Sunny and hot Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, is famous for its beaches, which are somptuous, from the west coast in Lagos to the border with Spain, each with its specificity.
Therefore, it is the ideal destination for summer vacation, and the tourism is thriving, helped by the cheapness of prices, the parties, the heat, etc…
But you may also go a bit further away than the mighty touristy Faro, Villamoura or (worse) Albufeira, and visit small towns and villages.
– Praia de Falesia
My personal favorite, this unbelievable beach is located not far from Albufeira, and is very calm. I think it’s somewhat of a less known beach. The water is cristal clear, cool and refreshing, and the scenery with the red steep cliffs is unique!
– Rock beaches, Portimao
Many rock beaches lay around Portimao, drive around a bit to find your favorite one.
– Praia do Barril, Tavira
Another nice little beach, with a long terrasse where you can order drinks. Itss main attraction is its toy train that will bring you to the beach through the swamps. Great for kids & older kids.
– Isla de Tavira
Accessible by boat, the Isla de Tavira is basically a beach island.
You will find transats under straw parasol all nicely aligned for rent, beach-volley nets, bars to sip your cocktail while watching the sunset, everything you need to spend a nice day.
If you wish to stay longer, there is a campground on the island.
Located in the west of the Algarve, breathtaking Lagos will amaze you by its wonderful cliffs falling directly into the sea.
Walk all along the shore, on the west side of the estuary, starting from the south of the fortified city all the way to the Farol da Ponta da Piedade. On the way, you will cross several criques with small beaches at the bottom accessible by wooden stairs, enjoying great view on the cliffs, and ending with the charming Farol da Ponta da Piedade lighthouse, and the scary narrow cliffs on which you can walk out a bit.
You can either walk back, or catch a bus back to the city, but they don’t seem to be many going by.
You may also to the trip on the water, by going with a group of canoës along the same cliffs.
On the other side of the estuary lies a very long beach, but it is less geolocically spectacular. The fortified city is cute, and night life seems to be active among tourists, with many bars.
Famous in all Portugal for its beer, Sagres is the south-western tip of Europe. Located one hour’s drive from Lagos, the view point from the tip is a must see, with more stunning cliffs, different from one side to the other.
Apart from that, the city in itself does not look very interesting.
– Small towns
– Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Castro Marim, Odeleite
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is the main town of the west Algarve, last before Guadania river, its bridge and the spanish border.
If you’re looking for more of some traditionnal Portugal experience, this is one of the regions you can go to.
You will find everything a small countryside town can offer: a pedestrian city center with shops and restaurants, parties and festivals during the summer, a port, a beach, etc…
If ever you go to the supermarket, notice some of them have a bar on the other side of the cash registers, for men to gulp down a beer while their wives are doing the grocery shopping. Macho, but so relevant of some portugueses way of life.
Right next door is Castro Marim, small town with more historical legacy, with its two fort and castle facing each other, and overlooking the very laid back streets and houses which form the town. From both of them, you can grab great views of the salt pans and the bridge crossing the Rio Guadiana and leading to Spain.
Further away north is Odeleite, a somewhat big village for where it is located, which feels like in the middle of nowhere. The town spreads down a hill, at the top of which has been erected a dam, keeping water reserves for the whole region. Crossing the road from the dam, you enter the village by the top, where there is the cemetery, and the you follow the main street down to this very traditional and local-only village.
Surprisingly, we have counted seven restaurants and bars! Which keep life going on in this town, with people uniting around beers or at the restaurant. You won’t believe how much they’ll serve you on a very low bill.
Traditional summer parties still go on, with an orchestra and dancers performing and singing in folkloric costumes for the pleasure of the inhabitants, who won’t be waited upon to start dancing all together when the pop music starts.
And, to top it all, there even is a free museum!
– Castela Velha + Fabrica fish Restaurant + beach
A tiny little village worth the detour from the big road for its wonderful view point on the beginning of the Ria Formosa, its nice little houses and an interesting traditionnal cemetery (where pictures are forbidden!).
