The Algarve! Pinch Me! Is This real?

#walkofsevenhangingvalleys

#agarvebeachesBoasting some of Europe’s best beaches the Algarve Region of Portugal was on my list of must see places. After reading about the area’s amazing cave formations, crystal blue waters and year-round perfect weather this was the leg of our Portugal trip I was most excited for! The boys and I love to swim and Tim loves all things ocean, so a win for everyone!

Hitting It Out Of The park!

#carvoeiroLocated just steps from the resort where we were staying are the Algar Seco rock formations. There is an elevated cliff walk and upon further exploration we discovered that there are also stairways and paths which have been carved directly into the rocks.

At first my internal mom voice was absolutely freaking out! Okay, who was I kidding, it wasn’t just internal, but I begrudgingly let Tim take Simon to check it out. Elliot and I waited close to the stairs and enjoyed the view. I must have told him to sit down about 1000 times!

After a while Tim came back and reported that it would be safe for Elliot and I to go a little further. By this time the incredible beauty of the place coupled with the knowledge that this was a once in a lifetime experience won out over my fears. It didn’t hurt that an older couple complete with poodle appeared in the doorway a moment later! If it was safe for them it was safe for us, right?

#exploring

We had arrived just before sunset and the timing couldn’t have been better! I wish I could describe to you the way it felt standing there on those rocks at the edge of the Atlantic as the sun was setting. Breathtaking! Amazing! Spectacular!

#sunsetontheatlantic

Feeling Out Of This World…

#labonecaThe Restaurante Boneca Bar, nestled right into the side of the Algar Seco rock formation, has an almost otherworldly feel. The area’s beautiful weather lends itself to this being an all outdoor restaurant with 5 star views! We went back for lunch the next day!

At the edge of the restaurant’s terrace there are steps which lead down to a small passageway. At the end there is a tiny cave with “windows” which look out onto the ocean and there are benches carved into the walls making this a lovely little spot to watch the sun go down or steal a moment.

#aboneca

The Algar Seco Parque Resort

#algarsecoThe Algarve is a very popular tourist destination and finding somewhere to stay off the beaten path was difficult. We found some of what we were looking for in Carvoeiro, a smaller town located between Lagos and Faro.

We choose the Algar Seco Parque resort, which was located just across the street from those spectacular cliffs I mentioned above and within walking distance to many beaches and restaurants. The accommodations were great, very affordable and we would definitely stay there again.

The Beaches

Praia da Marinha

Algarve edits-7369

First on my list was a beach that the Michelin Guide listed as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in Europe and as one of the one hundred most beautiful beaches in the world! Not only that, it’s on just about every other beach list too! Sold!

It did not disappoint! The Praia da Marinha was stunning! The entire time we were there I kept thinking how amazing it was and that this couldn’t be real! There were high winds and surf that day so swimming wasn’t permitted, but we relaxed on the sand, dipped our toes in the surf and took many photos.

The tide was coming in so after a light snack at the beach bar we went on a portion of The Seven Hanging Valleys Walk, a signposted trail high above the beaches. Again the views are so stunning it was a pinch me is this real moment!

PRAIA DOS PESCADORES

#sunsetinportugalLocated 30 minutes down the road in Albufeira we arrived at Praia Dos Pescadores just in time for another jaw dropping sunset. The town of Albufeira is extremely touristy and after a quick look around we decided to head back to Carvoeiro for dinner.

Benagil Sea Cave

Unfortunately the same high winds that prevented swimming also foiled my plans to see the famous Benagil Sea Cave. I won’t lie, I was pretty disappointed, but part of traveling is understanding that things might not always work out exactly as planned. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

 The Super Moon Eclipse

Prior to the trip I purchased a long range lens and a tripod with the hopes of taking a few night photos. The Super Moon Eclipse was the perfect excuse! Although we had to set our alarm for a brutal 2:00 am, the clear star filled skies, remote location and the company of my son made for excellent viewing and a very worthwhile experience!

Portugal! DETOUR… To The End Of The World!

After an incredible few days in Lisbon we set out for the south of Portugal, our final destination was Carvoeiro, a small town in the Algarve. There are various routes to choose from, but given the chance Tim will always choose the road closest to the ocean. I’m the navigator which makes it my job to research what interesting sights there are along the way. Everyone’s happy!

Though not exactly on the way to our destination, (okay, not even close) I had read about Cape St. Vincent, the Southwest most point of the European continent, a place that was at one time considered to be the end of the world. This seemed like a place worth going out of the way for! We were not disappointed!

