After three weeks in France with family, it was time to hit the road. We headed to Portugal for our third visit to Michael’s ancestral home. His grandparents on his Mother’s side left the Azores Islands off the Portuguese coast in the very early 1900s and ended up in Sausalito, California. The Nunes Brothers became renowned ship builders and in 1930 completed their most famous vessel, the USS Zaca II a 127 foot schooner to be sailed around the world by Charles Templeton Crocker. The ship was later commissioned by the US Navy in 1942 and used as a patrol and rescue boat for downed planes during World War II. After the war, the boat was purchased by actor Errol Flynn and appeared in a few swashbuckling action movies.
Our first destination was Albufeira, a British tourist mecca in the Algarve Region about a three hour drive south of Lisbon. We flew from Paris to Faro and found the Yellowfish Transfers desk where we connected with our driver Jack, a garrulous Brit who would deliver us to our Airbnb. His thick Yorkshire accent took getting used too, but soon we were entertained for the 40-minute drive to Albufeira with stories about retired life in sunny southern Portugal. He and the missus, just like every other British couple who’s been coming here for 50 years, always dreamed of retiring in the Algarve. And now here they were, in a little flat by the sea happy as can be.
It was easy to see why U.K. citizens flock to this seaside mecca. There were lovely beaches of course, and plenty of golf courses, but there were also pubs galore with continuous football on the telly, British food served everywhere, and prices were half what they would be back home. For the younger set, who were just beginning their annual migrations, there were ample opportunities to party all night long. And as they matured, there was plenty on offer for young families as well.
Our Airbnb was thankfully located between the Old Town where the restaurants and bars were open until the wee hours, and “The Strip” where dance clubs and Karaoke bars catered to stag and hen parties.
The apartment was a typical beach-town rental. Nothing particularly special, but cool and quiet and well located. Just around the corner we had a collection of small shops and bars that kept us topped up with cold drinks and basics. We also walked to the big supermarket at the mall so we could enjoy eating meals on our small deck.
A five minute walk took us to a lovely, uncrowded beach where you could rent 2 beds and an umbrella for 10 euro a day - or spend a little more and have free wifi and drinks and food brought to your loungers. We assumed there were fewer people because it was May and the weather was still variable, but we decided it was a perfect time of year to visit. There were some cool days, and it was often windy, but there was plenty of sunshine, too. Best of all, we were able to enjoy dining out and beach walks without the crush of holiday makers that would descend in June.
Ultimately Michael and I agreed to disagree on whether Albufeira was an enjoyable place to spend more time. He liked it more than I did. He was happy with some beach time each day, long walks, a couple of nice meals out, a chance to get through a few books that had been in the queue, and a good siesta.
I liked all those things, too. But otherwise, there wasn’t much to do but plant yourself on the beach for the day (a bad idea for the mostly fair-skinned majority). Or, you could amuse yourself by dangling high in the air paragliding off the back of a boat or bounce on the waves strapped to a large “banana”. As for shopping, every other store sold almost the exact same sardine souvenirs and giant blow-up unicorns and sprinkle donut “floaties". Of course there was drinking - and we saw plenty of that, but our bedtime is 10 pm.
You could tell the town catered to all ages because there was a jolly tourist train hauling the young, the infirm and the inebriated from one end of town to the other. And there was an escalator down the steep hill into Old Town and the main beach. After a day of too much sun and perhaps too many daiquiris you could take the escalator back up to the top and pile back on the train.
During our stay our Airbnb hosts, who live in Lisbon, drove the three hours to meet us! They brought some lovely fruit from their garden along with a few missing supplies. This was in addition to the excellent bottle of wine and other treats we found when we arrived. They stayed for a few days in the apartment below us because it turns out the family owns the four-unit building. They were a delightful couple and we enjoyed our morning salutations over the balcony. I have a feeling we’ll be back to this part of Portugal with a car next time so we can explore less touristic places like Lagos and Tavira.
After eight days we shook the sand from our shoes and headed to Lisbon on the bus where we planned to catch a train to our next Airbnb just outside Lisbon along the coast. We had originally searched for a place in Estoril, a pleasant seaside town we remembered from our last visit. But when an Airbnb came up nearby in Sao Pedro de Estoril, with a panoramic view of the sea, we looked no further.
In our book Your Keys, Our Home I definitely warn readers not to get taken in by the pictures when searching for a Airbnb. So, even though we were bedazzled by this place, we did our due diligence and scoured the details and read the reviews. We learned that just below the picture windows is a very busy road, and thus considerable traffic noise. And the place was definitely “lived in” meaning there was a lot of the owners personal belongings on the shelves and in the cupboards. And, it wasn’t in a town of any size…
But there was the view! And the beach just across the road, and a grocery store behind the apartment, and the train station just two minutes away. All on the plus side - but the best part of all, as it turns out, was our host. Anabela was one of the kindest, most generous hosts we’ve ever had.
We contacted her about a month ahead of time while we were still in Rio de Janeiro and she was quick to answer Michael’s questions about the listing with enthusiasm. She and her family live in Lisbon but have spent endless summers in Sao Pedro and, this homey apartment is their favorite hangout - so, yes, it is lived in and loved. And she was certain we would love it, too. We decided to book it regardless of any doubts that still lingered…
There is more to that story. Look for Portugal Part II next week!
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads