If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track destination in the Algarve region of Portugal, Aljezur might hit the spot. Ensconced within the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, this small town is around 8 km from the nearest beach, with plenty of others to choose from in the surrounding area.
Although the things to do in Aljezur are low key, they are interesting for those who enjoy slow travel and quieter towns. Its relative calm and undeniable beauty attract many creatives and healers to the area so there’s always something going on.
Logistically, the small town of Aljezur is separated into two sections, the old town and its parish church having been significantly damaged in the 1755 earthquake that rocked Portugal.
The newer part of town is just across the fields, at a safer distance from the waterway, and is the more residential area, with many of the facilities needed for daily life. The construction of Igreja Nova (New Church) and the town that sprouted around it, faced significant opposition from the local community and was not finished until the late 1800s.
The old part of Aljezur is spread along the banks of the Ribeira de Aljezur stream, and although its charm is somewhat faded in parts, there are still treasures to discover and plenty of places to eat, drink and stay.
So, here are my tips for things to do in Aljezur and the surrounding area.
1. Discover old town Aljezur
A bit crumbly but full of character, the oldest part of Aljezur is a cluster of houses on cobbled streets, topped by what remains of the castle. The local council have helpfully placed information boards in Portuguese and English at strategic points to help you learn the local history as you explore.
Moagem seems to be a hub in the old part of Aljezur. Making excellent use of the original features of the old mill, it is now a veggie bistro called Mó. They also have a café and local produce shop overlooking the river on the other side of the street and a cultural centre offering yoga and other classes and workshops.
You can take a 2-hour guided tour through the historic centre of Aljezur, which includes a visit to the castle (see #2).
2. Take in the views at Aljezur castle
Top of the list of things to do in Aljezur, is to visit the castle. Not much remains but it’s still worth a short climb to admire the views of the surrounding countryside.
Although some vestiges of Muslim architecture, such as the underground storage silos, can still be seen, you’ll have to use your imagination to picture what it was like in the 10th century when built by the resident Arab population, and in later centuries after being taken over by the Portuguese in 1249.
Luckily, there are information boards in English to help you understand its history although, as mentioned above, you could take a guided tour and learn more.
From the castle walls, you can see towards the ocean at Praia Monte Clérigo, a lovely beach. The river was once navigable and after peace was established in the area in the 15th century, Aljezur was a busy port and fishing town surrounded by rich agricultural lands that supported many industries but had silted up by the 16th century.
3. Step back in time on a museum visit
I was pleasantly surprised by the municipal museum, which sits within the 19th century town hall. The exhibitions are divided into three sections: archaeological remains that date back to the Neolithic period; a collection of tools, equipment and other artefacts that provide an insight into the past lifestyle of local inhabitants such as farming equipment and homeware; and an interesting room dedicated to the area’s Islamic heritage.
Other Aljezur museums that I didn’t have time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to visit include the Museum of Sacred Art near the 16th century Igreja da Misericórdia and the former home of locally born painter José Cercas. There’s also a tiny museum, Museu Antonino, in a former chapel with art and other items dedicated to Saint Anthony.
4. Get sandy toes on Aljezur beaches
Although the village is not directly on the coast, it’s not far from Aljezur to some lovely beaches.
Praia do Amoreira is great for families because the Aljezur stream runs across the sand, providing calm shallow water for little ones to play in.
Just across the cliff is Praia de Monte Clerigo beach, with golden sands, rock formations and a fair amount of parking facilities and a sprinkling of cafés.
The most dramatic in terms of scenery and surf is Praia da Arrifana, about 10 km southwest of Aljezur.
5. Take to the water and learn to surf
If the urge to catch some waves and experience the thrill of surfing appeals to you, you’ll find many local surf schools to choose from. The three beaches mentioned above have surfing facilities and no matter if you’re a first-time surfer or an experienced rider looking to improve your skills, you’ll find something to suit.
You can try this surf lesson for all levels with, of course, certified instructors.
6. Become a culture vulture in Aljezur
Check out Lavrar O Mar for frequent cultural events in Aljezur and surrounds. When I visited, there were posters for a Walk With Art and Culinary Theatre.
7. Take a Wild West road trip
The wild west Portuguese style, of course, with towering cliffs, long secluded beaches, powerful waves and breathtaking scenery all along the Western Algarve coastline. A road trip with a private guide includes many WOW spots and locations that Elise, your guide and driver, has discovered herself after living here for many years. Both full and half day road trips are available.