Along The Way

Our route took us through the Alentejo region a sparsely populated area that is known for its wine, cork and other agricultural crops. We passed through a number of small towns and were fascinated by the fact that many of the buildings, even the bus stops, were painted white with a blue border. We later learned that this is to ward off evil spirits.

Praia do Beliche

#praiadobelicheJust before arriving at the Cape we discovered Praia do Beliche, a remote and lovely little beach! The climb down is quite steep, but the perfect sand, fabulous views and tranquil setting make it worth the effort! Standing there looking out on the Atlantic I  felt just how far from home we really were.

There is a small bar/restaurant, but I’d suggest bringing your own snacks if you plan to stay awhile. I did notice a few nude sunbathers, but apparently the kids weren’t aware and its pretty much the norm there.

Cape St. Vincent

#theendoftheworldStanding atop the windswept cliffs of Cape St. Vincent It’s easy to understand how ancient people might have believed they’d come to the end of the world. I spent some time looking around and there is a small museum and a lighthouse, but beyond that there really isn’t anything else, adding to the feeling of what it must have been like to come upon this desolate place in another time. Now this area is a busy shipping lane and the lighthouse is one of the most powerful in Europe. It’s lighting can be seen as far as 60 kilometers away.

These days everyone knows the world isn’t flat, that the sun isn’t boiling the sea each night when it sets and that we won’t fall off the edge if we sail too far, but there was still something so intriguing about road tripping to what was once considered to be The End Of The World!

Sintra! Where We Accidentally Hired A Fabulous Guide!

Just an hour outside Lisbon lies Sintra, a quaint little town with everything going for it, beauty, history and palaces galore! No wonder it’s a UNESCO world heritage site! We spent one day here and easily could have spent many more…

#sintraportugal

Sintra is where the Portuguese royals and nobility spent their summers and because of this just about every structure is a castle, palace or grand home. If staying in one appeals to you, you’re in luck because many of them have been converted into luxurious hotels.

When We Accidentally Hired A Fabulous Guide

#sintraviewsAs per our usual style we decided to get to Sintra and tour around on our own. I had read up on it and I knew if we did it right we could manage to see at least three of the main sights in one day.

Getting there was no trouble. The Rossio Rail Station was within walking distance of our hotel and with trains leaving for Sintra every 20 minutes until 11 pm we were in no rush. A roundtrip ticket is €5 and you can purchase your fare from the kiosks just before you board the train. Upon arrival at the Sintra station we followed the signs towards town.

Like Lisbon, Sinatra’s terrain is very steep and many of the main points of interest are located at the top of the hills. While walking from sight to sight is an option, this is not only time consuming but Simon had recently broken his ankle and walking long distances wasn’t going to work for us. We had heard about a bus that does a loop between three of the main palaces, but that meant we were on someone else’s schedule and that didn’t seem like a fit for us.

There is a large tourist center in town and there we were again advised to take the bus up the hill, the stop was just right outside… We purchased tickets to both the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle ruins and decided, sigh, to check out the bus.

That’s when we saw him! The friendly looking fellow in the miniature bright orange plastic car! Should we ask him for a ride? We wondered what he would charge. The boys had been asking for a ride in one of “those” tiny cars. Okay, we’ll tell him we just want a ride, no tour…

#carlosevora

We ended up having the best day and it was in large part to the driver of that charming little plastic car, Carlos Evora! He offered us the ride up the hill to Pena National Palace for €5 each, but “could he show us just one place on the way?” We quickly discovered that we had hit the tour guide jackpot! There was just something about him, not only did he take us to many lovely places we would have missed on our own, but he was incredibly friendly, kind to the children and a wealth of knowledge! He even surprised us midway through the day with tiny cakes from Queijadas da Sapa Cintra!

Tivoli Palácio de Seteais

#penapalaceviewWe started our “we aren’t on a tour” with a quick stop at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais at one time a palace it’s now a 5 star hotel with amazing views of Pena National Palace and the surrounding valleys.

The 9th Gate Movie House

#9thgatemovieWe’re big Johnny Depp fans in our house, so imagine our surprise and delight when we stopped for a look at one of the film locations from the 1999 Move The 9th Gate which I’m sure Tim has watched 50 times!

Pena National Palace

#penapalaceThe main reason for our visit to Sintra was Pena Palace. In fact the moment I saw photos of this Palace which looks like something out of a fairytale I decided we were going! The palace is visible from many places within the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais and Carlos was kind enough to drive by many different view points so I could take photos! Once we arrived we spent about 90 minutes exploring.

Castelo dos Mouros

#castleofthemoorsCarlos advised us not to use our tickets to the Moorish Castle. He suggested that because we had already visited the ruins of the Castelo de St. Jorge in Lisbon it might be redundant and maybe a bit boring for the kids. However, we were able to capture some great photos of it from the Pena Palace and along the road.

