Portugal: Praia Grande and Cabo da Roca

HONEYMOON BY THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

We love the Mediterranean Sea. For our honeymoon we decided though to try something new and we flew to see the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal. We searched the Internet for hotels by the sea. I also asked tips from my Portuguese colleague. We were looking for a place on the west coast.

I tried to learn a little bit Portuguese before our trip. I started with these: bom dia (good morning), fala ingles (do you speak English), sim (yes), nao (no) and onde e (where is). The rest I looked up in the dictionary, which I had with me most of the days.

The seaside hotel Arribas at Praia Grande was our final choice, as it offered so many things we were looking for. The huge Atlantic Ocean was just some meters from the hotel, which also offered a swimming pool larger than we have ever seen. The swimming pool was 100 meters long. It is one of the largest saltwater swimming pools in Europe. The beach next to the hotel looked inviting.

Hotel pool and the PG beach

PORTUGAL – HERE WE COME

As always, it is fantastic when the travel day finally arrives. The sun was shining in Finland when we waited for the taxi to take us to the airport.

Waiting for the taxi to the aiport
We flew to Portugal with Finnair. By the time we got to the airport, clouds were spreading over the clear blue sky.

Flying with Finnair
TOWARDS PRAIA GRANDE

Praia Grande is one of the best beaches in Portugal. It takes less than one hour to drive there from the Lisbon International Airport. To visit the famous Costa do Estoril and Cascais is easy as they are just 20 minutes to the south from the hotel. The beautiful and historic town of Sintra is just a 15 minute drive to the east.

We took the evening flight and drove in the darkness towards the hotel. I had a map, but as it was quite dark and the street signs were not always seen, we got lost around Sao Pedro De Penaferrim. We experienced the friendliness of the Portuguese, when we stopped at a small cafe to ask for help. I did not speak Portuguese and the café owners did not speak English, but that did not stop them from helping us. Body language works well. On top of that we got some huge and tasty sandwiches with us. We had not eaten much during the day, so the simple sandwich tasted marvellous.

Just before reaching the Atlantic Ocean we drove through the small city of Colares.

Colares region by the sea
COLARES

Colares is a wine region. The region has Portugal’s highest wine classification as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC means the system of protected designation of origin for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products from Portugal).

Colares wine_2

Even before there was a “Portugal”, the region of Colares was a place of human movement and settlement. The Norwegian Sigurd I conquered and held Colares for a few months in 1108. The Moorish occupied the area later on and around 1147 the region fell in the hands of the Crown, as Afonso Henriques conquered it. In 1801 the municipality of Colares included 1930 inhabitants and by 1849 it had more than 3300 inhabitants. Nowadays around 7500 people live in the area.

PRAIA GRANDE

The sound of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean is something everyone should experience. We got a nice room towards the sea. It was amazing to just sit on the balcony and watch and listen to the Atlantic Ocean.

The AO

The Terrace Restaurant with a panoramic view over the sea is the perfect place to taste special dishes. You can choose between traditional Portuguese and international dishes.

Hotel dinnerYou can reach Praia Grande also without a car. Take the bus from the airport (Aerobus 1) to Entrecampos. Then take the train to Sintra. From Sintra you can take the bus to Praia Grande. Just as the name suggests, this is a large beach and is a particular favourite among surfers and bodyboarders and has become a regular host of championship events in these sports.

Praia grande

The hills on the south side of the beach are huge. We took a stroll on the sandy beach before hitting the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

First day at PG

CABO DA ROCA

Not far from the hotel you find the westernmost point of continental Europe. We had heard of it and wanted to see it. During the ancient Roman period the area was called Promontorium Magnum.

Driving to CdR

The place is so beautiful. In the west you see the huge Atlantic Ocean, in the other directions green hills and rocks surround you. The Cabo da Roca lighthouse overlooks the promontory towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Cabo da Roca from the sea

The cliffs here are more than 100 meters high and cut into crystalline rocks. We took pictures, enjoyed the scenery and felt the cool wind blowing from the Ocean. I could smell the salt of the sea.

Ile at CdR

I recommend to visit Cabo da Roca. You can eat at Restaurante Cabo Da Roca enjoying great food and fabulous scenery.

Next to the restaurant you find an old monument. Below the cross you find the text written by the 16th century Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões (1524 – 1580):

Aqui…

Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa…(Camoes)

Ponta mais ocidental do continente europeu

In English something like this:

Here…

Where land ends and the ocean begins…

The westernmost point of continental Europe

After our trip to Cabo da Roca we drove back to the hotel, put on our swimsuits and ran through the hot sand and dove into the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing feels better than the hot summer sun and the cool waves of the sea. After a few hours on the beach my skin was pink. July is quite hot in Portugal. At least for a Finn.