8. Go for a hike around Aljezur
A popular pastime for many visitors to Aljezur is to take in the rural paths alongside the coast or venture inland to explore and enjoy nature at its fullest. Happily, there are many walking routes available to match varying needs and fitness levels.
The 226.5 km Fishermen’s Trail of the Rota Vicentina passes through Aljezur before returning to the ocean at Monte Clerigo then heading south to Arrifana (or the other way around if you’re heading north). As such, it offers incredible views from the cliff tops. If you don’t fancy walking for too long, you could start at Monte Clerigo and walk south along the cliffs to Arrifana (approx 10 km) then either take a taxi back or retrace your steps.
The above photo is one I took on a guided hike with a local tour operator on the Rota Vicentina. They offer a selection of walks lasting from 2 to 6 hours, which even includes a swim in a secret lake!
You can also connect to another very long trail, the 300+ km Via Algarviana, from Aljezur by following the red and white markers from 18.6 km. The Via Algarviana runs from the Algarve’s most westerly point, Cabo de São Vicente near Sagres, and through the Algarvian hinterland to the eastern village of Alcoutim.
A much shorter trail around the old town and surrounding countryside of Aljezur is the 4 km PR1 AJZ, although this can be shortened using the PR1.1 variation (which I did). This combines the old town with some pretty countryside. And cows!
AllTrails have a good selection of Aljezur routes for you to try. To access them you need to sign up but it’s free to do so. If you subscribe to AllTrails+ you get lots of really good extra information.
You can also take this guided historical tour along the coast (NOT the town) where you’ll not only learn about the local flora and fauna but historical facts, such as the Muslim influence on the region and even a World War II battle!
9. Take a SUP river tour
Discover the magnificent valley of Amoreira on a stand up paddle adventure. You’ll be picked up in Aljezur (carbon offset included) and after an introduction and safety guidelines head towards the valley to experience an ecosystem where (hopefully) you’ll see herons and kingfishers.
10. Ride in a jeep and discover hidden gems
To really get off the beaten track, take a jeep safari for a tailor-made adventure. You can visit historic sites, Aljezur Castle, monastery ruins and cliff view points. The 6-hour tour includes a picnic and is family friendly. Get full details
11. Experience festivals in Aljezur
A visit to a local festival is always fun. Aljezur and the surrounding area is well known for its sweet potato production and what better way to celebrate this than a weekend long festival. The Festival da Batata Doce e dos Percebes takes place in the autumn where chefs and exhibitors extol the virtues of this fine vegetable as well as the goose barnacles that are harvested locally.
If you’re in Aljezur in November and you fancy seeing what it’s all about, check this site for details.
As in all Portuguese towns, there are many other festivals and fairs going on throughout the year, such as Night A, a multicultural festival taking place the end of August in the historical center and the festival of Nossadas d’Alva, again in August. For more details of these take a look at this site.
These are just some of the great things to do in Aljezur but it’s also an opportunity to stay over for a few nights.
Where to stay in Aljezur
Here are my suggestions for suitable accommodation in and around Alejzur:
Praia do Canal Nature Resort is modern and spacious with both indoor and outdoor pools, a garden, sauna and restaurant. It’s a calming place surrounded by nature and the staff are very friendly and attentive. Many rooms come with a balcony or views and there’s even a rooftop suite with its own private small pool. Check availability.
Herdade Quinta Natura Turismo Rural is just 5 km from Aljezur and set in its own 19 acre grounds in Costa Vicentina Natural Park. There are only 4 suites to choose from but each is uniquely decorated and opens out to a private terrace. There’s a beautiful pool and many other areas to just relax in. Take a look at the photos.
Guesthouses and holiday homes in Aljezur
For a relaxing coastal retreat try Beyond The Palms. This home sleeps up to 5 people and comes with a lovely terrace where you can barbecue for alfresco meals in the sunshine. You get lovely views of the sea from the bedroom windows and free parking. Check here for details.
Casa do Sapateiro is a holiday home with city and quiet street views and a lovely sunrise. The apartment has been recently renovated and the full length glass windows make the space very light. It’s right in the historic center but a very calming place. Book your stay.
Guesthouse Releash Aljezur has a selection of clean and spacious rooms, some with a balcony or patio. The hosts are super friendly and if you fancy a little yoga then take one of their onsite classes. See availability.
How to get to Aljezur
You can get to Aljuzur from Lisbon by bus – the Rede Expressos coach takes just over 3.5 hours. There are also buses between Lagos and Aljezur that take around 50 minutes.
To make the most of the area, especially if you’re staying outside the town, you’ll probably need a car – see my tips for renting one in Portugal.