Tag Archives: beach

Roadtrip along the Coast of Portgual: One Week in the Algarve + Portuguese Riviera

An indulgent week of wine, cheese, fresh seafood, and coastline, at clearance sale prices…and only a short flight from the US.  Sound like a dream vacation?  Read on.
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Ponta de Piedad, Lagos

The Inspiration
In 2008, I’d visited Lisbon, Portugal with my brother on our way to southern Spain.  We explored the lovely, but unremarkable, capital, and hopped on a bus that traversed the coast before crossing the border.  The views were breathtaking.  Watching the sun set from the bus window, I promised myself I’d return to explore the Algarve coastline.
Fast forward 9 years: Boyfriend and I are brainstorming week-long vacation locations.  We’re trying to find that perfect balance: not too far for just one week, good food/wine/weather, beautiful scenery,  and relaxing but also just enough exploration that it doesn’t feel like we’re just going down a Fodor’s checklist.  Oh, and our first international vacation together.  Ante upped.
I offered up the idea of a road trip through Portugal.  Quick, inexpensive flights from NYC.  Sunny, not-too-hot days in May before the European tourists descended upon it for the summer season.  Seafood, cheese, and wine to our hearts’ content.  Small enough to visit multiple locations without spending alldayeveryday in a car.  And massively inexpensive, not just relative to the rest of Europe, but in absolute terms.  The best of Europe, on clearance sale.  After some quick Facebook crowdsourcing, we had our itinerary.
The Itinerary
We spent just over a week in Portugal, flying into Faro and out of Lisbon, but this itinerary could easily be done in reverse, or as a roundtrip in and out of the same airport.   We stayed in Albufeira, Lagos, and Sagres in the Algarve and then spent 2 nights in the Portuguese Riviera in Estoril/Cascais. We spent ~ 2 nights in each town.  However, we both agreed that were we to do the trip again, we’d spend more nights in our favorite towns and just add in day trips to other places – which is what I’ll recommend below.
PRO TIP: If you know how to drive a manual car, rent that.  We paid ~100 Euro for the week (which includes the “one-way fee”), instead of 4x that for an automatic car.  If you don’t know how to drive stick shift: learn.  For Portugal and for life.And if you don’t know how to navigate a roundabout…don’t worry you’ll get plenty of practice on this trip.
We flew into Faro and drove immediately to Albufeira, ~45 minutes away from the airport. Albufeira served as our base for our first few days to explore the cute fishing village of Portimao, the beach resorts of Praia de Rocha, and the dramatic “Cliff” beaches of Falesia. However, we would recommend driving the extra hour on day one and base-camping in Lagos.  All of the sights can be visited as quick day trips from there.  Must: eat at Os Arcos in Portimao.  You’ll need a reservation.  And you’ll need to get the seabass and the garlic shrimp.  You can thank us later.
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Cliffs of Falesia

Our recommendation:  Spend most of the week in Lagos and Sagres.
Lagos is a quintessential ancient port city.  While its cobblestoned “old town” can be visited in one day (good place for gifts, but otherwise not much), Lagos has great restaurants, bars, and beaches – and with several great resorts and Airbnb options, it’s central enough to unpack there for a few days.
Where to stay: Cascade Wellness and Lifestyle Resort.  Out of the center of town (quick drive), beautiful pools and great food. Or – lots of great Airbnb options for houses with pools!
What to do: DO NOT MISS: sunset at Ponta de Piedade.  Rent bikes from Praia Dona Anna and bike to Ponta de Piedade, which we would’ve done with more time.  Go on a boat and explore the caves (we did this elsewhere).
Where to eat: Get the fish of the day at Dom Sebastiao, which is an old-school restaurant in town. At Cascade, the tapas (black pork and Serpa cheese with pumpkin jam) was something we talked about for weeks afterward.
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Ponta de Piedade

Sagres, sits on the end of the continent.  At the tip of the continent of Europe, surrounded by sawgrass, is the tiny Portuguese surfer village of Sagres.  It feels like the end of the earth in the most delightful way.
Where to stay: Memo Baleeira Hotel, incredible location, short walk into town and right on the water.  Great views.  And inexpensive.
What to do: Spend part of the day at Cape St. Vincent, aka end of the continent. Watching the waves crash against the giant cliffs is simply breathtaking. We also did dolphin watching there in a tiny boat w a marine biologist. Dolphins!!!

 

Where to eat: Eat at Vilha Venha – shrimp in piri piri, drumfish with coriander and garlic. Friends also raved about Carlos, which is across the street.   Our personal favorite: the local grocery store, which had insanely good wine and cheese; we bought some and climbed the hill next to the hotel – which overlooks the port – to watch sunset there.  According to our hotel’s concierge, the views are just as good as those from the fort (which we skipped).  It did not disappoint.

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End of the Continent, views from Cape St. Vincent, Sagres

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Dophin cruiser!

The Portuguese Riviera: Estoril, Cascais, and the castles of Sintra
For our final days in Portugal, we drove up the coast and explored the Portuguese Riveria resort towns of Estoril and Cascais and the UNESCO world heritage center of Sintra.
Estoril and Cascais are located about 25 minutes outside Lisbon, technically making them suburbs of the capital, but these coastal towns gained popularity first as the vacation spot for Portuguese royalty in the late 19th century and then as the residences of most royalty-in-exile during WWII.  The towns are beautiful – the architecture charmingly 19th century – and the two are connected by 3km beachfront promenade.
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Walking along the promenade that connects Estoril & Cascais

What to eat: try a pastil de nata custard pastry (we had several!).  MUST: Get reservations at Conceito Food Store, one of the best meals we had in Portugal.  It’s a creative, curated tasting menu and experience, based on Portuguese cuisine. You won’t know what they’re serving that night until it’s on your plate in front of you, but each dish was better than the one before.  Advanced reservations are a must.
If you have friends who have visited Portugal, chances are you’ve seen photos of Sintra.  Known for its Romantic architecture, photos of places like the multi-colored cake-topper known as Pena Palace have been the constant subject of Instagram photos.  Located in the Sintra Mountains/Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, a winding 20-minute drive from Estoril/Cascais (car sickness is essentially guaranteed), it’s worth spending a day in Sintra.  Our tourist highlights included the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace (pro tip: hire a driver for the day, there are so many tourists that it is hard to grab a cab outside the main sites).  We found some of our favorite gifts in town.  And then we walked around and ate all the foods.
Recommendations include Cantinho Gourmet (16 euro for a to-die-for cheese and meat board, see photo!), chocolate shot glasses filled with sour cherry liqueur (found in every chocolate shop in town) and Port tasting in the wine store across from the Nacional Palace.

Could not have dreamt up a better first international trip w the boyfriend…which has only served to create a major case of double wanderlust.  More trips to follow!

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1 Week in Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tamarindo Beach

There are few things I like more than a warm escape from the NYC winter.   The usual fix is a weekend in Miami, but this past December, a few of us traveled down to Costa Rica for a real getaway from Christmas to New Year’s.
Not only was it one of the easiest places to travel that I’ve been, but the range and diversity of places to go and things to do — even in such a small country — meant that we were never bored!
We planned our trip with an adventurous start – beginning at the Arenal Volcano and then off to the Monteverde Cloud forest – and a relaxing finish – ending at a surf camp in Tamarindo for a few days at the beach.
Here are my recommendations
 
Arenal/La Fortuna
We flew into the Liberia airport — and boy are we glad that we hired private transport for the 2.5-3 hour drive to La Fortuna, the town outside the Arenal Volcano.  The roads were horrendous and poorly marked.  Thank you, blogs and friends, for that good advice. We spent 2.5 days in Arenal, which was great – there certainly was more to do – particularly with outdoor activities, but we felt like we got a great overview.
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IMG_7280 Top photo: In front of the volcano…before we began the hike…  Bottom photo: after climbing Cerro Chato!

