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Spain & Portugal

Algarve & Andalusia

Algarve & Andalusia

In our latest travels, you could read about the wonderful West-Coast of Portugal, it’s natural beauties and the relaxed villages. Now we headed all the way South, into the famous Algarve, to grasp even more sun and of course, enjoy the tapas.

Entering the Algarve

We first drove our way to the Cabo de São Vicente, a lighthouse on the far South-Western point of Europe. This place is good stop to start the drive through the Algarve, as you will only be going East from here. It was a bit busy when we visited, but as it is quite widespread, there’s plenty of space to enjoy the views both along the Atlantic coast to the North as the Southern shores. The lighthouse itself is positioned in proximity of a somewhat overpriced restaurant, so we skipped having a meal here and – after taking a photo or two – drove on to the vicinity of Lagos.

As this is a more crowded region of Portugal, wild-camping isn’t as easy here and we decided to go to a campground just outside of Lagos, near the town of Luz. We didn’t know yet, but it happened to become what was probably our most luxurious campsite during our travels, boasting a fancy pool with jacuzzi, a restaurant and some shops. Not really our thing usually, but it came at the right time during our travels and with a lack of alternatives, we decided to enjoy it while we could.

Additionally, the campground is ideally located if you want to visit Lagos, which we did, as it is only about 10 minutes drive or Uber from the city-center.

Lagos cuisine

The next 2 days we spend in and around Lagos, probably tasting every tapas we could, with a glass of wine here and there. The options in Lagos are plenty and given the region of Portugal is famous its good food and tapas culture, there’s definitely a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from. Still, be careful as this is also quite touristy, meaning there are the more common “tourist trap” restaurants as well, usually in the busy streets of town. You best recognize these by their menus being translated in a handful of languages and their terrace being filled with the classic groups of tourists – easy right? The best way to avoid those is to simply leave the main streets and find the often smaller, local places to have lunch or dinner. We were recommended Barbosa Bar & Kitchen, which was a great delight (I had eaten here before a couple of years back, but certainly returning did not disappoint). If you happen to visit, don’t skip the flamed chorizo, which you actually get to grill yourself at the table, or the pimentos, which, according to menu, one of ten is very spicy..

Algarve
Algarve
Algarve

Ponte da Piedade

Apart from Lagos itself being a fun city to stroll around, hosting a nice waterfront, some beaches and characteristic Portuguese streets and squares, it is also closely positioned to the Ponte da Piedade, a dramatic rock formation on the Southern tip of Lagos. You can either walk from town – about a good 30 minute walk – or drive closer to the area itself and park up there. The surroundings at Ponte da Piedade are well laid out, with multiple boardwalks and paths leading to different viewpoints. I’d strongly recommend to visit this natural phenomenon either in the early hours or during sunset, as the light casts a beautiful golden glow over the already yellowish rock formations, making it to a stunning scenery even more than at day time. Don’t expect to have the place for yourself however, it is a busy place because it is well known and easily reachable, however if you aren’t too afraid of heights, you can get to more quiet areas on Ponte de Piedade as it is quite spread out and has multiple wonderful viewpoints. I trust the photo will cover better why it is worth a visit than any description.

Algarve

Hippy vibes and slides

Algarve

After Lagos, we moved further East, to a very fun (and cheap) campground near Estômbar e Parchal. The place is still under construction, although when we visited it really didn’t disturb us, and has a kind of hippy vibe hanging about it. It is very popular with Germans as there are surf trips and courses organized from this location that are advertised in Germany quite a bit. Nevertheless it was a great place to hang around with many young people, a great natural pool – with hammocks – and decent facilities.
Apart from relaxing a couple days around the grounds, playing numerous games of our new favorite cardgame – Munchkin – enjoying the pool and a great barbecue event on the campground, we also came here to also visit the Splash and Slide waterpark. We didn’t necessarily plan to visit them when we departed, but we actually drove along it and decided we had to try some slides as we saw them along the road. And so we did!
As it was still outside the main season, the waterpark was quiet when we visited. It was a beautiful sunny day however, so perfect to get wet and relive our childhoods. We spent nearly a full day in the park, literally trying about every slide there was. We were screaming the lungs out of our bodies just because we could for once and had numerous attempts beating the speed records on the “racing slide” or try to get as high as possible in our double
inflatable ring on a kind of half-pipe slide. A fantastic day and definitely worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.

