Exploring the Algarve
This was my second time in Portugal and whenever I’ve met anyone from the country at events, etc, when I’ve said that I’m going to be holidaying in Portugal this year, they sigh, roll their eyes and guess straight away that it’s the Algarve that I’ll be visiting. Yes, Brits do tend to love this area of Portugal, many of them even settling here in retirement but there is a reason for that. The beautiful beaches, the delicious food, the laid back atmosphere shared with its neighbouring Spain – just a few of the things that make Portugal so special and keep the tourists coming back year after year.
I visited this year with my Mum, Dad and brother and we had a great time exploring everywhere. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of the Algarve…
Stay in a villa
If you’ve never stayed in a villa before (and I hadn’t until this time last year), once you have you’ll never want to go back to staying in a hotel/self-catering apartment again. If you’re into super-chilled-out holidays then this is the accommodation for you. And what is a holiday for, if not for chilling? There’s no up at the crack of dawn to fight for sunbeds with the other holidaying nations (insert stereotypical sunbed reserving country here), there’s no set meal times that you need to be ready for and there are certainly no splashing kids in the pool – unless you bring them with you of course!
It’s a home away from home where you have your own space to do exactly what you please in. Villas are almost always remote and private, so you have nobody spying on you when you’re sunbathing and no need to feel self-conscious. The only noise we heard this year was the sound of the bells on the goats as they were herded past to their field – bliss.
The downside of a villa is that, because of its remoteness, you will almost certainly need a car and this means braving the Portugese roads and other drivers. They appear to always be in a hurry, doing at least 20KPH more than you, even if you’re slightly breaking the speed limit and are very impatient at traffic lights, giving you all of half a second to set off before you are met with a cacophony of beeping horns. We were around a 40 minute walk away from Albufeira which we tackled a couple of times but luckily we had my dad as the designated driver.
We got our villa through Villa Plus who also booked our flights and car hire as part of one of their packages. Even if you don’t get car hire included in your package, you can use something like eurocar to sort out all of your transport needs.
Go off the beaten track
As in every country, the very best places are the ones that are not overrun with tourists, so I’d recommend leaving Albufeira behind and heading in-land for some of the best restaurants and sights and to see the real Portugal.
We’re lucky because my mum’s uncle and auntie live in Messines and have done for decades and so they know some of the real hidden gems that only the locals know. They take us to Portuguese restaurants where there is definitely no English spoken and that look like absolutely nothing from the outside. The food is always delicious and the prices are super low, especially with the good exchange rate at the moment. A main course will usually set you back around eight or nine euros and the local beers Sagres and Super Bock (my brother preferring the former) can be found for as little as one euro.
We also headed to the medieval town of Silves where the steep cobbled streets look as if they’d be lethal for cars if it rains and a favourite hang out amongst ex-pats. Although not exactly off the beaten track, it’s more “real Portugal”. There is a castle and museum which you can look around and lots of street cafes where you can pick up delicious baguettes and snacks.
When my mum and dad visited the Algarve a few years ago they discovered a beach where the locals frequent (most of the time in the nude). We have been back every year since and walk all the way along the beach to a town where we stop for drinks, ice creams and lunch. We have yet to discover what the beach or the town is called but miraculously my dad has managed to find it every year.
If it’s a girls holiday you’re after or a hen do, or just a few drinks with your holiday companions, the Albufeira strip is the way to go. I went with my brother to watch the football and for a few quiet cocktails one night and it was safe to say they got me horrendously drunk and we rolled home at 2am.
I used to live in Magaluf, Mallorca’s party destination, and it was pure madness and pretty much like being at home but in a hot country. This strip manages to keep quite Portuguese with it’s workers and some Portuguese bars on offer. We went on a week night and it was really quiet, we were the only ones on the dance floor at some points, although I’m not sure whether it gets busier as the summer season heightens.
Drinks are quite expensive on the strip (although not quite London prices!) but you can negotiate plenty of free shots of sambucca of various strengths depending on the bar.
Portugal is well known for its delicious food – some of it’s traditional dishes include piri piri chicken (think Nando’s but more authentic), salted cod and Cataplana, a seafood stew with rice which is like Portugal’s version of Spain’s paella and which I can definitely recommend. They also do delicious steaks which are almost always cooked rare-medium, no matter how you ask for it.
My favourite places to eat include Albufeira old town and Olhos de Agua. Even in the tourist areas, meals are incredible value for money with the average being around 70 euros for a family of five. The closer you get to the seafront, the higher the price you’ll expect to pay.