Cork Trees

Cork products are everywhere in Portugal and with good reason!  Have you ever wondered where cork comes from? Did you know that close to 50% of the worlds cork comes from Portugal?! You’ll find everything from shoes to candy wrappers made from what is actually the bark of the Cork Oak Tree.

Quinta da Regaleira

If beautiful architecture, gardens, secret tunnels and hidden passageways appeal to you then don’t miss Quinta da Regaleira! All four of us really enjoyed our visit here! It was our last stop and we all wished we had discovered it earlier in the day. It was truly magical!

We Ran Out of Time…

We didn’t have time to visit Monserrat or the National Palace of Sintra, but they’re both on my list for next time.

We had an amazing time with our new friend Carlos! Beyond what I mentioned above, we stopped at a number of other points of interest, saw eagles and parrots, and in general just throughly enjoyed driving up and down the hills of Sintra with such a lovely person who clearly loves what he does! Before we parted ways for the day he was kind enough to go over my itinerary for our final day in Lisbon and after such a successful day in Sintra we were only happy to take his advice!

Lisbon! Visiting the Oceanário de Lisboa

#oceanariodelisboaThe question I’m asked most frequently when people find out that we are planning our next adventure is, “Are you bringing the kids?” The answer is always YES!

The next questions usually revolve around whether or not the kids enjoy travel and what we do to keep them occupied. Not that they weren’t always “go along” guys, but it’s definitely getting easier as they get older and while they are interested in seeing what each new city has to offer, it helps to allow time for some of the more family friendly attractions.

Vasco the Explorer

Most recently after a long hot day exploring fabulous Lisbon we decided that asking the kids to step inside one more church or monument might not be fair, so we decided to surprise them with a trip to the Oceanario de Lisboa, or the Lisbon aquarium. For the most part the monuments in Belem were already closing or would be soon and there was still time to make the Oceanarium.

The aquarium is located in the Parque das Nacoes, a newer more modern part of the city which was built up for the 1998 World Expo. It’s one the largest aquariums in the world and the largest one in Europe. Along with the usual favorites, like sea otters, penguins, sharks, rays and seahorses they also have an Ocean Sunfish which we were pretty excited to see!

#oceansunfish

In the end what started out as a break for the kids turned out to be a really lovely experience for all of us!

Portugal! Lisbon’s Belem Neighborhood!

With only two full days to discover Lisbon we felt we barely scratched the surface and we definitely left the city wanting more. There are so many fabulous neighborhoods to explore, but we had to make choices and we chose Belem!

Per our usual modus operandi we got up late and ended up grabbing a coffee and a pastry to go. Wanting to explore a bit more of the city we decided to walk part of the way to Belem along the river path. After a while the path seemed to end, so we cut up through the neighborhoods and discovered some fun design shops, a great food market and some pretty neat street art.

First on my list upon arriving was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos or the Monument of Discoveries. The monument stands as a testament to Portugal’s past and their part in world exploration on the seas. Perched on the edge of the Tagus River the monument stands just over 179 feet high and provides amazing views of the Belem neighborhood, Jerónimos Monastery, the 25 de Abril Bridge, the Cristo Rei statue,  the Torre de Belém and of course the river itself.

#monumentofdiscoveries

The observation deck is on the very top and although the views are tremendous there isn’t much room so it’s hard to linger. There is an elevator available, but Simon and I decided to walk up the stairs. Not sure what we were thinking?! The cost to go up is minimal and I’d say it was worth it!

The square in front of the monument is dominated by an enormous compass rose made of black and red limestone. It’s an incredible work of art with many detailed symbols which represent the main routes of Portuguese exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries. I did my best to get an ariel photo, but even at 179 feet up I wan’t able to get it all in!

#compassroselisbon


A short walk down the river from The Monument is the Torre de Belém or the Tower of Belem. There is a military and maritime museum inside the Tower, but our time was limited and we decided not to go in. The Tower, located just offshore in the Tagus River, is accessed via a short elevated walkway. Because of its role during the Age of Discoveries the 500 year old Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built not only as part of the city’s defense system, but also as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. It’s quite an impressive piece of architecture and we spent some time just admiring the view.

#torredebelem

While walking along the river we came upon a number of food trucks and as is often our habit during the day we stopped and had a quick bite to eat. We came upon a few different drink carts, one of which was selling interesting looking lemonade cocktails and the other a red wine cart with inviting little chairs. but… places to go and things to see…

Across the street from the Tower and the Monument is the Jerónimos Monastery. Building started in 1496 and finished a century later. I read that the monks of the Order provided spiritual guidance to seafarers. These are the same monks who created Pasteis de Belem or Pastel de Nata the most famous of all the Portuguese desserts!

