Alternative Algarve – Portugal
- CORK ROUTE
The quiet town of Sao Bras de Alportel lies in a valley wooded with olives, figs and almonds, but its most significant trees are the cork oaks whose bark is harvested every nine years or so – part of an industry that has helped preserve a unique landscape. Guided walks of varying lengths include visits to plantations and a traditional cork factory.
Along the western coast, you’ll find unspoiled beaches, backed by beautiful wild vegetation. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina protects the area, and is home to otters, wild cats and some 200 bird species. The coast also has some of Europe’s finest surf. Amado Surf Camp is one of several outfits around the village of Carrapateira offering surf and accommodation packages.
- BEACH TRAILS
The Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (Trail of the Seven Hanging Valleys) runs along the clifftops east of Carvoeiro for 31/2 miles, beginning at Praia de Vale Centianes beach, continuing past the sands at Benagil and ending at the limestone rock stacks of Praia da Marinha. The final beach is no secret, but its towering cliffs are emblematic of the Algarvian coast and make a natural backdrop for beach lounging, away from the resorts; the sand and water are perfect.
- CASTELO DE SILVES
This russet-coloured, Lego-like castle has great views over Silves town from its chunky sandstone parapets. It dates mostly from the 12th-century Moorish era, with significant modern restoration. Just below it is the medieval Se (cathedral) -one of the Algarve’s most impressive examples, with a substantially unaltered Gothic interior.
- IGREJA DE SAO LOURENÇO DE MATOS
A Baroque masterpiece, this church’s inside is wall-to-wall blue-and-white azulejos (painted tiles), with beautiful panels depicting the life of the Roman-era martyr St Lawrence and his grisly death-by-barbecue. The church is off the N125 highway, a mile east of Almancil town centre.
- CASTRO MARIM
Slumbering in the shadows of its hilltop castle, this picturesque village sees few foreign visitors, but deserves to have more. The Castelo’s medieval walls, bulked up in the 17th century, look out over the nearby border with Spain and marshes that are home to flamingos. A medieval fair is held here around the last weekend in August.
- MERCADO MUNICIPAL DE LOULE
The charming town of Louie is famed for its market, housed in a surprising neo-Moorish building. It’s open every day except Sunday, but on Saturdays stalls spill out onto the streets. Tastings are always on offer somewhere; look out for flame-red piri-piri chillies and homemade hot sauce, along with local ceramics (Praca da Republica; 7am-3prn Mon-Sat).
This rural restaurant six miles north of Albufeira is well worth a trip. It’s famed for serving what many consider to be the Algarve’s finest cataplana (seafood stew) – here, a delicious pork and clam combination. The bean and pork soup is a meal in itself, and the wine cellar, partly on display, is brilliant.
- PASTELARIA TAVIRENSE
A good pastel de nata (custard tart) is a thing of beauty and a taste of Portugal that will long live in the memory. Pastelarias can be found all over the Algarve, but this one is a local institution in the cobblestoned historic town centre of Tavira. It serves up the best pastries, plus good soups and snacks for those on a budget.
Faro is the gateway airport for the Algarve and it’s possible to fly here from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur on KLM with one stop in Amsterdam. From the airport, shuttle services can zip you to towns across the Algarve or take you into central Faro to connect with buses and trains. The train is a handy option for tripping along the south coast, but hiring a car gives you maximum flexibility, particularly for inland travel. Major car-hire firms operate out of Faro airport.
- WHERE TO STAY
Hidden in a quiet hill village near Louie, Casa Candelaria is an enchanting b&b in a restored traditional house. Rooms come with private patios and breakfast can be taken on the roof terrace.
Casa Vicentina is a chic and eco-conscious family-friendly retreat on the west coast. The 17-hectare property has a pool abutting a lily-pad-filled lake, and a handful of suites, some with kitchens.
Set among orange groves near Tavira, Quinta da Lua is a delight for its peace and serenity. It has bright and very stylish rooms set around a large saltwater swimming pool.
To know how
The Algarve is rich in wetlands and is an important stopover for migratory birds. Birds & Nature can organise birdwatching trips in the region.
Sagres: Raptors pass through this southwestern area on their way to Africa in the autumn. It’s also good for spotting seabirds.
Reserva Naturaldo Sapalde Castro Marim: Important winter visitors to this site in the east of the Algarve include greater flamingos, spoonbills and Caspianterns; in spring it’s busy with white storks.
Lagoa dos Salgados: Between Albufeira and Armasio de Pera, this lagoon is a popular spot for watching ducks and waders; rare species are often seen here.
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa: This park of tidal estuaries and dune islands hosts more than 20,000 birds. Special boat trips leave from Olhao and other towns in the area.