Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Letting Luz

Luz is why people love the Algarve. It is morning and warm, and sitting on the sun drenched veranda of our traded villa, I imagine what it would be like to live on this edge of Portugal. We are on a hill overlooking the beach and the little town of Praia da Luz (which sounds so much better than Luz Beach). There are flowers everywhere and the breeze carries their scents. To get to the house you pass through an old stone gate then proceed up a long (quarter mile) driveway. This dirt road is bordered by the owner's gardens and is lined with fig and pomegranate trees. Tasty.

Tuesday - September 9th 2008 - Luz

We began our day where we ended it last night, Rossio Square, downtown Lisboa. I find Lisboa fascinating. We had spent a couple of days in the city a few years ago, and it is lively and clean, and has a unique feel to it. It looks old and a little shabby, but there is a certain charm, little surprises (like the unique streetlights on the square) that are all around. The main street to the left looks interesting and I think heads down to the water, but that will wait for another trip because we are on a mission.

Our plan is to Aerobus back to the airport and pick up our rental car for the ride south. Rick and Lu were right on time, and they appeared to be pretty relaxed, no doubt glad that everything had worked out so well on the islands. Their planning and knowledge made the trip so easy and enjoyable for us. The bus came, the airport was crowded (and still confusing), but the car was ready and we enjoyed a very leisurely drive to the Algarve on new, fast roads.

Rich and Lu have a home in San Diego. Via the Internet they found a woman (Alexandra) who was willing to trade a week in her villa in Luz for a week (in the future) in their home. We did have a picture of the property, and emailed directions (four lines as I remember - south to Algarve, right to Sagres, left at stoplight, Quinta da Luz after campground), and Rich had told Alexandra that we would probably be there on Tuesday. Expecting a longer drive, we were very pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the Luz campground shortly after noon (about 2 and 1/2 hours). Sure enough right after the campground was this beautiful old stone arch with "Quinta da Luz" right on the tiles. We're home.

We were less pleasantly surprised when we drove up this long driveway to be greeted by a non English speaking couple (old enough to be our grandparents were they still alive) who knew nothing about us, Alexandra, or any villa that was being swapped. After the requisite amount of sign-language the gentleman told us to follow him to "Quinta da Luz." Huh? What about the sign down on the gate? We headed back toward the highway and sure enough a sign pointed us up a hill to the Quinta da Luz resort. Fancy, manicured lawns, tennis courts, pool, the whole enchilada. Unfortunately it was clearly a private resort peopled by British subjects who explained clearly that this was not the place we were looking for.

We rechecked our directions, looked longingly at the big stone gate of the first place as we passed it again (and again), and headed into town to search out some Internet access to email Alexandra and hopefully solve our mystery. Cute little beach town, with a cute little beach church, but with nary a Portuguese person in sight. I was sure we had landed in a British enclave after spending a few minutes walking around. The homes are beautiful and the area seems a perfect getaway from England.

At the Cafe Jasmim we struck gold. Not only did they have Internet access where Rich pulled up the pictures of the house, the owners (a young husband and wife) ensured us that the first place we stopped was THE place. The rear of the house had an extended veranda and a pool. The wife, Claudia, could not have been more helpful, offering to take us back there at the end of her shift.

Off we went back to see grandma and grandpa, but they did not greet us in the driveway as before. We got out of the car and walked around the back of the house and sure enough, veranda and pool, as advertised. We decided we were staying. While Rich went to find the folks, Kat, Lu and I looked around for a hidden key, or note, or some indication that we had a deal on the place. Rich returned with Avo, and she unlocked the doors and made sure we understood how the appliances worked, where the laundry was, and how to turn on the hot water. Rich had somehow convinced her to contact the owner who explained who we were. The end of the story is that the old folks are the caretakers for the house, and live in the small detached cottage in front. The main house is owned and inhabited by Alexandra's mother and father, and the attached 3 bedroom villa is Alexandra's second home. She apparently made the deal with Rich but never told mom, dad, or the caretakers.

The house is beautiful, and ideal for the type of vacation that includes a lot of entertaining, reading, and contemplating. After the constant activity on the islands, this was the perfect counterpoint. We found the little supermarket in town, and bought the essentials for our feast: beer, wine, olive oil, sliced meat, bread, butter, cheese, fruit and some piri-piri. We gathered on the veranda late into the evening and enjoyed every moment and morsel, grateful for the experience and the pleasure of family.

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