Saturday 28th July – Wednesday 8th August 2018
Last year my boyfriend and I were invited on his family summer holiday that was being organised. They had found a villa for 7 nights in a town called Manta Rota, in the Algarve Portugal, which claimed to be suitable for all 13 of us (8 adults, 1 teen and 4 children aged 10 and under) and my accessible needs, so it was immediately booked. I am more a luxury hotel type of girl and I had never stayed in a villa before or been to Portugal, but I have an adventurous spirit, so I was quite excited!
As always, I did my research on the area, the accommodation, airport transfers and I was pleased with the results. We then decided that at the end of the 7 nights holiday Manta Rota with his family, the two of us would go to Lisbon for a few days before retuning to London, England. I did some research into Lisbon looking into where the best place to stay would be, how accessible the city was and things to do. We were happy with the information I learnt and decided to book and make plans for the holiday that was a year away.
The year flew by and before we knew it, we were off to Portugal.
On the day of our flight we took a pre-booked Uber Access to London Heathrow Airport for our British Airways flight to Faro. We thought we would try the Uber Access Vehicle, which arrived on time, but it was a bit of a tight squeeze for 2 large suitcases, a manual wheelchair in a bag (that I use around the house), my boyfriend and myself in an electric wheelchair. For comfort and space, we decided to book my regular airport black taxi firm for our return.
As usual, we arrived at the airport in plenty time to check-in the luggage, the manual wheelchair and for the checking staff to do the necessary paperwork in regarding my electric wheelchair. This paperwork the checking staff do, allows me to use my electric wheelchair up until we arrive at the aircraft door, receive the assistance needed for me to board the flight and receive my electric wheelchair at the aircraft door when I land in Faro. It’s all standard procedure but it takes time to organise, therefore I always aim to be at check-in about 3-3½ hours before the flight. Especially if you are like me and like to do a bit of airport shopping, get something eat and maybe have a drink. Also, you need to be at the departure gate 50 minutes before take-off because people with accessible needs are boarded first.
We landed in Faro received my electric wheelchair at the aircraft door, then collected our luggage. I had pre-booked our accessible taxi transfer through faroairportalgarve.com that I had found online, to drive us to the villa. We also booked them to drive us to Lisbon for the second part of our holiday.
We arrived at the villa late evening. Although, the owners of the villa said there was a particular room ground floor room that would work for my needs in didn’t. After swapping to another ground floor room and my boyfriend & his parents doing a trip to Ikea the following morning for a chair I could use in the shower, we made it work. Otherwise, the rest of ground floor in the villa was accessible without any problems. There was a pool table, table tennis, darts, swimming pool (not wheelchair accessible, but I don’t do swimming pools) terrace with sun loungers and outdoor kitchen area with BBQ & dining area. It was a nice villa.
Manta Rota is a seaside town in the Algarve mainly visited by Portuguese on holiday. I think I saw around five other British families throughout our time there. The town is small but lovely and surprisingly accessible, most bars and restaurants that we passed had a ramp. There were drop curbs, however the roads were cobbled (which was less than comfortable) and there was an accessible public toilet on the way to the beach. The biggest surprize to me was how accessible the beach was! The online information on the accessibility of the beach did it no justice. There were wooden paths going along the beach as well as down and around the beach more towards the sea. They had designated sun loungers for wheelchair users and disabled people that were alongside the wooden paths. However, the best thing was that they had amphibious wheelchairs on the beach that you could use, and they were FREE! They didn’t just have one amphibious wheelchair on the entire beach, they an amphibious wheelchair every 50 meters at a sun lounger hire hut. I was truly AMAZED!
Two days into the holiday was my birthday. It had been years since I spent a birthday aboard. My boyfriend and I went to Cha Com Agua Salgada restaurant along with his brother and wife for a Champagne birthday lunch. It’s one of the top 10 restaurants in the Algarve and I could see why. The restaurant was classy, the staff were lovely, the food was great, they were happy to cater for my vegan & gluten free dietary needs and it was fully accessible. This became our favourite place to eat out in Manta Rota.
