This page is a work in progress, its purpose is to help visitors from Canada and the USA to plan their vacations in Portugal and Spain.
We get many visitors to Monchique from Canada and USA and their requirements differ greatly from visitors from Europe. Visitors from Europe typically have a 2-3 hour flight, spend a week or two at the villa and return home. On the other hand our visitors from North America have a much longer and more expensive flight, possibly making a couple of connections, and so the travel time can be anything between 12 and 36 hours and costing 4-6 times as much. It is not surprising then that our North American visitors would extend their vacation to 4, 6 or even 8 weeks to make the whole trip worthwhile.
The Algarve receives many "snowbirders" (Escapees of the cold North American winters to the warmer weather in Algarve) from December to March. We don't see them renting our villa during this time because we are snowbirders too and occupy the villa ourselves. The North American visitors that we see at our villa are looking for availability from March through November.
4 to 8 weeks of vacation takes some planning and much depends on the desires and particular circumstances of the individual. Many break the journey into two or even three parts often stopping off to trace family roots, popular are the the UK and Ireland and then continuing on to discover Portugal and Spain. Our Villa is ideal for a relaxing break from all the traveling, a week or two to chill out relax, take stock, and enjoy the sunshine and climate before embarking on the next stage.
This page is not intended to be an all encompassing travel guide, far from it, it is simply here to inspire ideas and to help make your European vacation a success. Finding accommodation is so simple these days, Trivago, VRBO, Tripadvisor, and the like will not see you sleeping on a bench so I have only suggested accommodation where we have actually stayed and can recommend personally.
If you would like to stay at our villa and need help planning your overall trip then just shoot me an email and I will be glad to help in any way that I can.
Car rental in Portugal is a question that always comes up, I search using Travelsupermarket.com and find great rates and I know the majority of our clients do the same, try a search.
If Ireland is on your agenda then here are some must sees. For more details on places to visit within Ireland go to Ireland.com/
Here are just a few centres and places that we have visited and love. There are regular flights from both Dublin and Cork to Faro our closest airport, about an hours drive from the Villa. If you need accommodation in Ireland then please use our Travel Parner to find a great rental holidayhomesdirect.ie
Cobh Co. Cork
Those tracing family roots will have done their ancestry homework in advance and should be able to map out important locations to visit. Many forefathers would have left the old world via Liverpool and Southampton but the last port of call for most westward bound ships would have been Cobh in Co.Cork in Southern Ireland. It is here that millions of emigrants over hundreds of years waved a final goodbye to Europe and their loved ones. Cobh is also the port where the Titanic, (which was built in Belfast) left on its fateful journey. Cobh is a small port town just south of the city of Cork, and has the excellent Cobh Heritage Centre, where you will learn about the mass emigration from Europe, the Irish potato famine, the Titanic and of course the sinking of the Lusitania cruise ship by a German torpedo. Conveniently right next door to the Cobh Heritage Centre is the Watersedge Hotel, an ideal place to spend a couple of nights. Bev and I have stayed here twice and can recommend both the hotel and the restaurant.
From Cobh it is easy to visit the city of Cork and the village of Kinsale and some of the other coastal villages near by.
Stay in this pretty and quirky little town for a few days (we didn't but stayed in Tralee) and drive some of the Wild Atlantic Way. Two of the best known circular drives are the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula both have spectacular scenery and photo opportunities.
A small compact town. We stayed at the River Court Hotel which was excellent, right on the river and in the centre of town. The castle opposite the hotel is well worth a visit as is Matt the Miller pub opposite the hotel great live music every night and pretty good food.
Galway is a vibrant university town, full of young people frequenting bars and cafes, there is always a buzz here and an ideal base for seeing the sights. The famous Cliffs of Moher, it can be a bit windy here but worth the visit and the Aran Islands
A few nights in Dublin is a must only because you can't say you have been to Ireland without experiencing it's capital. Shopping, lively pubs with live music, Irish food and don't miss the Guiness tour. It's a city and it behaves like one so it caters for the tourist, we enjoyed it but for me I prefer the authenticity of smaller local towns. But that's me and I will say the same about London, Vancouver, Paris and Lisbon.
Interesting places to see in Portugal Outside of the Algarve
Whilst touring Portugal, there are many options for accommodation, one of the best though are the Pousadas, these are all converted, castles, monasteries and palaces. Fascinating places to stay and they have some very good special offers that make them very affordable they may well fit in with your itinerary and are located in areas of tourist interest.
Again, visiting Portugal has to include the capital Lisbon, there are many guides found on the internet, choose any. Just a short drive out of the city are two of my favourite places, Sintra on a small mountain with wonderful palaces to explore and the authentic cobbled town of Obidos, both well worth a visit, with an early start you could do both in a day depending on what you want to see there.
Porto and the Douro Valley
This interesting and historic port at the mouth of the Douro river once boasted over 80 Port Wine Houses, all owned by the English. Many still exist although ownership is shared these days. Many are open to the public for Port Wine tasting and a tour of the manufacturing facilities. There are short boat rides up the Douro river but would recommend a three night cruise, this will be a relaxing break and you will see this mighty river and learn about how the Port grapes are grown, harvested and transported. The History of Port Wine is all here.
