Praia do Camilo is just one of more than a hundred golden-sand beaches in Portugal’s Algarve region – a wealth that makes it one of Europe’s most appealing holiday destinations

With more than a hundred golden-sand beaches, Portugal’s Algarve region is one of Europe’s most appealing holiday destinations. But it’s not just sun-bathing that draws people to the Algarve. Exploring the region's coastal towns and fishing villages – all whitewashed churches, lively backstreets and restaurants serving the freshest seafood on cobbled squares – is also a delight. Inland, the hills covered with olive and orange groves and dotted with rural villages are perfect for leisurely discovery, as well as mountain-biking and hiking. Golfers will be pleased to learn, meanwhile, that there are around forty courses to enjoy in the Algarve.

The best places to visit in the Algarve

The Ria Formosa Nature Reserve

The Ria Formosa Nature Reserve

When visiting the Algarve, be sure to take in the memorable landscape and birdlife of Ria Formosa Nature Reserve (Photo: Getty Images)

Hop on a boat from the earthy fishing port of Olhão, with its colourful atmospheric market, and head out to the islands of Armona and Culatra. These beautiful off-shore sandy islands are home to a few low-key clusters of former fishermen’s cottages and a huge variety of birdlife, including avocet, storks, egret and migrating flamingos. You can either take a boat trip round the islands, or just jump on a ferry and head off for a walk round the salt marshes and almost-empty beaches, before settling in at a simple beach restaurant for a plate of freshly barbecued sardines.

Tavira

Tavira

With its whitewashed buildings and vibrant central square, pretty Tavira is an Algarve must (Photo: Getty Images)

A vision of whitewashed buildings, terracotta roofs and leafy gardens, the pretty town of Tavira rewards leisurely discovery. Take in the vibrant central square, then wander through the cobbled backstreets that wind up to the ruined castle for beautiful views over rooftops, salt flats and the coast. Or amble along the Gilão riverfront over the Roman bridge past atmospheric restaurants and cafés with tables by the water.

Praia de Falesia

Praia de Falesia

The Algarve has many beautiful beaches, with 6km-long Praia de Falesia one of the very best (Photo: Getty Images)

Frequently hailed as Portugal’s best beach, Praia de Falesia is a 6km-long stretch of beautiful soft sand, backed by red sandstone cliffs. Portugal’s largest yachting marina, Vilamoura, sits at the eastern end of the beach, with upmarket restaurants, cafés and nightclubs that. Vilamoura also has five golf courses nearby, including the championship Victoria Golf Course at Dom Pedro Golf, which hosts the Portuguese Masters.

Stay close to the beach at the gorgeous Domes Lake Algarve, Autograph Collection, whose rooms look out over the marina or the hotel’s private saltwater lake. Or relax at the elegant Pine Cliffs, a Luxury Collection Resort, Algarve in a spectacular location nestling among trees on the clifftop that backs Praia de Falesia.

Lagos

Ponta da Piedade

Lagos town is worth a visit in itself, but it's also a great base for exploring other areas of the Algarve, such as the rocky coastline near Ponta da Piedade (Photo: Getty Images)

The lively town of Lagos has an impressive marina, an atmospheric old town, several sandy beaches and all you could want in the way of watersports and boats trips. The grottos, sandstone rock pillars, tunnels and arches of Ponta da Piedade are great to explore on a boat trip from Lagos. You can kayak along the coast into sea caves, go dolphin-watching, or take a leisurely catamaran cruise, which will moor up in a secluded spot for a picnic lunch and a swim.

What to eat and drink in the Algarve

delicious seafood in Algarve

Indulging in delicious seafood is one of the great pleasures of visiting the Algarve (Photo: Getty Images)

Portugal’s fresh fish and seafood is second to none, and the country has become a gastronomic destination, with top chefs serving up exciting dishes made from local and seasonal produce. The Algarve alone has eight Michelin-star restaurants.

