Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Top Five Algarve Beaches 9

Posted on March 11, 2013 by Ben Algarve

The climate in Portugal at this time of year is unpredictable – there was even a mini tornado in the local town of Cabanas last week that damaged boardwalk sunshades and sent tables flying. Last week’s rain and strong winds have left me yearning for the sunshine so that we can get back out to the beach and enjoy days of basking in the sun and splashing around in the sea. It got me thinking about my favourite beaches, so here are my top five beaches in the Algarve.

Praia da Rocha

Praia da Rocha - sunlight sparkling on the sea

Praia da Rocha – sunlight sparkling on the sea

Located by the city of Portimão, Praia da Rocha (‘beach of the rocks’) is a beach of contrasts. The beach itself is in two halves – Praia da Rocha is a huge flat expanse of man-made beach backed by a boardwalk with small cafes and restaurants. Around a large outcropping of cliff, is the adjoining Praia dos Três Castelos – a long stretch of rock-strewn coves. It’s all backed by some stunning, dramatic cliffs. The top of the cliffs are crowded with hotels, gift shops and bars, some nice, some not so nice. The ‘strip’ is hellish in summer, crowded with drunk tourists and men selling fake watches, cheap ornaments and worse. All of that is forgotten though the moment you step onto the white sand after walking down the (many) steps from the cliff top.

Praia da Rocha was the beach we stayed at during our very first trip to Portugal and was one of the reasons we moved here in the first place, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The light sparkles on the sea there in a way that I have yet to see anywhere else.

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana

Praia Dona Ana is near the town of Lagos. It’s a fairly small cove beach, accessed by a clamber down the cliff via a steep staircase. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The water is crystal clear, with deep blues and greens – perfect for swimming in. Small boats can be hired for cave trips along the coastline, which are well worth doing. I will always remember our 90 year old grandmother braving the steps down to the beach and then insisting on going on one of the cave trips, much to the astonishment of the boatman.

There is one restaurant on Praia Dona Ana and it’s well worth a visit. Prices are very reasonable and the food is really good – much better than you would expect from a beachfront restaurant. We always include a stop there when we visit this beach, although it can involve a bit of a wait during busy periods.

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Exploring the caves at Praia Dona Ana

Praia Verde

Praia Verde (‘green beach’) is a lovely, flat beach of soft, white sand that seems to stretch on forever, backed by a dense, green forest (hence the name). It’s located a few kilometres east of the town of Tavira, about 10 km shy of the Spanish border. Praia Verde is a great beach to visit if you have young children, as when the tide goes out it leaves long, shallow tide pools behind that are perfect for splashing around in and offer greater safety than playing in the sea.

I haven’t tried the restaurant at the beach for anything other than drinks since it was renovated a couple of years ago. Before the renovation, it was a rather charming ramshackle place, serving good quality seafood at reasonable prices. It is now much larger and smarter and although I haven’t eaten there recently I suspect that its prices have gone up along with its size, if the drinks prices are anything to go by.

Praia da Cabanas

Praia da Cabanas is in the fishing village of Cabanas (meaning ‘huts’), in the eastern Algarve. It is accessed by a short boat ride (lasting about 60 seconds) across the river and then a walk along the boardwalk up and over the dunes. It’s a delightfully pretty beach, which boasts endless flat sands and usually a few kite surfers to watch idly while you laze in the sun. Although it attracts large numbers of tourists, it seems to absorb them better than most of the Algarve’s beaches, making it a haven for residents during the summer months.

Forte de Rato beach

Forte de Rato beach - perfect for boating

Forte de Rato beach – perfect for boating

This last one was a difficult choice. Although Ilha de Tavira is unquestionably one of the Algarve’s most beautiful beaches, with sparkling waters and sugar-soft sand, the beach near Forte do Rato in Tavira has to be my final choice. This is essentially a small, tidal river beach on the edge of the delightfully pretty town of Tavira. I’m not sure what it is actually called, as it’s not signposted and everyone I know who has been to it just calls it, “the beach near Forte do Rato.” If you want to find it, just follow the signs to Forte do Rato from Tavira.

The sand itself is nothing to shout about, but the water is where this beach really comes into its own. Shallow and clear, it is perfect for paddling, swimming, or (if you are as young at heart/just plain childish as we are) buying an inflatable boat in the nearby Gran Plaza shopping centre and rowing around in circles for hours on end. It has no facilities whatsoever, so be sure to take a supply of snacks and drinks when you visit.

