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    What to see in the Algarve: a road trip in southern Portugal

    Who I am
    Aina Prat Blasi
    @ainapratblasi
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    I have just returned from this magnificent journey and I would not have thought that I would miss these landscapes so much and immediately. L'Algarve it enters your eyes and head with its incredible beaches, small seaside villages, the sound of the Atlantic, but above all with its light. The incredible warm light of Portugal, which here in the south is even more intense. Thanks to its favorable climate for 12 months of the year, theAlgarve is also the most touristic area of ​​Portugal, and is particularly loved by English tourism, but not only. A part of the region, the one that goes from Faro to Albufeira and Lagos, is very urbanized (but luckily without eco-monsters), while the stretch of coast near Spain, and the one facing west on the Atlantic, are decidedly more savages. The whole of the Algarve, however, is very organized and easy to visit. There are so many things to see in the Algarve, as well as the possibilities to relax on the beach and enjoy the sea, so it is a trip that you can do for a few days or for weeks. Mine lasted too short (4 days), but I already know that I'll be back soon, maybe to work from there in smartworking for a medium-long period .. we'll see what the future holds!



    Algarve: how to get there 

    • By plane. The Algarve has an international airport at Faro, and from Spain there are direct flights from various locations (with Ryanair and other companies) to this airport.
    • By car. If you come from Lisbon, the Algarve is not far anyway (Portugal is small!); with the highway it will take about 3h to get from Lisbon to Lagos. 
    • By bus. You can also reach the Algarve by bus, from Lisbon or other places in the country. The main companies are the Express Network and Eva-Bus

    How to get around the Algarve

    In Car

    The best way to get around the Algarve is undoubtedly by car, which guarantees you maximum freedom and allows you to reach even the most remote beaches in the region. The roads are beautiful and, except in August, also with little traffic. For car rental I always use the Rentalcars website and I chose the Guerin company, with which I got along well. To avoid scams, however, remember to always check the votes and reviews that users give to the various car rental companies. You can find them on the Rentalcars website itself, but you can also double check on Trustpilot. Some companies offer bargain prices but the service is bad. 



    How motorway tolls work in Portugal

    If you decide to rent a car and intend to use the toll highways (indicated with the letter A), you should also rent the "Telepass" (it's called another way in Portugal, but it works the same). The payment of tolls is quite cumbersome because, in fact, you do not pay at the toll booths, but you have to go to pay at the post office later. Payment must be made within 5 days. Some motorways (including the main one in the Algarve) do not even have toll booths but simply cameras that take the license plate number. All rental companies allow you to rent the Telepass for less than 2 euros per day (I think I spent 1,65 euros / day) and will ask you for a credit card to block 100 euros from which the tolls will then be deducted. With the Telepass, when you meet a toll booth, simply go into the dedicated lane (indicated as “Via Verde”, usually the one on the left) and on a display you will see how much you have spent. The cost of tolls, with the same distance, is almost half that in Spain. 

    By bus

    Several bus companies serve all the tourist resorts of the Algarve and several small villages within. The main companies are the Eva-Bus and Frotazul-Algarve. There are also gods Travel pass (which include both companies and an unlimited number of trips) of 3 or 7 days at a cost of 30,5 euros or 38,2 euros respectively. 


    Cycling along the Ecovia do Litoral

    If you love cycling you can also consider exploring the Algarve with this means by traveling along theCoastal Ecovia. This bike path about 214 km long crosses the Algarve from one end to the other, from Cabo de São Vicente Fino to Vila Real de Santo António on the border with Spain. Its route, consisting of five sections, runs along already existing cycling routes, rural routes and, in some cases, paths parallel to the Estrada Nacional 125, and allows you to discover beautiful landscapes along the coast (as well as access some of the most beautiful beaches of the Portugal). The route is part of the European network Eurovélo, the network of cycling routes that crosses all of Europe, and represents a stretch of the1 itinerary, the Atlantic Coast Route, between Sagres, in the extreme southeast of Europe and the North Cape, in Scandinavia.


