When my girlfriend suggested going to the Algarve for our anniversary, I was like, ”Ugh Portugal? Don’t you wanna go to Bali or something?” And I am so fucking stupid for thinking that. Because the Algarve is the most beautiful place I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it’s been perhaps the best vacation I’ve ever taken. Lagos is perfectly romantic in every way.
A gorgeous beachy escape
I’ve always felt that there’s an inversely proportional relationship between how beautiful a beach is and how comfortable it is. Rocky mountainous beaches tend to have very little sand or they have uncomfortable pebbly sand. Some of the “nicest” places in Europe are gorgeous but they’re parking lots and they’re crowded as hell. In the Caribbean, the beaches are sandy and warm but they can be dirty or full of people trying to sell you beads or something. The beaches in Asia are similar or worse. Like honestly, who needs a henna tattoo when they’re trying to enjoy the ocean. Get the fuck away from me.
But the beaches in Lagos were perfect in every sense. The cliffs of the Algarve that give the area its iconic look jut out everywhere along the shore. They create labyrinths of rock, some of which lead to nowhere and some of which lead to other beautiful areas. And between the rocks as far as you can see, there is soft yellow sand beckoning you to lay there for hours enjoying the sun and the view.
Definitely a byproduct of the fact that we came at the beginning of spring, many of them were nearly empty. And even the larger beaches of Lagos like Batata Beach or Dona Ana Beach, have alcoves among the rocks where you can lay out almost entirely alone, since most people opt to plop down in the first stretch of sand they see. You can enjoy shade without an umbrella because you can lay under the shadow of the cliffs.
And if your private beach gets too crowded, you can explore the openings in the rocks that lead to other beaches that can only be accessed when the tide is low. And then you can colonize another beach for yourselves again. With a big blanket and a bottle of wine, you can spend all day discovering sandy alcoves among the giant cliffs.
You can also take a private boat through the grottos of the Lagos cliffs and get dropped off at any beach of your choosing. And at the end of the day, you can watch the sun bathe your private paradise in light.
Was the water warm enough to swim in? Absolutely fucking not. It felt like a million ice daggers against your legs, and it’s only tolerable in the rush of frolicking to another secluded area through tiny caves, trying to beat the tide coming ashore.
But the total privacy of a place so beautiful is completely worth not coming in July. You want to swim? Get a hotel with a hot tub. Have a little imagination.
The quaint and lively city of Lagos
I have a tendency to hate beach towns. Something about a place that basically lays dormant for months is kind of depressing to me. But despite having the best beaches I’ve ever seen, Lagos is anything but a beach town. The busy center is home to hundreds of restaurants and bars. There are long intersecting thoroughfares where you can get a quick bite and a beer or a three course seafood meal with a bottle of wine. There’s great cuisine in every direction. And the beaches are just a short walk away from all the action. So you can wander over to lunch whenever you’re ready and come back to the beach in the afternoon.
Even on weeknights during this almost-busy season, there are exciting nightlife options offering up Happy Hour specials until late at night. And one particularly memorable place to have a drink is MJ’s Bar. Owned by the charming, hilarious Marilyn who has been living in Lagos for almost 30 years, this spot has great music and elaborate cocktails, crafted by Marilyn herself. There’s something about being around happy people like Marilyn and her husband who are doing this thing that they love that just infects you with their enthusiasm.
And the best part? Lagos is totally affordable
Getting to Lagos isn’t necessarily the easiest thing. The Faro airport is the one that serves the Algarve region and that’s about an hour away by car. There are a lot of beaches in the area that are worth seeing, so this might be a good option that would allow you to stop in multiple places. But you can also take a bus for 6 euro each way. It takes a little longer but it will get you to your destination. And if you can get to Lisbon, you can get to Lagos, because buses run constantly from there as well.
Accommodations range in price and style, though the area is dominated by small villas with easy access to the beach (though almost anywhere in Lagos gives you easy access to the beach). And in lieu of getting an expensive suite in a resort to try to get some privacy with a view, the views in Lagos are everywhere and free. Aside from the boat trip, all the hiking around the cliffs and sunning on the beach doesn’t cost a penny. And the boat trip was only 30 euro.
Like all food in Portugal, you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that would be prohibitively expensive, though quality is never sacrificed. Whether you’re in the mood for sushi, a steak sandwich, or my personal Portuguese favorite, tender octopus, you won’t find your bank account crying in the shower when you get home.
I have a very short list of places I would consider good honeymoon spots, and Lagos just topped it. And my girlfriend would love no better anniversary present than for me to admit that she was right to choose it.