Portugal Part II: The Algarve


Portugal’s Algarve, stretches along the bottom portion of the country’s coastline. It’s in the Algarve where most people come to spend their holidays along the soft sandy beaches backed by eroding cliffs with dramatic rock formations.

We spent one week in the Algarve with the town of Albufeira as our base. From here we set out each day to visit the smaller towns surrounding the area. Our first stop was to the Old Center of Albufeira, a beautiful beach city boasting an incredible elevator (see first picture above) leading down to a lovely beach, great restaurants, and decent shopping.

A formerly beautiful facade of green tile
Love the architectural details above the door

The next day, we set out in search of pottery. We headed to Porches, a village famed for its ceramics and shops selling tiles in various styles, but this ended up being a bust. We still found pottery to buy, just not here.

Next up, we headed inland to the town of Silves, the medieval residence and capital of the Moorish kings of the al-Gharb (Algarve). Here we walked through castle remains and the fortressed walls of a formerly grand place. After a few close calls from driving in extremely tight and scary streets, we headed back to the shore for more comfortable weather and something to eat.

View from the Castle into town

Our last foray into town touring was to the town of Faro. We had a great lunch and walked it off looking for something, anything to buy, but alas, there was nothing. The town is pretty and architecturally interesting, but with little to buy.

We spent our last few days sunning, reading, playing tennis and relaxing, preparing for part II of our vacation in the Loire Valley of France.

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A View Fit for a King–Dead Sea Panoramic Center


Restaurant's Terrace
Dead Sea below
View of the Museum

Last week we had a blizzard (ALL weekend long); this week a heat wave. Last week we hibernated, ate too much and complained about our luck–the weather in DC was WAY warmer than here in the DESERT; this week we promised ourselves that we would get OUT of the house and enjoy Jordan. We hashed a plan last Saturday, in the midst of the blizzard (after checking out the upcoming forecast–it said it was going to be sunny and hot) and decided to hike the Soapmaker’s Trail in Ajloun. What I love about this trail is that at the end of it–and it’s only a two-hour hike–there’s a soap factory AND gift store (part of RSCN’s (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) efforts to help support the local economy). So you’re basically hiking to a store. Love it!

We packed our daypack with water and trail mix and were all set to leave until we searched for directions. Upon searching, we noticed that the trails in Ajloun DO NOT open until April 1st. We called to make sure this was right and were told ‘inshallah, we will open April 1.”

In front of the entrance to museum and stores
View of Jerusalem across the Dead Sea

Plan B. We decided to go to another RSCN location–the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex. As the RSCN website describes it:

“Perched at the edge of the Zara mountain range, between Ma’in hot springs and the Dead Sea basin, the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex offers some of the most spectacular views in the Kingdom. From the observation terrace you can absorb breathtaking vistas over the Jordan Rift Valley and Dead Sea basin and you can dine in style watching sunrise or sunset over the mountains of the Holy Land. There is also a large and fascinating museum devoted to the natural and cultural history of the Dead Sea, a Nature Shop and a range of other attractions and activities suitable for both adults and children.”

The place is stunning–both architecturally and view-wise. It would be a perfect venue for a wedding with the views and the restaurant…but I don’t know anyone getting married, so nevermind. Best of all–there was hardly ANYONE else there, so we had the restaurant almost exclusively to ourselves.

The restaurant, “Arabic style with a hint of Lebanese” is operated by Evason Ma’in Hot Springs (a neighboring hotel/resort that we haven’t stayed at…yet). The food was amazing! Generally I stick to my favorites, shish tawouk or mixed grill, but feeling a bit crazy (perhaps from all of the glorious sunshine), I ordered something new–musakhkhan (chicken seasoned with sumac, an abundant amount of onions and served on top of pita that soaks up all of the chicken juices and oniony flavors). It was served on a hot griddle placed on a wood serving piece (similar to Mexican fajitas). [I wasn’t sure what sumac was, so I looked it up–it’s a spice made from the ground dried berries of a bush that grows wild throughout the Middle East. Sumac has a sour and vaguely lemony taste.] We also ordered a cold mezza–hummos Beiruty–chickpeas, tahini, hot paprika, parsley, and fava beans.

Musakhkhar and Hummos Beiruty

The Panoramic center has a lovely museum and TWO stores: one is a Rivage, Dead Sea product store–you can buy these product anywhere, AND the RSCN store. I love RSCN products–the teas, soaps, jewelry…too many choices so I got overwhelmed and bought nothing. I’m saving my money for the day when we hike the Soap Maker’s Trail and end at the soap factory that sells the soaps that are sold at stores like the Panoramic Center.

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