Portugal, Spain

Exploring the Algarve Region in Portugal

Almost everyone goes to the Algarve Region for its beautiful golden beaches. You know the ones with the soaring cliffs, the turquoise waters, the sea caves and unusual rock formations. And why not, it is surrounded by two sides of the Atlantic, it offers a surfers’ paradise on the southwest coast and a natural, authentic and undeveloped east coast, with the tourist hotspot right in the middle. That is where you will find the newly developed villas, condos and resorts being built in close proximity to the gorgeous beaches. It is also where you will find lots of shopping, restaurants, watersport activities and nightlife. When you visit this region in Portugal’s winter season, like we did, you will have the beaches all to yourself. And, this Canadian girl loved the warm sunshine and 20 degree temperature in February! The further inland you go is where you will find the historic white-washed villages, the rolling countryside and farmland with its cork and olive groves, this is where it eventually meets up with the Alenjeto region.

We stayed in the east, where you find 18,000 hectors of protected land, with bird-filled lagoons, islands of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and the authentic fishing village of Cacela Velha. The Ria Formosa lagoon is a system of barrier islands that connect the sea through 6 inlets. This is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal, hosting on a regular basis more than 20,000 during the winter period. As well as being an important stop-over point in the migration routes between Europe and Africa. This part of the Algarve, which is not as well-known to tourists, is oh so beautiful, and it is no wonder that it has been elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal.

Photo credit: portugalresident.com
Walking the inlets at sunset

Our home base for the next 5 days was at the modern retreat of Casa Modesta located in Ria Formosa just outside the town of Olhão. We were welcomed by the owner, Carlos Fernandes, who shared the unique family story of how this 9-suite retreat came to be while providing a tour. Built on the site of his grandparents’ family home, it was named after his mother, Modesta Maria. Designed by Carlos’s sister, who is a local architect, Casa Modesta consists of two whitewashed buildings that offer guests a common kitchen/bar area, featuring the original bread oven and the other bulding is where we dined and had a small lounge/reception area. Every room, ours was #9, offers a large private terrace where you can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset. The interior design includes a mix of traditional materials, like the terracotta floor tiles, but is decorated with modern elements as well as family heirlooms. And lastly, the brother of Carlos, is the wonderful host and cook who will prepare the most delicious daily breakfast. Guests are also offered the option for making reservations to join for dinner. We did, and it was by far the best meal we enjoyed while in Portugal.  

Our terrace sunrise views
Sunset swim perhaps?

Olhão

The ferry from Olhão links the town with a number of barrier islands – long, narrow strips of sand that shelter the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa from the open sea. The Culatra village, only assessible by boat, has maintained a traditional way of life (there are no cars) by its residents. There is not much there, but you do get to see how residents live a very quiet and simple way of life. Back on the mainland, Olhão, is essentially a fishing port but there is lots of vitalization happening here.  The preservation of the small historic town is underway with the restoration of many of its original buildings from 16th to 18th centuries. The parish church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, built in 17th century, is the most prominent historical building in the charming old town. Also, the Mercado is a lively daily market, where to this day, the local fishermen deliver the fresh catch of the day before sunrise.

Olhão is 10 minutes from Casa Modesta

Exploring the traditional Culatra village, only accessible by boat
The parish church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário built in 17th century
Catching the beautiful sunset on the port and the pier

Tavira

Set on either side of the slow flowing Rio (river) Gilão lies the most charming town. Here you will find the traditional whitewash buildings with coloured borderlines and cobbled squares and pathways. It is extremely close to the Spanish border, and is a definite must-visit city when you are in this region. Tavira was rebuilt in the 13th century, after the town was recaptured from the Moors, you can still see the deep-rooted Moorish influence today. The castle, partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, offers wonderful city views. An entire day can easily be spent here wandering the old city, or even perhaps sending time at the beach.

