Tag Archives: Portugal

Why winter is the perfect season to visit Europe

Why I love Europe in Winter

San Sebastian, Spain in March

Yes, Europe in the winter is cold, but coming from the Midwest it’s not that cold. I loved traveling through Spain and Portugal during the winter months. It only snowed 2 days out of 3 months and one of those days I was high in the Pyrenees mountains in Andorra. The average daytime temperatures were in the 50s with nights dropping down closer to freezing temperatures. Many days were warm and sunny reaching the mid-70’s in the early afternoon. I actually prefer to walk around dusty city streets in trainers and long pants over sandels and shorts. Concrete jungles keep heat in and can be quite unbearable during summer months. The south of Europe does receive more rain in winter months. So pack a versatile jacket and sturdy walking shoes and you’re good to go. I recommend spraying both with waterproofing before leaving home.

Another perk of winter travel is that tourism during the winter months is at a low. Making it possible to explore less crowded cities and exhibitions. It can be a challenge to take good quality photos during summer months when thousands of tourists fill every last vantage point. Prices are lower during winter months as well. Making it easier to stretch the budget a bit farther. Once spring hits hotel rates explode. I went from spending 20€ a night for a good budget hotel to 50€ a night in spring. During peak season prices can soar to 80€ or more a night for budget accommodation.

Ronda, Spain in February

My last reason in favor of winter exploration is probably strange, but things smell less during winter months. Let’s be honest Spain literally smells like crap. I am not trying to be mean, but coming from a place with strictly enforced sanitation laws it was strange to see dog poop everywhere. Dogs use the streets as their litter box and probably some men too. No one cleans it up. People step in it on accident and crap gets spread everywhere. During the summer it stinks. The heat intensifies the rank. You can smell decomposing food in rubbish bins on the side of the road as well. During the winter the urine smell is much fainter. It took a couple of weeks for my nose to go blind to the constant traces of feces, cigarette smoke, and car exhaust in the air. I don’t think city people notice this as much as country folk do. Being from Michigan there is a constant breeze off the lake that keeps things smelling fresh and clean.

Have you traveled Europe during the different seasons? I would love to hear your thoughts on winter travel in the comments section below.

Why Lagos, Portugal is seriously underrated

Ponta da Piedade

World Class Beaches

The beaches of the Algarve have ranked among the top one hundred beaches in the world. They are breathtaking. It’s hard to put into words the soaring cliffs, clean sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. I will try to include as many pictures as possible to fully  illustrate this point.

Praia do Camilo

It’s Cheap

The prices in Portugal are very reasonable. My hotel was only 25€ a night and included a communal kitchen so I could prepare food saving me even more money. Car rental start as low as 15€ a day. If you’re a ‘sun worshipper’ you can easily spend a week exploring the endless beaches and parks in your own car. I was only in Lagos for 3 days and didn’t find a car necessary, but I probably walk 5 to 10 miles a day when on vacation. A taxi from the bus station to my hotel was only 4.5€. To give you an idea of prices.

Praia Donald Ana

No Tourists

I visited Lagos in March. The weather was perfect 75°F (22°C) outside and sunny. There were just enough people out and about to not feel isolated. It was fantastic hiking along the Algarve’s dramatic coastline cliffs without crushes of tourists. You could walk along the endless sandy beaches at sunset with only a handful of other people. If you’re looking for nightlife then make sure you visit during the summer. Personally after a month walking Spain’s crowded and often rubbish filled beaches Lagos felt like my own private paradise.

Praia de Porto de Mós

Great food

I like a variety of food. Everything I tried in Lagos was good and the prices were reasonable which is important for the budget conscious travelers. Here are a couple of items I tried to give you an idea of prices.  A ‘cafe com lete’ (coffee with milk) and ‘sandwiche mista’ (ham and cheese sandwich) will cost between 3-5€. You can get Kebab from a take away place for 4€. I had a world-class chicken curry from an Indian restaurant for only 6.50€. And beef stroginough one night for only 9€. Of course prices can cost a lot more than that*.

Praia do Camilo

Cork

Driving from Lagos to Lisbon you see endless rolling hills of cork trees. Cork is a fascinating  natural resource. There is a lot of information about the harvest and processing of cork online. I urge you to read about it before going to Portugal. I might try to include another blog post on sustainable resources like cork. Tours of cork farms are available from different locations in Portugal. Shops sell both affordable and luxury cork products. These include wallets, iPad cases, and handbags to name a few items. In recent years the wine industry has seen a shift from cork to synthetic stoppers. The cork industry is doing a marvelous job of re-branding this durable natural resource to a new market. I love to see old traditions adapt to current trends and changing demand instead of becoming extinct.

Ponta da Piedade

A multilingual population

In the words of my best friend, “you had me at speaks English.” Almost everyone in Portugal speaks at least some English especially in the South. So if your like me and you speak nil Portuguese don’t let that deter you from visiting. Portugal is a very diverse country welcoming tourists from all over the globe.

Praia do Camilo

* I feel like I need to include a couple of paragraphs about the downside of Portugal. Overall my experience was wonderful or I wouldn’t be writing a blog encouraging you to go, but I found a couple of experiences stressful. I hope that by including my mistakes here you wont have to repeat them and will essentially have a smoother travel experience. After a month traveling through Spain, Portugal caught me by surprise. Everyone I talked to said Portugal and Spain are very similar culturally and that the Portuguese are very honest. To clarify this statement you can ‘probably’ leave your bag unattended go to the bathroom and come back to find it where you left it (not that I recommend trying it). The unemployment rate in Portugal is considerably less than Spain, so the crime rate is much lower as well. Spain with a soaring unemployment rate of 20 percent has  understandably higher pickpocket rates. To say the Portuguese are more ‘honest’ is a different story, however. In Spain the price is the price. There are no hidden fees, and I have never had anyone overcharge me. I found Portugal a lot more stressful in that sense. Just because the menu says the price is 8.5€ doesn’t mean your waiter won’t try to charge you 24€. If restaurants try to overcharge you it’s important to be firm with them about the price. Some waiters try to take advantage of unaccustomed tourists. I got swindled twice in one day when I first arrived. Also in Lisbon hosts standing outside of restaurants can be very pushy. One actually grabbed my arm and tried to pull me into the restaurant, which made me understandably upset. On another occasion I  had a taxi driver charge me a 2€ baggage ‘handling’ fee for helping me with my luggage. He was just trying to rip me off and I find it difficult to argue with people over 2€. Overall during the course of a week I was only swindled out of 20€ that I know of, which could have been much worse.

Ponta da Piedade

Have you been to Lagos? I would love to hear your questions or thoughts in the comments section below.