Tomar and the Knights Templar
This town has to be my favourite. A delightful and picturesque town teems with history, the most important place to visit is the Knights Templar Castle and Monastery, Conveniently attached to each other. We would recommend staying at Hotel dos Templarios, rates are very reasonable and the hotel, restaurant and location are excellent, we have stayed here at least half a dozen times.
Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha, Monsaraz, Castelo da Vide, Marvao, Villa Vicosa and the Ducal Palace
Six lesser known but must see towns and villages close to the Spanish Border and with a rich history of conflict with Spain. Two days sightseeing will encompass spectacular fortifications on precipitous hilltops. The strangest of houses built between huge round boulders perched on a mountainside overlooked by a castle and stone carved coffins. The walled and fortified villages of Monsaraz and Marvao cling to mountainous escarpments as if defying gravity. Roman excavations and artefacts left in the open for the public and an interpretive museum (free) in the village of Idanha-a-Velha. The castle, walls and Jewish quarter in Castelo da Vide, all make for two days of exploration. Stay two or three nights at one of the Pousadas, Convento de Vila Vicosa next door to the Ducal Palace, Pousada Marvao or Pousada Castelo de Estremoz, you will not be disappointed with any of these suggestions.
I placed Merida, (which is in Spain), here, because it is close to the Portuguese border and not far from Villa Vicosa so it would make sense to visit Merida along with the others. If you want Roman ruins this is the capital, I think it has the best and most preserved Roman ruins in the whole of Spain, Circus Maximus, Theatre, Amphitheatre, Temples, bridges, aqueducts, villas it has them all. Merida town is in its self not much so we stayed in Trujilo at Palacio Santa Marta which is situated just off a 15th century square with some good restaurants and tapas bars.
Interesting places to see in Southern Spain
Spain also has the equivalent of Portugal's Pousadas, in Spain they are called Paradores and are also often in converted historic buildings.
Has to be the most interesting city in Southern Spain. It is busy, driving is slow and parking very difficult, but don't let this put you off. Book a hotel with parking, head straight there, park up and explore by foot. If you get tired get a cab back to your hotel. The Alcazar, Cathedral, Golden Tower and Santa Cruz, (Jewish Quarter) are the main attractions. Tapas are excellent and everywhere, forget restaurants, stick with Tapas you will not regret this snippet of advice!.
Friday and Saturday nights after 9.30 pm head for the Plaza San Salvador, this is where the street bars are and people hang out after finishing work. We have stayed in many hotels but more recently have discovered Hotel Monte Triana, it is just on the south side of the river, newly renovated, has parking, helpful staff, excellent breakfast and is close to some very good Tapas bars, easy 10 minute walk into the centre.
Close to the Hotel are the Triana market, a must see and it is also the ceramic district, some great ceramic shops and the original factory is now a museum. A visit to Seville is not complete without Flamenco, there are the typical tourist Flamenco shows which are mediocre at best and expensive but near the hotel there is a Flamenco Sala for the purpose of entertaining locals and it is the best we have seen in Spain. It is Baraka Flamenco, family run and intimate, you will love it.
This is a great two night stay. Fascinating escarpment location with a history of Roman, Moorish and Christian occupation ( and others). Exhilarating walks and views and a Roman/Arab bath complex worth visiting. There is a Parador here but last year we found a lovely hotel in a building that was built in 1736, Hotel San Gabriel, we just loved the quirky feel to it.
One of Southern Spain's most interesting and historic cities, but only because of the Alhambra. Which is well worth the effort of going to Granada but beware there are a few hundred thousand other tourists with the same idea. You have to book your entrance tickets to the Alhambra well in advance otherwise you will have a wasted trip. I saw the Alhambra about 15 years ago and then it was just a matter of lining up and waiting your turn, not these days, book in advance.
Jerez, officially Jerez a la Fronteira is well know as the capital of Sherry and there several producers of sherry in the town and surrounding areas, Tio Pepe is one and they do very good tours and tasting. Both Jerez and Cadiz are well known for their very dramatic style of Flamenco, we have seen plenty of Flamenco over the years and discovered La Cava, an unpretentious bar, but has the best Flamenco that we have ever seen. You have to book in advance to get a good seat or get in at all in season.
Weird. Sums up Gibraltar nicely. You will have to go through passport control, because you will be entering Britain. You will then walk or drive across the airport runway into the city. British or Gibraltar pounds is the currency, don't leave with Gibraltar ones you will not be able to use or exchange them. British pubs, food, telephone boxes and Bobbies! A mishmash of cultures and religions, quite an eye opener. Its a fascinating place, the Siege Tunnels, St Michael's cave, the Big Gun and the Barbary Apes are all well worth seeing, two or three nights should do it. Choose a hotel with parking.
On the coast road between Gibraltar and Cadiz near a small town called Bolonia is an ancient roman town called Baelo Claudia that has been excavated and is open to the public and well worth a visit. It is more or less a whole town right on the beach complete with shops, theatre, forum, temple, thermal baths and fish sauce factories. A mini Pompeii without the crowds and heat.