If you book a getaway to Portugal, you’re guaranteed a good time. After all, this is a country that boasts wonderful food (not to mention wine), great weather and rich culture. Plus, it’s just a two to three hour flight away.
But what if you could combine a jaunt around Lisbon – or Faro – with a stay on a houseboat, sailing around an idyllic lake?
Enter, The Great Lake Alqueva. A two-hour drive from the capital, Europe’s biggest man-made lake sits nestled between five Alentejo municipalities, north of the Algarve, and offers many an Instagram-worthy moment. It’s peaceful, large (250 square kilometres, to be exact) and completely undisturbed by tourists – making it the ideal getaway.
While there are a number of quaint villages scattered around the shores that you can stay in, it’s the water that offers a prime opportunity to really be at one with the water and sleep on – and drive – your very own boat. Sounds daunting, but let us assure you it’s not.
After a quick 30-minute theory class at Amieira Marina, situated on the south side of the lake, followed by a practical lesson of the same speed, you’ll be off out on the water, completely unaided and able to drive your boat wherever the wind takes you. No test or driving license needed.
While sailing, there’s almost no chance of encountering any issues: the boats don’t go any faster than 10 mph and a GPS located in the cockpit will help you navigate the lake’s ‘road’ with ease and locate each marina. There’s also a sonar onboard to make you aware of any obstructions or dangers in the water, as well as the depth.
Parking it is less simplistic: reversing it into spaces at the various marinas scattered around the lake can be tricky, but you’ll get there in the end. We did.
If you feel daring, head upstairs to the top of the boat where there’s a second steering wheel and really feel the breeze in your hair.
The boats are packed with everything you could need for a week away from it all: Towels, bedding, a shower, fridge, a TV and CD player, oven, seating area and even a BBQ. Not much beats grilled octopus, a glass of chilled wine and the open water.
Speaking of food, you can order a variety of Portuguese meals from the Amieira Marina restaurant that you can heat up or cook onboard, or you can swing by a supermarket en route to your boat and stock up.
Activity wise, you can hire bikes, canoes, banana boats and more to take onboard and use when you dock. We went for both a sunset paddle in the canoe and a little cycle ride around one of the villages and, trust us, it really adds to the experience.
If you fancy soaking up a Portuguese culture, or simply want to spend some time on dry land during your boat stay, there are plenty of great stop-offs. We can’t recommend Monsaraz enough; a beautiful village perched atop a hill with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, vineyards and cork tree farms. A fortified castle sits in the centre and there are some lovely bars and shops to pass the time in.
Another place worth visiting is Aldeia da Luz, a pit-stop with a great story. The original village actually lies submerged under the lake’s water: The 300-odd residents were moved a few miles inland, to a replication of the previous village, in 2002 when the lake was built. There’s a fascinating museum that explains the move and the difficulties both the government and the townspeople faced.
In total, there are nine villages surrounding the lake – two of which are in Spain – so there’s plenty of choice.
Costs for a 7 night family holiday start at just £1,300 for 4 people. Boats are available for 2 – 10 people. Contact Amieira Marina for more information or call +351 266 611 173/4.
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