Ile and the AO

Spain: Estepona, Fuengirola, Marbella and San Pedro

TIGERS AND GORILLAS

One day we visited Fuengirola and its zoo (Biopark Fuengirola).

J entering the zoo

Fuengirola is a town on the Spanish Golden Coast, 24 kilometers west from Malaga international airport, and about 30 kilometers east from Marbella. The sandy beach is 8 kilometers long and has been awarded the Blue Flag disctinction by the EU. The seaside promenade Paseo Maritimo is very popular and quite crowded with hotels.

In addition to the nightlife Fuengirola offers golf clubs, mini-golf, horse drawn carriages, watersports, nautical cruises, tourist restaurants, bars and many fashion boutiques.

Mangustit 2
The zoo was renovated in 1999. The old animal cages were destroyed and the animals were given more natural homes. There are about 90 species in this zoo, including mammals, birds and reptiles. The mongoose and the tiger especially caught my eye. You can also see parrots, a leopard, bats, gorillas and crocodiles. If you want you can join a free guided tour.

zoo leopard


SAN PEDRO ALCANTARA

We asked the personnel at our hotel to recommend a restaurant for us. First they listed a few ones in Estepona, but they were expensive restaurants for tourists. We wanted to experience something local and traditional. To sit with local people and eat good Spanish food. We got a tip of a nice place in San Pedro Alcantara, just 5 kilometers from the hotel. The small town is full of great restaurants. They do not always speak a lot of English at the local restaurants, but that did not bother us. We got a table even though we did not have a reservation. The place got packed quite quickly after it opened at 8 p.m. The food was fabulous. We ate grilled prawns with garlic and herbs, grilled fish, boquerones fritos, tasty clams and mussels. And tasted some very good wine.

Boq Fritos


MARBELLA

Most people have heard of Marbella, the beautiful city on the Spanish Golden Coast, where the rich and famous like to hang around. Also golfers like to visit Marbella and its golf clubs. The population is about 120 000. We visited Marbella one very sunny day. Already in April Marbella was warmer than most of the summer days in Finland. The boutiques were nice but expensive, the selection of restaurants and pubs is wide, the old town is beautiful, the seaside promenade offers a fantastic view towards the sparkling sea and the city itself and the beach is crowded during the summer months.

Johanna Marbella

The harbour is crowded with fabulous luxury boats. Puerto Banús harbour is very popular. Around 5 million people visit it every year. The restaurants around the harbour are expensive due to tourism. If you like luxury, harbours and crowds, this is the city for you.

Ile Marbella


ESTEPONA

Estepona is a town about 34 kilometers west from Marbella and 83 kilometers from Malaga international airport. The area is known for fertile valleys crossed by small streams and a mountainous areas dominated by the Sierra Bermeja, which reaches an elevation of 1,449 m at the peak of Los Reales.

Estepona has many beaches, which stretch along some 21 km of coastline. It is a popular holiday destination. The most popular beach might be the Rada Beach, which is over 2 kilometers long and has golden sand.

Estepona beach
You can enjoy different kinds of sports, museums, the marina, the many tapas bars and restaurants as well as the shops in the town. Selwo Aventura is an interesting park (north of Estepona), where you can see birds, mammals and reptiles (kudus, Asian elephants, white rhinoceros, giraffes, African rock pythons, green iguanas and the brightly coloured scarlet ibis). There are also a wide variety of plants. The park offers adventure days and exhibitions.


FLAMENCO, TAPAS AND CREMA CATALANA

I recommend to visit Spain. The Spanish Golden Coast is just one of the many places worth a visit or two. In the middle of the Spain you find the capital Madrid, with a population of 3 million (in the metropolitan area almost 6 million). Madrid is known for the nightlife, the flamenco, Picasso, great restaurants and for many interesting museums and beautiful churches.

La Sagrada Familia
On the east coast you find the city of Barcelona, known for the artist Joan Miró ,
La Sagrada Familia (which will perhaps never be finished though the work started in 1882), the long beaches, La Rambla (a very long park road), the nightlife, great restaurants, the many museums and green parks as well as for football and the Futbol Club Barcelona (Barca).

The northern parts have many nice cities and towns. Maybe the most known of them is Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia and the destination of a Catholic pilgrimage route.

