An alternative Algarve:
The country of Portugal and especially the southern region of the Algarve; are popular places to go for a holiday. The welcoming climate and long sandy beaches are a perfect place to feel happy and relaxed.
Yet, do you feel fed up with the madding crowds of tourists? Are you exhausted from baking on the beach like a ‘Lagosta’ in the local ‘taberna’? Do you want to experience local life; instead of visiting the seemingly transplanted English bars? Do you want to taste the local seafood; instead of the familiar ‘fish & chips’?
Come, come and explore an alternative Algarve.
Check yourself in to a good honest family run hotel; forego the temptation of a late bar, get to sleep as early as you can. So the next morning when you wake up before the alarm; you will hopefully be met by a beautiful sunrise at breakfast.
Do not lie in your bed or return there after breakfast; you can do this on any rainy day in your own country. Have a quick shower to freshen yourself; clean those teeth and get out the hotel long before the cleaners even arrive to your floor.
The Algarve can become unbearably hot from spring until autumn for most northern Europeans. Yet by getting out early to explore the local area is one way of escaping the heat. Or using the midday; to travel in a air-conditioned car. Yet another alternative Algarve trick; is to go to higher cooler places, or find the cool westerly breezes that blow in off the Atlantic.
Voyage / Viagem
For most, the easiest way to get to the Algarve is via aeroplane to the airport at Faro. Low cost flights fly here from all over Europe and beyond. If you can, try to book a flight that arrives at a quieter time; to avoid the stress of the queues at passport control.
Leaving the airport; don’t be lazy and order an expensive taxi or direct airport transfer. The public transport system in Portugal; is as good as any in Europe. In Faro airport; you can walk from the arrivals door to a bus stop in two minutes. Where you will find regular buses that will take you to the nearest bus and rail stations. Personally, I found a brilliant family run hotel on Faro beach; just a ten minute bus ride from the airport: https://www.aeromar.net/en.
From where I could reach every part of the Algarve within a few hours.
Therefore, if you need to travel out of the way places; there are many hire car companies at Faro airport. Waiting to the last minute; using website discounts; only hiring the car midweek or just the days you really need it; can all make a hire car a very reasonable form of transport.
If you are going further afield, up the country, to Lisbon and Porto or Spain; then there are regular trains at reasonable prices from Faro train station. For example: a single from Faro to Lisbon in a high speed train; costs me less than £30. In England, a similar distance of 170+ miles on a train; would cost three to four times the amount!
Happy feet off the hot sandy beaches
Although, the idea of lying on one of the many sandy beaches of the Algarve seems dreamy. In reality, the hot sand can burn your feet as the dangerous solar rays cook the rest of you. Relaxing under a parasol whilst reading a good book and taking a dip in the sea can help; as well as the necessary sunscreen. Yet, sometimes it is best to escape the beaches and the crowds and head inland.
In the Algarve, you will find a rich rural hinterland; with orange and lemon groves, quaint white-washed villages and various viewpoints. Hire a car and follow directions to highly recommended restaurant. Climb one of the many hills of the Algarve; such as the mountain of Fóia. Check out my route on this mountain here: Trilho da Fóia (Track of Foia)
Or just go for a joyride through the landscape and experience the big bit of Portugal that comes after the beach.
The wild west coast
There is a whole country to explore beyond the southern shores of Portugal. If you have to stay in the Algarve to catch a return flight home; the quieter west coast is worth exploring. Being bashed by Atlantic swells and gales; the west coast has a more rugged coastline. With countless coves and slightly more inaccessible but deserted beaches. There is a long distance walking path called the Fisherman’s Trail; as well as numerous towns and villages to explore. Check out my walk to a quiet west coast beach here: Castelo Aljezur & Praia Amoreira on the Fisherman’s Trail.
Going further north, above Lisbon; you can explore the Silver coast and then the Green coast; more info here: https://www.visitportugal.com/en. Both of which are much quieter options and an ‘alternative Algarve’. For example: approximately halfway up the west coast of Portugal is the coastal town of Nazaré. A place known for its big wave surfing; where waves of over 80ft have been surfed! If you cannot even stand up on a surfboard; you can still enjoy a stroll on the beach and watch man pit himself against the full force of nature!
You cannot come to Portugal and the Algarve without tasting the local food. I made a conscious effort to not enter any restaurant with a English menu outside. I stayed away from the more attractive but expensive restaurants on the main thoroughfares and followed the locals to where they eat.
I tried to eat many different seafood dishes in the Algarve; from the juicy bowls of Cataplana, grilled sardines to the countless ways to cook ‘Bacalhau’ or cod. Arriving to Porto in the north; I couldn’t resist the taste of a ‘Francesinha’: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/user/213143/recipe/francesinha
Going up the country
If you are in no rush to go home; why not hop on a train to Lisbon? The centre of Lisbon has some sights worth seeing; from its trams to old architecture. Yet at times, the amount of tourists seems too much; like a Kafkaesque theme park of foreign travel. So I enjoyed escaping to the modern expo district that stretch along the banks of the Tagus River.
I relaxed in the calm of the Hotel Art: https://www.vipartshotel.com/en/ . I enjoyed a gentle jog along the wide promenade by the river or relaxing in the calm of the aquarium: https://www.oceanario.pt/en/ .
Heading further north on the train; I arrived to the world famous city of Porto and the Douro Valley. Where instead of following the crowds to the the expensive wine tasting bars; I went for a walk in the hills: Douro Valley Vineyard Walk
To the beach
So if you really must just escape to the beach and forget about trying to do much on a holiday. Then why not choose a beach far off the beaten track? Looking on a map there are various islands off the coast of the Algarve; between Faro and the Spanish border. Culatra, Tavira and the Armona Island are all within easy reach via a boat from the town of Olhão.
Pack a picnic and a parasol then arrive early for the ferry in Olhão port. Then when you have got to a island; keep walking away from the boat terminal until you find your own secret spot to relax.