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.
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.