After leaving Evora, we took the train to the Algarve for a 5 day rest. We booked a vacation apartment in Praia da Luz, close to the larger resort town of Lagos. My husband and I have a hard time taking vacations that are meant solely for the purpose of relaxing, but we managed to budget in a few days during our three weeks in Portugal to do little besides spend time at the pool and the beach with the kids.
The trains south
When researching transportation in Portugal, most of the info I came across on train travel mentioned it being reliable, but really slow. When travelling between Porto and Evora, the trains were really quite comfortable and travelled at a pretty good pace. The trains from Evora down to Tunes in the Algarve were similarly fast and comfortable.
Unfortunately, the train from Tunes to Lagos was the most uncomfortable train ride we experienced in Portugal. The train originates in Faro, so by the time it hits Tunes it is already almost packed. Unlike the other trains we took, there are no assigned seats, so people just cram onto the train in crazy numbers. Add everyone's luggage to the mix, as well as the heat, and it was really, really, uncomfortable. The train was incredibly slow, and it took forever at every stop to get all the people and their luggage off and on.
Still, about an hour later we made it to Lagos with only one semi-meltdown from the two year old. After 5 and a half hours and three train rides in the heat, I think he did very well. The surly teenager he was sitting beside on the last train probably doesn't agree, but that's life!
Relaxing on the beach!
We took a taxi to our apart-hotel, Oasis Beach Resort. It is a compound of several rental apartments set in 2 story apartment blocks. The apartments are self-catering, and all have large balconies. There is a common area as well with two pools, a deep one and a wading pool for kids.
We booked this part of our trip fairly late, so we had limited choices of places to stay. We had originally wanted something as close to beach front as possible, but after spending some time at the beach we realized that with two small kids, the noise from the bars and restaurants would probably have made it difficult for them to sleep.
The apartments we stayed in were located about a 5 minute walk from the beach, and my two year old made the walk each day without any problems. The apartment we stayed in was only one bedroom, but there was a trundle bed under the couch and an extra cot in the living room, so it worked out perfectly. The kitchen was well equipped, and despite being furnished in a typical 80s style hotel room fashion (down to the tiny tv), it was perfect for our needs.
We spent the first afternoon getting settled. We stopped at the tiny grocer near the apartment for some basics, and then took the kids down for a sunset walk on the beach. The tide was low so there weren't any waves, and the kids got their feet wet before we walked back up to the area where the shops and restaurants are located.
We stumbled across some Roman ruins set in to the wall along the boardwalk before admiring the view from the lookout. We decided to have dinner at one of the restaurants along the beach, and picked the one located directly on the sand, Paraiso. The kids were excited to eat overlooking the water, and my husband and I were excited to not have to cook after a long day of travel!
Paraiso offers a pretty large menu, and the prices are quite reasonable, especially since the portions are huge! My son was able to choose from many naturally gluten free dishes, and there were even vegetarian options available. I chose the grilled sardines, since they're a Portuguese specialty, and my husband had the tuna steak. The food was fresh and really tasty. This is also where I discovered Vinho Verde. Consider me a convert.
The next day we spent lounging at the beach, before heading back for a relaxing afternoon at the pool and just lounging around the apartment. It was great to spend quality family time with the kids, just playing cards and splashing around the pool.
In fact, the rest of our time in Praia da Luz was spent much the same way. We wandered around town a little bit, but we didn't venture very far. The kids needed the break and so did we!
Gluten Free Praia da Luz
I was happy to find several gluten free options in town for my son. The main supermarket, Baptista, has a nice selection of gluten free products in a display case directly behind the cash registers at the front of the store. There are breads, cereals, cookies, flours, etc. available. At the back of the store in the bakery section are a few options of store-brand gluten free baked goods. The supermarket is fairly large and well stocked, so it's a good option for fruits and vegetables, dairy, wine, canned goods, and more.
Right across the parking lot is a small strip mall that has a health food store called Harmony Earth, and they too carry a range of specialty gluten free products. Most are organic, but there is a good selection and there are some items that aren't found at Baptista.
Finally, there is a small restaurant called Chicca's that is highly recommended on most travel sites, that has a good selection of gluten free dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan ones as well. The board outside also instructs customers in English to mention if they are Celiac when ordering, which is always a positive sign. We didn't eat there because we stumbled upon it when it was closed, but I have seen nothing but positive feedback online.
Saying Goodbye to Praia da Luz
The beach at Praia da Luz is gorgeous, with soft sand and enough space to have enough room to spread out with the kids. At high tide the waves are too strong for the young kids to go in alone, but at low tide the water is calm and more fun for young ones.
The large rock that separates this beach from the one closer to Lagos is pretty spectacular itself, and we took a walk along the beach at low tide to get a closer look. We saw people climbing it to a lookout point at the top, but we contented ourselves with the view from the beach.
After taking our last sunset walk on the beach, we packed up our stuff and the next morning caught a cab back to Lagos to begin the journey to Lisbon.