Tag Archives: Portugal Railways

The Algarve – Train Ride to Lagos

Life at the Tui Blue Hotel was rather tedious I have to say with a looping Groundhog Day daily itinerary so we decided to break out and do something different.  A train excursion to the city of Lagos, thirty-five miles or so west of where we were staying at Olhos de Agua.

There was an expensive taxi ride to the railway station at Albufeira one of those taxi rides where I watch the meter ticking away and increasingly panic about the cost and then to compensate inexpensive train tickets to Lagos at less than five euro each return (seniors rate). The price was right but the train was soporifically slow and stopped several times and took over an hour to reach our destination and we arrived just about midday.

I liked it immediately as we walked from the station to the old town.  So much nicer than Albufeira with a a retained history, a nostalgia and a satisfying whiff of the past  Some of my favourites – aged doors with sun blistered paint and elegant iron balconies, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses.  Really lovely, really lovely.

Lagos was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and one of the most important cities in all of what is now Portugal.  How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, an abundance of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.

This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders.  In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.

Without the Moors the city rapidly became neglected, the port silted up and the city went into a long period of decline.  This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilisations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years.  Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now.  It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.

What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the  Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed.  What lies ahead for us I wonder?

Down at the seafront was a statue of Henry the Navigator, quite possibly, no, almost certainly the most famous of all Portuguese sailors and adventurers.

I had seen him before of course in Belem in Lisbon at the The Monument to the Discoveries. Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre (I hate Boris Johnson and I emphatically refuse to go back to imperial measures) high slab of concrete was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five-hundredth  anniversary of his death. The monument in the capital city is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of the Infante Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another voyage of discovery. 

The statue in Lagos is rather less spectacular.

Lagos was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbours  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of challenge a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain. For Spain this might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia.

By the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Lagos, it was different, it wasn’t the tourist Algarve of Vilamoura or Albufeira, much more similar to Silves and Tavira; had a very pleasant pavement lunch and then took the train ride home, had a few stressful moments trying to secure a taxi ride to the hotel but eventually made it back to our accommodation,

We had tired of the hotel catering by this point but had discovered a very nice Portuguese restaurant in the village which served traditional food so were we glad to abandon the school dinner hall tonight and spend an excellent evening with proper food.

Portugal, Lisbon to Tomar

Tomar Festival

It took about two hours to purchase the train tickets from Lisbon to Tomar (well that’s what it seemed like) and then another two hours to travel the hundred miles or so north.

Kim finds it difficult to stay awake on trains (or on airplanes or boats or in the car) and slept for most of the journey and left alone I charted our progress through the window.  Out of Lisbon the railway tracks followed the course of the River Tagus, the fifth longest river in Western Europe and the longest in Iberia and down here near Lisbon rather wide I thought, almost like a lake.

As the train clattered on we passed through salt flats then surprisingly lush green fields and fertile farmland, browning vineyards, straining olive groves, tired terracotta houses, wide dusty fields long since harvested for this year and every now and again the train punctuated our journey with a series of regular stops along the way at towns and villages whose names I didn’t record and don’t now remember.

Eventually we arrived in Tomar and I immediately worried about the decision to stop over here.  It was quiet, the streets were empty, it seemed almost abandoned.  The contrast with Lisbon hit me like a punch from a heavyweight boxer, it was like driving a car and going from sixth gear to first missing our five, four, three and two on the way.  I grew concerned about what we would do here for three days.

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It didn’t take long to walk to our accommodation just a few hundred yards away from the station.  This was the Conde de Ferreira Palace which turned out to be an old farmhouse in the process of being converted into a guest house.  An intriguing sort of place, part hotel, part family house and the owner gave us a history lesson and a tour of the property before showing us to our room on the second floor.  Wonky floors and yard sale furniture but we loved it immediately, probably one of the crankiest places that we have stayed in and after we had settled in we took to the streets and looked for somewhere for lunch.  My doubts and worries were beginning to ebb away as though King Canute had ordered the tide to retreat.

I generally leave restaurant/bistro selection to Kim because she is so much better at it than me and I have made previous mistakes so on the basis that if I might unfortunately choose somewhere that disappoints then there is no comeback on me.  I find that tis arrangement generally works well.

Portugal a simple lunch

Kim spotted a likely looking place with pavement tables and rustic green check tablecloths and trusting her instinct selected a spot in the shade and requested menus. The lunch time food was excellent and on the basis that once we have found a place that we like then we will return there again and again (what is the point of taking risks we tell ourselves) we agreed there and then that this would be the place for us for evening meal later.

Fearful of doing everything there is to do in Tomar in one day we did nothing in the afternoon, just dawdled about the streets and down by the river, stopped for a drink in the main square and made our plans for the next two days.  By late afternoon we had begun to adjust to the pace of Tomar and were beginning to put the frenzy of Lisbon behind us.  As I have said before it is important not to be too hasty when making early judgements.

Later we returned to the back-street restaurant for evening meal and it was excellent.

Tomar portugal Main Square