It’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to try and switch off. I’ve travelled to the US, Dubai, Cuba and even hidden away in a writing retreat for a week. This summer, looking for respite once more, I wanted something simple and (reasonably) close to home, so I headed to Portugal.

Slightly edgier than Spain and less pretentious than France, I was looking for somewhere with good weather, beaches and a handful of things to do, so that I could spent more time concentrating on doing, well, nothing (apart from writing of course). Our modern AirBnB apartment was stunning and, most importantly, had a giant pool to wallow in and a balcony that allowed me to sit and dream on as I wrote stories and ate natas every day, the distant sound of cow bells from the opposite farm the only thing to break the silence.

(Never forget the giant swan, or flamingo in our case, because lying on one of these while letting your fingers dip into the water is actually bliss. Also, for those of you interested, he’s called Bryan) 

Making the most of a space like that, I lived the hermit dream and actually enjoyed cooking in the apartment a few times, which is saying a lot as I don’t even enjoy cooking back home. I’d love to tell you I haggled for fresh fish with the locals and whizzed up exotic dishes, but in reality, it was mostly bread and cheese at 5pm, followed by big bowls of pasta. Surely there’s nothing more quintessentially European than that anyway?

Apart from copious cheese boards and floating on giant swans in the pool, we did actually make it outside the walls of our heavenly apartment. The beach was just down the road and we couldn’t resist moonlit walks most nights for those #nofilter moments. We found an amazing restaurant BJs (yes, this is the British owner’s hilarious attempt at a joke) where we ended up an embarrassing amount of times. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? As a place to wile away summer holiday evenings, they definitely nailed it. The drinks were cheap, they played the songs you *really* wanted to hear (but wouldn’t admit) and everyone would sing along after the cocktails had warmed up the old vocal chords. Singing Sweet Caroline at the top of your lungs with strangers is truly a heartwarming experience and one that I’ll always advise. The live music was reliable and the singer was surprisingly good, the food was beautiful and at sunset you couldn’t find anywhere with a better atmosphere. After a few late night sessions they treated us like family, their welcoming smiles and hugs feeling so much like home, but better because you were on a beach with a multicolored sky.

(On the way to BJs, just before sunset)

(Lazy beach days)

(Perhaps the one and only time I dressed up, and that was to go to BJs)

Beyond BJs, we dragged ourselves out to soak up some culture once we had grown tired of sunbathing, although it admittedly took a lot to get to that point. The crowds in Vilamoura made us want to scurry back to our sun loungers, but Faro, the Algarve’s capital, was more of what we were looking for. The adorable little fishing town had an Instagram worthy marina, beautiful rundown buildings – including an amazing cathedral – and heaps of character. The streets were quiet and cobble filled, and as the bells tolled in the sunset, a peaceful quietness descends that leaves you feeling strangely tranquil.

(Beautiful streets in Faro)

I’m not sure what the formula is for total relaxation, but sometimes, I think it’s best not to over complicate things. A quick flight to a friendly European beach town, a sweet balcony, some great cheese and rainbow-like sunsets will leave your bones soft and your heart happy.