The Spanish Cuisine is very good. The tapas, the paella (Spanish rice dish), fried fish, the chorizo (sausage) and Jamon Iberico (Iberian ham), clams and mussels, garlic prawns, tortilla espanola (Spanish Omelet) and the olive oil are all tasty and delicious. Just like the red wine.

Paella
For dessert you can choose fresh fruit, Manchego cheese or Crema Catalana, which is the Catalan name and version of the French dessert, crème brulée. Or try a Churro (Xurro) and you won’t be hungry for hours. It is a sweet Spanish doughnut, a fried pastry. Do like the Spanish do – dip it into hot chocolate!

Spain: Gibraltar, Ronda, El Tajo and Puente Nuevo

HOTEL DIANA PARK

My husband had visited Spain and Costa Del Sol many times as his parents had a house in Torremolinos. I myself had only visited Mallorca and the Canary Islands, so the mainland was still on my wish list. This was the reason we chose Spain as our spring break target some years ago.

We flew to Malaga and rented a car. Driving late at night is always an experience, as you can see all the city lights glimmering in the dark. We drove to Estepona, which is about 70 kilometers west from the Malaga airport.

We passed Churriana, Benalmadena, Mijas, Fuengirola, Marbella and San Pedro. They are all cities worth seeing, depending on what you are looking for during your holiday.

Hotelli Diana Park_Espanja

Hotel Diana Park was our choice during this trip, as it situated very close to the A-7. We would drive around every day, so being close to a major highway was preferable. The hotel was actually quite nice though it had only three stars. This neat budget hotel, with an awesome pool, is situated at Carretera De Cadiz Km 168, Estepona, Spain.


GIBRALTAR

It was Easter weekend and the weather was great. After Finland’s cold and snowy winter, Spain’s 16-24 C was awesome weather for us. The sun was shining every day, though not every hour. The day we drove to Ronda, it was partly cloudy and some light rain occurred for one hour, but that did not matter at all.

We decided to visit Gibraltar and drove towards La Linea (de la Conception). It has a history of being the place where many illegal immigrants enter Spain. La Línea is a major supplier of fruit and vegetables to Gibraltar; other industries include the manufacture of cork, liquor, and fish paste. It also had an important military garrison with substantial fortifications and a port. La Línea has 14 kilometers of beaches, named La Alcaidesa, Santa Barbara, El Burgo Sobrevela, Portichuelos and Torrenueva. Some have been are awarded each year a blue flag by the Coastal European Authorities.

La Línea made headlines under Araujo’s Socialist predecessors in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was dubbed a “ciudad sin ley” or lawless city. At the time, drug dealers, smugglers and other criminals made their living in the Andalusian border town.

La Linea

Gibraltar is seen from far away. But it is such a small place – only 6,8 square kilometers and a population of around 30 000. Half of the area is protected area.

Gibraltar is known for the Rock of Gibraltar, which is 426 meters high. The World War II tunnels, the Cable Cars, the Gibraltar Botanic Museum and the Gibraltar Museum are some interesting places to visit during your days in Gibraltar. The subtropical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm summers attracts tourists from all over the world. If museums are not what you look for, you can spend the day shopping and visiting different cafeterias, bars and restaurants.

La Linea 2

The Official Gibraltar Tourist Board Website tells you in detail what to do and enjoy while staying in Gibraltar.

Gibraltarin torilla


RONDA, EL TAJO AND PUENTE NUEVO

It took us about one hour to drive up the mountains from our hotel to Ronda. Huge green hills surrounded us during the drive and the views were fabulous. When we arrived in Ronda, I thought “what a marvellous town”. The town is situated 750 meters above the sea level.

Ronda city
Ronda is the biggest of the Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia. These “white towns” are small towns from Malaga and Sevilla to Algeciras which are characterised by whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs.

Ronda P Nuevo

El Tajo canyon in Ronda is so amazing. Ronda was heavily affected by the Spanish Civil War. Chapter 10 of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, describing the 1936 execution of Fascist sympathisers in a fictional village who are thrown off a cliff, is considered to be modeled on actual events at the time in Ronda. It is also said that modern bullfighting started in Ronda.

bullfighting

We visited the restaurant of the  Don Miguel Hotel. I can warmly recommend Don Miguel. Excellent food, kind service and awesome view towards El Tajo canyon. The prices are not as high as one would think. Soups start at 5.40€, fish at 12,50€ and the meat dishes at 11,50€.

Three bridges, Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo span the canyon. The 120 meter deep canyon split Ronda in two. Therefore the architect José Martin de Aldehuda and the construction manager Juan Antonio Diaz Machuca decided to build a beautiful and strong bridge. The building of Puente Nuevo, the tallest of these three bridges, commenced in 1751. It took 42 years to complete. 50 workers died building the bridge. Beauty has its price.

