You may come to the Algarve for its beaches but it’s always worth prising yourself off your sunbed and exploring the region. Here are some great day trips in the Algarve. It might be worth hiring a car but you can get to all of these places by public transport or organised tours if necessary.
The most south-westerly town in the Algarve is more than just a surfers’ paradise although there are several beaches in and around town if you can’t bear to be away from the sand for a whole day.
Stroll around Baleeira fishing harbour and you’ll see brightly painted boats and locals at work, fixing their nets or piling up their lobster pots. If you get there early enough on a weekday morning, you might even catch the fish auction in action. Alternatively, take a walk along the cliff tops for some great views.
Don’t forget to look up while you’re in the town centre to spot colourful chimneys and unusual weather vanes. Pass through Jardim de Sagres to see a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator and possibly groups of local men playing boules. You should also make time for some people watching at one of the many outdoor cafés.
For a dose of history, the Fortaleza (Fort) de Sagres contains a restored 16th century chapel, a blowhole and a giant stone compass behind its bulwarked fortifications. It’s not far from the fort to “the end of the world”, a.k.a. Cabo de São Vicente. There’s not much to see here except the lighthouse and a few souvenir and snack stands but it’s worth braving the stiff winds for the views, especially at sunset.
Salema and Boca do Rio Nature Reserve
Moving east along the coast from Sagres, you’ll find several unspoilt beaches, such as Praia da Ingrina and Praia Boca do Rio, which means river mouth. The surrounding cliffs and valley are now a nature reserve with a clifftop walk that leads all the way to the pleasant fishing village and beach at Salema.
Related: A little further eastwards along the coast, you’ll find the famous sea cave and picturesque cliffs of Benagil. If you’re thinking of taking a boat trip, check out this post first.
You can drive to Silves from Alte in less than 30 minutes if you want to combine your Algarve day trips. Probably the best time to visit is during the medieval fair in August but it makes a pleasant change from the beach at any time of year. You can get to Silves on a boat trip up the River Arade from Portimão, although the water was a bit whiffy when I visited.
The highlight of a trip to Silves is definitely its red sandstone castle. You can walk along its walls and admire the views or cool off in the ancient underground water cistern. The restaurant just outside the castle has live music and a very jolly holiday atmosphere. Yes, it’s touristy, but although I didn’t eat there, the customers seemed to be having fun; some were even dancing.
There are plenty of other outdoor cafés where you can while away the time and people watch if that sounds too noisy for you. Before you leave Silves, make a point of stopping by the Praça de Mouhatamid Ibn Abbad where you’ll find several marble statues in a pool.
If you don’t fancy driving or dealing with public transport, you could explore Silves and Monchique by sidecar on this fun historical tour*.
Caldas de Monchique
Depending on your budget, you can either pack a picnic and take it to the forest at Caldas de Monchique or treat yourself to lunch (or dinner) at one of the spa resorts in the village. After drinking the fresh spring water, either directly from the fountain or the bottled variety, pick a path and take a wander through the woods or book a spa treatment and relax for a while.
If you’ve come as far as Caldas de Monchique, you might as well go a little further up the hill to the town of Monchique. If you’re in the mood for a hike, ask at the tourist information office for details of walks (percursos pedestres) to waterfalls (cascadas) and windmills (moinhos). Or just follow the signs for the steep climb to the ruined convent that overlooks the town. If that sounds like too much effort, try to at least make it to the São Sebastião miradouro (viewpoint) for a great view over the forests and hills to the sea.
Monchique town centre is a maze of cobbled streets lined with quirky shops, some of them seem as old as time itself. You’ll find brass figurines scattered around town and a Moorish water wheel in the main square. If you plan on spending more time here, head for the park if the weather’s good. It’s got an outdoor swimming pool, paths and picnic tables.
I’d also recommend popping into the workshop of award-winning ceramist, Leonel Telo. Even if you don’t get to see him at work, his shaded garden is chock full of pieces for sale.
Explore Silves and Monchique by sidecar on this fun historical tour*.
Alte means high so this village is aptly named as well as being a pleasant place to spend a few hours. There’s a pretty church with a Manueline stone doorway and you’ll see lots of colourful details on the white houses. As you wander through the village, you’ll see painted tiles depicting how local women used to cut sheaves of esparto grass, soak it in the river then bash it on a stone in order to soften it up before weaving baskets and mats.
The Pé do Coelho (Rabbit’s Foot) walking route incorporates Alte if you want an 8.5 km hike. I was quite happy with a wander around the village and the riverside complex at Fonte Pequena. As well as plenty of stone picnic benches inlaid with pebbles, there are several hand-painted poems on the walls, mostly by Candido Guerreiro who was born in Alte. A white marble sculpture in the river pays tribute to the village women who used to do their laundry there.
Behind the Fonte Pequena restaurant, you’ll find a small museum with various stone mills and a wooden cart. You can shop for ceramics here or at one of the ceramics shops in the village centre. In the summer, there’s also a swimming pool you can use.
You’ll find more suggestions for day trips in the Algarve in my previous post: Why the Algarve is more than just a beach destination.
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