My Algarve Insider Tips

Call me mean if you like but I’m always reluctant to share too many tips, for fear that my favourite Algarve places become over popular.  In general I like my beaches to be empty.  But Easyjet have tempted me to share a few things that might make your Algarve experience that little bit more special.  I’m always glad to promote Portugal – it’s a beautiful place.

The Ria Formosa from the castle walls of tiny Cacela Velha

So shall we start with the beaches?  They’re hard to ignore, and why would you?  My personal favourites are those that you reach by boat.  Watching the sun glint off the water as you glide towards your beach of choice is my idea of heaven.  I’m an Eastern Algarve lass, and Tavira Island beach is my natural habitat.  It’s in the Ria Formosa so you’ll be able to spy out egrets and heron as the boat heads down river.  Looking back, pretty Tavira fills the skyline.

Tavira’s iconic Ponte Romana bridge, church and water tower

Tavira Island ferry, surrounded by an international sailing regatta

If you happen to be a landlubber, you can reach a stretch of the same beach by land train from Barril, a little further west.  I usually ride out and walk back, depending on the time of day.  Tiny crabs scuttle in the salt marshes and wispy pines shade the varying blooms.

My lazy husband loves to catch the land train over to Barril on Tavira Island

I’ve already hinted that I love boats, and the harbour at Olhao is the perfect jump off point for the islands of Armona and Culatra.  The ferry loads up with all manner of goods from the local market before slipping past the yachts in the marina and across the limpid sea.  Armona, my favourite, is a bare 20 minutes away, but it’s a different world.  In Summer the beach houses that line the narrow paths across the island may be lazily occupied, but it’s still not hard to find your very own stretch of sand.  If the heat becomes too much, a cluster of restaurants provide welcome shade.  Youngsters cool off rather more dramatically by plunging off the pier.

Looking across Armona to the mainland

Culatra is slightly further distant.  Chances are you’ll have seen the lighthouse at Farol as the plane banked in the skies over Faro airport.  As with Armona, a small community lives on the island, and you can wander the sandy paths down to the sea.  The ferry makes two stops on Culatra so it’s possible to disembark at the first and paddle along the shoreline to Farol, then pick up a later ferry back to Olhao.  A couple of cafes offer shade with a sea view.  The sun sliding down the sky on a golden evening is the perfect ending to a day by the water.  You might even spot a dolphin or two, playing in the waves as you sail home.

Farol, the lighthouse on Culatra

If your base is further west in the Algarve, you can sail out of Faro to reach Culatra, or to Barreta, popularly known as Ilha Deserta.  Don’t go without your sunscreen- the reflection off the sea will tan you instantly, and the only shelter is at O Estamine, the Algarve’s most southerly restaurant.

Peace and calm at the end of the day, just the tinkle of masts

As well as bobbing about in boats, I very much like to walk.  The Algarve has some truly beautiful countryside, and one of the best ways to see it is to join a walking group.  These are advertised each week in the “Portugal News”.  You benefit from the local knowledge of the walk leader, and like-minded people to chat to along the way.  People are always keen to share tidbits like the best places to eat and drink cheaply.  The walks usually include a stop off at a restaurant as a reward for your walking efforts.

Really keen walkers might like to check out the Via Algarviana, an inland walking trail which stretches all the way from Alcoutim at the Spanish border out to the very tip of the Algarve.  It’s possible to walk just a small section, or to book accommodation along the route in local farmhouses.  It’s an Algarve many people never glimpse, or even dream of.  You might be lucky and spot some of the spectacularly pretty bee-eaters, swooping low over the water, or a hoopoe hiding in the trees.

Looking out from Alcoutim across the river to Sanlucar de Guadiana, in Spain

Bikers are not neglected either.  Cycle tours are also featured in the “Portugal News” (grab one free at the airport on your way in).  There’s a coastal cycle path which is great for getting the wind in your hair on one of those warm Algarve days.  Bike hire is widely available throughout the area.

