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Anyone visiting the Algarve for their holidays won’t find it hard to locate wonderful beaches, beautiful scenery and fabulous, cheap restaurants. All you need is a guide book or a quick Google search of your chosen area and you are set to enjoy a great holiday.
But those who are staying longer, or moving permanently to the Algarve, have the option to discover some of its hidden treasures – places that don’t make the guide books or that have to be sought out based on local knowledge.
Here we go off the beaten track and share five of the Algarve’s best kept secrets, which we have discovered during our years of living here.
As the Algarve’s highest mountain, Foia isn’t exactly ‘hidden’ but surprisingly few people make the journey to the top. Those that do are rewarded (on clear days at least) with incredible views of a huge stretch of the coastline, with tiny towns and villages dotted around in picture postcard perfection.
You can scale Foia on foot with the hand of a local walking guide, though in the height of summer the intense heat means driving may be a more practical approach. Partway down the mountain is a tiny spring of clear water, where you are likely to find locals filling their empty bottles to take the pure, cold water away with them.
No Solo Água (Praia da Rocha)
At the far end of Praia da Rocha in Portimão, near the fortress, is the No Solo Água beach club, as recently reviewed on our sister blog, Food and Wine Portugal. While the Algarve has a few beach clubs, most are expensive, with cover charges in place before you can even sit down. No Solo Água at Praia da Rocha, however, is something of a locals’ secret. You can turn up, grab a day bed or giant sofa, and access the private beach – all for free. All you have to do is buy drinks while you’re there. There is the option to buy food as well and everything we’ve tried from the menu so far has been very tasty.
As an aside, we have visited other No Solo Água establishments, such as the one at Vilamoura, but none even come close to living up to the one at Praia da Rocha.
Tucked away in the middle of nowhere near the Spanish border, Alcoutim is a small town with a tiny yet beautiful river beach. The water is clean and delightfully warm and offers the chance for visitors to float around for endless hours, disturbed only by the occasional sparkling fish jumping out of the water.
Even in the peak of summer, Alcoutim remains relatively quiet, in stark contrast to the Algarve’s coastal beaches. The little bar on site serves drinks and hot snacks, or you can take a picnic and each it on the sandy riverbank. Lifeguards are on duty and the shallow, still waters make this a lovely spot to visit if you have young children.
Tavira’s Secret Beach
Ilha da Tavira beach is a popular tourist destination all summer long and deservedly so. It is beautiful. However, Tavira also has another beach, accessed by following the signs to Forte de Rato through the Ria Formosa nature reserve. If this beach has a name, I’ve yet to discover it.
This delightful spot offers a way to escape the tourist hordes. There will be people there, but far fewer than on any of the other beaches in the area. Protected from the open sea by the curving coastland, this tidal inlet offers shallow, crystal clear water in which to frolic or simply float on a giant rubber ring. The ruined Forte de Rato, which you have to drive past to get to the beach, makes for a lovely diversion on the way.
Pego do Inferno
Accessed via the backroads leading out of Tavira and tricky to find, Pego do Inferno is one of our favourite spots. Anyone who has been kind enough to purchase our book, Moving to Portugal, will recognise the waterfall on the front cover when they visit Pego do Inferno.
Ravaged by the extensive wildfires that burned across the Algarve in 2012, Pego do Inferno has now reopened and begun to return to its former beauty, as vegetation and wildlife have returned. The waterfall and the pool at its base range in colour from perfectly clear to muddy brown/orange, depending on the time of year.
In mid-summer, the water is clear enough to see fish swimming around the pool in shoals, which scatter when locals plunge into the depths from the tattered rope swing or the top of the cliff from which the waterfall pours. I should add that both activities are extremely dangerous!
Later in the year, after the autumn rains have begun, the water becomes silted with mud from the surrounding hills, making swimming a rather unpleasant idea. It’s still a wonderfully quiet spot for a picnic, but is definitely far better when visited during the summer months.
So these are our favourite ‘secret’ Algarve destinations. I’m sure we will discover more as our explorations continue over the years ahead and I look forward to adding to the list.
What’s your favourite tucked away Algarve place? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box.