Sara Colohan writes on Portugal, A Road Less Travelled

A Road Less Travelled by Sara Colohan for Confetti (Bridal site/magazine)

There’s no arguing that Irish honeymoon couples are drawn to Portugal’s Algarve region. The Irish Travel Industry awarded it "Best Sun Destination’ at the Industry Awards last year, leaving behind rivals including Costa del Sol, Florida and Lanzarote. Most of us go there for its close proximity, reliable sunshine, world class golf (if golf is a shared passion on your honeymoon!) and there’s no shame in admitting it, we go because it’s cheap.

It would be ideal not to have to mention the world economic downturn straight off but who are we kidding?  If any country recognises the lean times we are facing here in Ireland its Portugal, second only to our friends in Greece! I checked out a lesser known side of the Algarve last September and immediately felt like we were old friends sharing a common burden. But despite our countries mirrored troubled economic states, the Algarve is still a fine destination for a frugal honeymoon frolic in the sun.

Praia De Faro
Like a lot of great relationships, my romance with Portugal didn’t hit a high straight away! I flew into Faro for a planned three night stay but immediately changed my mind when I saw the cheerless, dated landscape of the gaudy retro tower blocks. Despite the fact that the city encompassed a historical 16th century fort, both the old and new towns seemed depressingly dilapidated. The good news is there are lots of gorgeous places to travel to, just a short drive or a train journey away. That’s the beauty of the Algarve, it allows you travel at very little cost and choose a relaxed or adventurous pace for your stay. If you are counting the honeymoon pennies (who isn’t these days?) but you don’t want to compromise on sunshine, then the Algarve is a strong contender. Let me add that if you simply want to loll around on a gorgeous beach for your entire stay, then full credit to Faro’s stunning main beach Praia De Faro. You could hire a beach side villa and enjoy daily barefoot strolls along the full length of the peninsula, the mild waves lapping at your toes. But I wanted a different kind of action, so after just one night in the only seaside hotel Aeromar, I headed for the train station to start my adventure.

Perhaps you won’t want to be faffing around with rental cars, train tickets and maps but it is worth mentioning that if you feel like an adventure, the rail transport system is ridiculously cheap. A mere seven euro will take you across the country in about two hours! I joked if these disproportionally low fares had contributed something towards Portugal’s calamitous economy as I seemed to remember paying something close to that for a coffee on a Dublin to Galway trip recently!
The Portuguese trains are stunning, reflective metal hulks of engineering externally. Sadly they don’t reflect this splendour on the inside but they’re reliable, clean and safe and after just one night in Faro, at a modest trundle, I headed west towards the portal city of Lagos. 
Reading a myriad of travel guides, it’s easy to deduce that Lagos is the best city the Algarve has to offer. I was keen to see the famous red cliffs I’d admired on travel programmes over the years and ogle the posh boats moored in the famous port, but I also had another reason for visiting this part of the country. In just two days time, I would be travelling 28kms west, deep into the protected Portuguese national reserve park of Aljezur for a week long holistic horse riding holiday and before you roll your eyes and think ‘what next?’ let me say I was a bit hesitant myself at first! Would I really be doing yoga poses on a horse? Well, sort of…

After two fun days in Lagos staying in the modern stylish surrounds of Villa Dinis, (private residents pool and bar in every villa and great breakfast!)  visiting the local markets and taking a boat trip to see the resident dolphins (it’s as traditional and worthwhile as having a Guinness in Ireland!)  I set off for Aljezur. With no direct public transport, I booked the riding centre’s local taxi man Jose and after witnessing the winding steep climbs and hair raising descents he had to navigate, I was glad I had decided against hiring a car. You’d need to be a confident driver to manage this trip alone.

The Holistic Riding Center is adjoined to Monte Velho which is a stylish sprawling yoga retreat set in a remote mountain side, four kilometres from their nearest neighbour.
Monte Velho is not just a favourite of the Portuguese wealthy set, it runs successful yoga courses and retreats for super Zen yogis from all around the world. Despite its absolutely glorious remote location (it boasts a private lake, horse and bike trails to the beach and the surrounding forest, private villa type accommodation with your very own hammock!) I have to admit I felt a bit lost during my stay simply because it didn’t cater for me as a solo traveller. I hardly saw a receptionist or staff member during my stay and there was simply a phone on the desk with a number to call if you needed help! I started to pine for civilisation as I knew it after a day or so!
I know that Mont Velho will be heaven on earth for any of you chilled out, loved up yoga couples who wants total calm and tranquillity with no interruptions (especially from staff!) free to roam the surrounding protected forests, swim in the lake and generally be left to your own devices, but it was just a little too remote for me!

