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Our youngest daughter did a semester abroad Switzerland. We agreed to meet in the Algarve for spring break. Our accommodation for the first part of the trip was the Ozadi Tavira Hotel. We were early in the season and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The Algarve is an incredible bargain, especially given all it has to offer, including warm sunny days, world-class beaches, golf, fishing and surfing. I believe the hotel rate was $70/night. After a quick tour of Tavira, we took a short boat ride to the Ria Formosa National Park (known for its beaches and boardwalk), to soak in the sun.
The next day we drove to a small village called Cacela Velha. Cacela Velha sits on top of a hill overlooking the easternmost lagoon of the Ria Formosa. A castle was erected there during the Muslim period, replaced by the current fortress in the late 1700’s. It was so peaceful and tranquil, we lingered longer than we had planned.
The Faro District is known for its stunning coastline – and lots of hiking trails. The trails take full advantage of the scenery. Sometimes the terrain looks and feels like you’re on the moon. Other times like you’re in heaven. A local tipped us off to a coastal bar hidden in the rocks. Facing east were golden cliffs etched against a sapphire sky. Facing west was a cave with natural rock “windows” where you can sit and watch the sun set.
One day we were hiking for hours when the trail took us down to a beach. On the beach was a boat. Next to the beach was a small ticket booth. A young man asked if we were there to buy tickets to the boat ride. We said what the heck, sure, and they loaded us into the boat. Using a series of logs, two brothers rolled the boat into the ocean and off we went for a late afternoon cruise. What a treat! We explored ocean caves, cliffs, rock outcroppings, and even grottoes. Seeing the Algarve from the ocean provided a new perspective and an even greater appreciation.
Our last days were spent in Lisbon. Lisbon boasts great food, wine, sights, and a cosmopolitan-yet-laid-back vibe. It’s a bargain compared to other European capital cities, and English is common. Distinctive yellow trolley cars crisscross the city. One of the most popular areas is the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), built to celebrate the city’s reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in 1755. Praça do Comércio sits by the River Tagus. It’s called Commerce Square because Portuguese merchant ships set sail from here to all corners of the world. At one end of the square stands the impressive Rua Augusta Arch. Visitors can ride an elevator to the top. In a direct sightline through the Arch and sitting in the middle of Praça do Comércio is a mounted stature of King José I. We spent a delightful Sunday afternoon at an outdoor café, in the king’s shadow, sipping wine and taking in the sights.