In the Fall of 2003, my wife Isabel and I spent five enjoyable
weeks in Portugal. We found the people most welcoming and the countryside very
beautiful. Isabel and I can't wait to return! I am sharing our travel
experience with you, in the event you decide to spend your own holiday in
Portugal. At the end of this article, you will find links to a number of
helpful websites where you will find additional information on the various
things I discuss.
We visited in early
October. Our stay included a month in a resort in the Algarve and over a week
at various hotels and pousadas. We found that most concierges and waiters and
many folk in the Portuguese tourist industry speak some English, and were
generally very helpful. During our Algarve stay we took a three-day bus tour to
Seville, Spain; Gibraltar; and Tangiers, Morocco. We also spent two nights in
Evora, a walled city now classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Evora,
located in the Alentejo region immediately north of the Algarve, is well worth
The weather was very
pleasant when we arrived in Portugal. However, by early November the nights and
most mornings became quite cool, with temperatures in the single digits. A
local Algarve resident told us that the afternoons are usually quite pleasant
when the sun warms things up, but nights and mornings can be somewhat cool from
November through January. The good news is that temperatures in the Algarve
seldom, if ever, reach the freezing mark, especially in places near the
The busy season
stretches from June through September. During August the area is teeming with
Portuguese folk on summer holidays. Everything is packed
beaches, tourist sites, and so on. Because of this, I would say that it would
not be wise to visit Portugal in August. Mid-September through early November
should be quite pleasant and not too busy.
The quiet (slow)
season in Portugal starts at the beginning of November and runs through
March/April. You are likely to get better deals during this period of time.
However, during this time many hotels and restaurants close down for up to
three months, due to the slow winter season. A few places reopen for Christmas,
but many do not open their doors until February. Although Portugal is not
as expensive as most other countries in Western Europe, if you are trying
to get the best value for your money, February through April would be the best
time to travel.
Next, we turn to
where to stay. Pousadas--what a find! These accommodations deserve a rating of
five star and more. Originally set up by the state, pousadas are truly
outstanding. There are now over sixty in Portugal. They are usually restored
historic institutions such as monasteries, castles, palaces or mansions. They
are located either in important places or in the most attractive settings.
We stayed at five
pousadas during our visit, and were entranced with every one of them. The
restaurant menu in each pousada usually includes regional dishes. The food is
of a very high standard, and not too pricey. Their house wines are really
inexpensive, but excellent.
We recommend the
pousada at Beja. It is a magnificent refurbished convent. Although neither my
wife or I are religious we were, nevertheless, enchanted with this
establishment. The spaciousness and elegance of the building and its contents,
coupled with Gregorian chants softly playing throughout the main areas, were
ethereal. It doesnt get any better! Our stay in the pousada at Beja is an
experience well never forget.
Further north, the
town of Marvao is a quaint little hilltop village perched (with its castle)
about 800 meters high above the surrounding landscape. We could see for miles
around from our bedroom window. Our view included some of the distant mountains
We asked some of the
staff at the various pousadas where we stayed to recommend others. They
suggested those in Obidos, Crato (near the city of Portelegre) and Geres -
Wise consumers might
want to stay at pousadas Sunday through Thursday nights and then save money by
staying elsewhere on Fridays and Saturdays. On those days pousadas are at full
price and are frequently filled to capacity, mainly with local folk. There is
no shortage of excellent accommodation throughout Portugal in the slower (low)
season, November through March-April.
For seniors there is
great news about pousadas...They offer a Golden Years
Promotion! From Sunday through Thursday, people over the age of 59 can
take advantage of a 35 per cent discount on accommodations that includes an
excellent breakfast. As of the end of 2003, the deals ranged from 51 to 89 Euro
dollars a room per night, depending on the specific pousada. Thats per
room, not per person! The majority of pousadas were 61 Euros or less per night
per room. Some pousadas extend the Sunday to Thursday Golden Years
Promotion throughout the year.
