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Report 1324: Hanging Out in the Algarve and London

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Fall 2002

Trip Description: October 15-November 1 2002 - Twelve days in the south of Portugal with four days in London before returning to Canada. The Algarve doesn’t get much respect on Slow Travel, but for us it was a great introduction to the concept of Slow Travel, long before we were aware of the term or the web site.

Destinations: Countries - United Kingdom, Portugal; Regions/Cities - London

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Beach; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 8: Introduction and Planning

photo by

BW on Praia da Rocha in the Algarve

In the spring of 2001, one of my brothers-in-law asked my Beautiful Wife (BW) & I, “How about going to the Algarve in the south of Portugal in the fall?” Our reaction was, “Sure, when do we leave?”

I retired in June 2000, 53 years old, after 31+ years as a high school teacher. BW & I had four children - an older daughter who was living on her own, a pair of twins about to go off to university and a younger son still in high school. Our travel opportunities had been quite limited for the past several years. For five years early in my teaching career I took groups of students to Paris, London or Rome on Spring Break tours and two summers I backpacked through Ireland, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. We trekked off to Orlando for a week one year when our children ranged in age from six to 12. I won a travel prize at a conference back in the late ‘80’s – which translated into a week in Ixtapa on the Pacific Coast of Mexico for the two of us in December 1990. In February 2001, all six of us went on a Caribbean cruise for a week with brief stops at Aruba, Barbados, St. Martin, Antigua and St. Kitts. But that was it. Raising four children tends to limit both travel resources and opportunities.

We didn’t get to the Algarve in 2001. The tentative plans of our relatives never materialized. Over the winter BW & I decided we would plan our own trip. I went to the travel agent who had been very helpful arranging our Caribbean cruise the year before.

We had a couple of choices for our air travel. We could fly a charter plane directly from Toronto to Faro in the Algarve or we could fly British Airways to London then change airports from Heathrow to Gatwick and fly on to Faro. On the surface, the direct flight was the better option. However, the agent said that if we flew through London, we would have to spend one night in London on the way back. “Can we spend more than one night?”, I asked, naively. Eventually, we decided on 12 nights in the Algarve and four nights in London.

In the Algarve we chose to stay at the Jardim do Vau, located on Praia do Vau beach, three kilometers from the main town of Portimão and two kilometers from the very popular Praia da Rocha. We also booked a Fiat Punto, with pickup and return at the airport in Faro, for our time in the Algarve. In London, we booked four nights at the Tavistock hotel, close to Russell Square in Bloomsbury.

And off we went.

We spent most of our time in a very popular and commercialized tourist area where the primary language appeared to be English, with German coming in second; where we could eat pizza and fish and chips or patronize North American fast food palaces; where we could visit a multi-level shopping-mall less than five minutes away; where my biggest cultural challenge was figuring out how to gas up at the self-serve stations; where the primary attraction for many people we met was golf; where, in many respects, the location was about as exotic and foreign as Florida.

So how did it work out?

We had a great time. Our only slightly negative experience occurred on arrival in Faro. We had to make the drive in our rental car from the airport to our hotel more than an hour away in the dark and with very sketchy directions. While we will very likely never return to the Algarve, our experience there and in London was the start of our travels to Europe, which we hope will continue both in frequency and duration for several years.

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