It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is … OK there is no man, old or other wise, in this gals picture (or pants). Beyond needing to foster a deep seated fondness for umbrellas, residing in the UK means you are only one cheap and uncomfortable Ryanair flight away from the best of the European coastline. Enter … the Portugal Algarve region.
Although gathering fame, this destination is pleasingly tourist low. The Algarve is Portugal’s Southernmost region and plays host to picturesque cliffs, cute fishing villages and more water sport activities than you can poke a paddle at. Portugal is also … cheap(ish)! Water sport activities will set you back around 30 euros and up but when you factor in a 20 euro hangover life doesn’t seem so bad (depending on whether you said no to that last Tequila shot).
Wine & Dine
Landing in Faro international airport I stepped out into the … chilly night air?! The Algarve’s position at the bottom of the world circa the 14th century means that the Atlantic blows cold. Fear not, this is your cue to use cold nights as an excuse for wining and dining on Portugal’s traditional beverages and seafood.
Things to try:
- ‘House’ wine or vinho da casa – try wine from the region at a fraction of the dollars (we won’t judge if you buy two carafes).
- Medronho – disgusting fire syrup made from strawberry like fruit of the arbutus (a list ticker not a taste tickler).
- Fresh seafood – do your mum proud and fill up on your omegas with Conquilhas à Algarvia (fresh clams) and Bacalhau (salt-dried cod). Expect a lot of boiled potatoes and rice to join your plate.
- Feijoada – a hearty bean and pork stew for when rice is making your taste buds sad.
- Pasties de nata – Come on, this list wouldn’t be complete without custard tarts.
Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s not great (hello Taylor Swift ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’). This tourist hub is full of free sights for the cheapskate explorer.
Get your history on, and remember that some things should never be repeated, at Europe’s oldest slave market. From 1444 Mercado dos Escravos operated for 250 years fuelling the darker side of the age of discovery.
Visit Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, a 17th century fort built to protect the harbour, to experience pretty water views and an excellent drawbridge to pretend to be a pirate on.
Explore the historic centre for beautiful tiled walls, doorways Instagram dreams are made of and cute cafes where having a beer at lunch is always acceptable.
Take a coastline hike for those famous sandy beach coves (with care as safety rails have taken a holiday too). Start at Praia da Batata, head through the rock tunnel to sandy Praia dos Estudantes, up and over to secluded Praia do Pinhao, along to the towering cliffs of Praia Dona Ana, down 200 wooden steps to Praia do Camilo, sideways to the epic rock formations of Farol da Ponta da Piedade and end up at the 3 km stretch of Praia de Porto de Mós. Don’t miss the opportunity to grab an espresso at one of the en-route cafes.
Cape São Vicente
Take in breathtaking views at Europe’s Southernmost point. Located just outside of tranquil Sagres this spot features a historic red and white lighthouse, tacky market stalls and epic cliffs battling with the vast Atlantic.
Calling all pretend and not so pretend surfettes. The pretty little coves of the Algarve offer great waves for beginners to slayers with plenty of surf schools to help iron out those kinks. Extra points if you can bag an on ocean make out session with one of the salty seasonaire babes.
Kayak & Snorkel
Damn but is this region full of amazing coastal grotto’s. Treat yo self and work off your custard tart breakfast with a two for one paddling & snorkelling tour. Top of the list sea caves include Algar de Benagil, Zorreira Cave, Gruta do Capitão and Elefante … plus you get to say the word grotto all day.
The Mountains are Calling
Lower your salt intake with a trip to the volcanic mountain range of Serra de Monchique. This area has amazing hikes, epic winding roads and swaths of cork trees that Moet Chandon are itching to get popping with.
Faro international airport is but a hop, skip and jump from all the Algarve has to offer (including the city itself). Grab yourself a pre-booked set of wheels as public transport is on the low side to get to the really special bits. Accommodation is available in swaths but I recommend avoiding the expensive resorts for a cute surf lodge complete with in-built friends and cheap surf lessons.
Last but not least some facts for your inner nerd –
- Most of the buildings in this region are new on the European scale of things due to a massive earthquake in 1755.
- Back when flat earthers held the anti-globe this area was the closet spot to the edge of the earth with a navigators school and everything.
- The Algarve Ocean Revival Project is the world’s biggest artificial reef structure and consists of four bottom dwelling warships.