    Health insurance is recommended

    Being in Europe, as Spanish citizens we have the right to health care, but there are specific conditions and ceilings. My advice is to still take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip, even for Covid-19. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!). All travel insurances also cover medical assistance in the event of a coronavirus infection, including testing if necessary. There is also coverage for the extension of the stay in the hotel due to the quarantine. Likewise, the trip cancellation guarantee includes coverage for illness or death of the traveler or a family member due to COVID-19.


    When to go to the Algarve

    The Algarve has a mild climate all year round, and it is no coincidence that for years it has become the retreat for British and European pensioners in general (also thanks to tax relief). In winter temperatures do not drop below 10 degrees e in summer they do not exceed 28-30 °; the climate is always dry and windy (especially along the west coast, a mecca for surfers) and it doesn't rain much. The best time to go is probably spring (April, May and June) but also theautunno, when the weather is still summer but the places are not crowded. The only one month I would tell you to avoid is August because it is the month in which the Portuguese also have their holidays and the beaches are filled to excess (with associated parking problems, etc.) and the prices are very high. Among other things, the prices in the Algarve are always higher than in the rest of Portugal and you spend a little less than in Spain.  


    Where to sleep in the Algarve

    If you have a few days available (as was my case), for convenience I recommend that you base yourself in at least two locations, one more towards Spain and the other towards the west Atlantic coast. Having so many days, on the other hand, you can also think of making a base in one place because the distances are quite short (it takes less than 2h to travel the Algarve from one side to the other). I have decided to sleep in Tavira and Lagos, two medium-sized towns, but if you are looking for smaller and a little more local situations I suggest you consider Carvoeiro, Ferragudo, Carrapateira or Aljezur

    • Quinta do Caracol (Tavira): this hotel in Tavira is truly a gem. It is a traditional structure surrounded by an olive grove and 2 steps from the center. A corner of paradise, really!
    • Dom Manuel I Charming Residence (lakes): this hotel is very convenient for walking both to the center of Lagos and to the beaches towards Punta da Piedade. The rooms are nice and the breakfast is one of the best you can find in a hotel.
    • O Quintal Guesthouse (Carvoeiro): super nice property in the center of Carvoeiro, a stone's throw from the beach. It has a nice terrace, a swimming pool and super nice common areas. 
    • Quinta Alma Ecological Retreat (Aljezur): for a particular experience, a little different from usual. Here you can sleep in different types of tents (luxury and with all comforts) completely immersed in nature, practice yoga, biking and hiking.

    What to see in the Algarve: all the places not to be missed in the south of Portugal

    Among the things to see in the Algarve that I have selected you will not find some very famous places such as Albufeira o Portimao. In these places there is very little authentic left and behind their historic center there are hundreds of modern buildings, colorful condominiums, shopping centers and so on and so forth. They are very lively places full of nightlife, very oriented towards English tourism (which has been pouring here for years). Personally I am not attracted to these kinds of places and, unless the focus of your trip is pub drinking or club nights, I would recommend you stop elsewhere.  

    Tavira 

    In telling you about the things to see in the Algarve I will proceed from east to west, from the border with Spain to then arrive at the west coast. The first place that deserves a stop is definitely Tavira, which is located inland, and extends along the banks of the Rio Gilao River. The old town is quite compact and is the classic Algarve town with white houses and wrought iron balconies. Take a walk to the Castle (to what remains!) to have a view of the town from above and around the ancient Roman bridge. Ferries also leave from the Tavira riverside to reach I 'Tavira Island (in high season they leave every 15 ') on which there is a very long beach much loved by the locals. In the surroundings it is also worth visiting Cabanas de Tavira, an authentic fishing village, from which you reach the island opposite with the splendid Cabanas beach, Santa Luzia, famous for fish restaurants whose specialty is octopus. 

    old cacelle

    I want to dedicate a separate paragraph to this small town because I liked it very much and I put it among the things to see in the Algarve absolutely. old cacelle is a handful of houses by the sea located 15 km east of Tavira and is reminiscent of what the Algarve was 50 years ago. Except for a couple of bars, a church and the remains of a fort, there is nothing else, but the view from the cliff is truly magnificent. Yes, because it is right there in front one of the beaches classified among the most beautiful in the world. Depending on the level of the tide you can reach it on foot (there are ladders that start near the church) or with small boats. The colors of the sea and the beach are truly incredible, with spots that go from light blue to green and detach on the golden sand. 