To really add some Algarve flavour to your holiday, you should try to seek out a festival.  The Portuguese are often quite serious natured, but they love to celebrate.  Carnaval in February is one of the year’s major events, and the parades are full of joy and laughter.  The town of Loule hosts the main one, but many of the villages have their own celebration.  I was lucky enough to catch the one in Paderne, not too far from Albufeira, this year.  The children delighted in wearing their fancy dress and skipping along behind the main procession.  If you do visit Paderne, don’t forget to check out the Corte Real art gallery.  It’s a lovingly restored very special farmhouse.

Carnaval carry-on at Paderne

A small ladybird gleefully joins the procession

Further inland, Alte has a great Carnaval celebration too, but more than this, there’s a superb Folklore Festival in May, and in September a traditional Wedding Ceremony.

Alte’s wedding ceremony is like no other

You can even pop very easily over the border to Spain from the Eastern Algarve.  Sanlucar de Guadiana has a beautifully costumed gypsy romeria the first weekend in May.  I came upon this quite by accident and it’s one of the delights of time spent in the Algarve that you can happen upon a local festival at almost any time of year.

There are lots of reasonably priced places to stay across the Algarve, but if you like the sound of the Eastern Algarve and don’t mind being just a little way from the main towns, newly opened Fazenda Nova will give you a warm reception.  Their “things to do” page will give you lots more ideas too.

The end of another lovely day in Tavira

These are my tips for tourists visiting the Algarve.  If you wind up in Tavira you may even find me, sitting with my evening glass of port, outside Anazu, watching the tiny swifts dart up to their nests above the cafe.  The riverside setting is perfect.  If I’m eating out, I could be round the corner at A Taska, just off Praca Dr. Padhina.  It’s the prettiest little restaurant I know.

If you need any more details, just ask. Many of my posts relate to the Algarve.  https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/b-is-for-beaches/ will give you a flavour of the area.

How fitting that I’m flying south again tomorrow.  Hope to see you there soon.

71 comments

  1. Ethiopia-wow! That’ll be fantastic, Cath. Soon?
    I can’t remember details but I’m sure there is a boat connection from Southern Spain because I’ve read about it. Somewhere near Gibraltar, Ceuta rings a bell? or maybe Gib itself? I’ll send you the link if I come across it. I may get to use it myself (tee! hee! more scheming)

      1. I wonder if it’s easy to get “just across the water.” Can you take a boat there from Spain or Portugal? I need to really get busy on my research for this trip. After Ethiopia, I’ll get right on it.

  2. Love the photos and your write up! I haven’t spent that much time in the east or west of the Algarve – I really should! I’ve spent most of my time very much in the centre.

    1. Thanks Jaina. The centre’s a bit manicured and too busy for me, but I’m always happy to find people who enjoy Portugal.

      1. Glad to hear you enjoyed some wonderful moments there. I bet it’s splendid this time of year?

      2. Exceptionally warm for October, Tricia. Porto was fantastic and then we “chilled” and socialised in the Algarve.

      3. Sounds lovely! Porto was one of my stops in 2004. During that visit, friends and I visited several of the port establishments there. Earlier this year, I cracked open one of the special bottles which I had acquired in Porto years ago. A wonderful treat that was shared with family.

      4. We didn’t even manage to fit in a wine tasting, Tricia! Criminal, wasn’t it, but we already drink lots of port and do our bit for the Portuguese economy. Sailing down the Douro was the best thing ever!

      5. It seems you have your bases covered, Jo. 🙂 Now, sailing down the Douro sounds lovely. I’ll have to make mental note of that idea. I also recall enjoying some delicious, fresh fish dishes there. The ceramic tile-work was also beautiful!

    1. We saw just a fraction of it at the Folk Festival in May and it was beautiful. There was the most torrential downpour around lunchtime and we really didn’t think it was going to go ahead but it did. The main event is in September. Thanks for reading, Audrey.

    1. I would love to do more of it myself, Margaret. So far I’ve only sampled a little of the inland trail. Sadly some areas have been affected by the fires this year, but they quickly recover and by next Spring will be fighting back again.

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