As a sequel to our ‘Notes from the field‘ blog on Northern Portugal, we are headed to the country’s southernmost region – the Algarve. This destination is well known for its extensive beaches and Mediterranean climate, but unfortunately is less recognised for its compelling history, architecture and as a nature lover’s paradise. You may believe this destination as over crowded and heavily commercialised – and you are not alone. However, having featured Portugal since 1984, it is fair to say we know a thing or two about this destination and how it has developed over time. Our travel experts, Yasmin and Bekki, took a recent trip here and the good news is that the region’s heritage and authenticity does remain, and is as charming as ever. You just need to know where to look. Below, they share their experience with us and hope to leave you inspired to discover the real Algarve for yourself.
Details of your favourite property and why?
Bekki: I have two, so in order of ultimate favourite I have:
Vila Monte Farm House, Moncarapacho – I loved the clean lines and perfectness of this place. It is newly renovated, so everything is fresh and brand new, yet the gardens are flourishing and gorgeous. The colour scheme is white and blue with hints of terracotta and natural stone, and the attention to detail is everywhere. The suites in the old Orangery are out of this world in design and space. Things that stood out are the reception area where you can watch the staff in the kitchen, whilst sitting around a wood burner (in the colder seasons) watching Chaplin movies, as well as the organic herb/food plantation area, where they have a special area for the chef to provide cookery lessons or have private dining.
Memmo Baleeira, Sagres – I couldn’t help but feel a welcoming vibe from Sagres. The town has a relaxed feel and , in my opinion, offers the best sunset and sunrise scenes in the whole of Portugal. The hotel itself is modern, gorgeously light and bright and in a great position – just 2 minutes’ walk from the main street where the restaurants are located. The hotel has an outdoor pool with fantastic views over a small fishing harbour and towards the town’s sandy beaches. The breakfasts were fresh and delicious and the breakfast room was very tastefully decorated with views out to sea. There is also a panoramic restaurant for the evenings and, although we didn’t get a chance to sample it, it was thriving with guests and locals.
Yasmin: I was lucky to have had the opportunity to visit some lovely and charming properties during my visit to the Algarve but my overall favourite has to be the Pousada Palácio de Estoi. Sat in its regal position overlooking the town of Estoi, the Pousada is worthy of a visit as well as a stay. The bedrooms, located in a separate wing, are modern but it is the original Palace, dating from the 19th century, with its neo-baroque and neo-rococo style which will leave you in awe.
Bekki: My favourite view was of the tiny coastal community of Cacela a Velha. The settlement is idyllic, quiet and calm. The white-washed fishing cottages and cobbled streets are adorned with colourful plants and bougainvillea. The church at the centre of the village is a natural focus for pictures and the remains of an 18th century fort are worthy of a visit. The backdrop to this charming place was the bay of Cacela, a little piece of natural beauty.
Yasmin: The Algarve has many viewpoints, a favourite for each and every one of us – across dramatic rocky cliffs, over golden sand beaches, towards rural medieval towns and crumbling castles… the list goes on. My favourite view was watching the sunrise each morning from the balcony of my sea view room at the Memmo Baleeira Hotel. Sagres is one of the places where you can watch the sun rise and set out at sea all year round.
Favourite activity and why?
Bekki: I enjoyed the tourist train (road) trip we took around Tavira. Although very bumpy, it provided a good introduction to the area and allowed me to see the town’s salt pans. The tour lasted for 45 minutes and cost 4 Euros per person. As well as this, although not an activity as such, I thoroughly enjoyed driving around the narrow streets of Tavira, Lagos and Estoi. Being able to get up close to the beautiful architecture and historic traditional buildings was very special.
Yasmin: A visit to the Fortaleza de Sagres, originally built in the 15th century as a navigation school by Prince Henry the Navigator, is recommended. The entrance fee into the fortress is a humble 3 Euros per person. Inside the fortress, you can walk the perimeter wall, view some of the old buildings such as the 16th century Church of Our Lady of Grace (Nossa Senhora da Graça) and appreciate the impressive views from its grounds.
Favourite beach and why?
Bekki: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to walk on any of the beautiful sandy shores that the Algarve has to offer, but I did like the look of the the Praia Beliche. Praia Beliche runs along the coastal road of Sagres and is a surfer’s paradise. The beach at Praia da Luz is popular with families and it is easy to see why – it is a good sized sandy beach with rock pools to one side and is lined by a selection of cafes and restaurants. very convenient when taking a break from the sunbathing and sand castle building!
Yasmin: Take the road from Sagres towards Cabo de São Vicente (the Cape of Saint Vincent) and after a short drive you will encounter Peniche beach. The beach is popular with surfers due to having some of the best waves in the area. Although it can get crowded during the summer months, it is the golden sand and dramatic rocky backdrop which frames the beach that caught my attention.
Where you ate your best meal. What did you have? Why was it your favourite?
Bekki: I enjoyed a great traditional meal at ‘A Tasca’ in Sagres harbour. This is a traditional seafood restaurant with a fresh fish counter and daily catch specials. I ordered the traditional ‘Cataplana’. This is a fresh fish and potato stew – delicious and full of flavour. I also had a salad which included local cheese, olives, beetroot, carrot and lettuce in an olive oil dressing. We enjoyed a bottle of Alentejo wine which at the price (11 Euro’s) was a gem!
Yasmin: Just behind one of the main streets of Sagres, tucked away in a corner, is the Bossa Nova. A small and friendly restaurant, it is here where I enjoyed a truly delicious meal. Starter was ‘Gambas em Vinho no Forno’ (oven baked prawns in white wine with garlic and olive oil), served with bread for dipping – impossible to resist! The main meal was ‘Corvina’ (a saltwater fish) with potatoes cooked in olive oil and a side salad, healthy and filling, leaving room for ‘Doce da Casa’ (house sweet) a regional specialty consisting of a cookie soaked with coffee and topped with caramel pudding and cream. Average price 26,00 Euros per person which included a bottle of Vinho Verde wine from the Minho region of Portugal.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Bekki: I loved walking through the streets of Tavira, Lagos and Estoi and seeing their traditional tile-fronted properties and beautiful colour-washed old doorways. I could have wandered around the narrow lanes and explored for hours. The food throughout the Algarve was amazing – I couldn’t get enough of it! Seafood at its best.
Yasmin: Finally getting to visit Lagos in the western Algarve, a place I had ruled out on my previous visits to Portugal due to lack of time. Work your way through the modern outskirts, past the city walls into the old town where you will find narrow cobbled streets, gift shops, pretty squares, churches and restaurants. Lagos did not fail to impress and is definitely a town that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Bekki: I grew to love the Algarve very, very quickly. There were so many little towns to stop and explore that it could keep you intrigued for a lifetime. Around every corner there’s another beautiful bay to discover. When can I go back..?