With wildflower meadows, citrus trees and lush countryside, there’s far more to the Algarve than bars and beaches. Sarah Lyon lists 10 reasons to go there and find out for yourself...
1) COSTA VICENTINA NATURAL PARK. With its dramatic cliffs, pristine coves and quiet, rolling pastures, its unspoiled landscapes are a world away from the region’s busy holiday resorts.
2) FISH. Not only eat it, but watch it being caught… Fishermen still work the cliffs with rod and line and leave onlookers amazed as they spear octopus. The best ways to enjoy these freshly caught fruits of the sea is either simply grilled whole or as a brochette in the seafront bars. For heartier appetites try the rich fish stew, Caldeirada.
3) FLOWERS. Literally follow your nose down the wooded rolling hills and sheltered valleys through drifts of winter almond blossom and plantations of quince and oranges. Spring wildflowers abound, with orchids and Bermuda buttercup among around 750 different species waiting to be spotted.
4) BUTTERFLIES. With the flowers come butterflies. The Algarve is a stronghold for a number of rare and endangered species, including the Portuguese dappled white, as well as some of Europe’s most beautiful butterflies, including the Spanish Festoon and the Scarce Swallowtail.
5) LUNCH. Forget grabbing a quick bite to eat and indulge in the Algarve tradition of a lingering lunch. If you sit down at 1pm, don’t expect to leave the table before 3pm. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of some places – they often serve an excellent, low cost menu of the day (prato do dia) that is aimed at working people rather than tourists. If you fancy washing it all down with a light, refreshing white wine, try the ubiquitous vinho verde, an inexpensive and slightly sparkling wine made with early-harvest grapes.
6) BIRDS. Remember your binoculars. Along riverside habitats you’ll find herons, egrets and other waders, plus dazzling kingfishers. The rugged cliffs offer an excellent breeding ground for peregrine falcons and are the only place in the world where storks nest on sea stacks and cliffs above the sea. These rugged cliffs have also recently seen the return of nesting ospreys to Portugal.
7) MONCHIQUE & MORE… Thankfully there are many such places remaining; a world away from the busy beaches and crowded tourist hotspots. With its whitewashed walls and narrow, cobbled streets, Monchique is a market town (and gateway to the mountains) where time seems to have stood still. Other hidden gems include the coastal villages of Salema and Carrapateira.
8) BEACHES. Take Praia da Marinha for example. Although it’s named by the Michelin Guide as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in Europe, its crystal-clear waters and serene sands are still remarkably undisturbed. Some put this down to the fact that the nearest town, Caramujeira, is very much off the tourist trail.
9) BIGGER PICTURE. When you plan your visit to the Algarve, think about spring and autumn. Remember, most Portuguese and other Europeans take their holidays from July to mid-September so booking your holiday at the beginning or towards the end of the year makes a lot of sense, especially if you intend to explore the region on foot.
10) COFFEE & CAKE. Forget modern-day chains with their cardboard cups and surly staff, stopping off for a coffee in the Algarve is a much more memorable experience. Because of this country’s penchant for long lunches (see 5) breakfast is more about a strong coffee and delicious pasteis de nata (sweet egg pastry tarts) than a monster meal.
A Coast of Many Colours
On this holiday, you walk from the Algarve’s honeyed, southern shores through its agricultural heartland and onwards to the wilder, Atlantic coast. It's a world away from the region’s busy resorts, with the unspoiled landscapes of the Costa Vicentina National Park characterised by dramatic cliffs, pristine coves and quiet, rolling pastures. The colours are many and varied: long stretches of golden sand and red-hued cliffs give way to lush green meadows carpeted in bright flowers as you head inland.
More about our walking holidays in the Algarve >