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Algarve – East v. West

Posted on July 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve
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As with any area of Portugal, the Algarve has its own particular flavours, sights and sounds, which combine to give it a wonderfully distinct regional makeup. Yet numerous differences exist within the Algarve region itself. If you are looking to move to the Algarve, or just come here for a holiday, this post should help you decide which area is right for you.

Algarve beaches - head west for stunning cliffs

Algarve beaches – head west for stunning cliffs

Beaches

The Algarve unquestionably has some stunning beaches. Those in the eastern Algarve (between Faro and the border with Spain) tend to be long, flat expanses of sand, which are perfect for lazy days soaking up the sun or lengthy beach walks. They include a number of delightful sand-spit beaches, which are accessed by crossing the tidal rivers and saltpans that make up the extensive Ria Formosa nature reserve. Crossings can be made by boat (for a small fee), by water taxi (for a slightly larger fee) or – in the case of Barril beach near Tavira – by a miniature train, which is particularly popular with small children.

The train at Barril - eastern quirks

The train at Barril – eastern quirks

West of Faro, the beaches tend to be backed by crumbling red and yellow cliffs, with tiny coves and eye-catching rock formations dotted about in the sea. They are arguably more scenic and are perfect for cliff-top rambles. On the Algarve’s western coast, from Cape St Vincent northward, the winds and giant Atlantic waves make for some great surfing spots.

For those who like to bathe in the sea, it’s worth noting that the sea water is significantly colder west of Faro than east. The warmest water in the Algarve is said to be in Monte Gordo, close to the Spanish border.

Stay east for a cheaper life

Stay east for a cheaper life

Cost

There is a notable price variation as you travel along the Algarve coast. The eastern Algarve is (very roughly) 20-30% cheaper than the central and western coast, for everything from accommodation to a glass of beer. We notice this price change every time we venture west and, though it doesn’t make much difference for the occasional day out, it soon adds up when we spend anything more than a day or two away from our eastern Algarve home.

Cuisine

The heavily seafood-influenced diet of the Algarve is available across the entire region, with specialities such as cataplana and arroz de marisco found in restaurants from one coast to the other. However, non-Portuguese food is far more readily available towards the west than it is in the east. We can get Chinese and Indian takeaways in our local area, but for decent Thai food or proper English fish and chips we have to head westward in order to be sure of both availability and quality.

Algarve cuisine - seafood is available from coast to coast

Algarve cuisine – seafood is available from coast to coast

Authenticity

The eastern Algarve is more authentically Portuguese than the central and west. Although we still get our fair share of tourists in the east, there is something more traditional about life here. It’s hard to define precisely how this is evidenced, as it’s really a range of small factors which combine to provide a more genuine experience of Portugal.

As an example – if you order food and drink in Portuguese in the eastern Algarve, the waiter will reply to you in Portuguese. Head west and the waiter will reply in English, no matter how good your attempt at speaking Portuguese might have been. In the central and western Algarve, particularly in places such as Vilamoura, the majority of restaurant boards will list their specialities in English first and Portuguese last (if at all). In the east, it’s the other way around.

Although these are subtle variations, the combined effect is that the eastern Algarve provides an experience of Portugal that just somehow feels much more genuinely Portuguese.

Eastern Algarve - more Portuguese

Eastern Algarve – more Portuguese

Weather

While the Algarve enjoys an alleged 300 days of sunshine per year, there are notable temperature differences as you travel along the coast. The sea is at its warmest off the far eastern coast by the town of Monte Gordo, where a sheltered bay means that the water is always more tempting than elsewhere. Lagos, towards the western end of the Algarve, tends to be windier and cooler than many of the other coastal towns. On the western coast, the winds sweeping off the Atlantic mean lower temperatures and beaches more suited to surfers than sunbathers.

Generally, we find that as we drive westward along the Algarve coast, we lose around 2-3 degrees of temperature the further we travel. Of course there will be times when it’s the other way round, but this is our general finding based on the years we’ve lived here.

East Algarve - there's no place like home

East Algarve – there’s no place like home

So these are some of the reasons we ended up living in the eastern Algarve. We enjoy visiting the west and Praia da Rocha, as the first place we ever stayed in Portugal, will always be close to our hearts, but at the end of a long day out we’re always happy to be heading home to the east.

Let us know which part of the Algarve you prefer by leaving a comment in the box below.

 

Image credits: Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

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11 to “Algarve – East v. West”

  1. Marion says:

    Has to be Eastern, for its authenticity. We were there in June and lucky enough to be out again in September.

    We thoroughly enjoy your Blogs and recommend your book whenever we can. Thank you.

