Lagos
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Exploring Lagos

Lagos is unique in that it’s a place, fairly popular with tourists, that knows its own.

It hasn’t been rebranded into a typical package holiday destination like some spots on the Algarve.

Yes, there are plenty of amenities available for tourists and locals alike, but you certainly won’t see past its stunning architecture, fascinating history and breathtaking natural beauty.

It retains all of its unique charm and character, and it’s a wonderful way to explore the best of the Algarve.

Our home from home is in Salema, a small fishing village 20 minutes up the road, but a trip to Lagos is always on the cards – be it for shopping, eating, boat trips, or, more recently, taking in the town from above with a number of new rooftop bars to explore.

You might recognise popular photographed landmarks like the Marina, the Mercado Municipal fish market, the carousel, the caves or the traditional green tiled house standing proudly in a cobbled square in the centre of town.

All of these are reasons to adore Lagos, but there’s so much more than what meets the eye when it comes to getting to know this seafaring city lapped up by ancient brick walls with historic buildings and buzzy new businesses gently threading through.

 

Lagos

 

As I walk along the waterfront promenade made up of cobbled mosaic pavement (also known as calçcada portguesa) and lined with palm trees that sway in the breeze, I take in my surroundings and wonder where to begin when it comes to sharing the reasons why I love this place so much.

The Marina and promenade seems a good place to start.

It’s a known fact that being in or around water is good for your general health and wellbeing. You know the feeling; the fresh sea air, the tranquility of being by a lake, the invigorating feeling of diving into a crashing wave.

Not all of those will do it for you, but I can guarantee one of them will.

Yes, Lagos is loved for its cobbled streets and white-washed buildings with terracotta tops, but the water lays at the very heart of the town, and it’s where you’ll see it basking in all its bustling beauty.

The promenade is home to weekly markets and views of the port, Atlantic Ocean and beyond. Marina de Lagos is a place where you can pick up a drink, a bite to eat and watch the world go by as boats come and go.

While the waterfront areas have been lovingly updated to offer high-end restaurants and hotels with rooftop pools, The Old Town is a destination all of its own.

Head a little further into town and you’ll get lost in quaint cobbled streets lined with cute townhouses with tiny doorways.

 

Lagos

 

It’s quirky, curious and really quite whimsical.

You’ll go from a buzzy square to a quiet residential street, then back to stumbling upon funky businesses like blues bars and artsy boutiques.

Amongst all of that, you’ll find churches, museums and cultural spots perfect for those looking to learn a little about Lagos.

Lagos had an important role to play in the 15th century Portuguese age of discovery, and it still has the historical landmarks and culture to back that title.

History buffs might like to explore the bleak history of slavery in the region. The Antigo Mercado de Escravos is set in the building believed to have been Europe’s first slave market. Today, exhibition spaces detail the lives of those involved.

The Castle of Lagos is another landmark worth visiting. With walls and ruins still surrounding the city, the medieval castle was once the town’s main source of defence and is classified as a ‘national monument’.

If you’re not exploring castles and ruins, or cooling off in a museum, you’ll find heaps of history and heritage in the very buildings that surround you. For example, wander the side streets and you might stumble upon Santo António, a small baroque church filled with sculpted stone and hand-painted tiles.

 

Lagos

 

If you like to take a little piece of a place away with you, you’re sure to find something special in the stores that make up the Lagos shopping scene.

Mar d’Estórias is a favourite of mine, and a must-visit if you’re looking for traditional Portuguese goods or innovative gifts. Complete with a shop, gallery, restaurant and rooftop terrace bar with sea views, it’s a place where you can absorb culture and traditions, with a touch of luxury.

Other shopping highlights include the famous Mercado Municipal de Lagos – a vibrant marketplace on the waterfront, featuring an assortment of freshly-caught seafood, fruit, veg and other local goods.

The building dates back to 1924 and is an authentic way to experience Portuguese produce at its finest.

Another way to shop local is by visiting the Lagos Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning. If you’re not visiting for the food, it’s worth it to experience the charming simplicity of local buyers and sellers – old Portuguese men in flat caps and vests and women in aprons – taking you back to a time when life was less complicated.

