With an enviable climate that delivers more annual sunshine than California, the Algarve is one of Portugal’s most popular destinations for good reason. Whether you want to get to know the great outdoors, try delicious seafood or track down a flamingo, it can all be done on an Algarve holiday. This beautiful stretch of coastline has attracted the Romans, the Moors and intrepid English sailors, so why don’t you be the next to conquer it?
The Algarve certainly won’t disappoint if you want to be beside the seaside. Boasting an incredible 69 Blue Flag beaches (meaning they’ve been recognised for water quality, safety, cleanliness and accessibility), the difficult part is choosing where to start. Those flying the Blue Flag include Praia do Três Irmãos and Praia do Vau in Portimao, Praia do Barril in Tavira, Armação de Pera in Silves and Salgados in Albufeira.
If you’re looking to surf then the western coast has the biggest waves, thanks to a north-westerly swell, with beaches including Praia Tonel and Carrapateira being very much in demand. Less confident surfers or those wishing to learn should aim for slightly calmer waters along the south coast which will be more suited to their needs. You can learn to surf across the region, with instructors offering half-day lessons from as little as €45 including equipment hire.
Tips from the locals: Alvor came top in a poll of residents’ favourite beaches. Why did it rank so highly? It’s regarded as being very clean and spacious as well as safe, making it the obvious choice for sunbathing or enjoying the water.
Best Day Trips
One thing you’ll notice about traditional Portuguese buildings is that they tend to incorporate blue and white tile designs. These tiles, known as azulejos, are made across the country, with Porches being one of the best places in the Algarve to track them down. There are many local pottery companies here and you can take a look at how their designs come to life. Some of the potters will even personalise their creations for you.
Adults can make the most of the Algarve’s great climate for growing grapes with a visit to Adega do Cantor, in Guia – the winery of legendary crooner Cliff Richard. Enjoy a tour of the vineyard and see how the wine is made, before popping to the gift shop and grabbing some souvenirs for any Cliff fanatics back home. Even if you’re not a fan of Cliff’s music, Adega do Cantor is worth a visit.
Tips from the locals: Blogger Christine Agate-Amorim, a.k.a. Expat Mum in Portugal, recommends the activity park Zoomarine for a family day out, which is where you’ll find plenty of sea creatures. Her personal highlight is the seal and dolphin show and she’s also a fan of Zoomarine’s work to care for vulnerable marine life washed up on the shores.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Algarve is very famous for golf. It hosts the Portugal Masters every October, attracting the biggest names in the sport, with British player Tom Lewis swinging his way to victory in 2011. If you’re into golf then Vilamoura and Quinta do Lago are great places to start, with renowned courses that are popular all year round.
More adventurous holidaymakers can make use of the Algarve’s terrain by trying out land-sailing on a dedicated track just outside of Lagos. This is an eco-friendly and fast-paced way to spend an afternoon. Other alternatives include jeep safari trips inland or hiking in the Monchique mountains, with the highest point being Foia.
Tips from the locals: The Via Algarviana is a walking trail that runs through the inland Algarve. It hasn’t been widely publicised to tourists but you can easily tackle it and follow the route for as long as you like. You’ll get to see sprawling countryside and the most rural parts of the region.
Best Photo Opportunities
The Ria Formosa Natural Park is ideal for taking your camera along and grabbing some wildlife shots. Spread across the eastern Algarve, this sprawling park features wetlands, secluded coves and beautiful forests. If you’re lucky then you might see the local flamingo colony on your travels, as well as hedgehogs, egrets and lizards.
Afterwards you can move further eastwards to the salt pans of Tavira, which are another camera-worthy sight. This is where much of Portugal’s table salt is gathered and it not only attracts humans, as there are many wading and migratory birds in the area that you’ll be able to photograph.
Tips from the locals: Tavira’s Camera Obscura is an unusual way to see the city through a lens. Using reflected light and mirrors that project an upside-down moving image of the landscape, the Camera Obscura is often overlooked but will certainly grab your attention. It’s found inside an old water tower, the Torre Velha, next to the Santa Maria do Castelo church.
With so much to see in this southern part of Portugal, a trip to the Algarve is a must for those of you who crave culture and authenticity.
Getting there: The Algarve benefits by being serviced by popular low cost airlines, like easyJet. It means saving for a holiday in the sun is no longer a necessity, and you can fit in a quick weekend trip whenever the mood takes you. I flew to Faro from London with easyJet, and before you knew it I was out of the city and onto the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea for less than the cost of a weekend train ticket to the south coast of England. Lovely!
About the author: Polly Allen is a travel writer and journalist based in Sussex. Having travelled extensively in Europe and the USA, she’s hoping to see more of the world and is planning a trip to South America.