Ronda

Malta: Historic sites, classic cars and old airplanes

MALTA AVIATION MUSEUM

I am interested in history. On Malta there are quite a few historic sites to see and visit. Beautiful churches and cathedrals, small and amazing museums, ancient temples,  catacombs, towers and monuments. The oldest are 7000 years old.

Some of my favourite ones are the Citadella and its cathedral on Gozo, the huge private classic car collection (museum) in Qawra and the small Malta Aviation Museum in Ta’Qali.

aviation museum_airplane

Malta Aviation Museum is fabulous, especially if you like old airplanes and military cars. I finally saw a Spitfire and a Hurricane – they have been my favourites for some time now. It was great to see them, touch them and take a lot of pictures. My husband went nuts, in a positive way.

The museum is situated in Ta’Qali. It is easy to find by car or by bus. A nice gentleman, Anthony Spiteri, takes care of the museum and is your guide if you wish.

Aviation museum Ile

A few models of the airplanes and cars at the museum are: Wright Flyer, de Havilland Tiger Moth, Fairey Swordfish, Douglas C-47 (DC-3), Beech 18 (Expeditor) plus Willies Jeep, Fiat 500A Topolino and Standard Van 14. People inspired and interested in technology will for sure enjoy to see old airplane engines, engine parts, electronic devices as well as scale models. My husband could have stayed here for the whole day.

Malta aviation museum Johanna
CLASSIC CARS

We found some small brochures at our hotel and found something amazing – Malta Classic Car Collection. We drove right away to Il-Qawra, not far from Mellieha Bay, where we stayed this time. The owner of this one of a kind museum is Carol Galea. His passion is to save classic sports cars built 1940 – 1970. The cars are rarities and have been restored to a pristine condition. I love this museum.

Malta car collection_1
car museum_old bike
There is a range from T-Birds to Spitfires, Fiats to Fords as well as Jaguars to Alfa Romeo and Austin Healey. Read about the amazing story of Carol Galea and his one of a kind museum here.

Malta car collection_2


OTHER INTERESTING SITES

I recommend to visit The National Museum of Archeology in Valletta , The National War Museum Fort St Elmo, also in Valletta, and the Roman Villa in Rabat.

Malta’s silent city Mdina is a fortified medieval town enclosed in bastions, located on a large hill in the centre of Malta. The town was the old capital of Malta. Mdina is referred to as the “Silent City” – no cars (except those of a limited number of residents) have permission to enter Mdina.

The Mellieha Air Raid Shelters (Kenn Ghall-Attakki Mill-Ajru) offer quite an experience to see how the people lived during WW II, when the Island of Malta was heavily attacked with bombs.

Mellieha shelters
Malta offers so much. You can enjoy the sunny weather on the beach or walking around in the small towns, you can drive around in the countryside and take pictures of the scenery, and after visiting a few interesting museums, cathedrals or shops it is time to enjoy a cold drink and some great traditional Maltese food. It is rustic and based on the seasons. Try Rabbit Stew, Braġioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), Ġbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese) and Bigilla (broad beans with garlic).

Malta hills

History of Malta and modern Ramla Bay

SHORT HISTORY OF MALTA

If you are even a little bit interested in historical sites, sunny days and friendly people, Malta is the perfect choice for you. Beautiful churches, astonishing cathedrals, amazing museums and people, ancient temples, catacombs with underground galleries and tombs, over a thousand years old forts and various kind of monuments, all this you find on the small sunny island named Malta.

They say the first people to settle on the Maltese Islands (in Maltese: Repubblika ta’ Malta) came from Sicily about 5000 BC.

map of sicily
The Romans conquered  Malta in 218 B.C. A thousand years later the Arabs came and brought with them citrus fruits, spices, a new religion (Islam) and cotton. They left their mark on the Maltese language and in the names of many towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, such as Marsa, Mdina, Mġarr, Mqabba, Għajnsielem and Rabat.

Later on the Normans conquered Malta, and the Islands were to be part of the Kingdom of Sicily. In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte took over Malta from the Knights on his way to Egypt.

Malta blog eng pic 6 napoleon
Quite soon the English blockaded the islands and the British rule in Malta lasted until 1964, when  Malta became finally independent.

Modern Malta became a Republic in 1974 and joined the European Union in May 2004.

Malta covers just over 316 km² (122 sq mi), making it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. The population is estimated to 421 000.

