Cascais

“I just wanna go on more adventures. Be around good energy. Connect with people. Learn new things. Grow” – The Khoolhaus


DSC00975 I had never even heard of Cascais before until I reached Lisbon. It had been described to me as the ‘jewel of Portugal’ and being only 30km away – we figured it was worth the trip. We left our bags in a hostel in Lisbon (free of charge) and just took a small backpack with a change of clothes and a bikini. We planned to visit the beaches, stay overnight and come back early the next day to continue onto Spain. That didn’t happen. We fell in love and ended up staying a week.

We caught a 30 minute train to Cascais from Lisbon and wandered the town looking for a hostel for the night. We came across Niceway Hostel down a small peaceful laneway. The owner Miguel was immediately welcoming and so lovely. He was shocked to hear we had come to visit for only 1 night and sold us on staying at least 2! The hostel had a serene backyard with hammocks, a BBQ and a grassy patch for yoga classes. It was such a beautiful setting – we kinda knew we wanted to stay longer already.

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES IN CASCAIS

1. V I S I T  T H E  B E A C H E S

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Praia da Rainha

We had come from a very busy city so we immediately engaged in a yoga class to relax ourselves. The hostel runs daily classes in the park across the road. It was so beautiful and the instructor made it quite easy for beginners. As soon as we had finished, we were in relax mode. We headed straight for the beach. The prettiest by far was Praia da Rainha. It has soft white sand and insanely clear water. You could swim out for 100metres and still see the bottom clearly 4 metres below. People were paddle boarding and there was a bar on the beach serving drinks. The atmosphere was marvellous and with weather to match – we sat here all day!

TIP: Buy sunscreen before coming to Portugal. The standard price for a small bottle in Portugal is about 15 euros!!!

All over Europe, I had been sun baking topless. I love the freedom and it never feels strange like it would in Sydney. However this beach was a tiny bit crowded to do so. The stranger lying next to me was literally touching my towel so figured I would keep the twins hidden that day. So if you are the same – maybe try a different beach!

2. T R Y  S U R F I N G

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Our surf team!

The Niceway Hostel had a surf school attached. Shortly after we had come back from the beach – we met David. A local Portugese man who owned and ran the surf school along with 5 staff members. He encouraged us to take a lesson (and it was significantly cheaper than home) so we agreed to go early the next day. We traveled to a beach about 6km further west where the surf was best. We started with a pep talk. “It is going to be cold. Really cold”. I had been to Portugal before and I had totally forgotten about this when I agreed to take a surfing lesson. The entire coastline from Lisbon to the north is freezing. So cold in fact that I remember I couldn’t swim despite the hot days. I think it has something to do with the arctic current. Anyway, we were given 4 inch wetsuits to put on and we told to take a break and get out of the water every 20 minutes to “thaw”. We practised on the beach a bit – paddling and then standing up. But all I could focus on was how cold the water was going to be. I was right. It felt like a thousand knives in my skin but the thick wetsuit helped. We got straight in (otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to) and started paddling out. David was ecstatic with the surf conditions. He said it was perfect. I thought it was insane! The waves were huge. I don’t think I have ever been so tossed around in my life and with the cold – I think I went delusional. Laura and I were constantly laughing and were terrible surfers. We got up a few times but I think my feet were so frozen I couldn’t balance myself. It was hilarious. We kept getting out, as recommended, so that our feet and hands would return to their normal colour. The surf instructors were great though. They really persisted with us and went to every effort to make sure we rode a proper wave. And we did eventually. Thank god.

By the time we got back to the hostel, we had warmed up and sat around a BBQ reminiscing funny moments from the day. And after all bashing we got – we deserved a drink. We went out and partied at Flamingos Bar all night and it was ridiculous fun!

3. E A T  G E L A T O

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The best gelato in the world

I will eat gelato wherever I go. I try it in every country I visit. But gelato in Portugal was the best BY FAR!