I hadn’t really come for the yoga of course, I came for holistic horse riding and after meeting the centres owner Andreas for a series of rather bizarre but fun yoga poses in the middle of a field, I was introduced to Karla, my horse for the first of our daily three hour treks. After a bit of persuading, myself and the beautiful Karla eventually got along as we cantered through wild forest trails and kicked up fine sand along the remote beaches. I learned that these horses react differently to other horses I’d met over my twenty years riding. I had to retrain the way I walked, held, fed, brushed and tended a horse and somewhere inside me I knew that I was learning to nurture a new perspective about horsemanship. I could also see Andreas had a deeper level of understanding and love for his horses than I had seen anywhere before and it was a joy to witness him at work for the few days I was there.
He told me that over the past 20 years, his fascination with wild horses and the way they move and respond to humans had led him to develop this Holistic Riding technique. He told me it’s more than just another style of riding, what you learn seems to stay with you long after you get off the horse and I kind of knew what he meant.
Mont Velho and Andreas’ Holistic Horse Centre work closely together on programmes including horse work and yoga. There is lots of information on their respective websites and they welcome couples with all levels of experience.
 So, if random tales of trains and automobiles, yoga and holistic horse riding can’t persuade you off the well-worn Algarve track, then maybe the promise of some of the world’s best surf could tempt an active surf loving couple to visit Carrapateira, my final destination on this trip.
 Just four kilometres in steep descent, this remote costal micro village is Mont Velho’s closest neighbour. It has just one café, one grocery shop and one local taxi man called Jose (yes the same Jose who brought from Lagos!) but oddly enough, seems to lack nothing!  Surrounded by hundreds of miles of pristine beaches, friendly locals, turbo fast wi-fi, excellent coffee, chilled out surfer dudes and dudettes, not to mention the glorious weather, it’s no wonder the few guest houses in the area are booked out for months in advance of high season. I though I might feel like a bit of an outsider as I’m not a surfer, but I actually felt very at home among the miles of white sandy dunes, watching all the student surfers dot about, relentlessly trying to outsmart the waves.
I stayed in Pensao das Dunas and what it lacks in privacy for a honeymoon couple, (they have one modest ‘honeymoon room’ but the rest are small and the walls are thin!) it makes up for in hospitality, good conversation, kind gestures and legendary breakfasts! This place is perfect for the sociable couple who wants to meet the locals and fellow guests around the communal dinner table and chat late into the night. It’s the best place to learn about the history of the area and you can casually borrow the owners bikes (they have a tandem if you feel brave enough!) or join co owner Eduardo for one of his infamous ‘short walks’ which will probably end up being a 15km hike through some of the most breathtaking costal scenery. (Think cliffs of Moher with beaming sunshine, warm clear water, and visiting an occasional undiscovered beach)  The hike I joined was beyond a doubt, the highlight of my trip and amazingly there was no charge for the full day’s adventure as Eduardo does them out of pure love for his homestead.  

I appreciated hearing the passion and pride in the locals as they spoke about keeping Carrapateira just as it is. You won’t see a building more than two stories high for hundreds of miles as it’s virtually impossible to get planning for new builds on the reserve. The visiting surfers, for the most part, seem to respect the land and the remarkable beaches although I heard talk of the threat from unruly Spanish visitors, marked as the worst culprits for local environmental crimes.
For the most part, it looks like this perfect micro village will remain just as it is, for us and hopefully for our generations to come.
Maybe we should all get familiar with it now and come back year after year to see everything stay exactly the same…..

FLYING TO PORTUGAL fly Dublin to Faro

On the beachfront - Budget price hotel Faro: E60 per night
Hotel Aeromar Address Avenida Nascente, N.º 1, Praia De Faro
Faro (Algarve), 8005-520
Portugal Phone +351289817189
* clean but basic, this hotel is directly on the seafront.
Great range of mid priced villas and rooms in Lagos
Villas Dinis
Est Ponta da Piedade, Lote 26
Donana beach
8600-593 Lagos
Lagos - Algarve
Excellent modern rooms E70 – E90 per night for small apartment style.
By phone/Fax: [00351] 282 764 200
Monte Velho Yoga Centre
8670-230 Carrapateira
·         Expensive minimalist E120 – E180 per night

Holistic Riding Center
Monte Velho
8670-230 Carrapateira
eMail: a.endries(at)
Mobile: +351 916269813

Pensão das Dunas
Rua da Padaria, 9
P-8670-230 Bordeira

* Great value at E25 – E55 per room. Fun and friendly basic style rooms

Tel.    (+351) 282  973 118
(+351) 92 55 939 55
(for the best surf school recommendations in the area I suggest contacting  Eduardo for impartial advice)