My three kids and I have just spent a gloriously relaxing six days in Portugal and I would highly recommend it as a holiday destination if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand. I spent a lot of time wondering where we should all go – especially on a budget. Three large kids are not cheap travelling companions! But we’ve all had a stressful time of late, what with the death or my mother (their Grandmother) and it was such a luxury to find a space to swoop them all up and whisk them away. “What about Portugal?” asked a friend of mine who goes there regularly. “It’s much cheaper than Italy, Greece or France – the food is good, lots of fresh fish and the wine is much better these days and the Portuguese are always so friendly and open.”
So I took her advice and booked the hotel they’ve been going to for years in Portimāo, the Tivoli Marina Resort, which is right on the harbour and 5 minutes from the beach. It’s not the most beautiful of hotels and I’m not sure I love their colour choices of orange and yellow buildings nestled around a central pool, but the rooms were sizeable and there’s plenty to do in the area. All the rooms either look onto the swimming pool or the harbour and it’s very family oriented, with lots of different nationalities. Historically Portimāo was a fishing and shipbuilding centre, but it’s now developed a strong tourism industry and it was great to see it thriving after their couple of years of no people.
We all got on incredibly well, with only a few tiny niggles about saving sun beds and running out of sun cream! The time zone is the same too, which is useful! We did a lot of eating, drinking and laughing. Just what the doctor ordered!
The early morning BA flight we took from Heathrow to Faro was much easier than we’d anticipated, given all the issues airports and airlines had been having in the previous month. We had no delays and avoided any luggage issues by only taking hand luggage. However, I’m not sure this is the best eye mask to wear on the plane:-
Passport control always seems to be an issue after bloody Brexit, but we were out of there and in a taxi in under an hour. The taxi queue was very long, but we called an Uber and it arrived within 10 minutes. The journey took us an hour in the cab – and whilst it was just over €100 each way, it was much cheaper than hiring a car. It’s not beautiful scenery on the drive, it’s a little dry and barren, so first impressions are not as attractive as you’re likely to get on arrival in other countries, but I guess Portugal’s strength is the more rugged, hidden beauty – especially their wonderful coastline, caves and rock formations.
On arrival (after a few f*ckups with our rooms) we headed straight to the pool. My youngest emerged to get back on his sun bed saying
“It’s good to know the pool doesn’t go purple when you wee in it” as I looked at him with horror..
“ha ha, only joking” he said.
The temperature was 27 degrees on the the first day, with clear blue skies, a sea breeze. We were all relieved we had the pool and the sea to jump into, having managed to escape the soaring temperatures of London’s heat wave.
We ate in their restaurant for the first lunch – you can also choose from the poolside menu, it’s not overpriced at all.
That evening we walked 25 minutes into Portimāo, which seemed pretty empty and after a round of drinks we found a wonderful seafood restaurant.
Roma Barca had been recommended, but we didn’t seem to make ourselves understood and anyway they were full, so we chose the restuarant opposite – which obviously had the exact same fresh fish on the menu; amazing tiger prawns the size of lobster (I kid you not) and a whole sea bass shared between us, which was delicious. On the way back we stopped for a gelato and admired the storks in their huge nests built on cranes and chimney tops – or maybe they were cranes on cranes:-
The rooms are large and air-conditioned and whilst relatively basic, the beds (and pillows) were really comfortable and despite the inevitable sunburn we all picked up, we slept incredibly well. It was such a treat to share a room with my daughter and the boys enjoyed staying together in a separate room. I was worried I was going to snore so came armed with numerous ear plugs for her, but she either slept too deeply to hear me, or I didn’t snore! Whoop.
The breakfast set up is great! You can sit on the terrace overlooking the marina and enjoy the views. There’s a lot of choice in the buffet so it set us up for the day. We were all very happy just to chill by the pool, reading books (me) and watching Love Island or The Boys (them). The boys spent quite a lot of time in the gym, or playing ball in the water, whilst the girls barely moved from their beds.