After lunch my boyfriend and I headed to the beach, were we spent a couple hours drinking champagne and listening to music in the hot sun. We went into the sea and I was quite surprized how cold it was and how strong the waves were. The Atlantic Ocean is definitely not as warm or calm as the Mediterranean or Caribbean Sea…
After a few hours back at the villa celebrating with the rest of the family my boyfriend and I went out for a lovely evening meal at the Cha Com Agua Salgada restaurant. Then we went for a little wonder around the beach front before going back to the villa.
Trips to the beach were something we did a lot, throughout our time in Manta Rota. I am big fan of the beach and therefore turn into a bit of a beach bum, as I can’t do swimming pools because my skin doesn’t like the water.
We once visited a pool, bar and restaurant called Puro Branco that was nearby. It had 2 large swimming pools (one a kid’s pool), accessible toilets, a bar that played music and served a limited food menu. It was nice place for poolside hanging out.
As the week went on the weather got hotter every day, so we started to do what the Portuguese did. Go to the beach early morning, leave the beach around lunchtime to either go back to the villa to chill out or go for a long lunch before heading back to the beach.
Manta Rota was the first beach I have been to that has amphibious wheelchairs, so of course I had to try it out. The amphibious wheelchair must be pulled by someone, you couldn’t do it alone. However, I really enjoyed using it. It is a lot better way to wheel through the sand into the water, than being carried. Once in the water its like being on a sun lounger in the water. I thought it was great experience and something I would want to use on every beach holiday.
Most evenings were spent altogether as a family at the villa having dinner, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company, however one evening before we left Manta rota, 7 of us (6 adults and 1 teen) went out for drink and dinner at out our favourite restaurant.
The morning of our 10am check-out from the villa, our taxi driver arrived promptly at 9:30am to take us to Lisbon.
It was a very hot 43 degrees when we arrived at our hotel called Hotel Mundial 4*, in Lisbon, just before 1pm. Our room was ready, so we were able to check-in an hour early. Our room was spacious and stylish with a balcony and a fantastic view of the area.
The hotel was gorgeous, it had a rooftop bar and terrace with fabulous views of Lisbon (we spent the whole evening here on first night), a lobby bar and two restaurants. The location of the hotel was perfect as it was central with easy access to the different areas of Lisbon. The area immediately around hotel and towards the river was flat, however most of Lisbon is very hilly and is known for its seven hills.
The pavements (sidewalk) and roads in the city were again cobbled and most had drop curbs at crossings, however you did not have to travel too far from the area in the city centre before the drop curbs became harder to come by – making it more difficult to get around without help. Many of the shops, restaurants and bars had a step to get into them, especially in the areas that was hilly. However, in the flat areas most bars and restaurants had outdoor seated dining so, no need to go inside.
South of our hotel in downtown Lisbon is Praca do Comercio square which is lined with bars & restaurants, which are accessible with facilities. The Praca do Comercio square has the Tagus River waterfront running along it. The water in the Tagus River is fed from the Atlantic Ocean so a salt water river. It was the area we spent most of our time.
Alongside the bars & restaurant on Praca do Comercio square was Lisboa Story Centre, which we went into to get a break from the 11am 38 degrees sun. It cost 11euros for the two of us for an hour and a half audio tour with video screens telling the story of Lisbon and its history to modern day. We found it very fascinating. Although, it was a hot and sunny 41 degrees outside when we left museum.
Next door to the Lisboa Story Centre is The Sexiest WC on Earth. With a name like that for a public toilet I had check it out. You have to pay 1euro to use it but it does have an accessible toilet.
