Mo's Garage, Lagos

It's been described as the best spot in Southern Europe; the most beautiful beaches, the craziest partys, the friendliest people, charming, and affordable, yet the guide books let this little town slip by with barely a mention. No matter, because summer after summer you can hear the name on the lips of countless backpackers..."Lagos".

Nestled in the warm shores of the Algarve, on the south coast of Portugal, Lagos (pronounced Lagosh) puts out the welcome mat for all types of travelers, be it weekenders, Eurailers, World Travelers, or the upscale European tourists, but mainly the fun loving mid-youth of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and The U.S.

The town is a maze of narrow, winding cobblestone streets hiding little cafes, bars, craft shops, and many old Portuguese doorstep dwellers. The residents are very friendly, and there’s a large population of 18-25 year old Portuguese kids who know how to enjoy the sunny days and, whoop it up at night.

Relative to the States, food and drink are cheap, accomodations are rediculously inexpensive. For the most part, travelers stay in apartments let out by the locals for around 8 bucks a night. This includes use of a kitchen, sometimes laundry, almost always a nice deck to wake up and have breakfast on. There are usually a couple of rooms in each apartment, so you share space with other travelers, which is a real perk - instant introductions to new people. There is also a youth hostel and a couple of campgrounds, all pretty cheap.

Some of the most spectacular beaches I've ever been to compose the string of coves which starts in the center of town, and as you head along the path atop the majestic cliffs, you discover the true beauty of the Algarve - the small beaches contained by high, eroded cliff walls giving way to fine sand beaches and crystal blue water. You can snorkel, climb up the cliff walls, swim out to one of the off shore obelisks for a bit of adventure, or just doze away an afternoon in peace. With a little effort you may even find your own private beach for an afternoon - but it may take a little climbing!

On the other side of town is Mia Praia, or "Long Beach", 4 Km of continuous shoreline extending as far as the eye can see. On a good day, you can bodysurf some pretty decent waves, while on other days, the ocean is still as glass. All the bartenders from town hang out at the beach bar sipping coffee and beer recovering from the previous night's work. Just in front of the bar is a volleyball court which hosts some of the best and some of the worst beach V-ball matches in southern Europe.

Hailed as “the craziest bar in the world” is Joe’s Garage, where I worked for 4 months, and no trip to Lagos is complete without spending some time within the car-part covered walls of this party haven. During the day, you can always find travelers hanging out, playing backgammon, watching the satellite tube (Star Trek, Simpsons, and early evening movies), having a couple of afternoon cocktails, or just listening to tunes, gabbing with the bartenders. But at 9:00, the lights go down, the music goes up (way up), clothes go flying, at the taps never stop flowing. It’s no Field of Dreams, but if you ply them full of booze, they will come, and in droves. By midnight, the place is packed and jumping. The bartenders hurl pitchers of water onto the pulsing, sweating crowd (and on themselves) to keep from melting, while juggling bottles behind the bar, and generally partying as hard as any of the customers. And finally, at 4 AM, when the lights go up, the music shuts off, and people try to find their clothes, the crowd stumbles out shouting, “see you tomorrow night!” It’s quite a ride.

All of the bars in town (about 14) get together a couple of times every summer for a whole town toga party and pirate party and offer drink discounts for those in costume, and some bars have contests for best Roman or buccaneer attire. Most of the bar staff are world travelers who come back to Lagos year after year, full of great stories and advice for anyone interested. All in all, it’s the best and friendliest bar scene in Europe.

Whether you crave gorgeous beaches, the allure of an old world town, or the most serious party since Spring Break, Lagos is the perfect 3 day, 3 week, or 3 month stop on your world tour.

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