On the second day of our stay in Albufeira, we decided to go a cruise. We booked a tour from our hotel as the rates were pretty good. As per the brochure, it was supposedly a half day tour of the caves and coastline of Albufeira including pick up & drop off from the hotel. I am unsure of the name of the tour company but I'm sure all the hotels have these kind of tours - except that some of them may organize full day tours with lunch and the rest half day.
On the day of our tour, a mini-bus picked us up early from our hotel and dropped us off at the marina in Villamoura. It took us about 30 minutes to reach Villamoura. This place also also happened to be the starting point of our cruise. I suffer from motion sickness so I had mixed feelings about doing this trip. But I took all the necessary precautions.
When we reached the marina, we had a little speedboat waiting for us. We boarded it along with 16 other passengers and set sail on the calm turquoise waters of the Algarve.
It was just a lovely ride along the coastline of Albufeira. The weather was beautiful. Probably the warmest that we'd felt in this entire Portugal trip. When it got a bit chilly, we moved inside the boat and came out whenever we felt like. Our guides were two young men from Russia and our captain was Portuguese. They were such a friendly bunch. There was never a dull moment when these guys were around.
After passing through kilometers of coastline, we finally reached the caves. We were then divided into 2 groups and put into a raft for the cave ride. During this ride, we went into some of the most stunning formations, caves, cliffs and tunnels. Some of them were so low, that we literally lowered our heads to pass through. Our cave ride took about 20 minutes after which we returned to our speedboat while the second group left for theirs.
After we were done exploring the caves, it was a 45 minute ride back to the marina, during which we enjoyed some foot-thumping music and danced under the sun. No trip to Albufeira is complete without visiting these caves. We were there in winter so we had our jackets on, but I bet that its so much better in summer. Nevertheless, we had a great trip!
The hotel also had its own tour desk. While shuffling through some leaflets, we decided to do something that I'd never done in my life - HORSEBACK RIDING ! And it would be at the Centro Hipico Quinta da Saudade.
After a week of visiting historical monuments and sipping on unlimited port wines, we headed down south. "Algarve", as southern Portugal is popularly called is famous for its golden beach, sandbank islands, nightlife and plenty of sunshine. We stayed in central Algarve in an area called Albufeira. The hotel we stayed in was Aqua Pedra dos Bicos, an "adult-only" hotel. I personally loved our hotel because we had a lovely view of the forest as well as the sea.
We took a cab and reached the equestrian club in less than 30 minutes. Albufeira does not have a tram /subway network so we had no choice other than a cab.
The Quinta da Saudade stables had a bunch of well groomed horses. We opted for a 2-hour horse riding session which included land as well as the beach. I was so damn excited, yet nervous too. We were given horses according to our weight and after a little tutorial from our tour guide we were on our way.
Initially, I felt a little uneasy but gradually I got used to it. We rode through rivers, sand, bushes, sea.... It was AMAZING! Our guide was fantastic and even though some of the riders (including me) were first timers, we felt comfortable. (P.S. The videos below were shot by my husband while he was on a horse. Its wasn't easy, so the videos are not the best... please excuse his sounds effects & selfies)
After horse-riding, we hitched a ride with two of our fellow riders who dropped us to the "Old Town" in Albufeira.
Old Town was beautiful. It kinda reminded me of the Greek islands - white washed buildings, cobbled streets, beaches, cliffs, little restaurants ... picture perfect! We walked along Fisherman's Beach (Praia dos Pescadores) and lost ourselves to the natural beauty around us. At the beach, we came across some intriguing rock formations.
After a while, we headed to a restaurant at the nearby Hotel Sol e Mar and ordered the most delicious berry cheesecake ever and coffee! It wasn't only about the cheesecake here. We were enjoying cheesecake with a view!
We strolled through the cobbled streets of Old Town, stopping by at numerous shops on our way. We even tried out the famous "Piri Piri chicken", and let me tell you its nothing like Nando's! Sadly, many of the restaurants were closed for winter. I'm sure this place is bustling with life during the summer season.
By the way, Albufeira has the most amazing sunset.
Here's a round up of the places we visited on Day 2. Today, it was all about Porto city ... which is very different when you compare it with Vila Nova de Gaia. With its diverse architecture, rundown buildings and narrow alleys it had a charm of its own. All the places that I've mentioned below can be accessed by tram with a little bit of walking.
1) Livraria Lello - This bookstore is considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. The moment I stepped in, I understood why. I may not a book person but I could spend hours here just clicking pictures. Its so unbelievably beautiful! Make sure you visit the first floor and enjoy a coffee with a view! The store opens around 10 a.m. and you are allowed to take pictures only for a short time. Its better to arrive early!
2) Clerigos Church - A Baroque church built in the 17th century with an adjoining bell tower. The entry to the church is free, however, you have to pay a small fee to visit the tower. There are 250 steps and they get pretty steep and narrow. However, the long climb is well worth it with a 360 degree view from the top. Make sure you stop by each window on your way up!
3) Linha 22 - We accidentally came across this little family owned restaurant just across the road from Clerigos Church. The owner Carlos, a retired engineer called us in to try some wines. And what followed was a delicious bowl of Portuguese soup, grilled baby octopus and ham! Don't be put off by the size of the restaurant. The food and service is amazing!
4) Cafe Bar O Cais - Out of the many restaurants on the Ribeira, we chose this one for lunch. Nothing like some wine and great seafood by the river. To get down here, we used a funicular. The Funicular dos Guindais which is an attraction by itself shuttles up and down a steep incline.
5) Igreja de Sao Francisco - A Gothic style cathedral built in the 14th century. For a fee, you can visit the church, museum and catacombs. A visit to this lavishly decorated church is a must. It is adorned with gold carvings and the details are intricate. To me, the catacombs were just okay however my husband liked it!
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