Portugal’s plethora of sunny days, world-class beaches, and stunning ruins and monuments are among the main reasons why people flock to spend holidays here, and getting from point A to B is generally a pleasant experience, especially along the national roads peppered with quaint villages and jaw-dropping views. Atlas knows a little something about how enjoyable driving through Portugal can be, but what we didn’t know was how much fun it can be doing it in a convertible. It’s a whole other ballgame.
We learned this firsthand thanks to our friends at the recent start-up company Off Rent Convertible Cars, who offered us a sleek little 2022 Mini Cooper JCW Edition to go exploring with for the weekend. This sassy, sporty two-door automatic was delivered straight to our door (right on time, it should be noted), eliminating the oftentimes depressing and time-consuming hassle of going to the airport, or, worse, the desolate Prior Velho area, to pick up a ride. Off Roof’s representative, Tony, showed us the ropes, Bluetooth-ed our devices, and had us ready to roll in minutes. He was right when he said in a recent Instagram post “The ‘wind in your hair’ romance is real: every time the roof goes down, you become part of the scenery, not just a spectator!” It’s clear that Tony loves cars and the way they can make a moment special by the way he watched with pride as we buckled up and dropped the top. We were on our way.
Neighboring drivers looked longingly at us during the after-work Friday traffic jam. They could clearly see that for us, being stuck waiting to enter the A2 was an absolute pleasure. We turned up Arctic Monkeys as we picked up speed to zip across the Ponte 25 de Abril with the top down, feeling gloriously naked (fully clothed, mind you), with the Tejo on both sides, Lisbon at our backs, and the sun and road ahead. Glorious.
Since the beginning of October is the official beginning of the low season, we decided to make our way to the Algarve coast. We were pretty sure that we would be able to find a slice of paradise for ourselves, away from lobster-red visitors and tour groups galore, and that’s precisely what we did.
Luckily, Michael Stock of Quinta dos Vales invited us to stay at his family-owned and operated 44-hectare wine estate in Estômbar in the Western Algarve region. Again, simplicity in booking, organizing, and confirming details is something Atlas celebrates, as in many cases in Portugal, a simple question often takes over five emails to answer. In this respect, the Quinta dos Vales team did not disappoint, and our arrival and departure went over like clockwork. We arrived with a gate code and combination lock that worked, a functioning key where they said one would be, and a clean and bright villa in The Vines complete with a complimentary bottle of Algarve 2017 Duo red wine, made of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. After a toast in front of the sprawling vineyard just ahead of us, we were hooked.
The following day, after walking through the vineyard in the sunlight, we came to understand that there was more to The Vines than meets the eye — it’s actually comprised of 32 units (26 of which are already spoken for) maintained by the wine estate. Currently, there are nine unit owners from the Vines who actually make their own bespoke wines as part of Quinta dos Vales’ Winemaking Experience, and none of them come from a viticulture background. The vast majority were inspired by the site’s Bottle Blending Workshop to invest in a vineyard parcel of land, yield, and advice on how to get the most out of your own 225-litre barrel when all is said and done. Stock, who serves as the administrator at Quinta dos Vales, told us, “You choose the variety, you choose when to harvest, you choose the blend, basically, you choose everything.” The winemaker experience currently boasts 25 private productions, which tells us that this is one hell of an experience.
While I go for red, my partner tends to choose white or rosé, so clearly shared ownership of a vineyard would be tricky. Instead of arguing over the merit or lack thereof of tannins, we decided to check out a nearby beach in our fancy grey Mini (top down, claro).
Our first stop was Praia dos Pinheiros near the popular Ponte da Piedade. This tiny naturist beach is accessible by a sloping trail that might pose some problems for the less agile, but my guess is perhaps those comfortable visiting a nude beach are likely to be of the fitter variety in the first place. I could be wrong. Regardless, the beach was pristine, surrounded by high cliffs and crystal blue water that kept encroaching upon the shore so that we were forced to sit on the rocks. Perhaps looking into low tide times would have been a good idea, but we weren’t fazed.
That evening, we treated ourselves to a fantastic meal at Amigo Restaurant and Tapas Bar in Albufeira after noting that they had scallops on the menu and the images that came up on a quick search looked tasty and inviting. And what a meal it turned out to be! Owned by the husband and wife team Enrico and Nadia, the restaurant pays incredible attention to detail both in the food and in the ambiance. Each dish that came out was prepared to perfection: from the duck wraps to the octopus with chouriço garnish, to said scallops with Algarve orange zest. Each bite was a delight, as was each sip of the Quinta da Lapa Malbec from the Tejo region. Who’d have thought?
We returned to our slice of vineyard heaven modestly sunkissed, full-bellied, and ready for a good night’s sleep.
Bright and early the next morning, we packed our things, waved goodbye to The Vines, and went for a spin through Quinta dos Vales’ sculpture garden. I’d never experienced driving a convertible through an outdoor museum of sorts before. Highly recommended if the occasion should arise. Our last beach stop before driving back to Lisbon was the spectacular Praia Submarino near Alvor. Luckily, we learned our lesson on the importance of knowing when to expect the tides to roll in and understood that we needed to be out of there before noon, otherwise we would be forced to swim out. Rocks and algae in the water make this place more ideal for sunbathing and exploring, but the impeccable beauty of this beach is the main attraction— that and the impressive amount of private rock chambers you can play in. We recommend going early to have it all to yourself.
One final drive along the coast put us back on the A2 heading back to the big city. The drive back flew by as we recounted the wine, the food, the sights, and the sounds of the Algarve, and concocted plans for our next adventure in a convertible, whenever we are lucky enough to do it all over again.