On the eve of Euro 2012, my memory transports me back a few years to a previous tournament and a vivid recollection of a chance scenario that found me in a town in the host country on the night that the host nation played in the final. This was 2004, and I think the town must have Lagos; that I was on the Algarve coast of Portugal I am sure. The night of the final was a heady one, a balmy July evening, the local Sagres beer, big screens in the town square and in the run-up to kick off, a palpable sense of anticipation from the home fans who packed the streets.
This was one night of a week spent as a fortunate guest near the town of Luz, where we discovered there's more to the Algarve than golf courses, holiday sports clubs and bucket and spade family beaches. Luz is an ideal base to explore this end of the Algarve coast, and transfers from Faro airport take just over an hour. This end of the Algarve coast is wilder than the more developed coastal strip from Lagos to Faro, with the coast of sandy coves and beaches stretching east to the town of Sagres.
Beyond Sagres is Cap St Vincent, 30km west of Luz – and the most south-western tip of Portugal where the Mediterranean is separated from the Atlantic coast. We spent a number of blissful days on the west coast, exploring the wild and remote beaches with their crashing waves and warm winds. These places are well worth a visit, along the coastline around Vila do Bispo. One particular beach had a wonderfully end-of-the-earth feel, after driving a long and winding road through the arid landscape. I don't think we knew where we were headed at the time, and by chance came to a fantastic sandy beach with a solitary beach shack serving food. I recall eating delicious calamari under a battered sunbleached parasol that in more colourful times had advertised Orangina. Precisely where this was I have no idea, but part of the charm of the place was in discovering it by chance. Go and explore, it's that kind of place.
Portugal will always be a special place for me as the place where I first caught a shark. Day shark fishing trips are available from many of the ports in the Algarve coast, we took a boat from Lagos marina. Of our party of four, three succumbed to the pitch and roll of the boat as drifted in the current on a choppy day. With the pick of four rods trailing meat-laden lines, my chances of a catch increased correspondingly. And indeed, as my fellow seafarers lolled helplessly at the bow of the boat, a hook was snagged and beautiful Blue Shark was brought aboard. Following tagging for a research project it was swiftly-released, likely to be caught the following day by a similarly enthusiastic tourist.
The football match in 2004 ended with disappointment for the home fans. Greece won 1-0, a shock win after beginning the tournament with an outside chance, at odds of 150-1.