We stumbled across a gelato store called Santini. I had heard of it before from blogs I had read, so we gave it a go. We sat out the front of the store – stunned. Neither Laura or I spoke for about 10 minutes as we devoured the gelato cone. We stared at each other in disbelief. I had never tasted gelato so good in my life. We never normally do this, but we both walked back inside and ordered it all over again. I still can’t believe we did that. 4 huge scoops of gelato within 30 mins. That’s loyalty! It was absolutely amazing. We couldn’t stop talking about it.

FUN FACT: Santini is the official supplier of premium gelato to all of the Royal families in Europe! However they only sell to the public in their 3 stores within Portugal.

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We eat a lot in general – not just gelato. Cascais is famous for it’s seafood too so we went to a local cafe by the beach and had a fresh fish with salad. It was delicious and quite cheap! We decided then that we would stay in Cascais longer. There was a lot more we wanted to see and more food we wanted to try. We would just have to make do with the 1 outfit we had brought with us! When you travel long enough, you tend to care less and less about how you look. I think I even wore my bed t-shirt to dinner that night. That says enough.

4. C Y C L E  T O  G U I N C H O  B E AC H

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Considering Santini gelato store was our new local hangout, we decided we needed to do some exercise. The local park in Cascais offers free bike rental! You just need to get there early enough before they all go! We went over at about 9am and managed to get the last 2 free bikes which was lucky! I recommend going earlier to be safe. We rode the bikes all the way to Guincho Beach, 6km away. It was the same beach we had surfed at the previous day and we then realised why it was so popular for surfing. The wind was insane. We were almost blown off our bikes which was very funny. We stopped to take a picture but then continued to ride back before we were blown into oncoming traffic.

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Guincho Beach

For some reason, my bicycle was stuck in high gear making the peddles really hard to turn. Laura’s was the opposite so she zoomed way ahead of me. My legs were jelly by the end of the day but she was fine. Make sure you test the bike before taking it! The ride was beautiful. It has set cycle paths to ride along and the entire way was scenic. It was the perfect day and we stopped along the way for coffee and photo opportunities. Perfect!

 

5. TA K E  A  T R I P  T O  S I N T R A

10550902_10152285550858513_5256704149554255633_nWe woke up one day and was chatting with the owner – Miguel. He told us he owned another hostel called Niceway 2 up in the mountains about 30 mins away. He was going to drive up there to check on things and stay the night and wanted to see if we’d join for a road trip and check out the area. A free ride and a chance to explore somewhere new? Great!

IMG_0276The Hostel was located in Sintra. I had never heard of the place before but after a few google searches, I was hooked. It housed the most stunning palace I had ever seen and really wanted to visit for myself. We left in the morning and we stopped along the way at Copa De Roca – Europe’s most Western point and got a photo. It was incredibly windy (like most of Portugal) but the fresh air was magic. It was crisp and a bit cooler than Cascais. We continued onto Sintra and fell in love with the town straight away. The hostel was much bigger than cascais and had a very homey feel to it.

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The backyard at Niceway Hostel 2 in Sintra

The backgarden was huge. It had beautiful coloured flowers and the cutest bungalows to lounge in. The only problem was that it was freezing! We only had a bikini and a beach dress with us (because we had originally only planned a single night away) and here we were in the mountains in a ridiculous outfit. We were stared at everywhere we went. We knew we looked stupid but we found it very funny and used laughter to warm us up.

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Our pastry treats!

We saw a long line coming out of a tiny little pastry kitchen. That’s definitely a good sign. We wanted to see what was so popular so we wandered back later and bought a range of goodies to try. We went back to the hostel and sat in the beautiful garden with newly made friends and ate. They were magnificent and we lazed around with a food coma for hours. Such a great afternoon.