For a meal of a lifetime, book well in advance at Vila Joya, where chef Dieter Koschina has held two Michelin stars for 23 years running. Just a fifteen-minute walk from the restaurant, the stylish W Algarve boutique-style hotel has an infinity pool, spa and roof-top chill-out bar with views of the sea, while guest rooms and suites are west-facing, and enjoy large private balconies. The hotel's elegant Paper Moon restaurant offers elevated renditions of Italian classics with an emphasis on fish and seafood: think fritto misto of prawns, squid and courgette; salt-baked fish; and Gragnano linguine with lobster, cherry tomatoes and a bisque sauce.

It’s not just high-end food that the Algarve does well, of course. There's a rich tradition of simple barbecue cooking in the region – sardines, prawns, pork skewers or squid cooked in this way are unmissable Algarve treats.

Frango no churrasco

Nobody does barbecued chicken like the Portuguese – marinated in herbs, garlic and olive oil and cooked over hot coals. The aroma alone will tempt you, especially when it’s served outdoors on the waterfront.

Cataplana do Algarve

A cataplana is actually the round copper dish in which this tasty seafood stew is cooked. The fish and seafood used varies according to what is fresh, but you can expect the likes of hake, monkfish, cod, prawns, clams and mussels, all cooked together in a delicious sauce of peppers, tomatoes, olive oil and parsley.

Cebolada de atum

The Algarve is known for its tuna, usually cut into thick steaks. The traditional way to eat it is called cebolada de atum, which sees the fish cooked with loads of onions, garlic, peppers and white wine, and served with roasted potato wedges.

Top things to do in the Algarve

surfing at Algarve

The windswept cliff-top town of Sagres offers superb surfing – a classic Algarve activity (Photo: Getty Images)

The Algarve is rightly celebrated for its beaches, which come in all shapes and sizes: from wide, cliff-backed sandy strands; to sheltered coves, such as the beautiful Praia da Marinha, book-ended by rock pillars; and long offshore sandbars, accessible only by boat, that have a laidback desert-island vibe. It's also home to some of Portugal's most dramatic sea caves, such as Benagil, which you can explore by kayak or paddleboard. 

Meanwhile the lively town of Albufeira has a wide sandy beach, accessed by tunnels blasted in the cliff, and buzzing with local and international bars and restaurants.

For something rather more active than beach-lounging, how about a zip-wire from Spain to Portugal? The world’s only cross-border zip-wire, LimiteZero speeds 70km/h from Sanlucar in Spain across the Guadiana river to Alcoutim in Portugal. Although it only lasts a minute, you’ll gain an hour on the ride, since Portugal and Spain are in different time zones.

Surfing in Sagres is a classic Algarve activity. On the farthest southwest tip of mainland Europe, the windswept cliff-top town of Sagres has sheltered south-facing beaches for beginners and west-facing Atlantic beaches with swells to challenge the most experienced surfers.

For a more gentle outing, explore Faro old town with its imposing thirteenth-century cathedral, cobbled lanes and arches and grand neo-classical gateway, the Arco da Vila. Climb up at sunset, and stop off for a drink at O Castelo terrace for live music and views over the marina, the waterfront and the salt marshes.

Hidden gems in the Algarve

Cabo de São Vicente

Wild, windswept Cabo de São Vicente is the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe (Photo: Getty Images)

The Algarve’s west coast lies within the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Natural Park, a 100km-long stretch of unspoilt coastline. It’s home to pretty fishing villages such as Salema and Burgau, plus wilder surf beaches, such as Odeceixe and Praia do Amado.

Walkers can tackle sections of the Trilho dos Pescadores, a long-distance hiking trail made up of former fishermen’s paths that runs along the length of the west coast, and takes in the wild, windswept Cabo de São Vicente, the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe.

Go deeper

Locals will appreciate you making the effort to learn a few simple phrases. Greet people with Bom dia, Boa tarde or Boa noite (Good morning/afternoon/evening), and say thank you with Obrigado (if you’re a man) or Obrigada (for women).

Published: March 27, 2023

Article Tags:  Algarve , Portugal

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