Castle de Gorge sits at the top of the highest hill in Lisbon looking down over the city of Lisbon with panoramic views. As it is now a tourist attraction and I love a good view, so we decided to check it out. It was within easy reach from our hotel, but we had to go up a very steep hill with my electric wheelchair at full speed. Half way up the hill my electric wheelchair decided it didn’t want to do any more and just switched it self off and wouldn’t turn back on. My boyfriend had to disengage the battery then push it up the reminder of the hill in 38 degrees sun. At the top of the hill is the supermarket which we went into to cool down at that point my electric wheelchair switched back on. I was so pleased, as I started regret the idea of going and wondered if we should continue, but we did.
The supermarket had a lift (elevator) in the entrance which took us up 8 floors to the next part of the hill, the final few hundred meters up to the castle were just as steep as the hill that we just managed to get up, again cobbled and uncomfortable. The castle had a 7euro entry fee. The outside grounds of the castle were bumpy beyond belief, as it was cobbled with huge boulders. This made for a very painful and bumpy terrain, because of this I didn’t see much of the outside or any of the inside castle grounds. However, what I did see were the amazing views of Lisbon. It was worth the journey to the castle just for that view. It was stunning!
There’s a café and restaurant, in the courtyard of the castle, which we went to for a drink while we enjoyed the fantastic views of the city.
Thankfully the journey back down from the castle was less dramatic, than the journey going to it. My wheelchair has a tilt function which enabled me to remain level in my chair despite the gradient of the hill that we were making our way down.
For those, like myself, that like to do a bit of shopping when on holiday, the Hotel Mundial is a great location for easy access. Lisbon has a good selection of international high street stores as well as local stores. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do much shopping, but I did get some Michael Kors sunglasses from Sunglasseshut.
There are several vegan restaurants dotted around the city. Some are not very accessible due to the hilly location and had stepped entrances. Around the corner from the hotel we were staying in is a vegan café called The Eight. The food was delicious and freshly made. We ate brunch or lunch here most days. It does have a step at the entrance and my boyfriend had to help me, so I could sit inside with the aircon, but it does have outdoor seated dining area, which we used too – when the temperature was a more manageable 28 degrees.
We found this health vegan burger joint, called Vegana Burger, which we went for lunch. It was very modern accessible building. The burgers were nice, but they didn’t have any gluten free bread buns, so I had to go bun-less. Its not very often I have a burger so having sought this place out I was disappointed not to be able to have one in a bun. Also, they didn’t have any sweet potato chips, left so I had to have a side salad, which wasn’t much either. I was still hungry and therefore order another burger. Let’s just say I was a little disappointed and unsatisfied.
The places we went for dinner were all happy to specially prepare a vegan and gluten free meal for me.
If you drink alcohol, then I recommend you try Ginja. It is a liquor made from Ginja cherries (also its vegan & gluten free), that has been made in Lisbon for over 100 years and the best place to try and buy a bottle is the original Ginja bar, A Ginjinha. We tried it, it was nice its with sweet with a kick and we drank it like a shot, only to be told after it was meant to be sipped. LOL!
The Hotel Mundial Rooftop Bar was a great place to go for pre-dinner drinks and watch the sunset or to go after dinner at the end of the night for a night cap.
One of the other bars went to was CR7 Corner Bar & Bistro which belongs to the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. We went there for some pre-dinner drinks. It’s like a sports bar & lounge but very trendy and stylish. The staff were welcoming, and it was fully accessible.
Lisbon is a lovely and elegant with both modern and historical buildings. It’s a very multicultural city and I found the people to be very friendly & easy going. I didn’t see any accessible taxis and therefore my electric wheelchair had to be dismantle to go in the back of an estate car to take us to Lisbon airport. There are some accessible buses but the both old and modern trams weren’t accessible. We didn’t have a check list or an itinerary of places to visit, as we thought we would judge it on accessibility when we were there.
Although the temperatures were too hot at times we enjoyed ourselves in Portugal. Staying in a villa in the lovey beach town of Manta Rota, then staying a stylish hotel in the graceful city of Lisbon, was like having two holidays in one. It was definitely a good idea to go to both as it gave me more knowledge into what Portugal is about. I can safely say it was great and there is no reason why I wouldn’t visit either again.