“From great ribbons of sand to secluded little coves, the Algarve coastline is one of the best in Europe. But the region’s charms don’t end there…”
The Algarve is a regular winner at the World Travel Awards – the travel industry’s answer to the Oscars. In fact, over the years, it’s taken home gongs for everything from its fabulous diving scene to its great golf resorts.
If there’s one category this part of Portugal really deserves gold for, though, it’s its beaches. Hidden coves, crescent-shaped bays and rocky inlets make up the Algarve’s coastline. And if you like your sands pale and your seawater turquoise, you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to places to stay, Albufeira leads the pack. This southern hub is split in half. Its new town is brimming with thumping nightclubs and open-air bars, while its old town is filled with cobbled squares, colourful markets and laid-back restaurants.
Just down the road is Olhos D’Agua, a sleepy fishing village where freshwater springs bubble through the sands. The rock pools here are great for exploring, so it’s a good choice if you’ve got the little ones in tow. As for Sao Rafael, it’s famous for its dramatic rock formations.
Away from the coast, sleepy towns and villages punctuate lush hillsides and offer a fascinating insight into Portuguese life and culture while the developed seafront resorts brim with bars, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs and shops. The Algarve basks in glorious summer temperatures, often moderated by refreshing Atlantic breezes. Head for the high cliffs in the west and watch the breakers crashing on the rocky headlands. Look out too for majestic clifftop forts that once guarded the coast, and isolated lighthouses that still guide ships safely on their way.
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Resorts in Algarve include Acoteias, Albufeira, Alcantarilha, Almancil, Alte, Alvor, Armacao De Pera, Balaia, Boliqueime, Bordeira, Branqueira, Carvoeiro, Estoi, Ferragudo, Guia, Lagos, Loule, Monchique, Olhos D'agua, Pera, Praia Da Luz, Praia Da Marinha, Praia Da Oura, Praia Do Vau, Quinta Dos Alamos, Sao Bras, Sao Joao, Albufeira, Sao Rafael, Sesmarias, Tavira, Vale De Garrao, Vale De Parra, Vale Do Lobo and Vilamoura.
Golden sands are what the Algarve does best. And there are certainly plenty to choose from. Like the idea of hiring a windsurfer or pulling up a chair at a beach bar for lunch? Then you might choose somewhere like Praia d’Oura near Albufeira. We’re talking five kilometres of sand where there’s always plenty of action. If you prefer a quieter, more laid-back scene, follow the coast east for a few kilometres to discover the vast, uncrowded sands of Praia da Falesia where there’s as much peace and quiet as you can soak up in a day. In the east of the Algarve, the beaches are great dune-backed swathes of sand, often floating on offshore islands and reached by boat from resorts like Tavira and Olhao. This is the sort of place where you can leave the world behind for the day. As you travel west, the coastline rears up into those dramatic cliffs and great slabs of rock which you’ll have seen in many a holiday brochure. Here, it’s all sandstone tunnels, arches and fantasy shapes – bored out by the wind and sea and cut with gorgeous half moon bays. Check out the coves at Praia Dona Ana in Lagos and you’ll see what we mean. Just near here you’ll find Meia Praia. It’s the Algarve’s longest beach and has been spared from too much development, so you’re sure to find a peaceful spot to make your own. Whichever beach you pitch up on, it’s unlikely to disappoint – there are stunners all the way along the Algarve’s 200 kilometres of coastline. Some beaches just dance in high season - day or night a mix of lively entertainment brings on the boogie!
There’s plenty to snap up on the Algarve. Take the local pottery, for example. Rustic and colourful, it’s the type of thing you’ll find yourself using every day back home. The shops in resorts stock all sorts of ceramics, but it’s much more interesting to visit the original potteries which are scattered along many of the main holiday routes. Leather is another great buy. There’s always scope for another belt or pair of shoes in the wardrobe, and you’ll find the leather here is great value and a change from high street styles. Also look out for cheap, local knitwear – Monchique is the best hunting ground but you’ll find plenty in local markets too. If you’re the type that likes every souvenir to tell a story, make a trip to Loule. For this is the centre of the handicraft industry, and you can watch artisans at work in the streets around the market – Rua da Barbaca has the most workshops. Take home copperware, wrought iron, clogs and candles with stories of where and how they were made. If you have enough clutter at home and are determined to buy consumable souvenirs, you can’t beat a bottle of the local wine – the vineyards around Lagoa and Lagos are considered the best in the Algarve.