TRAVEL GUIDE: Algarve, Portugal
Oh the Algarve. It's a magical place. Those rocky coastlines crashing into the sea are even more beautiful in person. The pictures don't do them justice. But, I will say, we had a hard time figuring out where we wanted to stay a long the coast - there are just so many beaches, and it's such a large area with so many towns to pick from. We felt like we were kind of guessing when we decided on a spot to rest our heads.
Here is some truth, the Algarve can be very touristy if you are in the wrong spots - as in loads of not-so-cute shops, high rise buildings, and kind of a Florida feel. Now when I say "wrong" - I just mean wrong for us. Some people love that high rise beach life, but we tend to like a more authentic, quieter scene when we are hitting the sea shore. Luckily for everyone, the Algarve has both.
We stayed outside this sweet little town, and it was the vibe and feeling we were really looking for. A quiet fishing village covered in azulejos, it's not necessarily free of tourists, but it's definitely kept it's character. The beaches aren't the rocky coast you'll find in western coast of the Algarve, but they are little islands with gorgeous beaches, so it's a nice change of pace.
Our hotel was equal distance from Tavira and Olhao, so we spent one night getting lost in this little town. I say little now, but you can feel the Algarve tourism factory starting to creep in a bit. That being said, we had a really lovely visit, and ate at a family run restaurant that was truly dynamite. It still has some of the old Algarve charm.
We had cocktails after the beach here, and it was probably the most authentic little fishing village we visited. We were easily the only Americans and it was the only place our bartender didn't speak English. So we kind of loved it.
We stopped here briefly to take a look during our little tour of the Algarve, and it reminded of a Newport Beach, CA or something similar (side note - I actually lived in Newport Beach in my past life!). Very lovely, but very new and modern. With perfectly paved sidewalks and manicured lawns, it's like the pleasantville of the Algarve.
We didn't get enough time to really explore Lagos, but I feel like it mixes that need to appease those on holiday with those who really want to soak in the stunning vistas. So many of the really amazing cliffs and beaches are located just outside of Lagos, so I think the next time we head to Portugal, we'll try to find a quiet hotel (like the one we stayed in this go round) outside of Lagos but closer to the western coast so we can really explore.
We caught our boat to the Bengali caves out of Portimao, and it was such an interesting spot after being in tiny Tavira. Big hotels overlook the enormous beach - it seems to be quite the little spot for folks to holiday. The beach is wide and deep with plenty of places to rent an umbrella for shade, so that is definite bonus. We snuck over to a beach bar for a cocktail before hitting the harbor, and from what we can tell by stalking their instagram account, it's seems to be quite the scene at night!
Albufeira has a reputation for being a party town, which is why we decided to look elsewhere to stay - but if you want some night life, this seems to be the place to go (or I should say, one of the places to go). We drove through it, and it was rather pretty - kind of a mix between the manicured lawns of Vilamoura and the tourist-centric Portimao.
We chose to stay outside of Tavira and Olhao at a gorgeous property called Vila Monte. If we had an extra few days, one of them would easily be spent lounging poolside and not leaving the hotel all day. The food, atmosphere, decor - ok everything - was really perfect. It was a lovely luxury hotel without feeling too stuffy, and every single member of the staff was beyond lovely and helpful - even offering the best little insider tips for our daily explorations.
After a few days of exploring, we were really craving a day where we could sit on the beach, read books and drink sangria - so we headed out to Praia do Barilla for some serious R&R. It's such a charming beach just down the road from Santa Luzia. You can either walk the path to the beach (it's about a mile which we walked on the way out) or take a 1€ train back and forth. The beach reminded me a tad of Nantucket (other than the anchor graveyard - which was a really neat thing to see) because they seemed to go on forever and ever.
The next few days we spent exploring beach towns and their stunning coastlines. I honestly think I could spend an entire month getting lost along this stretch of sand. The beaches are truly remarkable. Here are some of my favorites from our visit (and a few I wish we got to see!)
This is the beach you see on almost every Portugal tourism guide - and for good reason, it's take-your-breathe-away gorgeous.
Down the road from Praia da Marinha, this secluded little beach is a good place to spend the day. Go at low tide and you can even swim to the famous cave - or take one of the many cruises to all the caves along the coast.
I really, truly loved this beach. We came along it right before we were leaving for Lisbon and we threw our itinerary out the window to take a dip between the gorgeous rock formations.
Praia do Barrill (anchor graveyard)
A sweet beach perfect for lounging all day. There are plenty of umbrellas if you'd like shade and beach bars if you get a tad thirsty.
Down the road from both Praia do Barrill and Praia do Camilo this is another beauty of a beach worth spending some time.
We weren't able to make it to Sagres, but it's a priority for our next trip - actually I just want to spend a week going up and down the coast from Lisbon to Sagres. If only we can vacation forever...
All in all, I think the Algarve is a little piece of heaven. Not to get all cheesy or anything, but I truly feel grateful every single time I get to travel to such an amazing place. It's such a blessing to get to have these little adventures with my best friend and partner and crime, and we feel lucky every minute of these trips. You were good to us Algarve, so very good.