Why the Algarve is more than just a great beach destination
If you’re thinking of visiting the Algarve, my insider tips might come in handy before you book your trip.
When to go to the Algarve
If you want my advice, I’d avoid July and August unless you like jostling for space on crowded beaches and in the surrounding cafés and restaurants. Having said that, if you want to party with the Portuguese, August is the best time to find them as they head down south in droves for the summer.
If, like me, you’d rather have a bit more breathing space, try going a little earlier or later in the year; you’re still more likely than not to find sun when you get there. I’ve been in April, September, November and December and had glorious weather every time. I’ve even seen people sunbathing in November but most long-term residents or Portuguese visitors wear jeans and jackets for their beach walks during the winter months.
For more details about what to expect from the Algarve throughout the year, check out this post on the fabulous Algarve Blog.
Walking in the Algarve
Talking of walks, there are lots of really interesting ones you can do besides strolling along the sand but don’t even think about serious walking in the summer – it’s far too hot and there isn’t usually much in the way of shade. You’ll need a hat and plenty of water whatever time of year you go, and sensible shoes.
If you want to stay on the flat, you could walk around the salt pans of the Castro Marim nature reserve in the eastern Algarve looking for flamingos. Alternatively, in order to roam the sand dunes of the Ria Formosa near Faro; pick up the ‘Environmental Routes’ leaflet from the tourist information office for a choice of four routes. For a far more energetic walk that starts at the Spanish border, crosses forests, mountains and countryside and finishes at Portugal’s south-westerly tip, you could do all or part of the Algarve Way.
Driving in the Algarve
You’ll probably need a car to get to the starting point for most of these walks so you also need to bear in mind that the A22, the main road that runs across the Algarve region, has an electronic toll system so check with your car hire company or the Portuguese toll road website before you drive off.
Fun off the beach
One of the most impressive experiences I’ve had in the Algarve is the massive sand sculptures near Albufeira. Every year, international sand sculptors work their magic and create a brand new themed exhibition which is open to the public from May to October. Last year, the theme was the Animal Kingdom and you might still have time to catch this year’s exhibition based on idols. You can wander around during the day, but make sure you protect yourself from the sun and take plenty of water as there’s no shade. At night, the site is transformed with colourful lights, music and dancers. If possible, try to get there just before sunset so that you get the best of both worlds.
Escape the crowds and do something different
Another option for those looking for something more active than flopping on a beach could be to head inland to the renovated Algarvian village of Pedralva. A group of Portuguese friends have bought up pretty much all of the houses in the village and restored them to their former humble glory, converting them into holiday cottages in the process. There’s no mobile phone signal in most of the houses and no television. The idea is for you to switch off completely from the stresses of modern life and enjoy the surrounding countryside.
Aldeia da Pedralva arrange tours and guided walks featuring bees, donkeys and mushrooms and other activities, as well as eco-friendly festivals which draw local artisans and their products from the surrounding hillsides.
Eating in the Algarve
There are lots of fantastic restaurants to try out but my favourite, O Alentejano in Estombar, proves the point that going slightly off the beaten tourist track can lead to much better food and service. The owner, Vitor, goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure his customers keep coming back for more delicious food.
These are my tips for tourists visiting the Algarve. If you have any suggestions you’d like to add, please leave a comment.