have managed to make a petrol engine that sounds like a diesel. The cost was 106euros for 2 days from Budget Car Hire, which appeared to be one of the few companies prepared to hire out for less than 3 days.

Eating Out
Eating out in Albufiera is easy and can be inexpensive. The two main options are "The Strip" and the "Old Town" - both have cafes and resturants galore to tempt you offering everything from bangers & mash, burgers and chips through sardines or salmon to steaks and speciality dishes. Everywhere does chicken piri piri but more importantly just about everywhere does a "menu of the day" which is basically a number of options from their main menu at a discount price. Beware however,

Eating Out, cont...
because if you choose one of these options without stating that you want the option off the special board then you will get the option off the normal menu and charged the higher price. Every establishment has a tout outside, but, they are easliy fobbed off.

With our hotel being nearer to the Old Town that was mostly where we went to eat. The Old Town Square was ringed by cafes, bars and resturants, with loads more in the back streets. The prices were very reasonable and while standards obviously vary they were generally high and food quality good, and just about every nationality was catered for. The only disappointment for me was the local speciality, sardines - the one meal I had were of sardines were over cooked and I can only think that they'd been left on a hot plate/grill waiting to be ordered. Honestly, I could have done better on the barbie.

Of course, you didn't have to eat on The Strip or in the Old Town. The hotel next to ours was the Brise Sol and that was THE place to be seen sitting outside the front of the hotel having a cream cake / bun / slice and washing it down with a beer, coffee or pot of tea. Most of the cars parked out front were BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and the like with the REAL posers sporting all the designer labels on everything.

And if you hire a car and go off the beaten track, as we did for a couple of days, then eating out is still not a problem. The cafe culture means that most places, including small villages, have one or more cafe and from our experiences, one is always made welcome, food is prepared fresh while you wait and prices very reasonable. An example being a pair of baguettes buttered and with cheese or ham (or both if you'd wanted) plus a beer and a pot of tea (for me, the driver) for just over 6 euros (£5).

The beach at Albufiera taken from the cliff tops south of the Old Town.
The Square, Albufiera Old Town.

Vilamoura marina.

Out & About
The hire car allowed us to visit other places of interest. Lagos, Portimau, and Cape St Vincent to the west of Albufiera and Tavira and Vilamoura to the East. We wanted to take the car into Spain but Budget Car Hire wanted 62 euros for "additional insurance", so instead we took a coach trip to Seville, which is nice in a Spanish way. The cathedral was impressive with all it's gold, silver and stained glass windows. The modern trams clanking through the pedestrianised streets are far from quiet but obviously a clean transport solution, as is the horse drawn carts for the tourists to ride around in taking their photographs and shooting their videos.

Lagos is much smaller and a total contrast to Seville with it's compactness, modern wide pedestrian paths either side of the narrow, one way, vehicle access routes. The usual smattering of "boutiquey" nic-nac, arts and crafts shops, with easy access to the beach (if you can find a parking place) and the multi-coloured fishing boats pulled up above the tide line when not in use.

Cape St Vincente, billed as the most westerly point of mainland Europe is much like Lands End in Endland, with nothing between there an America (which they also claim was discovered because it was seen from the cape point).

Vilamoura is THE place to be seen with loads of "notables" often seen there promenading, posing and relaxing as best they can. Everyone was saying that Steven Gerard was there before he went out to S. Africa for the World Cup. However, a work colleague stayed there for a week just before we flew out, and he said they spent their evenings on the Albufiera Strip because there was more going on (and where they could party through the night until 06:00).

Portugal - we love it and Albufiera is an excellent place to base a first visit.

Vilamoura - Hole in One Sex Shop?

Transport for tourists in Seville.

Seville - if only I could hold the camera correctly....

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