Two Gorgeous Beach Discoveries on the Atlantic Coast

Salty sea water in my hair, grains of sand on my skin dried by the sun and the mighty sea that opens in front of us. The one who said that salt water is the cure to anything was on to something very essential.

There are plenty of beautiful beaches by the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal and in Spain. What I really value are specific beach tips and coordinates when it comes to the best of the best beach gems. I want to share two beach recommendations with you from our road trip along the Atlantic Coast in Portugal and in Andalucía in Spain.

The first one is Praia do Malhão around 2 hours (186 kilometres) by car from Lisbon. The beach is located 7 kilometres north of the town Vila Nova de Milfontes and it is best reached by your own (rental) car or by bike. The beach is beautiful, natural and peaceful (read: remote, no masses here), and the sea is quite wild. The best thing definitely was jumping against the mighty waves. The second best thing was having fresh and juicy cherries for lunch on the beach while sunbathing. A lunch tip: keep your eyes open for fruit stands by the roads: you can find such ripe and luscious fruit (cherries, watermelons, peaches and tomatoes) for a very affordable price.

The coastline is rocky with dunes and in the sea there are some large basalt rocks. The beach is situated next to the Sudoeste Alentejano natural park and therefore the coastline is empty of development. Hence there are no facilities (apart from the car park area). This suited us perfectly but might not make for an excellent beach day for someone who gets a craving for some snacks or wishes to rent beach tennis equipment, a body board or a sun chair.

The town Vila Nova de Milfontes was nice, peaceful and relaxed. We did a little stroll there and then around 4 pm were wondering if we could find a place for a late (second) lunch. And after a quick search we found the bistro Stress Free (on Rua Sarmento Beires 28). To me, one of the lovely joys of being on holiday is that we can live in a vacation rhythm that is rather different from the office life rhythm. Hence gotta love places that serve delicious lunch until the late afternoon and dinner until midnight. I’ve come to learn that I am a late (emphasis on late) Mediterranean diner. The lunch spot choice, Stress Free, served good food with laid-back vibes.

The second beach find is the Playa de Mazagón on the Costa de la Luz (the Coast of Light) in Huelva in Southwest Spain. Loved it during the day and especially loved it at sunset. The beach is long and beautiful, and in the evening you can walk a long way right toward the sunset. On the beach you can find a zone of sea shells of all shapes and forms.

We stayed at the Parador de Mazagón (on Carretera San Juan del Puerto-Matalascañas), overlooking the ocean. Parador in Spain refers to a certain kind of special accommodation where an old historic building (for example a castle) is turned into a hotel. If you’re looking for a pleasant place for relaxation, a game or two of tennis, dips in the ocean and watching the stars on your own balcony after dinner, then this might just be the spot for you in Huelva, the strawberry province of Spain.

Strolls around Lisbon

There is this green, verdant and exotic oasis in the heart of Lisbon I want to tell you about. The Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII, near the Marquês de Pombal, is a grand greenhouse with three gardens. The three parts are the cool, hot and sweet greenhouse. In the three large rooms you’ll find gigantic ferns, different cacti, vines, a pond with mesmerizing white water lilies, mango and banana trees and exotic flowers.

We started our day with strong espressos and rich, creamy and cinnamon-dusted pasteis de nata pastries and then headed to the estufas to enjoy the exotic verdancy. There is something very captivating about this place. The mood is both tranquil and historical. I felt just a bit like an explorer who was discovering new tropical species.

The Estufa Fria opened its doors to the public in the 1930s and even though this place probably is well-known among the locals, I bet many visitors don’t know about this gem. There is also a conference room right next to the greenhouse, which hosts different types of events. If I were to organize a work conference in Lisbon I would opt for this place: how brilliant would it be to admire this green splendour while having a coffee break amid the meeting day.

The entrance fee to the estufas is three euros and they accept cash only. A big green heart to this place.