  2. Lynda & Martin says:

    Hi Ben
    We also enjoy reading your blog and now having bought an apartment opposite the Camara in Olhao we fully endorse your views. Before buying we travelled West but decided it was far too touristy and now really enjoy spending time attempting to talk to the locals in our street. A lot of it is accompanied with sign language but I’m persevering!
    We really love where we are and feel your blog certainly helped our decision to settle in the East.
    September can’t come soon enough !

  3. Lynda & Martin says:

    Eastern definitely ! Before buying our apartment in Olhao (opposite the Camara)we travelled along the West coast but thought it was too ‘touristy’.
    We read your blog which helped us to make the decision to buy in Olhao and we absolutely love being in the heart of this old town. Nobody speaks English in our street so we are practising our Portuguese assisted with sign language which works quite well !
    We enjoy being in Olhao in the winter as well, as unlike lots of place on the Algarve the markets and restaurants are still very lively especially on Saturdays.
    We can’t wait to come back in September.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Marion,

    The authenticity is definitely a key factor in why we chose the east and why we have remained here for so long.

    I’m really glad you enjoy the blogs and thank you so much for recommending our book :-)

    Best wishes, Lou

  5. admin says:

    Hi Lynda,

    I’m so glad you found the blog useful in terms of helping to identify where you wanted to buy. Olhao is a great town – it has the liveliness of the markets and restaurants, but you can still enjoy lovely quiet moments sitting and gazing out over the water – the best of both worlds!

    Not long until September :-)

    Best wishes, Lou

  6. PAUL WILLIAMS says:

    Have to agree totally about the East being more authentic, enjoyed your book and the blogs and when we retire (early I hope) we know where we want to spend our time.
    Back to Cabanas in September and know that the fish and chips at Sabores da Ria are good enough to stop me going west.

  7. saz says:

    Well yes, we also much prefer the East but my dad and step mother loved Vilamoura for its bustling marina and the huge amount of expat friends they made there. Mind you before they settled down in their apartment there, they lived on a boat (wintering in Vilamoura) and sailing round the islands/Spain in the summer months.

    We had a wonderful ferry ride over to Armona ?) Island from Olhao in late June to see a band play in a restaurant and had a great time -we got an aqua taxi back which was fantastic fun. When we come over we tend to stay in the East but have made a pledge that we will be going West (I feel a song coming on) when we come over more permanently. (And north!).

    Hope the tourists arent wearing you down. They are bad enough in London :-). Saz (again the usual apologies if this comes twice – captcha code probs.

  8. admin says:

    Hi Paul,

    Good to hear that you have been enjoying the blogs and the book :-)

    Sabores da Ria is a very good reason to stay east – as is Brisa do Rio in Tavira, which is one of my favourite restaurants in the Algarve.

    Best wishes,

    Lou

  9. admin says:

    Hi Saz,

    We are just about coping with the tourists, but there are certainly a lot of them now!

    Vilamoura seems to be a place that people either love or hate – they seem to have added to the marina recently with a range of bars which sit out over the water. It’s a lovely place to sit and watch the sun go down.

    Armona is one place we still haven’t been – we say we want to go there at the start of every summer, but still haven’t managed it yet! Perhaps later this month…

    Best wishes, Lou

  10. Tim Hanafin says:

    Just had our first holiday in Portugal (mid-October) basically because we had never been and I’d read an article that that’s where the holiday pound goes furthest. I booked a quiet apartment in Albufeira and a car at the airport then spent a week driving every day, wanting to get a flavour of the whole Algarve. I loved the drama of the surf beaches and the cliffs at the western most tip. I loved the lunch at the Mar a Vista restaurant on the cliff at Sagres. I loved lunch at the beach restaurant on the fisherman’s beach at Amercao de Pera, right on the sand. Loule was interesting with its brilliant market and the flooded valleys inland that provide the Algarve with it’s drinking water were beautiful. But the biggest impact on me was when we took the little boat across from Cabanas, walked along the boardwalk and stepped onto that stunning beach. With a clear blue sky and almost white sand it must be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

    Of course, we are planning on coming again and yes, we’ve been looking at properties in the east!

  11. admin says:

    Hi Tim,

    It sounds like you managed to see a great deal of the wonderful variety that the Algarve has to offer during your week here. Mid-October is a lovely time to visit (although the weather is not always compliant then) as you can explore in relative peace.

    I certainly agree about Cabanas beach – it is absolutely beautiful and definitely one of the east’s star attractions. Tavira island beach is also gorgeous – perhaps one for your next visit :-)

    Best wishes,

    Lou



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