Algarve, Portugal

This place is special to me because it's where we go on vacation every summer to visit my mother-in-law, who moved to the town of Carvoeiro over 20 years ago. Drawing this map, I kept thinking of all the wonderful reasons I love it here. The rocky cove beaches, the amazing azulejos (tiles) covering the outsides of buildings and insides of churches, delicious fresh fish (grilled sardines!), the scent of eucalyptus trees up on Monchique, where you can refill your water bottle directly from the spring, the beautiful doors everywhere, the crystalline turquoise water and deep blue skies, the curious cork trees halfway stripped of their bark, (and shops that sell everything made of cork), the dolphin sightings, the delicious pastry called pastel de nata (custard cups...think flan pie!), the fabulous soaps I bring back, the hill towns and medieval castles. The soulful fado singing. The fields of crooked almond trees, and almond liqueur. The piri-piri hot sauce that I'm obsessed with! A million stars pinned against a clear black night sky. Sooooo many good things. My daughter took her first steps and went to her first beach here, on Praia Grande. The weather is always sunny and perfect, and each time we go it's a combination of visiting all of our favorite places (like Porches, for pottery) and trying new ones. One time we drove to Sagres which is the most southwestern point in Portugal. You can walk out to the tip of the cape, atop tall vertical cliffs, surrounded by water on 3 sides. The place is magical and really feels like the edge of the world. A nearby beach made of smooth black rocks is a good place to watch surfers. The people in the Algarve are so friendly and welcoming, it really is an easy place to just be. By the end of our visit we always realize how this place has taught us to slow down and relax.