A region that surprised us with it's natural beauty, hospitality and mixture of local lifestyle and luxurious holiday settings.
This wasn't our first time traveling to Portugal, we've visited Lisboa a couple of years ago, did it again this time but more about the lovely city in the next post. But it was our first introduction to the Algarve region. We weren't really full of 'great expectations' because this get away was a short notice one.
Also it was a 'as close as possible to Marrakech' substitute option.
As the main plan actually was to go to Marrakech to soak up the warm temperatures, amazing flavors, vibrant colors and designs, new fragrances,... So I didn't had the time to dig in before as I normally do when traveling to new places.
Well all I can say is the Algarve region, full of Arabic influences, just amazed us.
And it was a much budget friendlier option than Marrakech so, happy about that. (low season)
We only visited a part of the Algarve, starting in Olhão, passing through Tavira up to Vila Real de Sant Antonio, just at the border with the South of Spain.
I chose to go to Ohlão because of a guesthouse that caught my eyes a couple of years ago online.
Casa Céu, or should I call it HEAVEN IN OHLÃO. My god this place is just beyond words.
I got immediately attracted by the pictures of the kitchen of this guesthouse a couple of years ago.
I knew, one day I'll visit it, get inspired and eat from that kitchen. Done and done. Anyhow it must be very unlikely and to my biggest surprise that you will not fall in love with this place. it's all in the details and more...
Little side note; the breakfast at Casa Céu has reached a place in our TOP 3 best breakfasts ever. And we're so critical when it comes to food, real foodsnobs, but in a nice way kinda foodsnobs ;p
The hosts are so adorable (Lara and Dario, my new Swiss/Portugese friends :) and the details for me are like never seen before, not even in the most luxurious hotels that I've been able to visit, I swear these details here are reaching a next level and come from a personal approach. - A little flower or herb accent in your glass of water, next to the sink of your bathroom, on your fresh homemade cake.
A candle lit every morning and evening at the entrance, just because...
Calming bird sounds when entering the house.
The subtle fragrances of the bedlinnen and bath towels (that's such an important detail in hospitality that says a lot about how one achieves the art of hosting)
The luxurious soft beds stacked with gorgeous pillows, the perfect tunes for the morning or evening wind down on the rooftop terrace, the homemade delights with local produce, the little boutique with local crafts that breath the soul of the house, the wine cellar with tasteful characteristic Alentejo wines, shall I go on? Yes one more; that breakfast, prepared with the biggest care and flavors we love, bialetti coffee, steamed warm milk (very important for a cappuccino drinker in the morning) home made jams (a different one everyday) homemade pastries and cakes (gluten free of course), exotic fruits accompanied by a smooth in house made yogurt,... I mean, I'm a foodie, (foodstylist and chef) but what Dario and Lara do to start your day well is just beyond, it made me even feel a bit uncomfortable like ' I need to step up my game next time I organise a Brunch' Inspirational that's for sure. I can't explain enough how much I fell in love with Casa Céu and it's total atmosphere. In a nutshell 'my perfect (out of season) get away'. And a total inspiration for me personally. Day one the sun was out and obviously I couldn't resist to take out my camera and I enjoyed myself so much photographing beautiful corners of the house and falling in love with it even more. Yes I'm admitting this is how a perfect holyDAY looks like for me, great day that was. Obrigada Lara & Dario for creating this place!
An old fishermans' town growing into an attractive spot to enjoy a calm and nature influenced experience. We walked around town and enjoyed all the artistic tiled façades.
ps; amazing location for shoots as the light is almost always perfect because of the mostly white and pastel colored colonial style houses and clear little lanes.
The friendly people, this is just a thing in Portugal all around everybody is so very friendly and always ready to have a nice chat. Make convo's in Portugese, English or French... they manage them all very well.
When in Ohlão I could truly recommend to go out for dinner at the ' Cha Cha Cha' what's in a name right?
Well a lot. These people dance a lot in the kitchen :)
a seat at the bar looking into the kitchen is what I would recommend. Don't expect the big fancy shmancy, but do expect a very warm welcome, generousity, very positive vibes, cosines, a nice selection of unknown wines and a original diverse menu. A menu that has many vegetarian options which I really appreciate, I'm not a vegetarian but it's a first thing I check when going to discover a new place how they create a nice mixture of veggie and full on non -veggie options. The cooks are all women and for a reason I can't explain why but you sense that in the creation of their menu.
