Saturday, June 8, 2013

Portugal Travelog: Salema (Day 1)

We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal. Portugal has been on our list for some time - for some reason - and this year the time was right. We went for 12 days and fell in love. The places were beautiful, the people were friendly and the food was something truly special.

We flew in and out of Faro a small (~40,000) city in the south east of Portugal in a region known as the Algarve. Southern Portugal is a resort destination for many Europeans and Faro is the gateway to that area. Faro itself is located right on the coast and as we came in to land after the three hour trip on Transavia airlines, our final approach came in over the water and the Ria Formosa lagoon that lies offshore from Faro.

The Faro airport is small, sunny and spotted with palm trees. We collected our bags, blinked our eyes in the Mediterranean sun and headed off in our rented Renault Clio bound for the small town of Salema a bit over an hour away. We eschewed the A2 (essentially an interstate road with tolls) and took the N125 - which turned out to be a two lane sort of state road - west towards a town called Lagos where we had targeted lunch. From there we would proceed to our guesthouse room in Salema.

The surroundings as we left Faro were a bit run down. Two lane road with businesses on either side. Lots of cars for sale, lots of pottery and garden centers. The further west we went the quieter it got. First we saw more turn offs for snazzy golf resorts and then buildings fell away to countryside. We finally (it was less than an hour but we were of course exhausted) arrived in Lagos, drove towards the water and found the Avenue dos Descobrimentos where we parked and quickly saw our first Portuguese beach - right in downtown Lagos.

We walked around enough to wake up a bit and to realize that Lagos was a cool town with beautiful whitewashed buildings and a beach right in town. After some exercise and muddled deliberation (thinking clearly was becoming increasingly difficult), we decided we would press on for 20 minutes to Salema, get settled if we could and eat lunch there.

We drove on, with the surroundings getting quieter and quieter until we came to a roundabout where the TomTom told us to leave N125 and proceed down a lonely looking road. This is the road to Salema.

We took a left, drove through arid fields and then topped a rise crusted with unfinished condominiums to see view of the downtown. We smiled widely. This was definitely going to work out well. 

As we descended the hill we recognized the guesthouse where we had booked rooms. We parked and dragged our bags up the street to The Maré. It turned out there was no easy way to get there - but lots of schlepping and lifting and tugging and pulling of bags that were suddenly way too heavy, we entered the front door and met our hostess Bettina who got us immediately settled and recommended a nice place for lunch. Incredibly it was just after noon - our bodies were confused.

We packed our belongings away in Room 4 and headed out to see the town. This doesn't take long. Salema is small - especially if you discount the myriad of new structures built on the hill opposite The Maré. Before long we were angling down a road paralleling the beach and shortly after that we found the Mira Mar - and paradise. Cold beer, sangria, a fish stew special and some delicious grilled prawns all steps from the beach on a blindingly beautiful day among whitewashed buildings. We were definitely feeling on vacation now.

After lunch we walked the main old street in town which parallels the water and slowly climbs a hill. It's called Rua dos Pescadores and is purportedly the traditional home of fishermen when Salema's primary vocation was fishing and not tourism. Here we were first exposed to the tiles that are everywhere in Portugal in a seemingly infinite variety of patterns and colors. The buildings were also amazing highlighted by blues and curry colors and always washed in white.

After our walk, we returned to the Maré and succumbed to a short nap before heading back out for an amazing grilled fish dinner. All in all an eventful and amazing first day in Portugual. This was going to be a fine trip.

View from the bench in front of the 
Mira Mar looking east along the coast.

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