The Tortoise and the Hare:
Rambling or racing from Lisbon to Algarve
Portugal has just been voted the winner in the best European destination for American tourists, as voted by readers of 10Best Readers’ Choice and USA Today: www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-european-country. As the country’s capital, many intercontinental flights stop over in the Portuguese capital. While this may be an inconvenience for some, it presents a wonderful opportunity to experience the city (one of Europe’s most popular weekend getaways) and also to choose the way in which to connect to the visitor paradise of Portugal, the Algarve, located at the southernmost tip of the country, so here we let you know the top priorities from Lisbon to Algarve.
Portugal is one of the world’s 20 most visited countries, with over 13 million people visiting the country every year. After a long-haul or transatlantic flight, a few days in Lisbon are an opportunity to overcome jet lag and to adjust to the different weather and gastronomy, in the city voted by Food and Wine magazine as one of the world’s most romantic.
Being based in Lisbon is convenient in that most tours start in the capital. When on a short stay, highly recommended is a visit to Cascais with its beautiful cobbled streets and the amazing sweeping views over the bay and the Tagus estuary, and a wander through the medieval city of Sintra. The city’s Pena Palace was voted the continent’s most attractive castle by European Best Destinations, beating Neuschwanstein and Segovia’s Alcazar to the post. Only 30 kilometres (less than 20 miles) west of Lisbon, venture out by catching the train at the Cais do Sodré station near the Tagus River, which passes underneath the impressive 25th April bridge linking the popular Docas area to the Christ the Redeemer statue on the southern banks of the river. You will also pass the Torre de Belém and the Monument to the Discoveries, testament to the golden years of Portuguese maritime exploration. In the same vicinity, the Jerónimos monastery is a wonderful example of Manueline architecture (named after the King who ordered it built). Further along, pass Estoril, in the earlier part of the 20th century the place where the European wealthy congregated. The imposing casino, the country’s largest, is easily spotted from the train. Then hop on a bus or do a tour of Sintra, and make sure to try some of the sumptuous pastry!
Back in Lisbon, the options are almost endless. Stroll down Rua Augusta which Condé Nast Traveler has voted the street one would most wish to visit before dying! Climb up to St. George’s Castle and gaze out over Lisbon’s seven hills. Explore the Chiado with its fado singers and traditional dishes. Visit the modern redevelopment of the Expo area, with its modern architecture, cable car ride, scenic tower, views over the Vasco da Gama Bridge and Europe’s largest aquarium.
Ucityguides has ranked Portugal the 6th most beautiful country in the world, in a list topped by Italy, Spain and France, and which includes perennial favourites Brazil, South Africa and the USA. From Lisbon to Algarve, your final destination, beckoning, will you now be anxious to race to the California of Europe or tease your senses by meandering slowly through the Alentejo province?
If you choose the former, there is no better way to experience Portugal’s world-class infrastructure than to cross the Vasco da Gama Bridge and head straight down the A2 highway for an approximately two-and-a-half hour journey to the Algarve. Once there, the A22 highway will take you east to Vilamoura, Faro, Tavira and Spain and west to Lagoa/Carvoeiro, Portimão, Lagos and Sagres, including crossing the fabulous bridge over the Arade River.
If your choice is to take your time down to your final destination, then cross the 25 de Abril bridge, pass Christ the Redeemer and continue south on the A2 until the exit at Alcácer do Sal. Take the national road which gives you a bird’s eye-view of the Sado River and one of the largest rice plantations in the country. Make the most to stop off for a bite to eat at one of the simple road-side restaurants serving typical Alentejo dishes.
After probably having overindulged on generous portions, make your way to the coastal road and be prepared to spend a few hours on a meandering road, but well worth the effort to turn off to visit Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Zambujeira do Mar and Aljezur. Before heading down towards Lagos and the western Algarve, make one more stop – take the circular route via the beaches at Bordeira and Carrapateira.
Nothing drives home the reason why the World Travel Awards have anointed the Algarve as Europe’s leading beach destination than looking out at miles of pristine beach, sand dunes and river, knowing that some miles further south, lies the first of the 40 golf courses which contributed to the World Golf awards voting Portugal as the World and Europe’s leading Golf Destination for 2014. Just a small part of the reason why the Algarve is the Best Place in the World to Retire.