We ended by having the entire left side of the menu, because why choose if you want to taste it all, followed by a crusty lemon pie served on a typical Portuguese designed tile and a mandarine, as the friendly owner just took his cute basket and started handing out mandarins to everyone. That small gesture makes me melt away.
It was our first evening In the Algarve and there accompanied by a glass of deep Alentejo and our gifted mandarine the crush for the South of Portugal and the friendly locals began.
The next day we were suggested by Lara & Dario to go on a boat excursion and explore around the famous islands of the Ria Formosa to get in touch with the local farming of oysters, clams and shelfish.
The region is extremely protected and famous for it.
Ohlão houses one of the most important fish markets of Europe. Very well known for their produce of oysters, the ones they say coming from France don't be fooled they're from Portugal baby,.
Also a big variety of fish thanks to the natural reserve and archipels of the Ria Formosa. Not only shell-fish play an important role but the Ria Formosa is also known as the habitat of many birds, it get' s to a perfect symbiosis. So bird watchers out there get your binoculars and travel to the Ria Formosa.
We were lucky to get in touch with Rui from Rota Das Ilhas and experienced an aperitivo at his parents place on the infamous and special island Culatra. We got to taste the famous oyster straight from the banks and 'washed' it away with a local white wine whilst studying his mama preparing a very buttered cake for the afternoon. This day couldn't have been better.
After that wonderful experience on the lagoon I went for a walk with the horses through the nature reserve and with Sergio, uhhhh one of the most gorgeous looking fellas in town and such a sweet soul. He decided to stop his work as an engineer at the fam's raspberry farm and dedicate his life to his horses. I'm not jealous, you are...!
We met up at his farm, where 'petit detail' first of all I had to pee in the bushes, because you know the real farmlife... No pictures of that of course but I know many of you love to do that to. It gives you that satisfying feeling of freedom and being one with nature doesn't it :)
Anyhow we went on a lovely 2 hour walk. Enjoying the serene but rural nature, a gorgeous sunset and almost feeling like being alone on the world as for 2hours there was nobody around.
A stunning Relais & Chateaux hotel situated at the border of Portugal and Spain, Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
It's interior design is well preserved and dedicated to the good old' Colonial Portugal times. Personally I totally love that style.
We experienced it a lot when traveling in different parts of Asia and it gives us this overwhelming feeling of a true holiday.
The grand house is grand in it's service and hospitality but small and cosy at the same time.
We enjoyed an amazing Mezcal Mule (one of my favorite drinks all time) at the cutest bar hidden in the corner of the dining room served by the cutest bartender / mixologist Vasco.
I wrote cute because he's not that tall, just like me 'I'm cute' ;p but actually he looked like a Portuguese version of the Machete actor without a beard, so here you go Vasco...
Back to the drinks and the food. Drinks amazing, food even better.
A classic take on Portuguese and fusion kitchen.
And a breakfast served very well. Like you get the basics, actually not so basic but follow me on it.
Bread, croissants, scones, pasteis de nata, ginger shot, juice, jams and butters.
And you're like ok let's dig in this is nice, maybe a bit of cheese would go well with that?
All this whilst overlooking the harbor of Vila Real de Sant Antonio. After having a scone and butter with croissant, not croissant with butter you read it right...
Then you get offered the breakfast menu. Now you follow me with the basics not so basic mentioned before ?
Choices choices choices, all kind of eggs preps, with or without extra truffles, cheese or herbs Miss?
Eggs Benedict, fruit bowls, avocado toasts and so on. Pick your choice or have it all.
After this wonderful and let's be honest luxurious and lucky to be start of the day, we took the bikes and went for a ride through the old town, to the park, to the beach finishing our little sportive escape by the river where the Grand house also hosts a beach club, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we found a good excuse to come back another time.
3 days were certainly not enough to explore that side of the Algarve. And as we drove back to Lisbon we discussed all the places to be discovered next time, who we would like to bring with us and again how friendly everybody was. Overall I think we were also lucky to have visited during the low season as I can truly imagine these places get really packed during Summertime.
We'll be back because of all these nice places we discovered and especially for the friendly hospitality that is a number one in Europe for us! No doubt about that!