From Sagres to the Spanish border
The Algarve, with its year around mild climate, attracts visitors from around the world, especially those from northern Europe who come year after year seeking the sun, surf and seafood the region has become famous for. The former fishing village of Albufeira, lying 30 km west of Faro as the crow flies, could be considered the midpoint of the Algarve due mainly to the difference in the coastal terrain, towering cliffs and sheltered coves giving way to long stretches of sandy beach as you near Faro and the Cabo de Santa Maria, the southernmost point of land, as well as the influence of the cooler waters of the Atlantic in the west and the warmer waters of the Golfo de Cádiz to the east of Faro.
The Western Algarve
Sagres to Faro
One can get a feeling that they are standing at the end of the world when looking out across the Atlantic from the lighthouse, the torre de Farol, in the late afternoon as the sun is setting on the distant horizon and the wind is rushing up the face of 50-meter high cliffs in the untamed surroundings of Cabo de Säo Vincente, which attracts hundreds of visitors each day, even in the most inclement weather.
Using Quinta Bonita, a small, boutique property a few minutes outside of Lagos, as a base, we were able to explore the rugged coastline of the Western Algarve from the lighthouse at Cabo de Sao Vicente to the popular Ponta da Piedade, one of the most famous rock formations in the Algarve with sweeping views of the Atlantic and waves crashing against the towering sandstone cliffs at high tide. On another day we visited the golden sand beach and rock formations at Três Irmãos, the sea caves at Carvoeiro and Benagil, ending up at the clear waters of the small, beautiful and secluded beach at Albandeira. On another excursion, we were able to see the golden sand beach and beautiful rock formations at São Rafael near Albufeira and the sandy beaches beginning at Falésia.
The beaches of the Western Algarve
In the Western Algarve you find beaches of golden sand beneath towering cliffs where access to the beaches can be difficult, or in sheltered coves like Praia do Beliche, Ingrina and Praia da Figueira. You will find much easier access to the beaches from Lagos to Praia da Rocha, and then again from Praia do Vale do Olival to Galé Oeste beach. In the summer these beaches can be quite crowded, but quiet in the early fall.
The Eastern Algarve
Faro to Vila Real de Santo António
From our comfortable perch at the upscale Vilacampina Guesthouse located in the countryside outside the village of Luz, near Tavira, we were easily able to visit the historic center of nearby Faro, surrounded by ancient Moorish city walls and often overlooked by many visitors flying into and out of the Algarve. Olhão, the largest fishing port in the Algarve, the popular fish-market on the waterfront being it’s main attraction, is a “must visit”. Fuseta, one of the area’s least discovered spots, and is still a working fishing village. Tavira, on the banks of the Gilão River, is an ancient Moorish town of cobbled-stone streets, grand boulevards and picturesque church squares and is considered one of the most scenic towns of the Algarve. You can spend most of the day here exploring the city and its 36 churches and medieval Castle with views over the city.
Visiting the ancient Moorish fishing village of Cacela Velha, Castro Marim, now the center of sea salt production in the Eastern Algarve, and Vila Real de Santo António, once the center of tuna and sardine fishing beginning in the 11th-century, will consume most of one day. Vila Real de Santo António is also the last stop heading east on the trans-Algarve railway from Faro. After visiting Vila Real, we ventured across the Guadiana River into Spain, stopping in Ayamonte (Huelva) to shop and have lunch at the Parador, one of the advantages of the later dining hours in Spain.
For most people the visiting the Eastern Algarve, the main attractions are golfing at some of the world’s premier golf courses; Monte Rei, Benamor and Castro Marim Resort, trekking along the endless miles of coastline, and water sports; kayaking, sail boarding, snorkeling, water skiing, scuba diving and jet skiing. There are few historic sites to visit along this stretch of the Algarve beyond the Cathedral (Se) and Castle (Castelo) in Silves and the Roman and then Moorish Citadel, the Castle of Loule, north of Faro and the ruins of the 12th-century castle at Castro Marim overlooking the marshlands and Guadiana river.
The fortress-like Cathedral of Silves, considered the Algarve’s most dramatic church, was built on the site of a mosque in the 12th-century and then rebuilt after the Reconquista in the 13th-century, and rebuilt again after the major 1755 earthquake. The church is open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, but you should check at the tourist office near the river as times may vary.
The beaches of the Eastern Algarve
Beaches in the Eastern side of the Algarve, from Faro to Cacela Velha, are normally referred to as ‘Islands’ because of their location in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, which is protected from the sea by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas; Peninsula of Ancão, the Barreta and Culatra Islands, plus the Islands of Armona, Tavira and Cabanas, and finally, the Peninsula of Cacela, the eastern end of the chain of islands and peninsulas, which includes the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.
The beaches from Cacela Velha to the Rio Guadiana, at the border with Spain, allow direct access and are wide, flat and well kept, such as what you will find from Manta Rota to Pointa de Areia, the beach at Vila Real de Santo António.
Wine Tasting in the Algarve
While in the Algarve, plan on setting aside some time for a visit to a winery or two in Silves, in the Odelouca River Valley. The local wines are excellent! One example of some of the top wines can be found at Quinta do Francês. Other wineries in Silves that can be visited are Quinta da Vinha, Quinta da Rosa, and Quinta de Mata-Mouros.
The Odelouca valley, which was spared the devastating fires that scorched the land few minutes to the northeast this past August, is part of the southern most wine producing regions in Portugal, protected from the much hotter and drier conditions in the Alentejo region to the north by a chain of mountains running from the Spanish border to the Atlantic coast. The Western Algarve contains three of the region’s four DOCs; Lagos, Portimão and Lagoa, while the fourth wine growing region, Tavira, is located in the Eastern Algarve. The climate west of Faro is more temperate, fresher and more humid because of the influence of the Atlantic, while the climate to the east of Faro, towards Spain, is Mediterranean.
Contact Iberian Traveler-Maribel’s Guides if you would like Maribel to prepare a custom itinerary for your next adventure in Portugal.