You should contact
the specific pousada to find out if the Golden Years Promotion is available for
the month(s) you are interested in traveling. Specify the Golden Years
Promotion at the time of your booking. Check out the link at the end of
this article for more information.
Most of the time in
Algarve, the further a restaurant or accommodation is from the sea and major
towns, the less expensive it is. If you're travelling with a group of four or
more people, you might want to save a little money by investigating an inland
villa with its own pool or other facilities and, simultaneously, have the
amenities of coastal towns not too far away. It costs nothing to ask and it
could well pay to shop around. Remember that, if you dont
search for a decent deal, you probably wont get one. I've included some
useful accommodation websites at the end of this article. When you make
inquiries, dont forget to ask if they are offering any special deals
(promotions), or whether they offer a senior discount for the time
you want to travel. Ask "What is the best deal you can
Younger folk might
prefer to stay in one of the larger centers in Algarve like Faro or Albufeira
which have bars and clubs for a young crowd, but we sought a quieter venue.
Before we went, good friends strongly recommended condo rentals at Rocha Brava.
They told us that it was a relatively quiet spot.
Next time we're in
Portugal, we would probably stay at the lovely little seaside town of Luz that
we discovered for ourselves in the western Algarve. It is a most serene
spot in the quiet season, and not too far from the lovely town of Lagos. We
would use Lloyd Limitada, a local agent in Luz, to find accommodations. Their
email address is Lloyd@mail.telepac.pt These folk are English, so there would
be no language problem.
The most enjoyable meal that we had during our stay in the Algarve was
at a restaurant on the road from Portimao to Monchique. The establishment is
called O Cacador and is located on the east side of the road about 5 kilometers
(3 miles) north of the little town of Porto de Lagos. There is a large colored
cart out front. We had the house specialty, roasted buck (deer) and suckling
pig. The meal was incredible value for the money-- indeed a true bargain.
Together, with drinks the total bill was 33 Euros.
For a rather
extravagant and sumptuous meal (28 Euros per person, including wine), one could
eat at Quinta Sao Bento. The restaurant was once the summer residence of
Portuguese royalty and is found north of Monchique on the road to Foia
mountaintop, the highest point in the entire Algarve. Quinta Sao Bento is on
the left hand side of the road driving up the mountain, and is not too far from
the summit. It is is filled with antiques, and is really very elegant. Some of
the windows provide excellent panoramas over the landscape far below. Quinta
Sao Bento also offer accommodations, but the place is a little off the beaten
path for us. I imagine that it would be somewhat pricey, too!
As I have already
mentioned, many places are closed November through the end of
Rental Cars: It may
be prudent to arrange for a rental car in Portugal with the same people who
handle your airfare. Some companies, however, offer monthly deals. If you
intend to rent a car for a month or longer, it could pay to deal directly with
the car rental company. However, if your stay will be less than a month, it is
probably better to use your airfare source to make the arrangements. Always ask
if there are any special deals for the time you will be there, and whether any
of those deals are better than the senior discount.
Driving in Portugal:
Generally speaking, the roads in Portugal are good. Seat belts must be worn at
all times in both front and rear seats. You must always carry your passport and
car documents with you when driving in Portugal.
Passing another car
can only be done to the left. Some of the local folk will also overtake in the
most inopportune parts of country roads. It pays to keep an eye in the rear
view mirror to anticipate the unexpected. To start with, it would be prudent to
stay on the right hand lane of motorways.
You would be
surprised how fast many people drive in Portugal, especially when you consider
the cost of gas--in the fall of 2003 the cost was close to a Euro per liter for
unleaded petrol (gasolina sem chumbo).
Laundry: Make sure
that there are decent laundry facilities wherever you stay. Laundromats are
quite infrequent throughout Portugal, as well as at resorts and hotels. Some
establishments can charge hefty fees to do laundry. The resort we stayed at in
Alvor wanted 4 Euros to launder a shirt. We felt that was a little
Some places will be
more reasonable with handling laundry, and charge by the kilo. Of course, one
can economize by doing hand washes in the bathroom or kitchen and using the
balcony to hang your clothes to dry during the heat of the day.