    Olhao and Faro 

    Proceeding west, there are also things to see in the Algarve Olhao e Faro. Faro is the largest city in the Algarve and is also the city where the region's only international airport is located. Despite its size, it has nevertheless remained a city on a human scale with beautiful pedestrian streets near the marina and, above all, with the Cidade Velha (old city) perched behind the fortified walls. Olhao is located 8 km east of Faro and is the starting point for reaching the islands of Armona e Breech that are in front of you. Both have very long white beaches and some stretches can be a little crowded in summer, but you just need to walk a little more to find yourself almost alone. Ferries depart from the port of Olhao and stop at the south end of the island of Armona, where there is a nice little town and, on the island of Culatra, in the locality of the same name (with a small fishing village) and Farol, more touristy, with fishing huts and seasonal restaurants. 

    Benagil Caves and 7 Hanging Valleys route

    In the stretch of coast between Armação de Pêra and Centianes there are some beaches that I recommend you to see absolutely in the Algarve, as well as some of the most famous. In particular, the most beautiful stretch is the one that goes from Praia da Marinha to Vale Centianes beach, a stretch consisting of a high cliff in red sandstone interrupted occasionally by small beaches, paradisiacal coves and some caves (including the famous Benagil cave). Some beaches can be reached on foot, others only by boat or kayak. To admire them all there is a beautiful path called  Route of the 7 Suspended Valleys which starts from Praia da Marinha and reaches Praia de Vale Centianes: 12 km round trip, mostly flat (but you can also walk only a piece of course). If you decide to do so, I recommend that you arrive early in the morning, especially in high season, because the Praia da Marinha car park (but also of the other coves) is quite small. Praia da Marinha it is worth seeing in any case because it is truly one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. 

    How to visit the Benagil caves 

    To see the Benagil cave, you must necessarily enter from the sea (from the Path of the 7 Hanging Valleys you will see them from above, but you can see very little), and you have several options.

    • Swimming: starting from the small beach of Benagil (Praia de Benagil), you will have to swim for about 150 meters to enter the cave. 
    • In kayak o paddle: departing from Praia da Marinha or Praia de Benagil  
    • On a boat: in the summer months there are several tours departing from Benagil, Armação de Pêra, Marina de Lagoa, Carvoeiro, Lagos, Albufeira and Portimão that reach the cave. The boats can enter the cave for a few minutes and you cannot go down to the micro-beach inside, so you will have just the time to take a photo and little more. However, these tours usually also include other caves and other very beautiful coves that can only be reached by sea. 

    Carvoeiro and Ferragudo

    A few kilometers east of Benagil there is Carvoeiro, once a fishing village with a small beach in a cove. Today it has certainly become a tourist place, but it still retains its authenticity and beauty. The beach is really nice and the color of the water invites us to stop for a swim and, why not, a fish lunch overlooking the sea. Another fishing village that I include among the things to see in the Algarve is Ferragudo, which has also become famous among instagrammers for a couple of very characteristic streets. The village is located on the mouth of the Rio Arade and on the riverside is a succession of fish restaurants and bars. The old town extends up the hill behind, with a maze of alleys overlooked by white houses with colored frames adorned with beautiful bougainvillea. At the point of the river closest to the sea there are also some beautiful beaches topped by the suggestive Castle of Sao Joao do Arade. Both Carvoeiro and Ferragudo can also be a great choice for sleeping if you are looking for a smaller, more local place. 

    Silves, Alvor and Praia dos Tres Irmaos 

    We now move a little inland, 18 kilometers to be exact, to tell you about Silves, one of the most beautiful towns in the Algarve. In the Moorish era Silves was the capital of the Algarve and it was the Moors who built its evocative red brick walls and the Fortaleza still visible today. Inside you can see a wonderful XNUMXth century cistern with a vaulted ceiling, the large cistern, which once served the entire city. Returning to the coast, the town of is worth a stop Alvor, with the harbor full of colorful boats, and the beautiful Praia dos Tres Irmaos, one of the most beautiful beaches in the region. 

