It’s always exciting going to a new country for the first time, so I was pretty excited about our next adventure through Portugal. First port of call was obviously the Algarve. With beautiful beaches, whitewashed fishing villages and cheap food and drink, I was looking forward to some more warm weather and to completely chill out for a few days. With its good weather all year round, the Algarve is a major destination for tourists and expats alike and it’s very easy to see why people just don’t want to go home.
Our first stop along the Algarve was Tavira. Not knowing much about this little town, we arrived on the recommendation of my sister-in-law who had been on holiday here the summer before. At a first glance, there didn’t seem much to do which can be said for most of Portugal’s Southern region. There are no major attractions to visit as such and the towns and villages can appear very quiet, especially in the winter. Surely a couple of days here would be more than enough? We left ten days later and we could have stayed longer.
Tavira is, arguably, the Algarve’s prettiest and most charming town. The small town straddles the Rio Gilao and is set amidst the Ria Formosa National Park. Big multi chain companies are nearly non-existent here (no Starbucks or McDonald’s) as are big chain hotels, fishing boats swarm the river and no-one is in a rush to be anywhere. We meandered across the Roman bridge, ate ice cream walking along the river and searched for bargains at the local car boot sale that takes place every Saturday at the market.
Now that I’m writing about it, it doesn’t sound like we did an awful lot over the ten days we were in Tavira, but that’s just it, sometimes doing not very much can be very time-consuming! We ate and drank and cycled and walked and then did it all again the following days.
The beaches in and around Tavira are something else; golden sand, so unbelievably clean and they stretch on for miles and miles. We visited Praia Cabanas on our last day and to get to the beach you have to hop on a little boat (€2) that takes you over to the other side of the lagoon. Once off the boat and up the boardwalk, this beautiful view greets you…
We parked The Duke up just outside of Tavira in Cabanas de Tavira at Camping Ria Formosa. One of the best campsites we have stayed on during our trip so far, the site had everything you could need or want – swimming pool, yoga and Pilates classes, library, bar, restaurant, mini market (that sells the best bacon) and even a free car wash to spring clean your motorhome. There’s a Brit shop up the road if you’re desperate for some home comforts, various restaurants that do deliciously cheap prato de dia and the station is just across the road from the campsite to jump on the train to Tavira.
As the capital city of the Algarve, I was expecting great things from Faro, so it was a real pity that I felt totally underwhelmed and a little bit disappointed on the train back at the end our day trip. Now don’t get me wrong, Faro is a pretty little town with some wonderful architecture and classic Portuguese buildings. It had more of a buzz about it than a lot of the places we visited along the Algarve, but there just wasn’t that much to do and in terms of a dose of culture, personally I found that Tavira and Lagos had much more to offer.
Quarteira is a small town pretty much in the middle of the Algarve that neither of us had heard of before. It was the wild camping location that sold it to us almost instantly. We arrived at a perfect time taking one of the best spots that had become free right on the cliff top with a panoramic view of the sumptuous golden beach down below with the town to our right and more beach to our left. It was perfect and free! As usual, we only planned on staying the one night but with the sun beaming and the soothing sound of the ocean it was too good a place to move on from in a hurry, so we stuck around for a few more days and fully embraced this harmonious little spot.
A few kilometres bike ride down the road from Quarteira was Vilamoura. A swanky rich man’s kinda town, Vilamoura is where the money is. Luxury villas and apartments sit cosily alongside the marina which is bursting with ridiculously expensive boats. The bars and restaurants aren’t much cheaper either, I nearly fell off my bike when I saw how much a bloody glass of vino cost. As expensive as it is, Vilamoura’s definitely worth a visit, even if it’s to just to gawk at the shiny, pretty boats.
Our final stop along the Algarve was Lagos, which turned out to be a surprisingly stunning part of Portugal’s Southern Region. I’d heard of Lagos before we arrived and always assumed it was a bit of a party town, like Benidorm or Marbella but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a perfectly quaint little Portuguese town full of hilly cobbled winding streets with wonderfully appealing little restaurants all serving up local cuisine such as Cataplana (seafood stew).
The beaches are to-die-for with their golden sands and crispy clear oceans. Ponta da Piedade is a natural wonder that is just unreal, as is Praia do Camilo. These aren’t your average beach spots, you could quite literally think you’re somewhere a million miles away like Thailand, they are so breathtaking.
We could have spent weeks longer in the Algarve; every turn is just so picturesque and beautiful. For glorious sun, stunning beaches and unprecedented wildlife and nature, I don’t think I could recommend anywhere more highly. We will absolutely be back before too long!
Distance traveled so far: 3,362 km
Days away: 113