Continuing with the theme of strolling around Lisbon, here are two other favourites. The curving streets of the Alfama district: narrow alleys and cobbled lanes, the yellow tram number 28  approaching around a steep corner, beautiful old facades, a fado performance in a street corner, large murals and the views over the tiled rooftops towards the river Tejo.

And third, the waterfront promenade Ribeira das Naus: buy a litre of juicy strawberries from the street vendor and sit down on the stone paving by the water to watch the river, boats, seagulls and people. And then just enjoy, summer, Lisbon and life.

Lisbon, Parque das Nações and a visit to the future of the past


We spent Christmas 2013 in Guangzhou in Southern China. It’s said that the kitchen there expands the definition of what is considered edible. This was apparent on our Christmas dinner as well, which was plentiful, distinctive and not to forget tasty in many parts. Christmas 2014  was celebrated in Portugal, in Lisbon. Sunshine, the charming old quarters, beautiful and hazy views, warm and creamy Belém cakes, clattering trams, rambling streets of Bairro Alto, fado played in the corner of a simple and romantic African restaurant, cones of chestnuts… A Christmas break on the Western edge of Europe and one I’ll remember for sure.

I’ll write some lines about one special area in Lisbon: Parque das Nações. We spent the day of Christmas Eve in this slightly wannabe futuristic place. The area underwent a massive transformation in the 90’s as it was chosen to be the location of the ’98 World Exhibition. Many of the attractions were built for the Expo. So some futuristic vibes from the nineties guaranteed. Characteristic to the area are peculiar public art works, architecture aiming to look progressive, high and big buildings and geometric shapes.

How to get there? The area can be reached with the red metro line, from the centre to Gare do Oriente in a bit less than half an hour. We started the day with a walk along the riverfront promenade and passed for example the sculptures of Jorge Vieira.

We marveled at the looong Ponte Vasco da Gama, the longest bridge in Europe, that vanished into the skyline. The view was soothing and a bit dreamlike. We continued admiring it with Christmas cocktails at the Torre Vasco da Gama, in the bar of  it’s fine hotel. The tower is right by the riverside.  The mood of that day was rather special and tranquil. A child played in the park with his parents, the weather was really pleasant with around 14 degrees, the cabins of the cable car, the Téleferico, stood still and there was some traffic on bridge crossing river Tajo. It was quite difficult to believe that the water belonged to a river and not the sea.

We wanted to visit the Ocenario, the second largest aquarium in Europe, but weren’t sure if we could as it was Christmas Eve. But then we saw from a distance tiny figures coming out from the insides of this gigantic building. It really was huge; it contains seven million liters of seawater. Huge and captivating with sharks, sea otters, penguins, puffins, jellyfish, seahorses and many other sea creatures. The tour we did was interesting and also educational. The conservation of nature perspective was really on display there on the info boards.

No concerts nor ballets that evening as the venues were closed but the wonders of the sea satisfied our marvelling needs. We strolled back to the metro stop in the late afternoon via the Caminho da Agua: a wooden board walk with mosaics, fountains and palmtrees.

IMG_4856_2A tree trunk and yours truly, or the other way around. There just might be a reason the picture is cropped this way. There often is.

I’ll save other Lisbon treats for another post, but for those of you who are considering Lisbon’s suitability as a Christmas destination, I’d say go for it. During our stay we got to do everything we desired and there were certain Christmas time perks as well: for example there was a Christmas market by the Praça do Comércio right in the centre and in the evening you could get a glass of red wine from the wooden stands and watch the sunset by the river with other couples. 

I would write some critical remarks as well, but the fact is, there aren’t that many things to critically remark on.  As one word of warning: the air in the old trams is not good at all and mind you that we were there in December, when it’s not even hot. The price level was a bit higher than I expected, but you can get for example a tasty dinner for two with drinks and ambient music with around twenty euros in the narrow streets of Alfama.

This Christmas it might be Finnish lake fish in the Christmas dinner table with loved ones instead of Bacalhau treats, but I would really like to go to Portugal again.