Last June my parents took me, my husband and sister on a trip to the Algarve in Portugal for their 30-year anniversary. Lucky us! I had not been to the Algarve before, but we will definitely be back, because this region has it all: beaches, authentic towns, great food and – of course – lots of sunshine.
We had one week and stayed at Praia Verde Resort, near the Spanish border – the far east corner of the Algarve region. Our holiday home was very spacious and the resort was beautiful, featuring several nice bars and restaurants and a beach that was not crowded and very clean. So you can probably understand we spent some days relaxing on the beach and drinking cocktails at the resort. Still, we explored quite a few places in our rental car. Here’s a summary of the places and things you should not miss if you visit the Algarve region.
Before our trip I explored Instagram for some inspiration, and quickly decided that we hád to visit Tavira. I am obsessed with colors, pretty doors and ‘azulejos’ (patterned tiles – they were even the theme of our wedding) and Tavira has all of those! Just walking around Tavira was a treat for me then, and I took lots of pictures.
Tavira has more to offer than just tiles and doors, though. We discovered a ‘camera obscura’ in an old water tower. If you are not familiar with the concept: an angled mirror on top of a high building, allows you to watch the world outside as a live projection, in full color, on a large round screen. You can see cars driving around, pedestrians walking the streets and people enjoying their morning coffee. It basically gives you a ‘peek’ into daily life, and is often combined with some history and facts about the things you can observe. Our guide in Tavira was amazing! He knew a lot about Tavira and had a great sense of humor, sharing funny facts and making jokes. Even though I have seen several camara obscuras, I am always amazed at how they allow you to get a full city tour, standing still in one room. And it only costs a few euros!
Last but not least, Tavira has lots of bars and restaurants, and you can get delicious icecream on almost every corner.
Even though Faro is the capital of the Algarve, it is actually a small city that you can easily explore on foot. We liked the old centre the best. It has charming old buildings, a cathedral you can climb and lots of terraces. But Faro also has a small harbour and some shopping streets featuring amazing patterned pavement, called ‘calcada Portuguesa’.
Coast near Lagos: Ponta da Piedade
This was quite a long drive for us (around 1,5 hours), but many visitors to the Algarve stay near this area. It is famous for the cliffs and pretty beaches and gets pretty crowded, so come early if you want to avoid the crowds. I enjoyed the views and exploring the area, but it was too busy for my taste.
The only reason we discovered this village, is because our resort was located closeby and we tried to do our grocery shopping here (but did not find a supermarket). I do not think this town is on many tourists’ radar, but it is worth a visit!
Castro Marim is a very small village and not very vibrant, but it has some wonderful architecture. Some buildings are decayed, but I think that just gives them more charm. The central square had these purple jacaranda trees and there’s a pretty church. Above the village is a ‘castle’ that you can visit, but I would not recommend it. Nothing left of the castle itself, just some fortified walls you can climb.
Vila Real de San António
Vila Real de San Antonio is located on the ocean side and has a very different vibe from Castro Marim. It is much more vibrant with some shops and lots of terraces to enjoy a beer, coffee or ice cream. The central square is worth a look, as are the old barracks that are now in use as exhibition space. This town is located just opposite of the Spanish border, and from the harbour you can catch a ferry to Ayamonte, Spain (fun fact: when you arrive there it will be one hour later).
Sunsets are always one of my favourite things to see on any holiday, especially when I’m staying near the ocean. We watched the sunset from our own rooftop terrace, but also from the Guarita Terrace cocktail bar at the resort, looking out over Praia Verde beach. Tasty cocktails, an amazing view and friendly staff: highly recommended!
I’m sure we have not seen all there is to see in this amazing region, so I’d love to hear what other places we should see during our next visit. Please feel free to leave a comment!