Tipping: Salaries and
wages are quite low in Portugal compared to other Western European countries.
Perhaps that is why prices are generally lower there than in most other places
in Western Europe.
Wherever we were, we
left a Euro dollar every morning for the maid and received clean sheets and
towels every day in return. We were advised to only give waiters a 10 percent
tip, not 15-20 percent, as we would back home. We paid all tips in cash rather
than on a credit card.
Taxi drivers, should
also be tipped 10 percent.
We gave baggage boys
a Euro per suitcase, and gas attendants half a Euro if they were attending the
pump. Likewise, for toilet personnel who handed out paper hand towels.
Everyone we tipped
seemed happy and gracious for our generosity. It doesnt cost a lot to be
Out of town tours
from the Algarve: These can be arranged at just about any travel agency in the
Algarve after you arrive. Best Day Travel Agency offers a three day
Gibraltar-Tangier-Seville tour at a very competitive price. It is better than
Mega Tours by quite a substantial amount of Euros.
Both tour groups
stay the two nights at the same hotel and give tourists exactly the same
accommodations, breakfasts and evening meals in Algeciras, Spain. Remember that
its your money to squander.
We felt that the
three days away to be well worth the expenditure.
If you go
to Tangiers, the tour will probably include a visit to an up market
Moroccan carpet cooperative. If you contemplate buying a carpet, keep in mind
that youll be dealing (bargaining) with true professionals. Its
their daily routine. One man in our tour group bought a carpet for $400. The
bargaining had started at $2,000!
Be prepared to be a
good haggler, as bartering is a way of life for Moroccan vendors. After some
lengthy haggling, youd be wise to state your final price and then walk
Always remember that
anything you decide to buy involves your own money, so always keep in mind the
difference between what you want and what you really
The street vendors in
the Casbah at Tangiers will incessantly follow and hound you. They appear to
come out of the woodwork from nowhere, when you least expect it. They will
pester you and bargain relentlessly. The nearer you are to the boat for your
return to Europe, the less money the street vendors will accept for their
attractive copper bracelets and other merchandise. It would, therefore, be wise
to make your purchases as late as possible.
Duty Free Shopping:
It would be wise not to buy alcohol on your way to Portugal, as it is far less
expensive in Portugal than in North America. Their prices are also less than
airport duty-free shops at both ends. The larger supermarkets (mercados) have a
great array of wines and liquors for sale at very reasonable prices. A decent
bottle of Portuguese wine can cost as low as two or three Euros.
Things to take for
any trip abroad: Spread goodwill! Be a decent ambassador for your country. Take
some little gifts or mementoes (like key chains or pins) to give to people to
show your appreciation for their assistance. It wont cost much and you
are sure to feel better for doing it.
For your own personal
needs it may pay to take some clothes pegs, a few coat hangers, a corkscrew and
a decent can opener, plastic bags (especially zip lock ones), Scotch tape,
stomach (and other) medication, a small first-aid pack, a travel iron,
electrical adapter, and so on.
If you are carrying
things such as scissors, carry it in your suitcase and not in your carry on
luggage. After 9/11 such objects are confiscated from hand luggage by airport
security-that includes even the tiniest pair of scissors.
in Portugal are recessed about an inch into the wall. You may need an extension
pin for your adapter. To avoid frustration with electrical adapters we bought a
hairdryer in Portugal for about 14 Euros.
On our next trip to
Portugal, we will probably arrange a flight to Lisbon and spend five nights
there to allow for sight-seeing. Most likely, we will arrange our Lisbon
accommodations via the Internet. Many of Lisbons streets are one-way,
narrow and/or congested, and isnt easy getting around for tourists who
are unfamiliar with the layout. Therefore, on our next trip we will use public
transportation (subway and street cars) for sight seeing around the city. On
one of those days, we will catch the train to Sintra.
