The Algarve seems to be getting a bad-rap lately. People imagine hordes of European holidaymakers flocking there for their annual trip. But that’s not the case, in my experience. With its incredible red-cliffed coastline and beautiful, quaint little towns and villages, the Algarve has all the ingredients of the perfect relaxing holiday that you should be dying to go on.
Where to stay
Resorts are the accommodation of choice in the Algarve. I stayed at the 5 star Vale do Lobo. This luxury resort is the largest in the Algarve and contains around 1,500 residential and holiday properties in their idyllic 450 hectares. It’s only 20 minutes from the Faro airport. Among the extensive range of sports and leisure facilities on offer, the Vale do Lobo boasts two 18-hole golf courses and some of the best tennis facilities in Europe with 10 hard courts and 4 synthetic grass courts where they hold their own annual Grand Champions ATP Seniors Tour. The tennis academy also attracts other national and international matches. If tennis or golf isn’t your thing you can take a stroll to the golden beach and relax or take a dip in the Atlantic. And if you don’t want to brave the sea you can have a swim in the nearby pool, have a drink at one of the beachside bars, visit the spa for a relaxing massage, have a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants or even visit the art gallery.
Beaches to Visit
Praia da Marinha in Lagoa is a must. Many say that it is one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal and is famed for its very blue high quality water and amazing cliffs. The Michelin guide calls it not only one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Europe but also one of the 100 most beautiful beaches in the world – and I can certainly see why. To access this beach you can walk down the steps from the top of the cliff to the beach below but if you want to take a more scenic route you can also walk 5.6km along the cliffs from nearby Praia Vale Centeanes.
Part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the 11km long Ilha de Tavira is an important habitat for birds and flamingos so as a huge bird lover, I had to pay it a visit. The island is also one of many which sit offshore that make up the iconic eastern coast of the Algarve. As this beach is an island it is only accessible by boat. In season you can catch a ferry or a water taxi from the pier in Tavira most of the day, but make sure you check the schedule as out of season the boats usually only run from 9am until 5pm.
Where to Eat
Drive into the mountains in north-western Algarve to the restaurant Jardim das Oliveiras. This restaurant sits at an elevation of almost 900 metres in the market town of Monchique nestled in the Serra de Monchique which is a mountain range covered in olive, eucalyptus and cork trees. The view is just phenomenal. They serve very rustic dishes that utilise the very best of the local food including wild boar. Bolo tacho is also served here, a traditional Monchique cake made from chocolate, honey, maize and egg. A true treat for the taste buds! Do NOT leave the Algarve without trying it!
If you find yourself in Albufeira you must visit Pozzetti Gelato Artigianale, an artisanal gelato stand found at Largo Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco. BEST gelato I’ve ever tasted.
Things to Do
In Almancil is the Church of São Lourenço which is a classic example of Portugese baroque and azulejo art at its best. It was built in the beginning of the 18th century. The surrounding buildings and houses in Almancil carry a similar style to the architecture of the church and are all painted white.
Go to Pêra for the impressive FIESA international sand sculpture festival. Since 2003 this festival has been showcasing the best of sand sculpture artists from around the world who keep returning each year to show off their skills with sculptures that fit the new theme of that year. Sand is not just for the summer as this festival is open all year round.
Discover the history of the region and visit the roman ruins of Cerro da Vila near the Vilamoura marina. The villa itself was constructed around 27 BC and Romans decided to settle in this region during the 1st century as a result the Algarve became part of the Roman Empire not long after and so was ruled by the 1st emperor, Augustus. After visiting the ruins go to the marina in Vilamoura and take a look at all of the expensive yachts there, the marina also offers many great restaurants and bars.
Hop on a boat from the Albufeira marina and take a tour to another town or area such as Lagos or Carvoeiro. A boat trip is the perfect way to experience the picturesque coastline of the Algarve, for a few hours you can relax on the boat and take in the surroundings. Some operators even offer tours to see dolphins and the caves, so not only can you experience the natural beauty from the boat but you can also choose to have an adventure and discover the caves accompanied by a guide in a kayak.