What to do
  • Hike the Arenal Volcano National Park and go to the Arenal observatory.  Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanos in the world.  Note to the non-athletic (like me): the Cerro Chato hike is the devil.  Awesome, but the devil.  Caveat hiker.  You only have to pay an entrance fee to the park, there are free tours at 8:30am.IMG_7390
  • Go to the Tabacon Resort geothermal springs – total luxury.  Spend the whole day and get lunch.  If you want to book a massage, do it ahead of time.  Also, get on line EARLY – check in is very slow.
  • Other things we didn’t do but heard were awesome: La Fortuna waterfall hike, ATVing, hiking around the lake, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and more hiking (sensing a theme here).
Where to eat
While we didn’t have any particularly notable meals:
  • Mediteranneo had very good Italian food (I know!) in La Fortuna, though terribly slow service
  • “Sodas” are small, family run restaurants that are a great place to eat local cuisine and offer amazing value – pricing is usually half of that at other destinations.  Meals ran at $2-5  each!
  • Local food: Casados: you pick a protein (or vegetarian) and get a plate with rice, beans, salads, and plantains.
Where to Stay
  • Luxe: We wanted to stay at Tabacon, but alas, we booked too late during peak season
  • Budget: We stayed at Selvita Lodge, a Costa Rican B&B run by an adorable family. Located in La Fortuna

 

 
Monteverde
From Arenal, we took a van to the MonteVerde Cloud Forest (we used Anywhere Costa Rica for transportation – far and away the safest drivers we found and nicest vans).  Note: bring layers for Monteverde, it was much cooler (much!) and windier than anywhere else we were in Costa Rica
What to do
Everything to do in Monteverde centers around nature.  Our top highlights
  • Incredible guided tour of the cloud fIMG_7391orest.  Well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different animals hiding and the flora, as well as explain what, exactly, a cloud forest is (I still don’t know).  There’s also an adorable humming bird sanctuary on the premises and a great coffee shop.
  • Ziplining.  Errrrmagad.  The scariest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve zip lined elsewhere).  We used Sky Trek for walks along the hanging bridges (can skip, particularly if you do the cloud forest walk).  And then we went zip lining.  High Winds. Insane Heights. Not for the faint of heart.
Tamarindo
Tamarindo was quite the experience.  Because we went over Xmas week…and booked late…all of thIMG_7549e hotels were booked.  So we ended up “Glamping” at the Dreamsea Surf Camp, which was a hilarious (and awesome) adventure.  While next time I’ll plan to stay at a hotel on the beach, we definitely had the besIMG_7486t food of our trip at the Surf Camp (the chef there is amazing) and had built in surf lessons every day (well, some of us) – and even some yoga.  Pack DEET.
The Tamarindo beaches get very crowded – and it’s a young crowd.  It’s a bit of a party town with a strong bohemian, surf vibe.  During the day, the one street that runs along the beach is wall-to-wall with cars.  Despite all this, we were able to post up for free on beach chairs outside La Palapa restaurant every day.
What to do:
  • IMG_7440Take a surf lesson
  • Those sunsets though
Where to eat: 
  • Tamarindo Diria for dinner. Al fresco on water with hanging lamps under tree. Great fish dishes.
  • Noguis for pie.  All of the pies.  Seriously though.  Fish tacos are also great.
  • Mandarina for make your own smoothies
  • La bodega for fresh, healthy lunches and breakfasts

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August 19, 2015 · 11:46 pm

Isla de Baru, Colombia

Crystal blue water, white sand, and Caribbean sun – ours were 2 days of pure vacation on Isla de Baru, off the coast of Cartagena 

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Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

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I thought that the end of the Pre-MBA traveling would be the end of posting on the blog, but with so many upcoming trips, I realized I wanted to share the photographs and experiences.  So, voila!  I’m back on the blog.

This past week I went on a yoga/surfing retreat in Nicaragua organized by Columbia Business School’s Healthy Living Club.  After the weeks upon weeks of recruiting for summer internships, the grey NYC winter skies, and the anticipation of upcoming exams — it was the perfect R&R.

I had expected a sophisticated, highly commercialized tourist industry.   What I found was  private guest houses tucked away amongst the vegetation and along unadulterated beaches.  The people, the food, and the weather were the stuff to write home about — the roads and the transportation, not so much, but it was all part of the adventure.

 

Where to Stay:  Maderas Village, steps from the beach, the experience at Maderas Village will want to cancel your ticket home.  Gorgeous eco-friendly bunglows, family-style dinners with excellent local cuisine, and surfing & yoga all on premise.  It’s reason enough to go to Nicaragua

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