the BEST days.
It’s also for BOUTIQUE, BED & BREAKFAST, BEACH, BIKE, BOOK and BLOG—all things that helped make the past two days the Best Days so far.
The first of my two Best Days actually began in Lagos, in the Algarve, Southern Portugal. Upon arriving, I immediately didn’t like it all that much. The hotel I booked was a total dive, and on the whole, the town was too touristy for my taste. Too many fake tattoos being sold to teenagers in the plaza. Too many drunken Aussies yelling from hostel windows. Despite one day of epic beach-hopping where I’d arrive on one praia, lay my sarong down, sunbathe for a while, swim to cool off and then get up and hike on until I found another beach to do the same, Lagos just wasn’t my jam. With views like this, though, it’s forgiven (and I guess the crowds are warranted):
That being said, I still scrambled to find somewhere else to stay for my stay in the Algarve; somewhere less hostel that smells like roast pork and more boutique-y that smells like lilac. It being high season and all, I was not having much luck—at least not in my price range. I had already decided to splurge and spend Thursday night in a fancy-ish hotel in Sagres (pronounced “Sagresh”), the town an hour west known for being quaint, and quiet and cool and home to many a surfer headed to one of the renown breaks nearby. In other words, my Dream Town. So it seemed I’d just have to splurge for Wednesday, too. Of course, the hotel I had chosen was booked, so I had to go with its sister property next door. Same same, but different, yeah? Both had rooms that come with their own bathrooms, which is officially a requirement for me now.
Upon arriving in Sagres around noon, I dropped my bag and headed for the beach. I knew I wanted to get to this one spot recommended by pretty much everyone—praia Beliche (pronounced “beleesh”)—but when I happened upon the first beach closer to town and saw lounges, I handed over $10 quicker than you can say Olá. Oh the underrated lounge chair! See, here in Europe, people don’t usually bring their own chairs as we do at home in Long Island. But, for a price, you can pay for a lounge chair and an umbrella to boot. The day before in Lagos, I spent all afternoon without both, scrambling for a combo shady/sunny spot wherever I could get it!
While Lagos’ beaches had insane coves and grottos, in Sagres the stretches of sand are longer and softer and the water way warmer. The beaches aren’t so packed with people and umbrellas, and the water is crystal clear blue. Not a floating piece of kelp in sight.
So that first Best Day, I pretty much spent on the lounge, every so often moving my chair with the sun; sometimes under the hut for shade, other times to let the sun kiss my browning body. I did get up for an hour or two to eat this fresh “red fish” grilled just steps from my table:
Finally, by 6p.m., I returned to my room, showered up in my own bathroom (!), ended the day with a glass of vino verde at a bar called Last Chance:
The next morning, I awoke early, but naturally, and headed for the breakfast buffet. I’ve written about my disdain of the “included” breakfast before, but this time, I have to admit it was divine. Not only because it made me feel better about my splurging on these hotels, but also because it included Nespresso coffee. And a coconut pastry with powdered sugar. And yogurt. And pineapple and green melon that isn’t honeydew.
After filling up, I walked the short main stretch to find a bike to rent. A friend I met in Sevilla mentioned that it’d be a great way to get to beliche. I shopped around to see who had the best price for two wheels, and eventually went with a white hybrid cruiser from my main man Alberto at Mareta Shop for just $10—basket and lock included! The second my bum touched the seat and my feet hit the pedals I was heaven. Boy do I love a good bike ride.
I debated whether to bring a packed lunch with me. (And by debated I mean walked into a cafe, looked at the options, then walked out. Then thought about it some more, walked back in, considered my options again, left, until I had finally decided to be on my way without a sandwich. Then, as I’m pedaling and thinking and pedaling and thinking, I realized it was unclear how far this ride actually was—one person said it’d take 15 minutes, another said an hour. I was told there was a beach restaurant of sorts, but they can either be dicey or pricey. So I figured I’d rather be safe than starving and turned back around—I know, I know; I ride myself nuts!—picked up a $5 sandwich of jamon and cheese (obviously) and hit the road (again).
The only thing working against me at that point was the wind. It was intense. Like 20mph, can’t-sit-outside-for-breakie-without-your-napkin-flying-away intense. I was slightly concerned about this, but didn’t let it stop me. Not even when I pulled along the side of the road to see that it was a loooooong ways down.
See where the photo ends in the foreground? Yeah, I was standing at that edge. While I’m no feather, it felt like I might be blown off the cliff; that’s how windy it was.
The rest of the ride was….tough. It was uphill, and the wind was coming at me, The lyrics to Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” were on repeat in my head. Not that I still wasn’t happy as could be. I was just workin’ it. Every time a car came behind me I tried my best not to swerve with nerves. Even the road signs warned caution:
Finally, I arrived.