Palacais De Pena

Palacais De Pena

The next day went to see the Palacais De Pena brightly painted in eye catching yellows, reds and purples. It’s 12 euros for entry and in my opinion – totally worth it! It was built in the 19th century and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. You can get a bus up or choose to walk. Everyone had told us that it was too far, but we wanted the challenge and walked against advice. It was fine! In fact, it was beautiful. The walk up takes you through various different terrains like forest, wooden bridges, a river and road. I will admit we were tired when we reached the top but loved it nonetheless. It looked like something out a fairytale. We wandered through the various parts of the castle and climbed to the outer walls for a spectacular outlook over the mountain region! They have a coffee shop on one of the levels so we sat outside and soaked in the view. Apparently on a clear day, you can see the enchanting castle from Lisbon!

TIP: Leave some time to explore the surrounding gardens – they are just as stunning!

We got a lift back with Miguel the next day and continued our journey back to Lisbon (where we happened to find another Santini gelato store, which made our day!)

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Lisbon

“Travelling leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller” – IBN Battuta


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Laneway in Lisbon

Lisbon ranks as one of the worlds longest founded cities. It’s truly beautiful. It was probably even more beautiful before the 1755 earthquake that practically demolished the city, however it’s been almost entirely rebuilt and has great character.

It is one of those cities where you don’t need a map. I recommend wandering around the small laneways decorated with Portugese streamers and colourful flags. If you get lost, don’t worry, just look up and spot the castle on the hill to get your bearings again!

Where to stay?

I stayed in Lisbon Old Town Hostel which was a great location for what we wanted. It was close to Baixa Chiada station (which takes you directly to airport or bus station), close to bars and cafes and walkable to the main square and the castle. The dorms were huge which was great for storing bags and they even put on weekly dinners to allow travellers to socialise (8 euros got us a 3 course traditional meal and unlimited wine!)

6 TOP LISBON EXPERIENCES

1. V I S I T  B E L E M

My friend and I are foodies to our core. We will travel far and wide once we hear about an exciting dish or appealing food recommendation. From day one, we were set on getting our hands on the best Pastel de Nata available (traditional Portugese tart). We had heard the best of the best was from Belem.

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Cycle lanes from Lisbon City to Belem

Considering we were about to stuff our faces with tarts, we decided to take our time and power walk to Belem for exercise (6km west of the city) however by the time we got 2km in – we were too eager. We saw a bicycle hire shop and immediately looked at each other with a smile. We could get there in half the time on a bike! We hired bikes for about 4 euros and continued on along the river to Belem. It was such a beautiful ride. It is perfectly designed with cycle lanes and stunning scenery. It took us about an hour in total however most people tend to take tram 15 from the city centre which takes 22 minutes.  We chained our bikes up to a pole and walked towards the famous Pastiel de Belem Pastry cafe.

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The line outside Pastiel de Belem

The line outside was huge! But I had heard to walk straight in as the cafe is bigger than it appears from the outside. We cut right through to the front of the line, passed the counters and tables and through to a whole other dining room full of tables. The restaurant could probably seat about 300 people at a time! When walking through, you can also view the entire kitchen through glass windows. There was an entire team of pastry chefs engaged in various steps and literally hundreds of tarts were laid out on a table. They apparently sell thousands of pastries everyday! We managed to find a table and order immediately.

TIP: Don’t be fooled by the line outside Pastiel De Belem – walk straight in and through to the dining rooms and grab a seat yourself. The line is generally for takeaway but many are mistaken and end up lining up unnecessarily for hours! 

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Chefs preparing Portugese tarts!

We didn’t even need to see a menu. We wanted tarts and fresh orange juice. It was incredible. It was creamy, delicious and even better than I expected from the reviews! I should add that it took us 10 minutes once we received the tarts take a perfect photo of them! I think we nailed it (photo featured above).

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Long street of markets opposite Pastiel de Belem

Once we had come back down to earth, we left the cafe and wandered around Belem. It is an incredibly beautiful part of Lisbon. The buildings are decorated and painted in vivd colours. In the main park opposite the cafe is a hugely popular local market selling antiques, jewellery, bags and carefully designed Portugese tiles. We wandered around here for awhile and then had a picnic in the park with fresh baguettes. It was such a perfect day!

2. T R Y  T H E  L O C A L  F O O D

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Peach Crumble dessert with firewater!!