Seven Hanging Valleys trail

On the day of our departure, we drove down to another trail we wanted to hike. The Seven Hanging Valleys trail, running from Praia de Vale Centianes to Praia da Marinha (or vice-versa), is known to be one of the greatest trails in Southern Portugal. It is about 6km long and follows the rugged and wild coast line of the Algarve, with numerous viewpoints showing the oddly shaped rock formations, sink holes and caves (with Benagil being the most famous). We woke up at 5am to avoid any crowds, drove to Praia de Marinha and parked North to then grab a (really early) Uber to Praia de Vale Centianes (only about 12 minutes). We brought happy furry friend with us as it was still early and not too warm and he managed very well as most of the trail is quite well laid out and easy to walk. It doesn’t have too much elevation either, and it took us just under 2 hours (including numerous photo stops) to reach Praia da Marinha. The trail is surely worth the time and offers beautiful viewpoints all along the coast, although admittingly after Ponta da Piedade, we did expect a little too much we think. The caves (Benagil) are probably a lot more impressive from below than from above, as you can only see giant holes in the ground from a distance (fenced off for safety). The rugged coast lines are very much worth the views however, especially as you come closer to Praia da Marinha, you do get a couple splendid viewpoints overlooking the shores, beaches and rock formations of the Algarve.
With the completion of the Seven Hanging Valley trail, we also completed our trip to Portugal (for now). We didn’t feel the need to visit Albufeira and it’s surroundings and decided to move back into Spain for our final week on the Iberian Peninsula.

Algarve

Into Andalusia, Spain

Our return to Spain was about 4 hours drive from Praia da Marinha. We spent a night in close vicinity of Ronda, intending the visit the city and its famous bridge the next day, but severe rains (and more forecasted), caused us to leave the mountainous area and drive down to the coast. We had a short (needed) stop at Marbella, but left after 2 hours (way too touristy) and drove east, past Malaga to Nerja. Here we stayed our last days, both to soak some sun, enjoy some cultural heritage, the beach, and the cuisine.

Nerja

Andalusia

We found a campground about 30 minutes (beach) walk from Nerja town. We got a small spot to fit North in and walked to town the same day. Laura was keen to finally get a proper Spanish paella and since I had been promising her this was a good place to find it, I had to come true on the promise. The first night we visited however, we didn’t actually made it to the center of town (we learned later). As we were both a bit tired from the multiple driving days, we found a place on the west side of town, which (luckily) did serve a great paella!

Cuavas Nerja

The next few days were mostly, relaxed, but great. We managed to find the actual city center of Nerja, boasting a lot more great restaurants (oh and ice-cream shops), stores and idyllic little streets. We also got ourselves tickets to the Nerja Caves. In fact, we managed to get free tickets by booking more than 48-hours ahead and showing up at 09:30, before any of the “day tickets” (starting at 10:00) were allowed to enter. This gave us opportunity to visit the caves while it was relatively quiet and although I’d visited some other caves before, the Nerja Caves are the most impressive I have seen to far. It’s filled with stunning stalagmites and stalactites (a feast for the eye of a former geology student) and it is a lot larger than I had expected. Especially by showing up early and avoiding many other tourists (we saw the line upon exiting) gave unobstructed views of these ancient cave formations which we gladly enjoyed – a positive surprise!

Andalusia

Frigiliana

Another hidden gem we visited – twice in fact – is Frigiliana, a tiny village North of Nerja. Only about 20 minute drive and remarkably easy parking for a Spanish town (in shoulder-season), it is a nearly completely white town situated against the slope of a hill with views all the way to the ocean. You probably wouldn’t spend a day in this town as you walk through it in a about an hour (or maybe two if you take too many photos of the great little streets and houses), but it also has various lovely restaurants to enjoy some great food. The best we enjoyed was a Pura Cepa, which had a very friendly atmosphere (even Moose was very welcome on the terrace) and tasteful tapas with views all over the flowery slopes and white houses of the Frigiliana.  

Andalusia
Andalusia
Andalusia
Andalusia

On our last days we enjoyed the beaches of Nerja, I made a short hike (about 1.5hrs) to the east of Nerja, criss-crossing this lovely coastal city, ate more paella (and icecreams) at the beach and enjoyed a great sunset diner close to Balcon de Europa. Unfortunately it wasn’t all positive; we found a leak in our freshwater tank connector, which leaked all the way to the front of the van. During the emptying of the tank, we accidentally backed up into a tree-branch, causing a (small) damage to North’s exterior and we also didn’t exactly make friends with our Dutch neighbours, who were negatively obsessed with the “breeze from our airconditioning”. For the record, we don’t have airconditioning, but we assumed they meant the rooftop fan that supposingly caused so much wind it was disturbing them 10 meters away. Never heard it before, never heard it after, although we still joke about “the breeze”.

Andalusia
Andalusia
Andalusia

The end of our journey on the Iberian Peninsula

All in all it was already early June and as we noticed it becoming more and more busy, we were much content with our Iberian visit to end here. We enjoyed our first (almost) 2 months traveling around Spain and Portugal a lot and still are very happy with the choice to start living in the van, but we were also looking forward to start our move North into Scandinavia, avoiding the summer crowds of Southern Spain. Furthermore, we were keen to get the water tank fixed after having to use water bottles for a few days. We didn’t manage to fix it in Spain after various tries and as such we decided to order new spare parts to the Netherlands and fix it there. We left Nerja and moved back North at a quite fast pace, stopping the first night in Haro (enjoying pinchos and a few Riojas for one more time and shopping some bottles for in Scandinavia) and had another stop in France at a lakeside before reaching our home country, completing our trip to Iberia. Our next destination is on the complete other side of Europe, the Northern parts of Scandinavia, stay tuned!

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