There’s more to the Algarve than beach resorts and sangria
Although the Algarve has gained a reputation as a beach resort hotspot for Europe’s lager-lovers and sun-hungry pensioners, there is another side to Portugal’s most popular tourist area. Get away from the alcopop resorts and busy beaches and the western coastline boasts some rugged and unspoilt stretches, and there are pristine forests of pine, cork and eucalyptus trees inland.
There are also picturesque villages out in the countryside with bustling markets selling local produce of honey, fruit, almonds and handicrafts, and plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy the regional specialities of chicken piri piri and bacalhau (salted cod).
Travellers wanting more of an off-the-beaten-track sort of Portuguese holiday can still benefit from the cheap flights and plentiful accommodation in Algarve! The guide below should provide a few ideas.
Although the beaches along the south coast of the Algarve are beautiful and have warm, calm waters, more westerly beaches are far quieter and have a unique rugged beauty. Arrifana is a good example of these, and if the colder temperatures aren’t a turn-off, these beaches offer good surfing conditions.
Although you will run into a fair few tourists in Tavira, its rabbit-warren of cobbled streets and plazas are perfect for getting yourself lost in, away from any crowds. The town also offers ruined castle, a selection of Gothic and Renaissance churches, a Roman bridge and a fishing port.
Monchique is a beautiful little village up into the Serra de Monchique mountain range, and makes a great base for exploring the area. A few miles south of the village there is a spa which benefits from the hot sulphur springs of the Caldas de Monchique spring. After a relaxing soak there, it’s well worth trying a glass of the fiery local brew medronho – made from medronho berries from what is also known as the ‘strawberry tree’.
The capital of the Algarve hits some of Portugal’s highest temperatures during summer months, but is well worth a visit thanks to its well-preserved medieval quarter. The town became the region’s capital after an earthquake in 1755 damaged many of the other towns and cities, and Faro was saved by the sandy banks of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Aljezur – Town of Two Halves
The town of Aljezur in western Algarve is built on either side of a river – with the old town on one side and the new town on the other. This came about after Malaria took hold of the town during the 18th Century and the Bishop of the Algarve told the people to cross the river and build a new town there. Some did but others stayed put, and the town has been split ever since!
Aljezur is a great base from which to explore the villages dotted around the Algarve countryside, and isn’t far from some near-deserted surfing beaches.
Lagos is a large town but has a traditional Portuguese feel to it. It has a fishing port and market, and much of the architecture which survived the earthquake of 1755 still stands today. A huge selection of bars and restaurants keep visitors fed and watered/wined and there are some excellent beaches nearby, such as the huge stretch of sand at Meia Praia.
A fantastic way of really exploring the Algarve is to hire some bikes and get out on the roads. Portimao is a good base for a wide variety of routes of various difficulty levels, taking in coastal roads and country tracks. There are also organised tours if getting lost on your own might be a deterrent.