Forte do Rato from above - plentiful shallow water to play in

Forte do Rato from above – plentiful shallow water to play in

This beach is backed by the Ria Formosa nature reserve, which is lovely for walking across and seeing the salt pans and wild flamingos (in the winter months) and also has the tumbledown Forte do Rato (‘fort of the mouse’ – also known as the Fort of Santo Antônio de Tavira and Forte da Ilha das Lebres) which is fun to explore and pretend you are fighting off marauders. Or maybe that’s just me 🙂

This is not the most beautiful beach on the list, but nonetheless it’s one of our favourite places in the whole of the Algarve.

And a quick mention for…Alcoutim

Alcoutim - don't be put off by the green water!

Alcoutim – don’t be put off by the green water!

Although it didn’t make the final cut, I have to mention the river beach at Alcoutim, a small riverside town facing the Spanish border. The water is clear but with a greenish tinge, though there is a reassuring blue flag flapping merrily on the beach. The water is warm and still and although the beach itself is tiny, we found space to relax there even in mid-summer. It has a rather hippy-ish vibe, which makes a lovely change from the intense tourism of the Algarve’s coastal beaches during the summer months.


So while the climate in Portugal continues to frustrate us this year, these are my all-time top five favourite beaches in the Algarve. Do you have one to add to the list? If so, we would love to hear about it – please leave a comment below.

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A Weekend of Discovery Part 1 2

Posted on February 09, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Last week was a week of really loving being in Portugal, without a single wobbly “what have we done?” moment. The process of settling in has continued, helped by some beautiful weather especially over last weekend.

As we currently have a car, we took advantage of our mobility, and the sunshine, and went on one of our exploration weekends.

We headed west, initially in the direction of Albufeira – a holiday playground or hell-hole, depending on your point of view. The first

Saturday lunchtime, February

Saturday lunchtime, February

beach we stopped at was Santa Eulaila. This seemed a popular spot, with the trademark orange cliffs and a good mix of locals and tourists. We enjoyed a drink in the sun (overpriced – double what we are used to in the Eastern Algarve) and then went for a walk along the beach, climbing over rocks through sparkly rock-pools to get to quiet coves further east. This beach was a joy, and some people (more determined than us) were even braving the February water.

Continuing our tour, we had a huge selection of other beaches in the area to choose from. We went for Olhos De Agua, as I had seen a recommendation online somewhere. This was, to us, a disappointment. We really aren’t fans of the “Little Britains” that exist all over this part of the Algarve, and this was one of them. Menus entirely in English, lots of English bars and the depressing sight of people sitting in a darkened bar watching English football on the first truly beautiful day of the year. They could have saved their flight money and gone to Blackpool…

Moving swiftly on, as we did on the day, hunger led us to stop in the concrete jungle in the middle of Albufeira for a quick snack. Once again, we lamented the fact that a lot of our fellow Brits come all the way to Portugal and then opt to eat in McDonalds and KFC. This, coupled with encountering one too many of our fellow countrymen ordering food and drink without even attempting a “Bom Dia,” “se faz favor,” or “obrigada,” led us to escape this area and hit the road again, with a fresh understanding of why several Portuguese people have been surly towards us until it becomes clear we are attempting to learn the language. I really don’t blame them.

Heading further west, we made a beeline for a beach called Praia Dos Tres Irmaos, between the busy resorts of Praia Da Rocha and Alvor. We had found this fairy-tale beach over five years ago when we first visited Portugal, during a long cliff top walk. We had walked for a few miles from Praia Da Rocha, and found a lift built into a cliff which took us down to a small bar/restaurant built into the rocks, looking out onto a gorgeous sunny cove. The whole place has a real air of “secret beach,” and I have fond memories of body-surfing in the waves with a couple of other tourists of unknown nationality, united by our enjoyment of the sea and sun.

We had always said one day we would go back again. Our TomTom satnav proved next to useless and we had a couple of occasions of driving into tourist complexes we were pretty sure were out of bounds to us. After a while it seemed the beach was not accessible by car, so we ended up reluctantly parking at Alvor, determined to get the last couple of hours of sun on a beach, even if it wasn’t the one we intended.

At Alvor, we looked left and were pretty sure that we recognised where we were and that a determined walk would get us to the beach we had originally intended. We set off, walking through thick sand, so determined on our destination that at times we almost forgot to take in and appreciate the sparkling sea next to us.

