Lying on the south coast of Portugal, the Algarve is located on the southernmost point of Portugal. The mild climate of the Algarve with its 300 days of sunshine per year is its number one attraction which brings vast numbers of north Europeans to its beautiful beaches and quaint Moorish villages. It’s an ideal destination for year round tourism with hot, dry summers (often around 30ºC) but in these days of climate change you should be aware that winters can be fairly unpredictable with 0ºC being recorded recently. The region is a mecca for golf enthusiasts who flock to the Algarve to play its magnificent golf courses.
As a fully fledged ‘Hispanophile’ I’d never felt much need to cross the border into Portugal until one summer we were on the coast of Huelva and decided that it was time to take a look at what was ‘on the other side’. We headed across to Albufeira on the excellent motorway that connects the Spanish border in the east with Lagos in the west. This served as our base as we set out to discover this region which attracts over seven million foreign visitors every year together with many Portuguese tourists.
Most of Europe’s main tour operators offer packages to the Algarve and the budget airlines provide flights to Faro Airport from destinations all over the continent. On arrival it’s common to rent a car as it gives you the freedom to get around very easily without having to rely on a public transport system that doesn’t always go where you want to. Local buses run to the train and bus stations in Faro from where you can continue your onward journey but if you’re better off pre-booking an airport transfer from Faro than dealing with the hassle of public transport.
Best Time to Visit the Algarve
With over three thousand hours of sunshine each year the weather on the Algarve makes it an ideal summer destination. Yet tourists don’t limit their holidays to the summer months of July and August finding the weather warm enough from the end of spring all the way to the end of autumn. Even the wetter months on the Algarve will be punctuated with a lot of fine, dry days as well. Golfers and sun worshippers absolutely love this coastal region of Portugal.
The climate is warmer and drier on the coast than up in the mountains as these mountains block the cold winds from the North and prevent tourists from having their splendid day in the sun ruined by wind.
Summer often hits 28ºC sometimes daring to climb to 30º and beyond. There is an absence of rain in July and August and the sun is out for at least 12 hours each day. The Algarve is quite capable of serving up incredibly hot days but these are not altogether uncomfortable since the gusty Atlantic winds deliver the cool every now and then.
Still the Algarve coast has its share of rain and cold wind in the winter thanks to the chilly winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Rain is expected between the months of October and March with January and February having the most rain though generally rationed out in short bursts.
Locals still amaze tourists with their tales of snow falling on the beach in January of 2006 which was a winter that not many have forgotten nor will soon forget. With its three thousand hours of sun each year, it is indeed impossible for snow on the beach in Algarve to go unnoticed.
Below you will find two graphs that show average monthly temperatures and rainfall throughout the year.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is plentiful with a fine selection of some of Europe’s finest villas as well as an impressive range of self-catering apartments. All the major tour operators offer Algarve holidays with properties available to suit most budgets. In terms of resorts it’s important to choose wisely. Luckily for us whilst basing ourselves in Albufeira to research this section of our website we’d unknowingly arrived in one of the Algarve’s busiest resorts. Fortunately we stumbled on a quaint hotel in the old town with ready access to a nice selection of local bars and restaurants. This was an idyllic choice for our requirements as we weren’t looking for the lively ‘Strip’ which is packed with British bars and restaurants. So we settled into our new base, charged up the laptop and headed out to discover what our neighbours had to offer.First stop heading west was the high rise resort of Armacao de Pera which has a much more Portuguese feel to it than Albufeira. Like many towns along this coast it retains its old fisherman’s quarter that dominated local life before the age of mass tourism. This is a well established and popular resort with a long, sandy beach and a great selection of mainly Portuguese bars and restaurants. Heading further west you’ll soon come to one of the area’s finest beaches at Praia da Marinha which is just along the coast before you reach the charming village of Carvoeiro. Many exclusive villas are available for holiday rentals in this municipality of Lagoa which are popular with golfers.
Next stop is Praia da Rocha which is another of the region’s big resorts. In terms of the ‘wow factor’ it could easily win a vote for the best beach on the Algarve thanks to its spectacular location directly below the resort’s imposing cliffs. In the evening during peak holiday times the place is very busy with many bars and restaurants around as well some noisy disco bars and a nightclub.
Fortunately the best was yet to come. Have you ever visited a region and immediately fallen in love with a place you’d never even heard of before you arrived? Well that’s exactly what happened when we turned up in Alvor. Somehow this lovely fishing village has retained all its charm whilst welcoming visitors as its low key tourist industry has grown. It has a fabulous beach nearby and a good selection of eateries where there’s a nice mix of friendly locals and foreigners. Just a little further on is Lagos which is another destination which is ideal for family and laid-back holidays. It too offers easy access to great beaches and some lovely Portuguese bars and restaurants.
The popular resort of Praia da Luz lies beyond Lagos and is another good choice for family holidays with a great beach and excellent dining options.East of Albufeira is the resort of Quarteira which, in spite of being rather run down, does have a very nice beach. More upmarket is the luxury, purpose built resort of Vilamoura next door which is very nice if you’re here solely to play golf or go sailing but has little if anything to do with the traditional Algarve. If you’d prefer to experience something of the local culture you’d be better off heading to one of the other resorts further west. If you are a golfer then you’ll want to take a look at the exclusive Quinta do Lago resort which lies half way between Vilamoura and Faro and is home to three of Europe’s top courses.
Where to Visit
As well as the attractions mentioned above you should rent a car and head out to Sagres where road heading west on your Algarve map comes to an end. From the fort at Sagres you can walk out to the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vincente for stunning views out towards the Americas.
Another ‘must see’ destination for day trippers is inland to the the historic town of Silves which was once the capital of the Algarve region under Moorish rule and is home to a finely preserved Moorish castle. Further inland is the village of Monchique which is also well worth a visit. If you don’t have your own transport there are scheduled coach tours to these attractions.
Back to Spain
Unfortunately, our visit to the Algarve has come to an end but thanks to some lovely weather, great beaches and incredible scenery we’ll be back for more, especially to spend additional time around Alvor and Lagos.
On our way back to Spain we decided to stop off in Faro, a town which few tourists take the time to visit as they head west to their holiday resorts. In spite of being the region’s capital and commercial hub the town is well worth a visit thanks to its charming atmosphere and beautiful architecture. Further east is the lovely riverside town of Tavira which has avoided the worst of tourism developments and maintained an air of old world charm. Both Faro and Tavira offer easy access to some unspoilt beaches which will appeal to visitors hoping to get away from it all.