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

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Top Five Algarve Beaches 9

Posted on March 11, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

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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It’s a Family Affair 0

Posted on July 26, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Once again some visitors have left and home feels strangely empty – we are, however, getting a bit more used to the transition!

This time we had some family over and spent a wonderful week doing the tourist bit in the local area.

As well as our trip to Zoomarine, which I wrote about in a previous post, we have visited beaches, stopped at numerous cafes and restaurants for sustenance and experimented with two new modes of transport….

A pedalo on the sea, complete with an inbuilt slide, was tremendous fun and a whole lot less straightforward than you would expect! When you take into account waves, currents and everything being extremely slippery, it is a wonder that we returned from the experience with only minor injuries – all completely worth it for being able to splash into the sea in heat.

Even more exciting was our experience on the electric mopeds they currently have for rent on the seafront at Cabanas. These machines have pedals so are ridden like a bike but also

Electric Moped - fun

Electric Moped - fun

have an electric motor and a couple of compartments to store shopping. As they are classified as bikes, you are allowed to ride them on the Ecovia cycle routes, keeping you away from the Portuguese traffic.

This is a fantastic and very eco-friendly means of transport and ideal for little trips to the local shops where we live…we are looking into the possibilities of getting two of our own and look forward to a more extended trial of the bikes having booked a half-day on them later in the week.

Pego Do Inferno

Pego Do Inferno

As always it made us appreciate where we live all the more having people to share it with us – a particular highlight being the beautiful waterfall of Pego Do Inferno, where we all swam in the cool water, and a couple of our number worked up the courage to swing from a rope by the waterfall into the water below. This magical place is slightly off the tourist track and so good to visit in the summer.

We have certainly noticed it is VERY busy around these parts now – some beaches, such as Montegordo and Praia Verde are ludicrously busy, and when we visited the latter yesterday we had to queue long enough to get out of the car park to warrant a game of “I-Spy” in the car! We have identified one local beach that gets largely bypassed by the worst of the crowds, and I’m afraid I am unwilling to disclose which one it is ;-)

So, once again, back to work and reality after sharing another holiday with some more visitors – time to get the house clean and tidy, go and see how much beer is left in the fridge, and look forward to the next arrivals. Happy days.

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Exploring the coast –Part 2 – Montegordo and Praia Verde 0

Posted on November 27, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

Heading East towards the Spanish border, we arrived at Montegordo. The guidebooks had warned us this would be a brash and over-touristy resort, but I must admit I have a bit of a fondness for tourist tat (perhaps because I grew up near Great Yarmouth,) so we were eager to see what it was like.

Montegordo is only about 2km away from the Spanish border and it did have the feel of a Spanish resort. Yes, there were plenty of high-rises and nasty 60s and 70s hotel buildings. Yes, there were more places doing burgers and pizzas than genuine Portuguese cuisine and YES, there was a cheesy cocktail bar that was actually called the “Copacabana!”

MontegordoOff season though, it was hard not to be charmed by the lovely big beach, so long as you stayed facing the sea and didn’t concentrate on the high-rise skyline behind it. Is seemed somehow to be a lot more sheltered and warm than around Tavira, despite being no more than 15 miles away, and were it not for the vast amount of washed up jellyfish and lack of protective footwear, I may have been tempted to have a November swim. We had a very pleasant meal of giant prawns and freshly grilled sole. Unfortunately it went downhill with the dessert which had been sprinkled with cinnamon that tasted like it had been scraped from the back of a musty old wardrobe. The owner had been so nice we didn’t have the heart to tell him, so we went and paid inside and beat a hasty retreat before he realised we hadn’t eaten it (seems it may take a while before we stop acting English!)

On the road back, we turned off to visit another beach called Praia Verde, (green beach,) so named because of the forest on the dunes behind it, which is quite unique in this part of Portugal. The beach is at the end of a tourist complex, which you can imagine being very busy in season, but off-season it was truly deserted. There is something quite strange about these places when there is no-one there at all, they make me think of the deserted amusement park in the 80s film “Big” with Tom Hanks. They are both romantic and slightly spooky. The beach itself was beautiful – like Montegordo without the high-rises, or indeed any of the people. This would be a wonderful place to come back to, but you would need to take everything you could possibly need as there are no facilities open at all off-season.

We didn’t hang around that long, as we needed to make use of the kind of sanitary facilities not available at this time of year(!) As we drove away there was someone who obviously lived on the complex playing with his young child in the car-park and I found myself wondering whether living somewhere which is SO quiet for half of the year would be very liberating or very lonely, and couldn’t decide either way….

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Exploring the coast –Part 1 – Santa Luzia and Praia Do Barril 0

Posted on November 23, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

For the next few days, we spent our time exploring our local coast. Our first stop, just to the west of Tavira, was a beach called Praia Do Barril. As with the majority of beaches along the Eastern Algarve, the beach is on a sand-spit island. Several of the beaches require you to take a very short ferry ride or water-taxi to reach the sands.

Praia do BarrilPraia Do Barril is slightly different in that you can take a tiny narrow-gauge train to the beach from a very pretty white-washed resort called Pedras Del Rei, or alternatively take a wonderful 15 minute walk beside the tracks – across the marshes and lagoons and through fragrant woods.

When you arrive at Barril, which forms part of the Isla De Tavira, you can quickly see why the Isla was listed in a recent survey of the top ten beaches in the world. The sands are an almost Caribbean white and soft like fine sugar and the sand and sea stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. Being off-season, there was hardly anybody around – however there are a couple of cafes present to provide some somewhat overpriced sustenance, or, in our case, a small icy glass of Sagres beer.

Although windswept, the low dunes provide shelter from the wind and people were sunbathing happily, despite it being mid-November! Sadly, the very fun looking 6-seater pedaloes with a built in slide to splash into the sea were not for hire at this time of year, but I plan to be first in the queue when the next season begins!

On the way back to Tavira, we stopped in Santa Luzia, a rustic fishing villageSanta Luzia Village with a number of seafood restaurants. We deliberately chose the shabbiest place for a shellfish snack –determined to remain outside our comfort-zone and be forced to attempt to speak Portugese (it would be very easy to be lazy in the Algarve as anywhere even vaguely touristy-looking will assume you only speak English.) We had a plate of large prawns and in place of the clams, which were not available, we had cockles. I expected cockles to be the small chewy things in vinegar like you get in jars in the UK, but these were served in their shells, steaming hot and fresh, with wine, garlic and olive oil. They were a revelation, and I intend to slurp an awful lot more of these delicious morsels from their shells in weeks to come. Every last bit of the garlicky sauce was soaked up in the fresh bread and we left very happy.

Santa Luzia itself was a charming little place, a lot more “local” than many of the places in the Algarve, with the river shimmering at the bottom and small fishing boats bobbing around. During the Summer, it is apparently possible to take a boat across to the beach (Santa Luzia beach also forms part of the Isla De Tavira) but this didn’t appear to be running off season.

Tomorrow: Monte Gordo and Praia Verde

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