From there, you can drive a few kilometers down to Fabricà, where you will find a wonderful fish restaurant, O Costa, where you can eat on the terrasse facing the beach, and pick your own fish from the fresh choice at the fish stall, yummee!
After that, you can immediately jump on a tiny boat that will take you accross the lagoon for 1€/pax onto the beach, and enjoy the afternoon!
O Costa Restaurant
Sitio da Fabrica, Vila Nova de Cacela
As a quick stop on the freeway west of Faro, you may quickly visit Loulé, where you will find many churches, a medieval castle in pretty good shape, for what is left of it, a refreshing covered market or a small pedestrian shopping street.
On your way to/from the beach, you may visit the town itself, with its typical streets and an interesting fort.
Nice to do
The big touristy party town of the region, with the not so good food, english speaking crowds, boozed up at night touring the loud music bars with gogo dancers, Albufeira is good if you want to party hard and lay on the beach the next day.
It has its charms, with a pedestrian city center, and the wonderful beach accessible from it through a tunnel, although of course a bit crowded.
You may also go cultural and traditional by going to watch a bull fight, at theh Praça de Toiros. In Portugal, the bull is excited and tired by the torerro and his pikes on his horse, but it is not killed at the end, therefore, the blood sensitive folk won’t be too abhorred by the show. As a matter of fact, three bulls were fought by the same torrero during the show.
As a starter, six folkloric costumed men “played” with a bull at ground level, attratic him towords them and realizing figures with him.
During the show, an orchestra plays solemn tunes to support and accompany the torrero and the public.
With its Marina and 5* hotels, clubs, golfs, casinos, tennis courts, Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 shop, etc….., Vilamoura is the jet-set destination of Algarve. Still, its nice beach, like everywhere in Algarve, although this one has restaurants on wood stils along the beach, some of them turning into temporary discos at sunset for an hour or so, and numerous bars around the Marina make it a nice place to spend the evening, or your vacation, if you actually are jet-set.
One very good attraction is to go for a boat ride along the Algarve coast, during which you will hear explanations on the different beaches, towns, geology you see from the deck, and a long break on a beach otherwise inaccessible by foot, where pick-nick is served and free time is given before small excursions in caves on zodiacs (don’t expect too much) and heading back.
My advice is to go for the full day tour, which lasts 6 hours, to get the most out of the tour. You may also go with speed boats, but it looked like you wouldn’t even have enough time to admire the views, and I don’t know if the break is included, but I don’t think so.
They also organise party boat trips!
Capital of the disctrict, Faro is a big city, but its old city center is interesting, with its typical portuguese streets and a nice walkway along the sea. If you’re lucky to be there at the right time, don’t miss the several popular parties that happen during the summer, where typical food is served and loud music is played and sung on stage.
The main airport is in Faro but, the amount of companies serving this airport is pretty low, although it goes up in the summer time, prices are usually higher than to Lisboa or Sevilla.
3 hour drive away from Lisboa or from Sevilla, the roads are good.
Portugal has invested a lot of money in its freeways, with help from the European Union, many people saying it being a big waste of money, as they are too expensive for Portuguese people, the financial crisis putting many of them out of work.
Thus, traffic is close to none, and if you are in a hurry, it might well be the solution for you.
Or, you can use the many other slower roads who follow the freeways, some of them allowing you to cross nice towns and capture great views.
If you choose the freeways, know that, in Algarve, the tolls are electronic, reading your licence plate or the electronic badge when you pass under porticoes very regularly.
You have several options to pay:
– if you do nothing, you will have to go to any post office 48 to 72 hours after your billing to pay. That is the worst option, as you have to 1. not forget to do so, 2. not go to early, 3. not go too late.
– if you rent a car, most companies have transponders already installed in the cars, and will send you the bill one month later, billing your credit card.
These transponders also work on the Via Verde lines at the usual tolls on the other freeways in the country.
– if you come in from the spanish border, you will see signs with a booths to register your credit card, which will be billed later on
If you don’t pay, you (theoritically) will receive a fine at home.
You’ll find very detailed informations on the official Portugal Tolls website, even maps with the prices of each section of the freeways.
Portugal Tolls website: