Subject: The Algarve, Portugal
Dear Travelziners,

Re: Algarve, Portugal, May 2004

Just came back from a short trip to the Algarve along the south-west coast of Portugal.

The trip started with landing in Faro international airport, after a gruelling 7 hour connection in Frankfurt. Rented a cosy villa (with pool) in the small village of Santa Barbara De Nexe, (15 mins drive from Faro airport), near the greater area of Bordeira. The tourist season was building up significantly, and the UK tourists seeking sunshine and golf, were evident. There is also a sizeable 'local' British and European expat population of several hundred, and judging from the number of English pubs, cafes, and international restaurants, finding directions, accomodations, great food, and amenities is no problem, as English is widely spoken. I was actually wondering why there were no Americans there? Maybe because they simply haven't discovered this place yet. The whole atmosphere is laid back, friendly and charming. Regular patrons, visitors and tourists create a quaint and relaxed village atmosphere.

We toured (by car) the nearby towns of Loule (closest town), Tavira (old fort, river, colorful fishing boats), Silves (medieval walled town) and Olhao (a coastal village; go on a Saturday) where there is lively fish market with at least 50 varieties of fresh fish, and a fresh produce market. Villamoura has a beautiful marina, but tends to be rather touristy and crowded. A small sandy beach sheltered by steep cliffs on each side can be found at Olhas das Aquos. Temperatures ranged from 12-25 degrees celcius, with loads of sunshine, cools breezes. Resort wear with a light sweater, & sunscreen is the norm.

Most villas are self-catering, but who needs to cook when there is loads of small, friendly, family-run pubs and restaurants? Just 2-3 mins drive from our villa was the very English Gordan's Pub, & Sandra's Cafe, each serving generous pub meals and (cheap; 5 euros per bottle) local 'green' wines (also on tap), and 2 domestic bottled beers, Crystal and Savres (but beware, because they taste light but carry 5.5% alcohol). For lunch, there are also various Portugese restaurants serving local grilled seafood (corvina, clams, shrimp), with loads of garlic and rock salt and a perennial favorite, baked pork and clams, and chicken peri-peri.

But one particular restaurant I tried which was worthy of mention, and warrants a special trip for a nice family dinner, would be Restaurante TerraNova, run by the well-liked expat Karen Morgan, situated between Santa Barbara de Nexe and Quinta Das Raposeiras. The locals can give you directions or simply follow the signposts (there's only one road anyway). Classified as an International restaurant, it offered an "all-you-can-eat" buffet for only 17.50 euros. The spread included various starters, mains and desserts in a well-appointed, cosy, casual dining atmosphere with patio seating. Notwithstanding, the food was delicious and seemed to have a good clientele of Dutch visitors, who were probably homesick for their Rustjaffels speads back home. I guess like me, if you are getting tired of steak & chips or hamburgers down at the coastal areas, you would find familiar 'comfort food' here, in the lovely rolling hills of the Algarve countryside.

We wanted to eat there (TerraNova) a second time but they close on Sundays, but a friendly bunch of 18-20 expats there spotted us in the early evening, and we were cordially invited to join them in their regular weekly mid-afternoon drinks session, locally known as the "Sunday Club" (oh, they also have a great selection of single malt Irish whiskeys available - simply smooth!). We found out from them that there is also a daily (weekday) drinks session in a Portugese bar in Santa Barbara town (Cafe Central), but locally known by the expats as the "5 O'clock Club". So you see, the "pub culture" here is deeply entrenched, and it goes on all day.

One piece of advice, try to avoid Faro, Loule and Lisbon in the month of June 2004 due to the Euro2004 soccer competition held in Portugal that month. But the good weather and tourist season lasts for up to Sept-Oct, so it will still be a good time to go when the crowds taper off.

Well, fighting jet lag as I write this, so cheers to everyone! Irene Wong