My friend, Julie, was living in Paris for a year and kindly offered to come meet us in the Algarve region of Portugal with her daughter, Lucinda. We planned our rendezvous for Moncarapacho and the adorable Vila Monte Farm House. This was an easy two hour drive from Seville and a flight from Paris for Julie and Lucinda. I immediately fell in love with this place, but if I'm being honest, it probably wasn't the best choice for kids, as it seems like it caters more to adults due to the serenity of the area and the peaceful grounds of the farm house. But thankfully they are easy and were up for anything and everything we threw their way.
We thought we might start by exploring the local town. Well, that was short-lived as it was nothing more than a few dusty shops and some empty squares. On our return trek through the back roads, the kids thought they might take a closer look at a derelict house on the road. The windows were busted out, there was rusting debris strewn about the yard and a bathtub brimming with empty beer bottles apparent through the open door. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a dark shadow and realized that the home had an owner and he was coming to see who was standing on his front porch. I screamed and my son took a giant flying leap off the porch so fast that he landed in a heap at my feet, while the girls scurried away as quickly as they could. We started jogging away and promptly got lost and ended up wandering down the local highway until we finally found our hotel.
I've said it before, choose your travel partners wisely. I love that all five of us were able to laugh about that, affectionately name the homeowner "Hobo Vasquez", and still to this day find it hilarious. I love that we all share a similar sense of adventure.
We attempted the back roads one more time to go on the tour of the local Monterosa Olive Oil Farm. It was fascinating to learn about olive production, in particular at this environmentally conscious farm. We really enjoyed this tour. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable and it was a delight to get a feel for the local agriculture.
We had a few quiet nights at the farm house before heading to the Vila Vita Parc Resort in Alporchinhos. This was definitely a kid friendly place as evidenced by the in ground trampolines and mini golf course that we spotted when we drove up. The sprawling resort had so much to offer and we enjoyed all the amenities, from the great restaurants to the numerous pools and tennis courts, and the cliffside stairs down to the beach. While we had some fabricated action in Moncarapacho, this stop was where we really planned to do some exciting adventures. My son had been researching the coastal caves and was determined to see Benagil Cave, for starters. Unfortunately the water wasn't compliant for the first few days and it wasn't until after Julie and Lucinda left that the water calmed down enough for us to go out on a boat. Even with the slight calming of the water, we weren't able to launch near the hotel and had to go further into town to get on our little rubber boat. That thing was rocking and rolling and I was constantly calculating how I would save both my kids and swim to shore throughout the journey. But those caves, they were pretty spectacular.
Luckily, we were able to take our hot air balloon trip as planned. Julie threw out hot air ballooning on a whim and I figured- why not?! I found a local pilot, Helena, with Algarve Balloons, who ended up being incredibly well trained and knowledgable. We set off before sunrise and watched the process of blowing up the balloon in a nearby field. I thought I would be much more afraid of this experience, but it was incredible from start to finish. The fact that the basket is high and there is little chance of someone accidentally flipping over the edge to their death was a big relief. It was also reassuring to have an excellent pilot. Helena told us about places where you should never go in a hot air balloon due to very poor pilot training and little oversight- hello Turkey.
Anyways, this was one of the most memorable things I've ever done. It was absolutely gorgeous and so peaceful as we quietly sailed through the sky, except for the local dogs that were all barking down below- the shadow and sight of the balloon apparently scares them. The landing is an interesting and slight nerve-wracking part of the excursion. It's basically a hope and a prayer. There are people tracking down below and suggesting a landing spot, but things don't always go as planned with winds and what not. Our landing could not have gone more smoothly and again I was so grateful for the professional team of both the pilot as well as the people on the ground. After packing up the balloon we went to the local air field for a little picnic. What a morning!
Other than these two adventures, most of our time was just relaxing and enjoying the beach and the grounds of the resort.
This area is a popular vacation destination for Europeans and I can see why. It is a prefect place to unwind for a while.