Sun down in Alvor

Sun down in Alvor

After climbing some rocks to get over a cove, our excitement built as we approached the place that we had been looking for. We found the lift, or at least a wooden panel where we were sure it had been. We assumed the place must be closed, it being winter. We then found a gap in the cliff where we were able to peer down, and there it was….what was left of the restaurant. Whether by falling rocks, or bad weather, the place was destroyed. All that was left was a shell. It was rather sad after waiting years to find the place again. Having said that, we were still delighted to have found the beach we remembered so fondly, even if, due to the lack of the lift and the tide being in, we couldn’t actually set foot on it.

After a drink at a couple of friendly bars on Alvor beach, we headed back to the car, by now feeling the usual craving for seafood that a day on the beach brings on in us. We headed into Portimao and to one of our first Algarve discoveries and favourite restaurants, that has thankfully stayed put in the years since we discovered it: Dona Barca. You will find a review over on my Food and Wine blog

The weekend was only half way through and there was still more to discover…it follows in Part 2, which will be posted in the next couple of days.

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So why Portugal? 5

Posted on May 19, 2009 by movingtoportugal


Praia Da Rocha was where it all started. On our last visit to Portugal, my wife and I were trying to remember how we ended up in The Algarve the first time some 5ish years ago. Much as I would like to claim a cultural or intellectual reason,  I think it was no more than the typical Brit “it’s hot and cheap” rationale.

I certainly don’t think we expected to fall so head over heels in love with the place! Our approach to holidays was always to start off with where we could fly to cheaply, then TripAdvisor our way to a well reviewed hotel within whatever budget we had at the time. We always managed to get ourselves a bargain and had great holidays every time. We did, however, usually go to a different destination every time, working on the basis that there is a whole load of world to see in the short time we have on this planet….

Portugal was different. Within a couple of days I had this strange feeling that I didn’t really need to see anywhere else in the world. 

Anyone who has been to Praia Da Rocha in peak season probably thinks I sound insane at this point. For those who haven’t, Praia Da Rocha (Beach of the Rocks,) is a truly stunning resort, with a huge beach divided in two distinct parts – the Eastern end near the fortaleza (fort) being a huge, deep expanse of sand rather like some some of the resorts of Spain’s Costa Da Luz, and the western end featuring beautiful coves with high orange cliffs and various rock formations along the coastline. 

The thing is, in the kind of terms the travel books talk in, Praia Da Rocha is an over-commercial resort, “destroyed” by high rise apartments and hotels. There is even a “strip” featuring a huge range of bars showing UK football, and  “ALL REALITY SHOWS!” Don’t get me started. Why anyone would watch Bradford City vs. Rotherham when the sun is blazing and there’s a beach 50yards away is truly beyond me, but each to their own…

The thing was that wife and I went off season, so although we could imagine the true hideousness of this resort in July and August, we were able to avoid the worst of the Brit tourist invasion and appreciate all that was good and beautiful about the place. After our first 7 days, we ended up somehow convincing our respective workplaces to let us extend our holiday by another 5 days. We don’t pay the kind of fees the airlines charge for date changes lightly. This wasn’t the usual feeling of hoping to win the lottery so as not to go back to work, this was the start of something.

I always knew that one day I would have to live abroad. I am a firm believer in it being better to regret things you have done than those you haven’t. I also think it strange to assume the place you were born is the place you were meant to end up. A plan started to form.

We went back. Again and again – between then and now we have explored a lot of Portugal.  By the second or third time we knew for sure we were going to move there someday. At that early stage we weren’t sure how, but I remember that we started the countdown about 3.5 years ago. The last time we went, when I was in the usual slightly distraught state I am in when I have to return to London life after time in paradise, my wife pointed out it was now only 8 months to go. Bloody hell.

In the years inbetween, many things have happened. We have paid off a mountain of personal debt, visited both Portugal and Madeira many times, learned a little bit of the language (just enough, as it happens, to say a sentence convincingly enough for the Portugese recipient to fire one back that we do not understand a word of) and secured UK work that can be done from Portugal. The slightly OCD side of me has researched everything to the finest detail. Looks like we are actually doing it!

Back to the original question though: “So why Portugal?” Time for bullet points:

1. Some of the nicest, most polite and relaxed people I have ever met.

2. A culture where people love, enjoy and appreciate good food as much as we do, whilst keeping things simple and not resorting to the kind of truffle-oil based competitiveness you get in the UK. 

3. A Climate that won’t make me miserable for at least 6 months of the year.

4. A desire to bring up our children in a society not as fundamentally arsed up as that in the UK.

I could list many more (I haven’t even mentioned wine yet!) but my eyes are tired. This blogging business is exhausting, and I don’t think I’ve written this many words since school!

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

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