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Faro and away

From attempting the Via Algarviana to watching Cristiano Ronaldo do his thing, Eamon Gibson takes in the beauty of sun-kissed Algarve

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The beautiful beaches and cliffs at Sagres.

The beautiful beaches and cliffs at Sagres.

Walking in Monchique.

Walking in Monchique.

At the Tertulia Algarvia restaurant in Faro.

At the Tertulia Algarvia restaurant in Faro.

One of the many stunning walks on the coast near Sagres.

One of the many stunning walks on the coast near Sagres.

Walking through the cork and eucalyptus trees.

Walking through the cork and eucalyptus trees.

The Cardeal Suites and Apartments in Faro.

The Cardeal Suites and Apartments in Faro.

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The beautiful beaches and cliffs at Sagres.

Hooray, I finally got away!

After a year-and-a-half of lockdown I flew out to Portugal for a much-needed break.

Even getting on the aeroplane was exciting. I felt like a child entering a playground as I boarded my Aer Lingus flight to Faro. The staff were really friendly and we landed with glee.

It was always on the bucket list to do the Via Algarviana (like a southern Portugal ‘Camino walk’) and all it has to offer. So with Ireland playing Portugal it was the perfect opportunity to mix sun, sea and exercise along with my other love football.

I must say I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the mountains and coastlines we visited.

The Via Algarviana is a route with a length of 300km, mostly of it in the Algarve mountains.

The route crosses 11 municipalities in the Algarve (Alcoutim,Aljezur, Castro Marim, Tavira, S. Brás de Alportel, Loulé, Silves, Monchique, Lagos, Portimão and Vila do Bispo).

Each section on the walks have a maximum distance of 30km and have different grades of difficulty so you can pick the ones that suit you best. And at the end of each route there are places of interest to visit, accommodation, restaurants etc.

We were picked up at the airport and taken into the beautiful city of Faro and to our accommodation at the Cardeal Suites and Apartments which were lovely, each containing bedroom, kitchen, dining room and bathroom and situated in the centre of the city.

From there we walked through the centre and to a lovely restaurant called Tertulia Algarvia, where I enjoyed a lovely seafood stew containing octopus, prawns, mussels and periwinkles and a bottle of local white wine at very reasonable prices (all mains are around 15 euro!).

The following morning we were driven to walk a section of the Barranco do Velho trail which is lined with cork trees and eucalyptus trees. The beautiful smell of the eucalyptus puts a bounce in your step as you learn on your walking journey through the traditional cork manufacturing business, one of Portugal’s biggest exports. Cork is now used for several industries other than wine making, and has a place in clothing, home appliances and other less obvious areas. We finished the hike with lunch at Casa dos Presuntos restaurant, where I enjoyed my first taste of pig’s cheeks which I would highly recommend, gorgeous.

After that we drove back to Faro and headed to Faro Stadium and the match between Portugal and Ireland. I must say it was a perfect advertisement for how people can cope during this terrible Covid period. Everyone at the game wore masks and with a person at every second seat and in an outdoor arena you could not feel safer.

It was my first time at a sporting event with fans in a year-and-a-half and it was fantastic – except for Cristiano Ronaldo scoring that last-gasp, injury-time winner!

I must say the city of Faro is a lovely place to stay. It is basically the Lisbon of the south and though I have been to Lisbon several times, I never realised Faro was as beautiful. I only associated Faro with the airport named after it but thankfully now I know and will return for a family vacation. Lovely sights, food and people.

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The following morning we headed to the town of Monchique a beautiful town set high in the mountains. A walk through the steep streets of the town centre is rewarded with views of magnificent hills, glimpsed between houses, and moments of sunlit calm in unsuspected corners.

It leaves a memory of a hill town with a history and character all of its own, and instils a strong desire to return.

We climbed a steep and difficult walk to the summit and highest pint in the Algarve where we were rewarded with the most magnificent view, where you could see for hundreds of miles. It was tough but fabulous and the feeling when we reached the top was fabulous – especially when washed down with a nice cold beer!

After a lovely lunch in Luar da Foia restaurant where I enjoyed a feast of sea bass and a magnificent view over the countryside, we headed to the town of Sagres (ironically the Portuguese beer of the same name is not produced there) and checked into the wonderful four-star Baleeira Hotel.

It is situated right at the fishing port and the lovely beach is just a three-minute walk away.

We then headed out from there on a boat trip to see the dolphins. It was brilliant as the fast dinghy/speedboat sped out on the Mediterranean sea in search of those wonderful mammals. The driver turned up the speed as we skipped and bounced in one of the greatest roller-coaster rides of all time.

Unfortunately we never saw any but the views of the coast on the return journey was well worth the trip. We came in closer to shore and passed several beaches, coves and cliffs, including pausing to see the birds nesting in the caves. It was spectacular as we passed places like Luz, Burgau, Salema and Barranco.

I’d highly recommend the boat trip if you ever visit Sagres (it costs between 25-35 euro and lasts an hour and a half), check out capecruiser.pt

After that we headed back to the hotel and relaxed in the lovely outdoor swimming pool where we enjoyed cocktails served to us while splashing in the sun-dappled water. It was pure heaven.

Later we enjoyed a magnificent meal in the hotel restaurant before heading down the road for a pub crawl on the main stretch. All-in-all a great day was had by all!

The next morning we headed off to for a difficult but fantastic walk along the rugged Atlantic coast beside Sagres.

The unspoilt coastline, with its dramatic horizons of cliffs and sea as well as walking inland up and down wild hills was awe-inspiring.We finished the hike by heading down to a beautiful beach and diving straight into the sea. It was wonderful!

We then headed back to the hotel and just relaxed for a couple of days before heading home. One thing for sure, I will be back.

TRAVEL FACTFILE
LOCATION
See algarve-tourist.com

■ Cardeal Suites and Apartments in Faro, cardeal.pt.
■ Memmo Baleeira Hotel Sagres in Sagres, memmohotels.com/baleeira.
■ The Cape Cruiser boat trip in Sagres can be booked on capecruiser.pt.
■  For transfers between accommodation check out transol.pt.

Travel news

■ CASTLEROSSE PARK
One of Killarney’s best kept secrets, the Castlerosse Park Resort has some incredible packages for November to entice us to make a trip down.
They are currently promoting an amazing two nights bed and breakfast with one evening dinner for €135 per person sharing. And unlike a lot of hotel offers, it is valid on the weekends.
They are so generous that they will even throw in an extra night B&B for free if you want to head there on a Thursday. That’s three nights and four delicious meals in a top hotel for €270 per couple for the month of November.
To book your getaway visit
castlerosse.ie or call 064 6631144.
■ JURASSIC WORLD
Now that the USA is a travel option again, it is time to tell
you about what the teams at
Universal Studios in Orlando have been up to during lockdown.
Jurassic World VelociCoaster opened in June with thrill seekers being chased by a pack of hungry raptors on Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster. It includes 4,700 feet of track, high-speed launches (70mph in 2.4 seconds) and the signature ‘Top Hat’, which propels ride you 155 feet in the air and then immediately into an 80-degree drop. That makes it their steepest drop yet. This is on top of the recently-unveiled Bourne Stuntacular and the Secret Life of Pets areas which were added to the already impressive line-up of Harry Potter, Simpsons and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Not to mention their gigantic waterpark Volcano Bay.
See universalorlando.com for more.

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