We had pre’s in our garden terrace and then strolled along the beach boardwalk, checking out all the restaurants. We found A Casa de Rocha, a lovely restaurant towards the end of the strip where we could sit outside, watching the sun setting. The boys had steak and we had prawns (in fact my daughter made it her mission to have prawns every day) – so delicious!
I had booked the beach club, NoSoloAgua for the day (highly recommend to book sun beds and a table for lunch in advance) and it was fantastic! Great location, a five minute walk away and a very, cool, chilled vibe. The food for lunch was wonderful too – especially the chicken skewers with peanut sauce. The Atlantic was pretty cold, but very refreshing and beautifully clear. They have a pool too. We all just flopped about, reading and listening to music. I was reading “Love Marriage” by Monica Ali and ploughed my way through it.
We went to another recommended restaurant along the boardwalk by the sea in the evening, called Atlântico where we had Caipirinha’s before yet another delicious fishy focused meal (which my son paid for!). My younger son said “I would if I could….” he’s just back from uni and getting stressed about money and a job, which I guess is a pretty good sign.
We drank a lot of the local beer:-
After a couple of hours by the pool we booked the water taxi to take us across the estuary to Ferragudo, the more authentic fishing village. We took a stroll around the town before lunch. We’d booked to have lunch in Restaurante Sueste – not cheap, but excellent and sitting on the terrace was lovely. They talk you through what fish options they have, depending on the day. We eventually went for one huge Red Snapper to share and it was the most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted. The fish is cooked on an open grill just near where you’re sitting, so it all feels very authentic.
That evening we headed to Safari, another recommended restaurant up above the beach boardwalk on the busy strip. Lots of bars and restaurants and a market means lots of tourists. It was exceptionally good – a great host, who’s been running the restaurant since 1976 and a good choice of food and wine. They don’t seem to have their new email address on their website, so I would recommend booking by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This wine was delicious:-
We chose to do a trip down memory lane in the evening and got an Uber to take us on the ten minute journey to Alvor where we had yet more prawns at Atlantida – it’s been run by the same family members for years and Marco, the very friendly owner is still there ten years on. The food and service was still excellent and it’s located on one of the prettiest beaches in the area. Definitely book in advance (for the terrace preferably), it’s always packed. My kids all loved being back there.
This is what the two boys looked like ten years ago and now my baby boy is taller than everyone:-
Sorry, ignore the ashtray and focus on the prawns!
Another old haunt of ours is the Caniço bar, which is situated directly on your very own magical stretch of beach and set into the dramatic rocks. You can access it from the Atlantica by walking up the hill to the villas at the top and following the signs to the lift that takes you deep into the caves. The setting is stunning and they often have music and live DJ’s to dance to on the beach and a light show. The bar is open until 4am and I think we left just before closing time after far too many cocktails and shots.
As we were all nursing rather large hangovers, we chose to have another pool day, before heading out on a sunset speed boat tour of the surrounding caves and beaches. We went into 5 or 6 impressive caves before landing at their most famous local – the Benagil cave where you can kayak in and land on the beach if you want.
We were a bit fished out and it was pretty late when we got back from our trip, so went back to Alvor to find the Indian restaurant we used to frequent (at the boys request). It was no longer there, so we went to a fabulous Italian restaurant for pizza instead and wandered down to find the reggae bar at the bottom of the strip. Alvor is pretty touristy at this time of year, but it’s got a lovely feel about it. Lots of shops, bars (mainly Irish) and restaurants to choose from.
Back to the airport via taxi in the morning and once again an incredibly easy flight and journey home. I felt a bit sad saying goodbye to them all, it was a very precious, special time and whilst I see lots of them, we won’t probably get that exclusive, just us time again for a long while now. They all have partners and it was a shame I couldn’t take everyone…maybe next time, after I win the lottery.