A Month In Portugal On A Longstays Vacation
A Month in Portugal’s Algarve region at the Monte Santo Resort in Carvoeiro
Musings from the Algarve, by Ron Jeffery
Escaping Canada’s Winter with a Longstays vacation to Portugal
On March 1, 2018 twelve hardy souls from Alberta made a getaway from our endless winter to join up with another twelve passengers from Ontario/BC to fly to Lisbon, Portugal and on to our home for the next 28 nights in the village of Caroveiro, Algarve at the Monte Santo Resort for a Merit Travel Longstay. The majority of the group were retired teachers from ARTA and RTO and Portugal was a “bucket list” destination for many.
Monte Santo Resort, Carvoeiro, Portugal
To sum up our home for a month at the Monte Santo – gorgeous! It was a five star prop-erty through and through with condo units that featured two bathrooms in the one and two bedroom units as well as a washer and dryer in the fully equipped kitchen. The Monte Santo is featured as a golf resort as it is in proximity to three golf courses though none of our group picked up the clubs. It is not on the ocean, however was about a 20 minute walk to the beach through the town of Caroveiro and there was a free shuttle that could be booked both ways for inclement days or for those that didn’t want to walk the distance. Three couples, including Linda and I, rented cars so we were able to do “grocery runs” to the three large grocery stores in the nearby town of Lagoa.
Weather in The Algarve
While it snowed in Alberta and Ontario…..it RAINED in the Algarve. Portugal had gone through a horrendous drought this past year and you may recall the deadly forest fires in south/central Portugal last fall. Suffice it to say, the drought is over. For much of the month, while the rain was not constant nor kept all of us from enjoying the region or tours – it did along with high winds, keep the boats off the ocean and thus fresh fish was scarce in many of the restaurants that are normally teaming with fresh fish cuisine.
What the group didn’t lack, was a sense of community. Everyone looked out for each other and ensured all were looked after and getting the most from our experience. Happy Hour each day at 5 PM was attended by most of the group from beginning to end. Considering we had SIX birthdays to celebrate meant that there were the wonderful Portuguese pastries and cakes on a regular basis not to mention Portuguese Port, wine and spirits.
Breakfast was included each day so we generally saw each other in the morning and dai-ly plans were made. The Monte Santo featured a large and fully equipped wellness cen-tre complete with indoor heated pool, sauna, Turkish bath and a gym. It was used exten-sively, particularly after a day of touring or on rainy days.
Resort Service and Care
The staff at the resort were exceptional. They would accommodate virtually any request (including the staff getting up before the restaurant would open to serve an incredible buffet breakfast to those leaving early for a tour or providing a box breakfast on request). In one instance, they replaced bedding in one unit, where the feathers in the comforter and pillows seemed to cause an allergic reaction, with completely new bedding and cleaned the unit throughout.
Loule Market Excursion
Our Longstay included a half day tour to the Loule Market – in a beautiful inland town with time to visit the Moorish castle, browse the quaint narrow shopping streets (limited a bit by a rainy day) and of course buy some of the enticing market foods such as virgin olive oil, peppers, almonds, figs etc.
Exploring the Algarve by Jeep!
Several of our group booked a full day jeep tour (and spent a few hours in the hot tub and sauna following…) that ventured through off-road tracks, refreshing streams and old villages where time seemed to stop. The “musts” of the tour included gastronomical tasting of Algarve honey or jam. It also included a visit to an old firewater distillery and tasting of the famous Medronho drink (necessary I suspect, to lessen the rigors of jeep travel!).
Flavours of the Algarve Excursion
Most of the group signed up for a full day tour “the Flavours and Traditions of the Algarve” including an in depth visit to a cork factory that was a highlight for most (60% of the world’s cork – yes including your wine and champagne bottle corks – come from Portugal and the Algarve) Gastronomical delights of this tour included carob bread, almond cakes and honey cakes as well as a taste of carob liquor! One member of our group made the long trek to Fatima where he attended mass at the Basili-ca in the Sanctuary of Fatima. Fatima is located north of Lisbon several hours north of our location. All he could say on his return was “incredible and life changing”.
Three-day Seville, Tangier, Gibraltar Excursion
Eight of the group signed up for a three day tour to Seville Spain, Tangier Morocco and Gibraltar. After a day in Seville sightseeing – including a walk through the old streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz – originally the Jewish quarter they departed for Algeciras and overnight for two nights. Day two everyone departed to Tarifa, crossing to Africa by ferry through the Straight of Gibraltar. There was a guided walking tour to the medina, Kasbah and Souq. The final day was highlighted by a visit to Gibraltar – a territory of the United Kingdom. A gastronomical hightlight of this day was “authentic” British fish and chips (and beer of course) and a visit to St. Michael’s cave and some incredible views.
West Algarve Excursion
Almost the entire group travelled together on optional tours to both the West and East Algarve. The West Algarve tour included visits to the old Moorish Capital, Silves (pronounced Silvish) with a fascinating castle and cathedral. After some small historical town visits we continued on to Cape St. Vincent – the most southwesterly point of Eu-rope, known as the “end of the world”! Considering the 80km winds and drizzle at the point over the cliffs to the ocean….it seemed like the “end of the world”!
East Algarve Excursion
The tour to the East Algarve, in contrast a couple of weeks later, was a beautiful day. We visited Faro, the capital of the Algarve with its 13th Century centre. After lunch, we trav-elled to the Moorish town of Olhao, a key town for fishing and its important fish market (along with stunning photo ops), the old town of Tavira with a 4th Century Roman Bridge and churches – then on to Gilao, Cacela Velha and Vila Real de Santo Antonio – the border town with Spain separated by the mouth of the River Guadiana. At the end of the long day, we all felt almost overwhelmed by the history, incredible sites, scenery and the hospitality of the people. As for all of our tours, our guide was helpful, informative and a “character”. The Portuguese are passionate about their history and country and point out frequently – they are very different from Spain!
After an incredible month of “living locally”, we said farewell to the Algarve and travelled to Lisbon where we had a city walking tour that was in effect – a “food tasting” tour with tapas stops at five different iconic and historical venues. It was a highlight for sure! That was followed up on our last full day with a fascinating tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Sintra.
Highlights of Portugal Longstays Experience
Some other highlights during our stay in the Algarve included a St. Paddy Day dinner and singing session at our resort and a “Canada Day” event at a Caroveiro pub complete with Canada Flag and Oh-Canada singalong! Of course the wonderful people of Portugal left a very positive impression among our group of their wonderful country.
This Longstays vacation was a great experience and the friendships made over the month will, in many cases, last a lifetime. There was great compatibility and our happy hours brought out some great humour and life stories that many shared with their new “friends”.
June 12, 2018