RAMLA BAY

We have visited the fabulous Malta twice. I wish to go there a third time. Instead of staying where most people go, Valletta, we have stayed at the northern-most coast of the island.  I can warmly recommend Ramla Bay.

There are not many sandy beaches in Malta but at Ramla Bay you find some really nice ones. Same goes for Mellieha Bay, just 5 minutes south of Ramla Bay. Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, at the northwest coast of Malta, is a red beach and just a short distance of Golden Bay. It is quieter than Golden Bay and often visited by the Maltese themselves.

If you stay at Gozo, be sure to visit the most beautiful beach, Ramla il-Ħamra, located at the bottom of a valley in the north of Gozo, close to the village of Nadur. The large beach has unusual red sand.

Malta blog eng pic ramla il H

Last time we stayed at the Ramla Bay Resort, a four star hotel with a small private beach.  The bay around it offers a variety of water sports. Spa du Soleil again offers a range of treatments, a sauna, a steam room as well as a fitness room.

Malta blog eng pic2

The water in the bay (Ramla tal-Bir) by the hotel was clear and refreshing. As it is quite warm in June one appreciates the cool, but not cold, sea water. It was fantastic to lay in the hot sun, enjoying the view of the Mediterranean and the tourists on skijets, canoes and sailing boats. Some also tried windsurfing. All the memories of the Finnish cold winter disappeared in a second.

Ramla Bay

In the evening it was nice to sit on the balcony, feeling a cool breeze from the sea. The view on the sunset over Gozo Island was relaxing.

 

Gozo Island 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy: Etna, Catania and Syracuse

HELSINKI – ROME – CATANIA

In 2004 my husband and I decided to enjoy an adventure. We wanted to see something interesting in Europe, not too far from Finland and where it would be around 20 C (68 F) during the day. We chose to make a trip to Sicily, Italy.

We decided to visit the area around Syracuse and the small towns further south. Most people visit Palermo and the beaches north of Catania (Taormina and Naxos) – later in the summer time.

Unfortunately there were no direct flights to Sicily, so we had to fly to Rome, then take a connecting flight to Catania.

What an experience it is to see the Rome International Airport for the first time!

We had only 1 hour between our flights. I give you a hint – reserve at least 2 hours between connecting flights. Your day will be less stressful.

fiumicino airport

MOUNT ETNA

The flight from Rome to Catania, an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, was short. The view from the plane was awesome. The Mediterranean Sea is for sure one of the most beautiful seas, especially when the sun makes the water glitter.

When I saw Mount Etna, the active stratovolcano of Sicily, I found my disposable camera (back then that was normal…) and took some pictures. It was an amazing moment.

Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity.

Etna lentokoneesta katsottuna

CATANIA

We did not visit Catania this time. It is the second largest city in Sicily. If you like a hectic lifestyle and chaotic traffic, visit Catania. The nightlife is well known and you will find plenty of bars to choose from.

The city is known for its seismic history, having been destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1169, another in 1693, and several volcanic eruptions from the neighbouring Mount Etna volcano.

Catania city and Etna
SYRACUSE

It is about 70 kilometers from Catania to Syracuse. We had chosen Hotel Helios. Helios was OK but not as great as advertised. Back in 2004 our budget was small, otherwise I would have chosen another hotel.

Hotel H and me

If you visit Syracuse you might want to stay at Mercure Siracusa Prometeo or at Jolly Hotel Aretusa. These are in the center of the city. Best choice might though be to book a room at Grand Hotel Ortigia, which is in the old town (called Isola Ortigia). Also Hotel Roma is a great choice.

In Syracuse, population 125.000, the cultural history is mixed with Italian city life. But just a short drive away you can enjoy the small and beautiful beaches, rocky shores and the fabulous countryside.

Pachino Sicily_2

PIAZZA ARCHIMEDE

An evening in the old town of Syracuse (called Ortigia) will fill you with great memories. Just before sunset we took a taxi to the old town and searched for Trattoria Archimede, which our hotel clerk had recommended. We had asked where do the Italians eat dinner. Sicilia in Tavola is another great restaurant offering great traditional food.

We arrived a bit early. Italians eat later, after 8 pm. We are hungry before 7 pm. We decided to hang out at Piazza Archimede for an hour. Great decision. The piazza is beautiful. And quite old. It was opened in 1878.

Piazza Archimede Syracuse

While sipping a cold drink at the terrace of a nice bar,  Banco di Sicilia and the other old buidings around you whisper stories of ancient Sicilian times and lifestyle.

I can warmly recommend to visit Sicily. There is so much to see as well as to taste!

Travel stories by Johanna Hurmerinta

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