Avoiding the Crowds in Salema, Portugal

Our beach, almost empty in May

May 5-8, Salema

While we were very much looking forward to the warm climate and beaches of southern  Portugal and Spain, we were not looking forward to looking at walls of hotels, crowded promenades, loads of people, and other tourist traps.  We had watched several of Rick Steves videos of the Algarve (southern Portugal) and the Costa del Sol and Andalusia (southern Spain) and had an idea of what to we wanted to see and what we wanted to avoid.  Ultimately we chose to spend 3 days in the tiny fishing village of Salema, Portugal, and 2 nights on the edge of the city of Torrox, Spain. They were both peaceful areas, had beautiful beaches, all the amenities we needed, and restaurants frequented by the locals.

We loved Salema in particular (there’s a good article here) – we stayed in the old town close to the beach, while further up the hill and mostly out of sight, were the whitewashed houses of the seasonal tourists.

The town core was tiny, with two small grocery stores, a handful of restaurants and bars, and a few souvenir shops, and overall, it was fairly quiet.  The sandy beach was about 1 km long,  with rocky sections and cliffs on either end.  In fact there were signs warning people not to sit too close to the cliffs as they tend to collapse from time to time.

Our apartment was about 300 steps to the beach – yes I counted – and our room had a large terrace with a beautiful view of the sea (albeit with a few trash cans and a power line between, that I could quite easily overlook).

We booked the apartment through booking.com again and it was bit pricier than it was worth (€80/night) but still a good deal for the area.  It was a studio suite, with a small kitchen, bathroom, bedroom/sitting room, large sliding doors with a high window, and a huge private terrace. My only complaints were that the bed was hard and fairly uncomfortable and the place needs a bit of sprucing up in general.  The owner did say outdoor painting begins next week, but I think it could use a new (better) bed and fresh bedding as well. Other than that, we actually loved it, if only for its location and its terrace.

Our host recommended a local restaurant, O Laurenco, and we were glad we went.  It was small but the fish was so fresh, they brought it around on a tray to let you choose your meal.  We had no reservations but we went early and were very lucky to get a table for two – in the best booth in the house!  The food was delicious and we enjoyed our evening. You should know that in Portugal, they will often bring you food like tapas or appies without you ordering it. It could be a simple as bread and oil, a bowl of olives, or something more substantial.  But if you eat it, you pay for it.  If you don’t want to pay for it, just say no when they bring it to the table.  It’s an interesting custom, but can be a surprise the first time you get your bill and find a ‘cover’ for all those easy treats added on.

The next day, we drove 15 minutes to Sagres where we paid a few euros to walk around the old Fortress where Henry the Navigator set up his sailing school to prepare his men to search beyond the edge of the world in the late 1400’s. The views were spectacular and the sun was warm so we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the promontory.  It was exciting and even a little terrifying to watch some local fisherman with their long fishing rods, teetering off the edge of the cliff, and casting their lines down a few hundred feet or more to the sea below.

Next we drove another five minutes further to the lighthouse on Cabo de Sao Vicente which is the southwestern-most point in Portugal, and took in the beautiful views there as well.  Next stop, North America!  There were a string of locals with tables selling various souvenirs including beautiful hand knit wool sweaters and gorgeous hand painted pottery.  Sad to say, I resisted buying anything that I’d have to carry around in my suitcase for another month or more.

On the way home, we picked up some chicken and spaghetti and a few other ingredients and I made chicken cacciatore in our little kitchen. We ate on our terrace and enjoyed the view. On our final day, we hung out at the beach and our terrace and enjoyed the sun and read a lot, then had leftover chicken and appies for supper at home again.

We’ve begun to realize that we really enjoy it when we stay three nights in one place.  That way we have one full day to tour around and see the sights, and another day to relax and do very little.  We have three nights planned in both Granada and Sevilla so we’re glad about that, especially since they are larger cities.

Next Up : Jerez de la Frontera and Torrox, Spain.

Old Salema from the beach
Cafe con leche on the deck of a seaside restaurant
Yes, it’s a fishing village
Gorgeous beach
Cape St Vincent
Old compass rose on the site
Tasty treats before our meal
Catch of the Day – Bream
Chicken Cacciatore on our terrace
Love this pottery

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