We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend who lives in Lisbon. He wanted to make sure we were acquainted with a good Portugese meal. He took us to a local restaurant called Taberna Ideal. It was a complete gastronomical experience! We had the amazing mushroom and chestnut tart, codfish salad and the famous peach crumble with agua de choc mousse with firewater! A few mouthfuls we felt a bit tipsy so go easy! After a long dining session (and a few bottles of wine) he took us down to the main square and we wandered down one of the side streets. It was time to try Ginja liqueur – a traditional Portugese drink and the drink of choice by locals in Lisbon. It is a sour cherry liqueur made from infusing ginja berries and sugar and generally served in a shot glass with a piece of fruit at the bottom. We stood at the counter of a tiny bar (2 metres by 3 metres?) and asked for 3 shots. I thought it was delicious. My friend thought it was disgusting but I guess we all have different tastes! Definitely something to try while you are in Lisbon. Not just for the unique taste, but for the people watching and humour in ordering one. 

For breakfast, our friend took us to a local cafe and we had a Portugese speciality – a coconut brioche and espresso coffee. It was amazing! You can find them everywhere so give it a go!

TIP: Ask the waitress to add ham and cheese to your coconut brioche and toast it! Yum!

If the food and drink has kept you standing – try and make it to a cool small bar called The Spot. It was fairly late when i went there so don’t remember the exact location and it doesn’t appear on google maps but it was around Rue da Atalaia – along with plenty of other quirky small bars so its worth a visit!

3. W A L K I N G  T O U R

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The famous Lisbon arches

Knowing very little about Lisbon, or Portugese history in general, we opted to join a walking tour of the city. There are hundreds of free tours starting all over the city so check which one is closest to you. Our guide was really nice and he gave some really interesting information but after 2 hours – I couldn’t take it anymore. He was going into way too much detail for me. Too many specifics just made me tune out and we ended up ditching the tour and grabbing some food! In hindsight, I must have just been impatient that day. I still remember some really fascinating stories and I have a much better understand of why the city is the way it is, however it just wasn’t my day. Would I still recommend doing a walking tour? Absolutely. Just have a large coffee before you go because there is a lot to take in!

4. V I S I T  T H E  C A S T L E

The view from halfway up Castelo de Jorge

The view from halfway up Castelo de Jorge

Lisbon can be distinctly recognised by Castelo St Jorge – perched high above the city on a grand hill. It is quite a beautiful site and the view from the top is fantastic! Some opt to walk up through the spirals of markets and shops (which I would normally love) however due to heat and sheer laziness we were driven to the top. You also have the option to get tram no.28 and enjoy the ride. We stopped halfway up for some photos and a bite to eat from the local market and then continued to the top.  Once you get to the top, you need to pay to get into the castle – this includes the front garden with the best view. Entry is 7.50 euros and you can have a picnic up there and enjoy the view. You can see right across to the other side of the river. Most of the shops up here are very overpriced (as you would expect) so leave the shopping for elsewhere. It’s a really nice day out and we enjoyed taking in the view and admiring the moats, castle design and grand rooms inside!

5. D A Y  T R I P  T O  O B I D O S

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The walled town of Obidos

Obidos is small walled city filled with a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and brightly painted shop doors. Located about an hour north of Lisbon, it is quite easy to visit in a day. I did a road trip from Lisbon to Porto so had a hire car with me however I have heard of many tours and buses running this route too.

Wandering around is the best way to picture what life was like for its old inhabitants. Tiny street side vendors sell crafts and food and if you are lucky enough to be there in July, the castle hosts a traditional ‘Medieval Market’. For two weeks the castle and the surrounding town recreate the spirit of medieval Europe. Everyone gets involved and dressed up as jugglers, soliders, merchants and jesters! They feast on grilled meats and a pig on the spit. I would recommend drinking from the pewter tankards and eating from a wooden trencher to add to the experience!

