Lying on the south coast of Portugal, the Algarve is located on the southernmost point of Europe. The mild climate of the Algarve with its 300 days of sunshine per year is its number one attraction which brings vast numbers of northern Europeans to its beautiful beaches and quaint Moorish villages. It’s an ideal destination for year round tourism with hot, dry summers and mild winters. 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.
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.
Summer often hits 28ºC sometimes daring to climb to 30ºC 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.
Where to Stay on the Algarve
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 explore the region 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 and headed out to discover what our neighbours had to offer.
Self-Drive Tour of the Western Algarve from Albufeira
First stop heading west is the high rise resort of Armação de Pêra 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 the fine beaches at Praia da Marinha and Praia do Carvalho before arriving in the charming resort of Carvoeiro. This stretch of coastline is home to numerous sandy coves tucked under tall cliffs attracting tourists looking for a laid-back holiday. One of the local highlights is a fascinating rock formation called Algar Seco which can be reached from Carvoeiro on a wooden walkway.
Inland, just north of Lagoa is the historic town of Silves which is one of the Algarve’s most popular destinations for day trippers. As part of the Emirate of Córdoba, Silves was once the capital of the Algarve region under Moorish rule. It is home to a finely preserved Moorish castle and a 13th century cathedral. 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.
Our next stop back on the coast 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. Cruise ships visiting the region sail up the Arade River just to the east of Praia da Rocha docking at the Portimão Cruise Port from where passengers can take shore excursions along the eastern and western Algarve.
Fortunately for us, 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 hugging a lagoon that opens out onto the Atlantic and provides easy access to a number of local golf courses.
Just a little further on is Lagos which is one of the prettiest localities in the Algarve with its numerous beaches, towering rock formations at Ponta da Piedade and old city walls and buildings preserved from the 16th century. This is a popular destination for laid-back holidays which has 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.
Continuing further west leads to the rugged coastline around Sagres from where Portuguese expeditions departed for the New World in the 15th century. Visitors can walk out to the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vincente for stunning views out towards the Americas.
Self-Drive Tour of the Eastern Algarve from Albufeira
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 neighbouring, luxury, resort of Vilamoura which was purpose-built in the 1980s and is centred on its exclusive marina. This is the place for those who are here to play some of the area’s championship golf courses but is far removed from the traditional Algarve. Golfers might also consider the exclusive Quinta do Lago resort which is home to three of Europe’s top courses.
What Are The Best Golf Courses on the Algarve?
There are 31 golf courses along the coast of the Algarve. Some of the most highly regarded include:
Monte Rei (North Course)
Quinta de Cima
Victoria Golf Course – Dom Pedro Golf
Quinta da Ria Resort
Dom Pedro Old Course
Quinta do Lago (South Course)
Dom Pedro Victoria Course
Vale Da Pinta Course, Carvoeiro
Vale Do Lobo (Royal Course)
Onyria Palmares Golf
Penina (Championship Course)
Golf Santo Antonio
Heading back towards Spain we decided to stop off in Faro, a town which few tourists take the time to visit as they travel 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 is home to some of the region’s most beautiful historic sights including 37 churches and a ‘Roman’ bridge built over the Gilhão River which is actually Moorish. Both Faro and Tavira offer easy access to some unspoilt beaches including the ones on the island of Ilha de Tavira which can only be reached by ferry.
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.