    Lagos  

    Among the largest cities in the Algarve, Lagos in my opinion it is the most beautiful and the only one that is really worth seeing and experiencing (I was based there for two nights and I was very happy with the choice). Lagos has a beautiful old town enclosed by XNUMXth century walls at the mouth of the Bensafrim River, it is a lively city where you will find great bars and restaurants, and just outside are some of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve. Proceeding from the center towards the sea there are several coves among the most typical and beautiful in the Algarve; in order of appearance you will find first Pinhao beach (with an arch over the sea that makes it look like the fjord of Furore, in Campania), then Dona Ana beach (very wide and simply gorgeous!), Praia do Camilo and finally Point of Mercy, the promontory overlooking the sea on which the lighthouse is located. This is also one of the most beautiful spots to watch the sunset. You can also see the various coves and caves from the sea by taking part in a boat trip; just go down the stairs in front of Ponta de Piedade and you will find the small boats waiting. The aforementioned beaches have parking lots, but they are small and fill up immediately, but you can get around either by walking (they are a few kilometers from the center) or with a train that leaves from the center of Lagos. 

    Sagres

    Among the things to see in the Algarve can not miss Sagres, the most southwestern port in Europe. Sagres is located on a flat promontory, in a particularly scenic location, and is the town of choice for backpackers and surfers. It is nothing architecturally impressive, but its beaches are magnificent. On foot from the center you can reach them Mareta beach, Baleeira beach, Martinhal Beach, Tonel beach e Belixe Beach (the latter two very popular with surfers). As the last outpost of Portugal, Henry the Navigator had a fortress built there (the Fortaleza) which is located on the tip of the promontory and can be visited. Then there is a few kilometers from there Cabo de Sao Vicente, which is the most southwestern point of the European continent, where you will find one of the largest lighthouses in Europe. It goes without saying that from here you will probably see one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip. 

    Carrapateira and Castelejo Beach

    After Sagres you arrive on the west coast, the one that directly overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. This stretch of the Algarve coast was designated in 1995 Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, that is, it is a Natural Reserve, and has guaranteed the protection of the territory. This area is the wildest in the Algarve, with incredible and very wide beaches, and is very popular with surfers, campers and nudists for that very reason. Here, however, the sea can be particularly dangerous so always look at the color of the flag and be careful. The first must-see beach on the coast is Castelejo beach, a beautiful beach with a restaurant and a surf school. Proceeding north there is then one of my favorite beaches of the whole trip: Carrapateira Beach. The latter is an immense beach, which you can see in all its splendor even from above, through the wooden walkways. Unlike Praia de Castelejo, there is only a small kiosk on the beach here (and it is only open in high season), so bring your own drinks and food if you intend to stay there for a while (or stop and eat at one of the few places that are in the village that you find before reaching it). Another very beautiful thing about this stretch of coast is that, in the interior, there are pine forests with equipped areas where you can stop to eat or rest in the shade.  

    Aljezur and Amoreira Beach

    I close this article on the things to see in the Algarve, with other beaches that are among the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, especially one in particular. To reach them you will have to arrive at the village of Aljezur, a cute and lively town that is located within. Here you will find the remains of a Moorish castle and a network of cobbled streets with white houses. From Aljezur another road will take you to Monte Clérigo Beach, a beautiful beach that opens between two cliffs, behind which there are a few houses and a couple of restaurants (if you come here, go and eat at O Sargo restaurant!). But the real surprise you will have a little further north when you reach Amoreira beach. To say it's super-scenic is an understatement !! The dune beach is located at the mouth of the Ribeira de Aljezur river and the meeting point between the water of the river and the sea creates beautiful colors. On either side of the beach there are 2 restaurants, both with a view of this beach that will take your breath away. 

    You might also be interested in these other articles I wrote about Portugal:

    • Lisbon: what to see in 3 days
    • Unusual Lisbon: 15 places to see to feel local
    • Where to sleep in Lisbon: better neighborhoods and hotels 
    • How to organize a trip to the Azores: when to go, how and where
    • Azores: what to see and what to do in these dream islands
    • Alentejo (Portugal): what to see
    • Madeira: what to see on the island of eternal spring
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