I “parked” the bike up near the cars even though I was a tad worried about theft. I had a lock for it, but you know when you give someone your license and sign one of those waivers saying you’ll owe a crap ton of money if anything happens to the thing? Yeah, well, if you didn’t know by now “Worry” is my middle name. The guy had suggested I take it down some of the stairs so I could see it from the beach, but that was not going to happen—not with the wind. I could barley balance while on the thing, let alone carrying it. So I threw caution to the…er—fill in the blank!—and left it up top.
As I unsteadily worked my way down a very steep set of stone stairs without any railing, I came upon the most awesome beach bar nestled into the crevices of a cliff and caught sight of a dude grilling about a dozen chickens. If only I didn’t already have the sandwich in my bag. Damn you Murphy and your law.
I finally stepped foot onto the beach to discover, quite possibly, one of the craziest seashore landscapes I’d ever seen. Behind me, were massively tall boulders some of which created caves you could walk through. In front of me, was that crystal clear blue water, and below me, the softest sand, which I dug into like white chocolate.
There were lounges here too, but I got one yesterday and with the wind, I thought (read: hoped) it wouldn’t be too hot to lay on the sand directly. (I was right.)
I walked around the sunbathers, many of them nude, and finally found a place to hang for a bit. I even joined the masses and went topless. (For those of which this mental picture is inappropriate—ahem, Mom and Dad—I apologize.) It was totally liberating and I seemed to fit right in except for the fact that my ta tas were pretty much glow in the dark compared to everyone else’s. Damn tan lines. (Big reveal: That is not me below.)
I started to get peckish, but wasn’t ready for my sandwich. Then I remembered the peach I’ve been carrying around with me since Seville. Someone in Spain had said that the peaches there are like no other peaches you’ll ever have, so I held onto it. Miraculously, it remained unbruised at the bottom of my bag, even in amid all the moving around I’ve done in the past few days. It was, indeed, quite delicious.
By 3:30p.m., I headed up for a beer. The plan from that point was to continue riding west to Cape St. Vincent, which was once considered the end of the world. But I was having an issue. One, there was the wind. It was still all, “Do not F with me.” And two, my eyes were being funny. I don’t know if it was my contacts, or my SPF lotion or just the brightness of the sun over the past few days, but they were burning and teary and overall just not a joy to have open. And seeing as I need them I figure I better cut my losses and head back. I took a photo in the event that I didn’t make it there. (Big reveal No. 2: I do.)
On the ride back, I got the most awesome reprieve: The wind was with me! It pushed me so much I didn’t even have to peddle. Sure, it helped that I was now going downhill. But still. It was incredible! I literally said out loud, “Oh yeah! This is so fun! I love this! I am so happy!” (There’s been quite a lot talking to myself on this trip so far.)
I arrived close to town fairly quickly so I couldn’t resist popping down to yet another beach. This one was way different from the others I’d been to because it had more rocks and stones than sand.
Since the tide was coming up, there wasn’t much choice but to hobble over them down the shoreline. Eventually, I sat on a large rock for a bit, closed my eyes to relieve the stinging and also just to feel where I was.
I concluded the day by escaping the still feisty wind and sitting inside at the most adorable little bistro called Mum’s run by two Italian expats. I had walked by it the day before and while it was closed, I could tell by the outside decor that I’d like the place. I’m such a sucker for atmosphere.
I wandered in around 8p.m. to see if they’d have a table for one. It seemed like the type of place one might need a reservation.The decor was super charming, with knick-knacks all over like surfboards cut in half and old pianos with various sheet music and baskets of fresh veggies lining the bar.
Luckily, one of the owners said that she could fit me in right then, or at the latest in 20 minutes. Just because 8p.m. seemed so early to eat after a week in Spain, I returned at 8:20. Despite being inside, my table provided a view of the sea and I was able to watch the sky darken into night. I ordered another glass of vino verde, which the waiter went on and on about (this was the second time this happened when I ordered glass of the “green wine”; the Portuguese take them seriously! Then, with no WiFi to distract me, I took out my book—Beautiful Ruins—and I sat there pleasantly reading as each of my courses were sent out in a timely manner. Man was I in my element! As each of the dishes came out, I spoke with Julia about the place; how and why she ended up in Sagres from Milan; the other cities she loves (naturally, London, Paris and New York!) and enjoyed a nearly three-hour delicious local-meets-“touristico” meal. It was the perfect end to two of the Best Days.
Before heading out of the Algarve and up north to Lisbon this morning, I sat in quite possibly the coolest “desk” ever:
It’s like a human birdcage! Can you hear me chirping with glee?
And now, bring on the urban jungle of Lisboa, baby!