We went for a walk around the walls. I was wearing flip flops which certainly wasn’t smart. The wall is about 5m high and there has been no safety precautions put in place so wear enclosed shoes. The wall is crumbly and it’s easy to lose your footing. I was careful and walked slowly. It was beautiful. As you walk around, you gain a 360 degree view of the walled city and the beautiful mountain side too.

6. S U N S E T  O N  T H E  P I E R

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Relaxing on the pier with a cider!

One afternoon we wandered down to the pier and was surprised to see a cute pop up bar. They had set up sun lounges along the edge and had a small bar serving ciders and beer. With classic hits playing and people sunbathing, it was such a perfect spot to relax and watch the sunset. We sat there chatting for hours and enjoyed people watching. This was a pop up restaurant at the time but apparently they are constantly promoting new spirits there and have new pop ups all the time. Walk down and check out what’s on!

Santo Amaro docks has a number of bars and restaurants permanently set up too and often have live music playing and a great atmosphere to chill out next to the water.

Lisbon is an amazing city and I only managed to explore one side of the river!

Happy wandering 🙂

Lagos

It’s better to look back on life and say “I cant believe I did that.” than to look back and say “I wish I did that”… GC Himani


Lagos is renown for a good party. I had a friend living there for the summer who could only recall 3 times she was home before the sun came up. This gave me a pretty good idea about what I was getting myself in for. When I finally got the chance to see this area for myself – I was honestly confused as to why it has become such a hub for drunk travellers.

There is nothing Portugese about Lagos. In fact, you could spend a week there and not find any Portugese food in the old town. It has every other cuisine you can think of, along with plenty of gelato. I felt like I was at home. There was Australians EVERYWHERE! They ran the hostels, the bars, the water sports, the bar crawls – the lot! That’s not a bad thing – Australians are friendly, social and extremely welcoming most of the time which probably adds to Lagos’ appeal however it’s certainly not a place to experience something foreign or unique. For this – you need to get out of the old city walls.

I prefer balance and managed to really enjoy Lagos when I left the city walls. So if anyone tells you that people only go to Lagos to party – it’s not true. I had an amazing time in Lagos and managed to find a whole world of things to do outside the party scene.

Where to stay?

Most hostels in Lagos are fully booked yet empty – because everyone is partying. It doesn’t matter what time of the day we are talking about. We were recommended to go and “see Cosimo!” Cosimo owns and runs Hostel La Dolce Vita which is also known locally as “Lagos Shared Rooms”. From the minute we entered, we were treated like his daughters. “Do you need me to do your washing?”, “are you hungry?”, “what would you like to do?”, “is this okay for you?”. He was a gem. We stayed there for 4 nights and absolutely loved it. One night he even cooked us his homemade lasagne to ensure we had a full stomach before we went out drinking and kept leftovers in his fridge for our late night return!! He never liked to turn people away so even spent nights sleeping on the balcony while others took his own bed. On top of his amazing cooking, he was a very fun character. He had great stories to tell and loved meeting new people. I miss Cosimo!

4 TOP LAGOS EXPERIENCES

1. P A R T Y 

First thing I noticed is that the bars and clubs are nothing spectacular. Considering it’s reputation I had pictured Lagos looking something like a small scale Ibiza. But it’s not. The main party area consists of a maze of small lanes with tiny bars dug into random corners. Music explodes from each door and you have promoters encouraging you to enter by enticing you with free shots. It works for most people. These bars are in fact just nightclubs. You cant really talk in ANY of them. They are pumping music from as early as 8pm with ecstasy and strobe lights. Don’t get me wrong – this is great however I personally, I like to drink at a bar. Especially at the start of the night. For me, good nights always starts with good conversations and company and you just end up in a club by default much later in the night. However, in Lagos, I found very few nice places to relax and have a drink. No wine and cheese bars and no nice cocktail bars. It was all premixed or preprepared or simply just made the easiest possible way. Most bartenders are backpackers themselves and have little skill in preparing anything unique. So personally, I didn’t like the idea of coming from the beach and walking straight into strobe lights and fist pumping techno. I did however embrace the Lagos experience so I could say I gave it a proper go. Here are some spots below to try:

