Portugal Roadtrip: Algarve
Our Roadtrip Through The Algarve
Stretching from Portugal’s southern coast to the mountainous region of Monchique, The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, with a Mediterranean climate and some of the freshest and most varied seafood options in all of Portugal.
Our road trip through Portugal this past November took us from Faro to Lisbon. We found inspiration in the beautiful fresh ingredients at the markets: In November, olives, almonds and marzipan, along with winter fruits like pomegranates, apples, and persimmons.
And of course: the fish.
In case you ever wondered, smoky fish grilled street side, when mixed with Jasmine, smells like the Algarve.
As you drive inland toward the mountains of Monchique, the offers made by restaurant signs shift in emphasis away from seafood, toward meat–in particular the regional specialty porco preto, or black pork.
One of the most memorable meals of our whole trip was at a roadside spot in Marmelete. The kind of spot populated by local workers and families.
Here are my favorite tips and memories from our trip through the Algarve.
Faro ➪ Alvor
We flew from Edinburgh into Faro the day after our elopement! We arrived late but were staying in Alvor about 40 mins away. At 10PM, we were lucky to find a restaurant still serving dinner—Casa d’Avo Maria in Portimao was filled with locals. We were the only people speaking English!
The family restaurant serves beautifully simple, comforting food with service that feels like family. We ended up going again the following day for lunch, only to discover that the restaurant is entirely surrounded by fruit trees and sheep roam freely around the restaurant.
We had a Portuguese feast: Caldo verde, fresh clams with lemon and cilantro, cod and fresh chickpeas, piri piri chicken, and fries:
Medronho or “fire water,” was served after the meal. It’s a local specialty similar to vodka, made from a fruit harvested in the nearby mountains. Our waiter called the plant “Strawberry Tree.” For dessert, we had a slice of “Bolo Alfarroba” (carob cake). It’s another specialty of the Algarve, similar to chocolate cake, but earthier and more fibrous. I loved it!
The Alvor market was nice. It was November, so we found mostly autumnal fruits like persimmons, and cured and preserved items like almonds and olives.
We picked up some beautiful locally made marzipan.
Our feast at Casa d’Avo Maria:
Alvor ➪ Lagos
Lagos has spectacular sea views, great seafood, and surfing. We stayed in the Old Town. Our host, who spent her whole life in Lagos, shared her favorite restaurants:
Lagos Restaurant Recommendations from our Local Host:
Os Lambertos (Seafood on Sunday, Picanha) *
Casinha do Petisco (Cataplana, Prawns a Casinho)
Pao Doce *
I loved starting the day at Pao Doce with Pastel de Nata and a bico:
Mar d’Estorias has a great cafe/bar on the roof, as well as nice gifts for sale.
We wanted to go to Os Lambertos or Casinha do Petisco, but they were both closed. We ended up going to A Barrigada, and I can’t say I’d recommend it. Even our host said that their quality has decreased over time.
PONTA DA PIEDADE
You can’t go to Lagos without visiting Ponta da Piedade…It’s one of the most gorgeous seascapes I’ve ever seen.
One of my favorite memories was running to Ponta da Piedade in the morning from where we stayed in the Old Town, and watching the sun rise from the side of the cliff. A stray cat joined me and it was perfect.
You can take a boat out to the caves or walk on the rocks on the cliffside.
There’s a restaurant right called O Camilo that I would like to try, with an insane view and beautiful looking seafood. Here’s a picture of me there:
The Lagos Market was amazing.
In addition to the most delicious figs ever and ingredients for dinner, we picked up some food souvenirs: canned cod and sardines, piri piri spices, honey and herbal tea.
I bought some deep brown chestnut honey so rich in flavor it was almost savory. I couldn’t get enough of the woman who sold it to me. She told me never to use a metal spoon in honey because it kills the enzymatic and anti-bacterial qualities of the honey, and to always cover tea while it steeps in order to retain the medicinal oils from the herbs.
She informed me that if you don’t cover your tea, the essential oils will accumulate on your ceiling…that had never occurred to me before!
I also bought some herbal tea from her: a “princess infusion” with the bright fuchsia buds of perpétuas roxas, or amaranth flower. Also known as the flower of longing, perpétuas roxas is apparently used by singers. Beyond just healing a sore throat, the seller alluded to a sort of metaphysical quality of the amaranth flower in helping to “find your voice.” (I was easily sold on that idea—also, herbs are some of my favorite souvenirs.)
Our next stop after Lagos was Évora in the Alentejo region, which meant we were driving inland toward the mountainous Northern region of the Algarve, and through the spa town of Monchique. One of my favorite meals of the trip was just before we hit Monchique, at an unassuming roadside spot in Marmelete called Tasca do Petrol.
Lagos ➪ Monchique / Marmalete
Marmalete is a small spa town in the mountainous Monchique Region of the Algarve. The name means “the land of sea and milk” but it’s the source of all Portugal’s natural sparkling water.
Despite ongoing recovery from devastating wildfires that ravaged the mountains and cork forests in 2018, it’s a gorgeous and striking region, an entire valley rising from the ashes.
Exports from Monchique include eucalyptus, cork, oranges, lemons, honey, olive oil, chestnuts, scissor chairs made from chestnut wood, black pork and black pork ham and sausages.
Tasca do Patrol is an amazing little restaurant on the side of the road in Monchique—it’s kind of a meat-lover’s paradise, filled with locals and some German tourists when we were there. Aside from being pretty meat-heavy, it was about as close to a perfect meal as it gets. Everything was from that region—from the wine, to the olives to the pork. Even the cheap olive oil was delicious and complex—something that George and I really appreciated in Portugal. The service was excellent—the waiter recommended we get the cheapest wine on the menu and it was delicious—and the price was right, with generous portions sizes.
We started with some bread, olives and locally cured black pork, followed by the regional specialty—more porco preto—at Tasca do Patrol. The roasted porco preto was outstanding—it fell off the bone. I wished I could bring some home to everyone I love!
Our next stop after Monchique was the city of Évora, crowning jewel of the Alentejo region. To follow along on our trip through the Alentejo, click here!