Day 9: Cycle from Santiago do Cacem to Zambujeira do Mar

Getting out of Sagres is a short downhill to the main road where we had a fairly long steep uphill; followed by a number more steep long uphills and (what goes up, must go down), steep downhills! 

There is a steady climb after you go over the bridge by Vila Nova de Milfontes but you get a lovely view of the town.

The weather today was a bit overcast and having stopped about 3-hours in for a tosta mista & coke, the rain started. With not too much further to go we made an error (because we just wanted to get to our hotel), and that was to take a shorter route – unfortunately this ended up being very off-road and took a lot longer than if we’d continued on the main road ! (You live and learn!)

The cycle route was around 39 miles and in parts was really quite scenic. 

Santiago do Cacem (night 11)

Our stay was at a recently opened hotel, the ‘Santiago Cooking & Nature’. The layout of the hotel and the decor is modern and quite beautiful, with an open plan (see into kitchen) lounge area and dining area. The bedrooms and bathroom are luxurious with a fabulously comfy big bed.  And the pool area is lovely with loungers and canopied day beds to share – very romantic.  This place looks good; and they have a great storage room to put your bikes.

However, the rest of our stay was disappointing in terms of the food but particularly the service – which was very poor, both for the evening meal & also at breakfast. This was a real shame as the concept and the place as somewhere to eat and stay has real potential – our thought was that it has “style over substance”.  For example, having been seated for our evening meal there we asked for a bottle of water & bottle of wine. When neither had arrived after 10 minutes we had to ask for this again, as did the couple on the next table who when they arrived were shouted at for having sat down at a table without giving their room number first.  The restaurant was not busy and only half-full, and it seemed to us that the two staff who were waiting on were quite inexperienced. 

At breakfast, again not too busy, yet the serving member of staff didn’t check the hot food pan on a hot stove which if he had, he would have seen that there was no scrambled egg left.  It was only when a guest mentioned this and asked for the pot to be replenished that the server asked the chef, who wasn’t busy, to cook more eggs. 

With the open plan kitchen area and the food concept that the hotel has (i.e. “where gastronomy and culinary are the main attractions”), it seemed to us that they should maximise the open view kitchen and have guests ask the chef to cook you ‘fresh’ eggs / omelette.  For us, the bedroom/bathrooms, and the lounge/dining areas are this hotel’s main attractions.  (The picture from our bedroom of Santiago do Cacem as the sun was rising was beautiful).

We wouldn’t return to this hotel, unless they got much better with the service and the food.

Day 8: Cycle from Setubal to Santiago do Cacem

The journey started having left our hotel with just a 5 minute cycle to the Port of Setubal, where we boarded a ferry (run by Atlantic Ferries), from Setubal to Troia South Peninsula (around 20 minutes and at a cost of Euros 3.55 each – bicycles are free). 

The ferry journey is lovely and gives you a chance to see the beaches at Troia. (If you took the catamaran service it costs a bit more but only takes 5 minutes to the north of Troia).  Both the ferry and catamaran run very regularly. 

The cycle ride from Troia is relatively flat all the way to Melides. After this the journey was fairly lumpy, all the way to Santiago do Cacem, which is very hilly when you arrive with a fairly long and steep hill; and then like most of the hotels we’ve booked on this trip our hotel was also on a hill, and finding it was difficult to navigate to.

Cycling was around 38.5 miles and in lovely weather – we’ve definitely started to notice more heat in the day but also warmer in the evenings, which for us Brits is wonderful. 

Faro – old Town (night 15)

So having spent 12 days and cycled 400 miles from Porto we arrived at Faro (from Lagos, by train) – our final city destination before we head to the Eastern Algarve for a week of rest and relaxation (perhaps with some local cycling and running – so not to undo all of our hard work!)

We had a 5-minute walk from the train station to our hotel ‘Eva’, perfectly located overlooking the marina! There ended what had been great up to that point. Firstly, having entered the lobby area wheeling our bicycles (no other hotel had batted an eyelid with us doing this), we were quickly met by concierge in the stark white and uber clean foyer, who immediately ushered us out of the hotel foyer, advising that we could store our bicycles elsewhere! We didn’t have so much as a hello and welcome to the hotel ! 

Walking a few minutes around the corner the said concierge took us to a large ‘unlocked and open’ warehouse type space – but which, essentially anybody off the street could walk into; and is regularly used by staff and suppliers to gain access into/out of the hotel. The said concierge expected us to leave our bikes there!  

We had stayed in 12 different hotels up to this point with no issue, up to now! Having flown our bikes from the UK to then cycled them 400 miles, we were not just going to leave them in an unsecured area.  Instead, and it took a raised voice or two, the hotel management agreed to put our bikes in a better ‘secured’ area of the hotel. Our impression of the hotel so far was not good  (and certainly not what we were expecting to end our journey!)