When our stay at
Lisbon is over, we will have prearranged to pick up a car rental and drive to
Luz in the Algarve, where we will have acquired our accommodations through
We would probably
stay two or three weeks in Luz and then head for pousadas Sunday through
Thursday. To economize, we would stay elsewhere on Friday and Saturday nights
when things at Pousadas are busier and their rates higher.
One Friday or
Saturday, we would plan to arrive at Monsaraz, a quaint little town high on a
hilltop east of Evora, in the afternoon to enjoy the tranquility of the small
village, its narrow streets and castle. You should see the lovely little town
of Monsaraz--it is gorgeous!
If time permits, we
would attempt to stay at some, if not all three, of the recommended pousadas
mentioned earlier, those in Obidos, Crato (near Portelegre) and Geres
Canicada. We can thoroughly recommend the pousadas at Beja and Marvao,
mentioned above and the one at Condiexa, not far from Coimbra. It is most
Instead of going
through a travel agency, you can make many travel arrangements on your own via
the Internet, thereby conserving some of your hard earned cash. Investigate
prices or deals that may be available, as well as things to see and do in
Portugal. The links below should be very helpful to you when you plan your
If you achieve some
success through your own efforts, perhaps you will be thoughtful enough to
share the knowledge you gain with friends. Maybe, you will even write some
notes for a seniors magazine, information letter, or a website such as
Here are some links
to help make your planning easier. We suggest that you copy and paste the
longer addresses into your browser. Following the list of websites, you will
find some useful Portugese terms.
The nationwide number
for police and ambulance is 112.
Here are some links
for Portugals current weather conditions--
Here are some
websites for Portugals climate--
Here are some
websites for general information on Portugal--
The following website
gives two star and one star attractions for all of Portugal--
http://www.planetware.com/ratings/R-P.HTM. This website lists the main places
in Portugal from A to Z;
Here is a website
that lists the various monuments and sites of Portugal;
http://www.ippar.pt/english/monumentos/monumentos.html. This website contains
opinions of individuals about specific places in Portugal;
websites display maps of
Here are websites
with suggested itineraries--http://www.ibertours.com.au/selfdrive3.html;
Below are some useful
links to help you locate accommodations: http://www.turihab.pt/uk/inicio.html;
Here are some
websites for Algarve information--http://www.algarvenet.com;
Here are some
websites for golf in
Here are some
websites for car rentals in
Here are some
websites for car rentals in the Lisbon
Here are some
websites for car rentals in the Porto area--
Here are some
websites for car rentals in the
If you have any
specific query, the Fodors Forum website allows you to ask questions for other
folk to respond to--http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2
You can gather quite
a lot by using the pousada website--http://www.pousadas.pt/contents.html;
Promotion for Portugals pousadas--
Here are 2 websites
for currency conversion-- http://www.xe.com/ucc;
The Green Michelin Guide for Portugal is well worth the investment.
You should be able to
accumulate a lot of general information from the above websites. The better you
do your homework before you leave, the more you will get out of your trip.
Here are a few
Portugese words that you may want to know:
Surely, if you only
learn one Portuguese word, it has to be thank you. It never hurts to say
the magic word: males say obrigad-o and females say
obrigad-a; yes/no = sim/nao; do you speak English? = falas
Ingles?; how much does it cost? = quanto custa?; I do not understand = nao
compreendo; good morning/day = bom dia; good afternoon = boa tarde; good
evening = boa noite; hello = ola; youre welcome = de nada; Im sorry
= desculpe; please = por favor; toilet = sanitas; drug store = farmacia; butter
= manteiga; milky coffee = café com leite; meat = carne; beer = cerveja
;white wine = vinho branco; red wine = vinho tinto; exit = saida; bread = pao;
menu = carta; bill = a conta; water = agua; post office = correio; house =
casa; cathedral = Se; church = igreja; gas (petrol) = gasoline; unleaded gas =
gasolina sem chumbo