Over the last few years it seemed like everyone we knew was going on holidays to Portugal. We’d been once, about 10 years ago, as a couple without kids and hadn’t gone back since. We decided this year (well, early last year when we were booking) after our last two holidays were both in Italy, in the exact same campsite that maybe it was time for a change. Portugal ticked the boxes, weather, beaches, no more than three hour flight. We weren’t fussy about a resort and shopped around to get the best fit accommodation for us.
Flights wise the prices were very similar for Ryanair and Aer Lingus so we chose the times that suited us best, flying to Faro with Ryanair at 10.30am on a Monday morning and flying home with Aer Lingus at 9pm on Monday too. We booked and paid for one 20kg bag and then brought three 10kg hand luggage bags (Ryanair took one of these into the hold free of charge at bag drop, Aer Lingus took them all when I enquired if they were taking them on the return leg- they often do if flights are full). We also brought a car seat and two small booster seats and a buggy, both airlines carry these free. The only real difference in the two airlines was the more muted colours in the Aer Lingus plane and the fact that the staff weren’t selling scratchcards. We enjoyed the novelty of leaving the plane via Skyway with Aer Lingus to terminal 2 on the way home, the kids thought it was pure magic.
We stayed in Plaza Real by Atlantichoice, a 3 star apartment complex in Praia da Rocha/Portimao. We booked through the now defunct lowcostholidays.ie but people we met on holiday had also booked through travelrepublic. The accommodation was excellent, we had a duplex apartment with a separate kitchen (with fridge freezer, cooker, microwave, kettle and toaster) and 2 bedrooms upstairs. The huge living/dining room had a couch with rollout bed inside (we moved this upstairs to the kids’ bedroom), TV, free wifi and a balcony overlooking the carpark. The living room and both bedrooms have air conditioning units that really work. There’s a toilet downstairs and an enormous (ridiculously so) bathroom with bath and separate shower and bidet (cue lots of explanations about bum washing to many, many questions from small people).
Amenity wise we were worried that the kids would be underwhelmed by the pools after last year’s six-pool extravaganza in Italy, the complex had a small baby pool and a big pool with deep end. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The big pools meant that the boys could practice all their diving and swimming constantly and the smaller one was perfectly safe for their small sister and her many dollies. There was never a hassle finding a sun lounger and the small pool area meant that one parent could keep an eye on all three children despite them being in two separate pools.
The whole complex was very clean and well kept. The one exception being the small playground which had broken equipment and needed a repaint. We still got some use out of the swings though. There’s a pool table and air hockey and a couple of coin operated games off reception that were rarely in use.
The complex bar was very quiet. It has limited snacks during the day, chips, pizza, rolls and toasties. The pizza and chips were both devoured by our crew. They did an excellent (aka HUGE) gin and tonic and even offered cocktails. There’s a small shop across from the complex that closes at 7pm that sells essentials, like milk, soft drinks, water and alcohol, and fresh bread and croissants in the morning.
Housekeeping isn’t usually included in the cost and there may be a local charge for this depending on your tour operator.
Plaza Real is located about 10-15 (15 with kids) minutes walk from the beach or the main Praia da Rocha strip, it’s downhill on the way and uphill on the way back. We hired a car so the Contintente, Aldi and Lidl supermarkets were a 3 minute drive away, but it’s easy to get a taxi from reception to them, they’re not a long walk but in the heat it wouldn’t be pleasant on the main road.
Eating Out is much like home, except less expensive. Kids’ menus are the same fare as in Ireland, pizza, chicken nuggets, bolognese and chips, sometimes there are fish fingers. Our kids got a little adventurous and tried some fish soup one night and piri piri chicken another night but that was the height of it. Service can take a while and it’s unusual to get exactly what you order, especially when it comes to drinks or extra water etc but any errors are rectified with a smile usually. Children are very welcome in restaurants and if it’s not busy waiting staff will have fun with them. I’ll put together a post of some the places that we ate and where we would recommend.
The prettier resort of Alvor is 5 minutes drive and many people in our apartment complex travelled over there several nights during their stay by taxi, we drove over in our rental car for meals and enjoyed the atmosphere.
What is there to do?
Beaches The beaches are absolutely beautiful, with rock arches making them oh-so picturesque. You can rent pedalos etc on the main beach in Praia da Rocha.
Shopping The Aqua Centre in Portimao (about 5 minutes in a taxi from our apartment) has all the big name fashion retailers like Primark and H&M, and lots of lovely shoe shops. If you’re there don’t miss the gorgeous Himmel sweet shop near the supermarket. There’s also a Decathlon (fabulous sports shop) in Portimao it made me want to get sporty.
Amusements There’s a carousel and bungee trampolines on the strip in Praia da Rocha open afternoons and evenings. The seafront in Alvor has more amusements including bumper cars and bouncy castles.
Daytrips If you’ve read the blog before you’ll know that we don’t tend to just stay still on holidays but like to do some day trips too. We did a boat trip, visited Zoomarine and explored nearby beaches and hillside towns. I’ll share lots more about those in further blogposts, this one would never see the light of day if I put everything into it! Here’s a taster in the image below.
We had a fantastic holiday. We were surprised at how much we liked Portugal, about the beauty of the beaches and the scenery. Our apartment worked out really well and the lack of kids’ club or waterslides wasn’t an issue at all. The coastal breeze gave relief from the very high temperatures while we were there. The kids said it was “better than Italy” but conceded that the gelato in Italy may just have been nicer. You can’t win ’em all. Would we go back? Absolutely. What more do you need to know?
This isn’t a sponsored post, we paid for our holiday and I wasn’t asked to review it, it’s just my honest opinion and some tips we picked up.
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