All of that, plus plenty of fashion stores, pottery shops like A Toca, boutique jewellers and, of course, traditional cork shops, great for souvenirs and keepsakes.

For many of us, food comes up trumps when it comes to exploring a new place and getting the chance to ‘live like a local’. There are many ways to do this in Lagos.

 

Lagos

 

A fairly new and refined dining spot – and one of my favourite places for something extra special – is Avenida Restaurante within the Avenida Hotel, a boutique hotel just a stone’s throw from the Marina and Meia Praia beach.

The man at the helm is Roeland Klein. He found his passion for food working at a one Michelin star restaurant in the Netherlands; but while holidaying in the Algarve, he fell in love with Lagos and decided to make it his home – and his place of work. And boy, are we glad of it.

Complete with a glass wine cellar for all to see, a classy, contemporary style with open kitchen, and a menu boasting the finest local produce with a modern twist, it’s a dining destination you must experience when in Lagos.

Other favourites include Don Sebastião – as exquisitely traditional as it gets – go here for the dreamiest Portuguese steak, washed down with a bottle of local red.

Adega da Marina is a seafood restaurant set in a large, canteen-style hall. It’s very stripped back and basic inside, but the fish is to-die-for!

 

Lagos

 

 

Bahia Beach Bar is the place to be for great food and good times overlooking the sand dunes at Meia Praia. Once an unassuming beach shack, it has been transformed into a relaxed beachy haven, with live music setting the soundtrack every Sunday.

Lucas Restaurant is another rooftop gem, as is Mare, sitting atop the fish market, with far-reaching views across the Marina, the beaches and beyond.

Go to The Green Room for tacos and cocktails on the cobbles, Stevie Ray’s for live jazz into the early hours, and Black and White for cool coffee in a bright and buzzy environment.

The list is endless. It’s safe to say the food and drinks scene is flourishing.

 

Lagos

 

No Lagos guide would be complete without a mention of the number of golden sandy beaches that compete with those of tropical isles – Meia Praia being the most popular, as well as Praia do Camilo, a beautiful sandy cove.

I’m very much a novice when it comes to riding waves, but I’m told the local beaches are a surfer’s paradise – enough to encourage Austrailians to get in on the action.

There are also plenty of opportunities for kayaking and paddle boarding, as well as a number of boat tours to the iconic Benagil Caves.

Those looking for a ‘zen’ approach to activities, should check out all that Chloe Ward at Body Soul Balance has to offer. Chloe held a bespoke yoga and meditation class at my hen do at Quinta Bonita (more on that in a minute) in 2019, and she is one of the most amazing yoga instructors I’ve ever worked with.

 

Lagos

 

She offers everything from vinyasa workshops and yoga retreats, to SUP yoga in the swimming pool and reiki.

If, after all of that, you feel you might need to rest those legs and lay your head, my top picks for staying in lovely Lagos are: Casa Mãe – a white-washed, terracotta-tiled boho retreat in the centre of town; Soul & Surf – a spectacular space offering unique retreats for surfers; and Quinta Bonita – a beautiful villa perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.

This family-run boutique hotel brimming with Portuguese charm in every nook and cranny, is perfect for couples and small groups, or can be hired completely for larger parties and weddings.

Those looking for something a little less ‘low-key’ might want to check out the gorgeous Cascade Wellness Resort, just a stone’s throw from Lagos centre.

The perfect setting for an active wellness holiday with ‘luxe living’ at the very heart of it.

I could talk about my ‘happy place’ all day long, but let’s get to the logistics. It’s easily accessible with plenty of buses, taxis and a train station taking travellers to nearby towns and cities including Lisbon.

 

Lagos

 

The nearest airport is Faro, which is a straight-forward one hour drive on the highway.

This little pocket of paradise on the southern tip of Portugal is a box-ticker in so many ways. The ultimate break for history buffs, a surfer’s paradise, a hipster hangout and a foodie haven.

It’s effortlessly romantic and I can honestly say I fall a little bit more in love with the place every time I turn a corner.

All I can say is go and experience it. You won’t be disappointed.

 


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