Portugal – The Algarve

The Algarve is Portugal’s most southerly region stretching across 100 miles of coastline. It is famous for sandy beaches framed by jagged cliffs, rugged rock formations, sumptuous seafood and picturesque villages. Our 8 day visit was during the off-season and we really enjoyed the lack of crowds and temperate winter weather. From Lisbon, we took the scenic route down to the Algarve, hugging the coastline towards Sagres. Our first stop was Cape St. Vincent and its stunning coastline before slowly making our way to Sagres. With a plethora of viewpoints and beaches, we hopped along the coastline towards the fishing village of Burgau and finally to Lagos which served as our base for a few days. Lagos had a few noteworthy attractions (Church of St Anthony, the local market, forts and city walls) but the real highlight of this area was hiking from Lagos out to Ponta de Piedade (Piety Point). What a spectacular day of exploring every single cove, beach and cave! From Lagos, we traveled onward to Portimão and the nearby fishing village of Ferragudo before pulling into Albufeira. Renting an off-season apartment was a fantastic deal in this lively city so we quickly decided to spend the remainder of our time in the Algarve based here. One of our first excursions from Albufeira was the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail where we started at Marinha Beach and hiked along the trail leading to Carvoeira Beach. This spectacular 6 km trek is definitely the Algarve’s number 1 thing to do and should not be missed! With breathtaking scenery on every corner, it offers spectacular views of rugged cliffs, a rocky coastline, hidden caves and sandy beaches hugged by turquoise water. The next day was spent exploring Albufeira itself which is split between its old and new town sections. The new town is full of bars and clubs but we rather enjoyed the old town with its beautiful beach, cobblestone alleys and laid back vibe. Our next day trip involved driving as far east as possible without entering into Spain to visit the town of Castro Marim. With a medieval castle that was part of the defensive line controlled by the Knights Templar, we enjoyed our brief visit here. Next up was the tiny village of Cacela Velha where we were hopeful that the legendary village restaurant serving up daily portions of oysters and fresh seafood would be open but alas, it was closed during the off season. Tavira was our next stop where we checked out its castle and the famous blue tiles from the Church of Mercy. Our last day trip from Albufeira was a visit to Faro and Olhão. Faro has a rather macabre Chapel of Bones that was built out of the skeletons of 1250 monks! It was a creepy visit but morbidly fascinating nonetheless. The old section of Faro, accessed through the impressive Arco da Vila archway, brought us to the municipal museum which is housed in a 16th century convent. It was worth a visit and rounded out our time in Faro. Next up was quite possibly our favorite eating experience in the Algarve – unlimited grilled fish served daily at Vai e Volta restaurant in Olhão. For only 15 Euros per person, this all you can eat extravaganza includes up to 12 different types of grilled fish and octopus, sides of tomato and onion salad, potatoes, and garlic bread plus a pitcher of red wine. Needless to say, we left Olhão with very happy smiles and full belllies. On the day we were leaving the Algarve, we made one last stop to visit the best preserved Moorish fortifications in Portugal at Silves Castle. After spending a whirlwind week in Portugal’s stunning southern region, we can easily say that the Algarve is one of our favorite sections of this amazing country. If we had known how beautiful it was, it would have been on our radar much earlier!

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