There’s more to see than the sea…
With that as a welcome I was curious. Having spent time here as a student I remembered coastline in the Algarve was magnificent and I have many a happy memory of frolicking in the sea and coming back to the UK with a lasting tan which won me the odd admirer (back in the day when I didn’t care about factor 30 on my face- wrinkles schminkles!!).
So the exceptional weather and beaches are a given, but for a real taste of Portugal, I was excited to look beyond the built up resorts, late-night discos, chip strips and happy hours, and head off the beaten track for some of the region’s hidden delights.
Top of my list was exploring inland Algarve, and I was reliably informed the best way to do this is by jeep safari. Book George (Clooney apparently) from PORTITOURS, a very knowledgeable local guide, and drive to the top of the world (or so it seems). Peaking at the Algarve Fóia (902 metres) is worth the bumpy ride, and on a clear day, which is pretty much every day, you can see right across the south and west coast.
With all that fresh mountain air in my veins, it was great to stop for lunch with the locals in the small village of Monchique; Famous for it’s traditional smoked ham and sausages, it’s a meat eaters haven! Although, being one of those awkward pescatarians, I can assure you the freshly cooked fish was delicious too.
When in the Algarve, it would be rude not to visit the Quinta dos Vales Winery which is a short drive from Monchique, in Estômbar village; Not just a vineyard, but an open-air gallery and community space. With larger than life sculptures dotted throughout the estate, it was great to have something to focus on whilst enjoying the beautiful and calm estate; Of course, they looked even better after the wine tasting! Alas no weddings were taking place that afternoon, but what a stunning venue to get married in, and you can even stay in the on site bungalows, so you don’t have too far to stagger back to if you have one glass of vino too many. Ideal for art lovers, or someone just needing a relaxing break in the grounds to recover from the jeep safari!
As I’m a bit of a fidget, I can thoroughly recommend Sagres. A bustling town with a beautiful beach and port, and also a great place to visit by segway! Book in with a group and get a guided tour of the town, stopping off for photo opportunities and coffee en route. This is definitely the coolest way to get around, and once you have the hang of balancing, you can go pro in no time! With churches, forts, shopping and beaches, this is one place you should definitely take time out to explore. Along with a visit to the Cape St Vincent Fortress and Lighthouse, which is the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe; Here are the best (and windiest) views of the rugged coastline, and arguably the most spectacular sunsets across the ocean.
After all that sightseeing, a boat tour (try DREAMWAVE) around the bustling coastline of Albuferia (meaning Castle on the Sea in Arabic) is the next best thing. The sandy beaches bring hordes of tourists in summer and the nightlife is legendary in this cosmopolitan city, so on a boat trip, you can sit back and relax and avoid the masses. Here you can take in the stunning bay and dramatic caves including the Benagil Cave (which is only accessible by boat) and the popular Castelo and Armação de Pêra beaches. If you don’t get to see any dolphins on your excursion- sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t, it is a great place to abandon ship, and have a swim in the remarkably fresh sea!
If you were feeling a little too relaxed after the boat excursion, it’s worth a trip to the Zoomarine park, which is located just a few kilometers from Albufeira in Guia. It’s a beautifully managed marine park, with educational seal and dolphin shows along with a 4D cinema, tropical birds, reptiles, seals and sea lions, a sandy beach with slides & a wave pool. You can also swim with the dolphins for an unforgettable experience! Perfect for a day filled with adventure, and it’s great for families.
Definitely not a trip to the beach is a trip to the racetrack! Algarve Motor Park is the biggest track in the Algarve with a car/bike-racing track. It is an adrenalin junkies heaven, although I must admit I was petrified when I arrived and saw what ‘drifting’ involved! But by the end of my “Driving Experience” afternoon at the track, I had made it up to fourth gear, and made it round the track. Twice! As soon as I had got over my initial butterflies, I quite enjoyed the thrill!
And if that isn’t enough stimulation for your vacation, a helicopter ride is the icing on the proverbial Portuguese custard pudding! A thirty-minute flight across the ocean, with HTA Helicopters, is perfect for the extravagant, and can be arranged to pick you up from your Hotel’s heli pad. With breathtaking views, this is the way that the other-half lives, and is the VIP way to celebrate an anniversary or impress a date!
Which leads on to the array of accommodation on offer in the Algarve…Choosing your hotel is going to be tough! Of course, you have the built up apartment blocks in places like Vilamoura, which is one of the largest Europe’s touristic real estate developments. If casinos, golf courses, horse riding or tennis courts, are your bag, this is the traditional place to pose and people watch; But there are plenty of more exclusive hotels for the discerning sun and sea worshipper too!
However, if you prefer an apartment fit for a King, with a choice of nine outdoor pools, spa and massage facilities, jazz on the terrace and private access to Salgados beach, the Nau Salgados Dunas Suites may be the perfect solution; Set in a tropical palm tree paradise, there is also access to a private golf course, and the accommodation is just a short drive from Albufeira, and 50km from Faro airport. With bars, restaurants a breakfast buffet on the terrace, the only problem is with so much to do on site, you might not want to leave!
I need another holiday to recover from my energetic break, but I would do it again in a flash. It has definitely placed The Algarve in my places with things to do box, and although you still need to pack your sunscreen, there is plenty more to do than sup margheritas by the pool!
For sun, sea, scenery and spas, this is a destination for everyone. There is even a fitness bootcamp at the five star Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort, that might well be on the agenda for my next trip.
For more info visit
Cascade Wellness Resort
Segway and Guide
NAU HOTELS AND RESORTS