Unfortunately most of the buildings were closed by the time we arrived, but we were able to enter the Sta. Maria Church where we saw the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões. The Church was beautiful and I must admit I wished I had a little more time to wander and to see the rest of the Monastery. Guess we should have gotten up a bit earlier…

Speaking of wandering… Once the Monastery had closed we visited the famous Pasteis de Belem located just across the road and then spent some time wandering through the streets of Belem before we decided to give the kids a break and head somewhere just for them… Oceanário de Lisboa!

Portugal! Oh The Sweets… & Other Treats!

#pasteldenata

One of the more fun and interesting things about visiting a new place is trying the traditional foods! Sometimes you love them and sometimes you don’t, but either way, memories are made! We definitely found some gems while visiting Portugal!

The Sweets!

We wasted no time getting started as upon arrival at the hotel we were greeted by a lovely tray of Pastel de Nata, a flaky pastry shell filled with egg custard, which is the most famous of all the Portuguese desserts.

We soon discovered that these lovely little gems were available just about everywhere! Having never heard of them before it was funny that only one week before my trip, my mom told me she had just had the most amazing desert at a local restaurant, a Portuguese Tart!

The most famous place to get Pastel de Nata is also where they originate from. Pasteis de Belem is located in the neighborhood of the same name and can easily be spotted because there is always a line out the door. They’ve been using the same secret recipe since the monks of the Jeronimo Monastery opened the shop 1834!

This is what one of my fellow bloggers had to say about them:

These pastries are ephemeral bites of cinnamon and warmth. They must be eaten right away, never saved for later. Every coffee shop in Portugal produces an imitation, but none quite captures the lightness of the dough, the creaminess of the filling. These imitations even bear a different name: “pasteis de nata.” Because there is only one place in the world where you can get “pasteis de Belém.”

There were Pastelarias (bakeries) on just about every corner in every city we visited and we definitely enjoyed visiting them! Some of the other items we tried were the Bola de Berlim which is essentially a round fluffy donut coated with sugar and filled with various flavors of pastry cream, the palmier recheado, a palmier sandwich filled with creme that tasted a lot like an American Twinkie, the Pão de Ló, a Portuguese sponge cake, and my personal favorite the Queijadas De Sintra which is a little cheesecake tart made with cinnamon.

The Other Treats!

#PortuguesecheseWhile the Portuguese sweets were delicious and plentiful, I’m really more interested in savory tastes and my favorite food find in Portugal was definitely the cheese!

Upon being seated most restaurants will offer you a small plate of miniature cheeses, a basket of bread and maybe even a plate of meats or olives. Keep in mind that unlike in other countries these items are not complimentary, in fact you’ll be charged for each piece of bread, wheel of cheese, pat of butter or spread package that you open. Upon further examination we noticed that these menu items had a PP after them and are sold “per piece”.

Back to the cheese… As I said most restaurants gave us these little wheels of cheese as appetizers and we really loved them! We tried a number of different types and for the most part they were fairly mild with a medium texture. There were a few that were a little more on the fragrant side, but all were great! I’m quite sure that given the opportunity, Simon would have eaten just cheese at every meal! It took a few meals but we soon realized there was a proper way to eat them. Slicing off the top of the rind created a little bowl of sorts which made it easy to scoop out the cheese. It made a great spread for the bread too!

#codfishcakes

Pastéis de bacalhau, or codfish pastries are another very popular item in Portuguese cuisine and are made up mainly of potatoes, bacalhau (codfish) and eggs. They are deep-fried and can also be stuffed with other ingredients like the one in my photo which is filled with melted cheese. Careful when you take a bite or the hot cheese can burn your hand and mouth. We had these in a number of locations and while it wasn’t my personal favorite Simon liked them enough to have them a number of times.

#tostamistaWe found ourselves eating a number of meals on the go during out visit and a popular item for all of us was the Tosta Mista or ham and cheese sandwich on crusty bread.

#sangriablancoOf course we needed a beverage to go with all of this lovely food and my drink of choice while in Portugal was the Sangria Blanco! A white wine mixture with cinnamon, fresh fruit and other ingredients. The perfect drink on a hot day!

Portugal! Beautiful Lisbon!

Lisbon, a city which seems to love looking at itself! Or should I say being looked at? And why shouldn’t it? Its beautiful!

