Friday, June 15, 2007

Praia da Rocha, Portugal

We're not long back from two weeks on Portugal's Algarve and we stayed in Praia da Rocha, which is the main beach suburb of the city of Portimão. Praia da Rocha is probably one of the best known resorts on the Algarve and it certainly has some of the best beaches in the area.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha Beach


We stayed in the Vila Rosa complex, which seems to be a mix of self-catering and time-share/owned apartments. Actually it looked like a time-share venture gone a bit sour but it hits the mark as a self-catering venue. Our building had a few obvious structural cracks in the walls that might have put off buyers, which is how I'm assuming the tour operators get the use of them for holiday lets now.

The building we stayed in, and the place has several spread over a wide area, had several apartments that looked "lived-in". You know what I mean, they had doormats and you could see a level of decor in some of them that we certainly didn't have. Oh and there was a huge Alsatian staying in the apartment above us, which occasionally vented its lungs out from the balcony at all and sundry and that tended to set off the neighbouring muts, of which there were quite a few. For example, the house opposite our building had a Golden Retriever and three large Alsatians prowling the grounds. We did notice a few complaints about neighbours with noisy dogs on a few review sites before we went but they really weren't that bad and we were never disturbed by it.

We had a one-bedroom suite with a sort of open-plan living room and kitchen as well so there was plenty of room, even if fairly basically furnished. The hot water was a bit of a hassle but once we'd learned to put the boiler on boost about 20 minutes before we wanted a shower, then both of us could get washed without it getting cold. Our little balcony looked out over a row of very expensive looking houses and an awful lot of ongoing building developments, through which we had a very small glimpse of a sea view. I guess being surrounded by tourists and poorish ones at that accounts for all the guard dogs around about.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha Beach

The Vila Rosa complex had a couple of pools with lots of sun-beds and a bar/restaurant close by. There was also a very good restaurant sort of attached near the bottom of the complex. Reception and bar staff were all friendly and helpful. I quite liked the place!

The Resort

From where we were staying, the resort proper was about a 10-15 minute walk down the hill, across a fly-over and up the hill again. Praia da Rocha consists mainly of a single street of bars, hotels and restaurants, stretching along the cliff top above the beach from the adjoining resort of Praia do Vau to the Portimão marina.

Unfortunately they were in the middle of re-laying the road and pavements along almost the entire length of the main strip, which meant the place was in complete chaos. Some stretches had no pavement at all, which meant walking on the churned up earth, avoiding the JCBs and groups of construction workers during the day and trying not to fall down unmarked holes or walk into all sorts of obstacles in the evening. We were there just at the start of the season so the planner's timing was far from perfect, given that there would soon be a very large number of tourists arriving.

Castle of Sao Joao do AradeCastle of Sao Joao do Arade

I can't fault the beaches though. They were excellent! There was a wide stretch of sand from the marina to the centre of Praia da Rocha with a line of bar/restaurants built out of what looked like mocked up aeroplane fuselage units. You could then walk through a connecting tunnel in the rock to the west side beach, which stretched all the way along to Praia do Vau and had some of the most amazing sandstone rock and cave formations all along the way and all of this backed by a cliff wall.

Eating Out

Being in self-catering accommodation pretty much meant eating out every night. It was okay for cobbling together breakfast and the odd lunch but it wasn't really equipped for cooking a full meal. Anyway, we were on holiday so the idea of cooking wasn't really high on the agenda.

Praia da Rocha has a lot of eateries to choose from and I think we sampled a good percentage of them. You can choose from mainly a mix Italian, Chinese and Portuguese restaurants and I saw at least one Japanese and an American diner as well. The Hollywood Steak House was quite good if a little pricey. We tried a lot of the Italian restaurants and a few of the Portuguese ones but weren't that impressed by any of them. The signature dish of the area is Piri-Piri Chicken but Jús interpretation of that was serving up a grilled chicken breast and handing you a bottle of chilli oil.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha from the Lighthouse

The Chinese restaurants were much better and The Dragon had a pretty good buffet. Asia had just opened so was also pretty good since they usually want to impress in the first few months. We also tried the Taj Palace for a curry one night and it was pretty good as well. Best of the lot though, had to go to the Sabor Gaúcho, a Brazilian restaurant attached to the Vila Rosa. It was basically a meat-fest and they offered a buffet with two options - one steak from the grill or a constant stream of grilled and barbecued meats. We opted for the simple buffet, which had loads of dishes plus a really well cooked and tasty sirloin as well but a group of four people tried the full buffet option and we sat, amazed at the array of meats that were brought out at a constant rate. There was one point that I thought one of the girls was going to fall over as they dropped yet another steak on her plate - you could see all of them groaning!

Night Life

I think we must have been a wee bit early in the season as the nightlife was still getting into gear and the bars were still a bit quite as they had to compete for the lower number of holidaymakers at the time.

There were plenty of Irish bars with some pretty good, live Irish music acts and of course the Guinness, which helps everyone get into the spirit of the thing. There were a few other decent, modern sort of bars along the strip where you could listen to some non-Irish music and just chill for a while. Of night-clubs we saw but one, which always looked empty, although it did get busier towards the end of our holiday.

See the rest of the photographs of our trip in my Portugal set.

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