It then didn’t end there, as having paid Euros 130 for a double superior ‘city view’ room we found ourselves in the oldest of rooms, and which clearly hadn’t been modernised since the 1960s/70s.  What we were presented with was not the same as the Hotel’s website pictures.  Four unanswered telephone calls to reception, it was down to reception to complain about said ‘superior’ room. [Note: there was no-one on reception and it wasn’t busy – but clearly no-one had wanted to answer the ‘phone!]  A very surly receptionist was adamant that what we had booked was a superior room – eventually, and after asking, “why were the pictures of the rooms not like the room we’ve been given”, did she offer an alternative (twin) bedroom overlooking the Marina (the view was good if nothing else). We accepted. The new room had been largely refurbished (clearly only half the hotel has been updated and modernised), however it’s been done on the cheap. For example, a very old wooden cupboard had been left in situ behind the new wardrobe; there is nowhere to hang wet towels; and it hadn’t been well cleaned.  

Breakfast the next morning was just average – it reminded us of a busy and noisy canteen. This is not a 4* hotel!! We will not be returning to Hotel Eva, and we would not recommend it.

On going out in thr evening to eat, we stumbled across an excellent restaurant, which served both tapas and regular Portuguese food, called ‘Petisqueira 3 Em Pipa‘.  The quality of the food and wine here is superb; and the young man who served us was very attentive, knowledgeable, polite and professional. It is also a very popular place, so for us, we were lucky enough to have got a table having arrived a bit earlier.  We will definitively go back to the restaurant and would highly recommend.

Setubal (night 10)

Our hotel ‘RIO Art‘ in Setubal is not only in a fantastic location but this hotel is excellent – from the decor in the reception, the very comfy bed, with other delights like a welcome cake, half a bottle of wine & water, to the excellent breakfast, with the full stop being the staff – this is simply one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in; and was a real highlight of our stay. 

Setubal itself is also superb and a great place to visit and stay. It has an abundance of cafes, retaurants and bars. Whilst there and because it was a weekend we saw different music / family events that had been put on as entertainment. 

We had a glass of lovely sparkling Douro white wine and a cheese board at a bar called ‘CorkTale‘, followed by tapas at a typical Portuguese restaurant ‘In Sado – Sabores Locais’ (very popular with locals).

We will definitely go back to Setubal – it is so lovely & relaxing (and what seems like a world away from the noise, hustle & bustle of Lisbon). 

Day 7: Ferry from Lisbon to Seixal, then Cycle to Setubal

Our day started with a 09.30am ferry from Cais do Sodre ferry terminal in Lisbon to Seixal – which only cost us Euros 2.35 each, one way. The journey was by catamaran and ours only took 15-20 minutes. Looking back to the City is a great view. 

[Note: the catamaran journeys to Seixal are less frequent at the weekend than they are through the week. There are also other places to go to at the northern tip of Setubal, like Cachilus which has more journeys and more people travel to. See the website for timetable/prices].

On arrival at Seixal, we found our way to the road to Setubal quite easily. The route was a bit hilly around Coina, and a bit up and down, but the route takes in some stunning scenery including going past the Bacalhao Vineyard and Winery, and the 5* Casa Palmela Hotel (which looks stunning), we’d arrived in Setubal (earlier than planned) which was great for an ice cream and watch the locals / view the Saturday market. 

Lisbon (nights 8 and 9)

Our 2-night stay in the old town of Lisbon was good.  Our hotel ‘Ribeira Tejo by Shiadu‘ boutique hotel is in a great location to eat, drink and get about (Bairro Alto district). The hotel is in need of a bit of love and care, but the staff are very helpful.  It’s also very convenient for the next leg of our journey, which will start from the ferry terminal at Cais do Sodre and go to Seixal, at the northern tip of Setubal. And it’s really convenient for a great little bike shop (Lisbon Bike Rentals) a few minutes walk from our hotel, who kindly pumped our bike tyres up for us.

Night 1: Whilst in Lisbon we went to the Time Out Market (Mercado Ribeira) – its worth a visit and its interesting but it’s also very very busy, very touristy, very over priced; and what seems to be no more than a giant food hall/canteen [you get a plastic tray at the food stand and then go and find a space to sit]! 

We were really disappointed with the Market, and it had been something we’d really looked forward to. However, we had a few drinks and a few starters (at the Asian Lab) – the food was good, but for 2 small beers and two small starters it cost Euros 17 – not cheap. And these prices were similar to the other food stalls. 

When we saw the plastic trays and how busy it was, we decided to eat elsewhere – we were so glad we did as we stumbled upon a fish restaurant ‘Aqui Ha Peixe‘. This was an excellent restaurant, albeit a bit pricey but we’d highly recommend. I particularly liked the seafood pasta with scallops and prawns. You also need to make a reservation for here. We were lucky to get a table, but those who turned up after us weren’t so lucky. 

Day/Night 2: Next door to our hotel, ‘Cafe Tati‘ was a great cafe/bar – we had a lovely tosta mista, tea and coffee.  It is a great bar for evening tapas, drinks and live music.  In the evening we started our night at ‘Giv Lowe‘ a really boho chic kind of bar with banksy (the artist) as the theme, which also has hanging lights made from bike wheels, super cool! We then stumbled upon a really good restaurant in the Bairro Alto district called ‘Vicente‘. The menu is really good and for a city restaurant the prices are really reasonable – both dishes were excellent: lamb chops with sweet potato and vegetables; and calves cheeks with mashed potato with cabbage.  The wine is also priced reasonably well. 

Conclusion: Lisbon is a cool City, with lots to do and see. It also doesn’t seem to sleep much which we found when the music was just finishing at 4am(ish), as the market started, and not long after which we got up, packed (again) and left !