Positioned on the banks of the Tagus River, Lisbon rises up the side of seven incredibly steep hills, providing sweeping views in every direction. These magnificent views were the common thread in every guidebook, blog, or source I consulted prior to our visit, and with good reason! We visited no less than three official view sites on the very first day and while that definitely isn’t necessary I will say that picking at least one of them as your first “to do” is a great way to get an overview of the city.

If paying for a view doesn’t suit you, not to worry, there are very few places in Lisbon that don’t offer spectacular vistas! All you have to do is walk down the street!!

#peekaboo

#lisbonvista

Castelo de São Jorge

The Castelo de Sao Jorge is a medieval Moorish castle which overlooks the historic centre of the city and the river. I do love a castle and this one offers fantastic views, so it was our first stop! We decided to walk there from our hotel, but if you’re not up for climbing the steep hills you can hire a Tuk Tuk to take you there. Walking along the castle walls and going up into the towers was pretty neat, but other than that there isn’t a whole lot going on. There are some archeological sites, a small museum with artifacts and a cafe, but the main attraction are the views. Allow about an hour.

#theothergoldengate

#viewoflisbon#lisbonviews

One of many lovely views of the city from the castle grounds

The Rua Augusta Arch

#ruaaugustaThe Rua Augusta Arch is located at the end of a pedestrian street of the same name in one of Lisbon’s busiest areas and is just across from the Praça do Comércio. It was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in 1755.  The Arch is 100 feet tall and if you decide to take the elevator up to the top you’ll be treated to amazing 360 degree views. I’d say it was well worth the cost of 2.5€ per visitor.

View of the Arch from the Praça do Comércio
From the Praça do Comércio side
View of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
Castelo de Sao Jorge
Convento da Ordem do Carmo
Convento da Ordem do Carmo
The Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio

The Arch Galleries

The Santa Justa Lift

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lucag

Not only does The Santa Justa Lift provide amazing 360 degree views from 138 feet above the city, but it actually serves an official purpose. Due to the steep hills in Lisbon getting from the lower portion of the city to the upper is no easy task. Operated by the city’s Transportation Department The Santa Justa Lift has been making life easier for residents and tourists since 1902 and It was made a national monument in 2002!

Of all the view points we saw that first day I think this was my favorite, it was centrally located allowing us views of the city in every direction and our visit took place at sunset! The cost to go up is minimal and don’t worry if you see a line it moves quite quickly!

View of the lift from the Rua de Santa Justa
View of the lift from the Rua de Santa Justa

SAMSUNG CSC

View of the Cathedral of Lisbon
The Cathedral of Lisbon
The Rua Augusta Arch
The Rua Augusta Arch
Rossio Square
Rossio Square

Close up of the cast iron filigree on the Santa Justa Lift Platform

The Carmo Convent

The hills in Lisbon are steep, the roads are narrow and the staircases are plentiful. Keep this in mind when planning your day and do consider taking advantage of the many unique modes of transportation offered! With its multitude of twists and turns Lisbon can at times feel a lot like a labyrinth and although we loved wandering aimlessly up and down the hills and through the streets and neighborhoods, we definitely felt it after a day or two!

*Full disclosure: While almost every photo on hilarystyle.me was taken personally by me, occasionally I do use other photos. The Santa Justa Lift was undergoing renovations during our visit, so I’ve used a photo from wikipedia to show you the lift at night.

Lisbon! Is It Graffiti Or Is It Art?

#hellolisbonI really had no preconceived ideas about what to expect on our recent trip to Lisbon, however I can say I wasn’t expecting a city covered in Graffiti. It was everywhere and when I say everywhere I mean EVERYWHERE!

Thankfully, I’m not just talking about your standard tagging and rude obscenities written on bathroom walls or the side of public transportation, don’t get me wrong there is plenty of that too, but this is something else entirely.

This is ART… and its good!

And it’s not just in the “bad” neighborhoods either.

During our wanderings we came upon a number of areas where entire buildings and even city blocks were completely covered with amazing paintings. I wondered, is this sanctioned? Do the city officials actually like it? Do people paint these large murals in the middle of the night? How did they get up there to paint that?


There was no mention of Lisbon’s Street art in any of the guides I read, but once I returned back to the states I did a bit of poking around on the internet and discovered that it’s quite a big deal! Like most major cities street art and graffiti have been in Lisbon for decades. However, in recent years their have been several different initiatives that were designed to help revive various parts of the city and at the same time give a boost to the urban art scene. Street artists came from around the world to participate!

If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon and are interested in seeing this amazing art there are official Street Art tours, but we managed to happen upon a lot of the locations while wandering around.

For answers to some of my above questions, check out this article about the Graffiti Grannies of Lisbon!