Have you decided what you are going to do on the long weekend at the end of April yet? I've booked a trip to have some really fresh fish and am ready for a couple of days of quality time with the family. Out of the high-season there are fewer people but more chances to discover hidden corners in this unique part of Portugal.
One of the best ways to get there is on the Lisbon to Faro Alfa Pendular for just €8 if you use the Promo Ticket. Then all you have to do is decide if you want to go to the eastern or western part of the Algarve. But no matter which part of the coast you go to, the train journey is already part of the holidays.
There are beaches, theme parks, cuisine and night life and Albufeira has all the best the Algarve has to offer: sand, sun and a warm climate all year round and a never-ending choice of bars, restaurants, hotels and discos. The beaches are still there, sometimes just a short walk away both in the west (Olhos d’Água, Balaia an dMaria Luísa) or in the east (Galé and Salgados). Choose the beach you like best and then decide on the resort where you fancy staying close to the beach or a central hotel right beside the 'beat' of the city, first starting, obviously, in the 'Bars Road' in the centre of Albufeira.
Nobody has to be reminded that the Algarve cuisine is everywhere you look here with masses of fresh fish and shellfish the local eateries are famous for.
Lagos sits on an amazing location at the mouth of the river Bensafrim. Its marina is packed with stores and esplanades and its old town centre is well preserved and it's full of people from all over he world night and day. Tourism does not need to compete with culture or heritage and this is true right here in Lagos. This beautiful Algarve town manages to reconcile its tourist, cosmopolitan side with a historical centre and well-cared for heritage.
When you get to Lagos station, you can walk through the marina, even if you do get a bit distracted by the esplanades, and get to the waterfront avenue very quickly right beside the historical centre.
Everything is walking distance away in Lagos, which is just as well if you keep trying the local pastries called D. Rodrigos, that no nationality can resist.
Despite the wealth of its heritage, Lagos is certainly not a dusty museum. The streets bubble with life and there are just so many 'watering holes' between Largo de Camões and the church of Santo António, where you can stop for refreshments. There are beaches to the west (the stunning sands of Meia Praia) and the east (in this case with steeper cliffs and smaller beaches).
Portimão - a welcoming town on the sea front.
Portimão has gone from being a fishing village to a modern town geared towards tourism. There is a lot of street entertainment and the local beaches are charming, starting with the famous Praia da Rocha. The town has recently reinvented itself from a tourist point of view and now, apart from its traditional trump card – the beach, it also has a long promenade alongside the river Arade, filled with esplanades and leisure areas.
The clear water, the sky that is almost always blue, a warm climate and good hotel infrastructures are what make Portimão such a success. The heritage has been cared for in recent years the best example of which is the Mother Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição. Now, as summer is on its ways, we are off to find some grilled sardines.
Loulé is half-way between the sea and the mountains and it is a great destination all year round. Golfers love it as it has more than a dozen courses to choose from. The Algarve's most exclusive beaches are close to Loulé. There is a good chance you will see someone famous here. But if you are just looking for some peace and quiet, the best places to go are the beaches at Vale de Lobo, Ancão or Garrão.
A trip into the hills reveals well-preserved villages such as Alte and Querença, and places like the Limestone crest at Rocha da Pena, which can be seen from far off.
Quality tourism flourishes in Loulé with its unique blend of the traditional and cosmopolitan, villages and resorts, offering a wide range of experiences, environments and events throughout the year.
Built in less than two years on the orders of the Marquis of Pombal, Vila Real de Santo António was founded in 1774 and is notable for its modern, urban, geometric street system, surrounded by the river and the sea.
Vendors and artisan fishermen inhabit the waterfront area of the town beside the river Guadiana, while the marina follows the town's waterfront.
The town is great for cycling beside the river and the beaches are never far away. There are so many to choose from and they are said to be among the best in the country.
End the day with some of the rich local cuisine such as razor clam rice.
If you are travelling with children, there are lots of ways to keep them entertained. From mid-April onwards there are swimming polls and water slides for the kids to enjoy and there are many other possibilities all year round, such as the dolphins at the Zoomarine, Krazy World or Museu de Cera dos Descobrimentos (Discoveries wax museum) and many more. There is no lack of choice.
As we felt like continuing our trip around the Algarve, we are going to book a place on one of the Ria Formosa circuit that run all year round, except in July and August, leaving from Lisbon and Pinhal Novo. The programme includes a visit to the historical centre of Faro with a audioguide and a boat trip along the canals of the Ria Formosa where we can find everything that makes the Algarve famous: the marshes, the tidal mills over a hundred years old, the riverside pine woods as well as lots of lagoons where you can see all kinds of birds.