  1. Mynt Bar – great live music fishbowl
  2. DC’s – for some fresh air as everyone drinks on the street
  3. Mellow Loco Bar – try the “volcano” cocktail and try playing darts afterwards (hilarious!)
  4. Three Monkeys – known for their beer bongs
  5. Inside Out – Try a fishbowl!
  6. Joe’s Garage – Best place for dancing
  7. Shakers Bar – the only bar open ALL day
  8. The Garden – my favourite place because it had lounges and a nice place to relax and have a conversation.

We met up with my sister and her boyfriend one night and managed to find an amazing place to get a good meal. Mullens prepared us an incredible duck and beef casserole which was deliciously tender. Yum! We sat there catching up and drinking wine (and forgetting about the party outside!) I would also recommend visiting Cafe Odeon for a huge cheap English breakfast and The International Cafe for an unforgettable pulled pork wrap!

2. G O  K A Y A K I N G 

kayakFor me, kayaking was the highlight in Lagos. There are many tour companies offering day trips to various locations.  The Algarve region is famously known to have the cleanest waters in Portugal. I have road tripped the coast of Portugal and would definitely agree with this! Most of them depart from Praia Porto de Mos and run set tours twice a day. We opted for a 3 hour tour to the famous grottos and caves of Ponta de Piedade. It cost us 25 euros each and was well worth it! We had a local guide who told us that we will be kayaking at least 7km (without wind) and we appreciated the warning.  We were ready.

The grottos are magnificent. The quality of the tour depends highly on the tides that day simply because some grottos are inaccessible during high tide. We were lucky enough to be able to see them all. On one occasion we had to get off our kayaks and swim under the rocks to reach the caves and the water shimmers a rainbow of colours due to reflection from the different rocks. It is truly beautiful. We went through some tight squeezes too which tested our strength and gave us a good laugh. The entire afternoon was so much fun. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!

3. G E T  T O  T H E  B E A C H

10520822_10152285544113513_388968464267362938_nI had travelled up the coast of Portugal years before and unfortunately couldn’t swim anywhere because it was too cold. I am talking 9 degree water despite the fact that the outside temperature was 35 degrees celcius or more! And it wasn’t just me. The beaches were packed full of people and there wouldn’t be a single soul in the water. Luckily, Lagos was far south enough (and outside the Arctic current) that we could swim pleasantly. The beach is a great place to hang out and there are many to choose from. However because of the tides, some are only accessible early morning or late afternoon. If you head over the canal from the old city and walk down the beach 300m, you will come across a few men lazing around under umbrellas. They offer water sports. I guess you can do water sports in any European coastal area and are certainly not unique to Lagos however my memories here are pretty hard to beat. The 4 of us opted for a flyfish which was able to fit us all. Although a steep 10 euros for 15 minutes – it was constant laughter. The driver did everything in his power to ensure we all flew off at some stage and my sister even lost her pants a few times. Best of all we had a go-pro to capture it all. It was great fun.

4. W A L K  T H E  C L I F F S 

My friend and I could classify majority of our feelings into 2 states of mind. The first being “let’s do and eat whatever we want because who cares!” (which was 90% of the time) and the second being “I feel fat”. We constantly went through these “fat phases” and like any other backpacker – you begin to feel sluggish after weeks of overeating and partying. When we go through this phase, we generally encourage each other to put our runners on and incorporate sightseeing into a daily run. (note these ‘daily runs’ generally last 2 days)

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One day we got up early and exited the old city to the South and walked up past Praia Do Camilo (a stunning white sandy beach accessed by hundreds of tiny stairs) and all the way down to Farol da Ponta da Piedade. The walk was beautiful. It combined pathways with bushwalking with beach and stairs. The views were breathtaking! You could see all the way along the coastline and could access the cliff’s edge through tiny bush paths. It was so much fun and we enjoyed getting out in the fresh air to fight the hangover!