Tavira is 20 minutes from Casa Modesta

Faro

This is the biggest city in the Algarve, and often overlooked, but what is worth visiting is the picturesque cidade velha (old town). You enter through the a very stately tunnel passage with 1,000-year-old stonework, and can easily spend a couple of hours just wandering the streets. Most check out the Faro Cathedral and Igreja do Carmo which features the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones); and there are many restaurants in this city.

Faro is 30 minutes from Casa Modesta

The entrance into the old city is through this tunnel
Outside the old city, street filled with shops and restaurants under the large sails to provide some shade from the hot sun

The Beaches

There are more than 150 beaches in this region. The most popular, and for good reason, are Praia Da Marinha, Praia do Carvalho and the nearby Benagil Caves, which can only be reached by sea, Praia Do Camilo offers gorgeous rock formations and Praia da Falésia is a long stretch of beach. Because we visited during their winter season, we essentially had the entire beach to ourselves. But come summer time, I can only image how busy these beaches get.

Praia Da Marinha
Praia Do Camilo
Praia da Falésia
Praia da Falésia

I hope this has inspired your planning to the Algarve region. There is much to explore so give yourself a few days to see how much this region has to offer. 

20 Comments

  • Nic

    We’ve only visited Lisbon and the area around the city in Portugal and that was our first trip abroad together over 10 years ago! But since then we’ve always wanted to return and see more of the country. The coast down here reminds me of the Great Ocean road near Melbourne but I also love these towns too, so much character.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      We also went to Lisbon, maybe that is my next post! Yes, we shared the same impression of seeing more of the country in a return trip. I have not been to Melbourne, but that sounds wonderful if the Algarve reminds you of it.

  • Marvi

    Wow.. Everything looks charming in Algarve. 🙂 I definitely love how you had the beach all to yourself. Those rock formations look amazing.. And Casa Modesto looks relaxing too. The host sounds wonderful too what with him cooking breakfast for guests. 🙂

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Glad you like it Marvi. It indeed was wonderful to have the beach to ourselves! And, what a beach it was. Thank you for stopping by my site and taking the time to comment.

  • Amy

    As a fellow Canadian, I can appreciate the warm weather in February as a major draw!! Those beaches are absolutely stunning, and I have heard nothing but amazing things about Portugal in general. Casa Modesta sounds exactly like a place we search for, I love the personal touches and small scale service. Would love to visit someday!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks for commenting fellow Canadian 😉! Yes, it is definitely worth looking into when our winters seem to drag on, it is the most pleasant and welcomed weather. I hope you get to experience one day soon. Thanks for commenting.

  • Heather

    I haven’t been to Portugal (yet) and hadn’t heard of Faro yet but I have to go there! Those beautiful doors and picturesque walks with cool visuals. They are amazing…old towns usually are, but Faro looks extra incredible!!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, don’t you just love those doors?! I hope you get to travel to Portugal one day, especially if you love charming, picturesque towns as there are many! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Yara

    How timely! I’m planning a trip to Portugal in the fall, and Algarve is high on my list. Tavira was not on my radar and I’m so glad I read through this – because I definitely see myself exploring for a day or two. Thanks for a great post!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I am so glad it inspired you to check out Tavira, it is definitely a charming town in that area. If you want to check out another post I have, it features the Alentejo region and there are a lot of wonderful places there to check out too. Enjoy your trip to Portugal, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

  • Yukti

    Algarve region in Portugal is really worth visiting with all those incredible rocky beaches, rustic colorful towns. I loved the colorful houses in Tavira. I am saving your post.

  • Joanne

    We’ll be visiting Lisbon and the Algarve in July and I can’t wait to check out a few of these locations! The Benegil Caves and Praia Da Marinha are definitely on our list but we’re also going to check out a few more of the beaches you mentioned.

  • Alison

    Your photos are beautiful. Something about Portugal just gets in your soul. I too loved Faro and would love to have explored Tavira but ended up going west to Carvoeiro which was beautiful. Thanks for the post, reminding me what a treasure Portugal is and how many little corners there are to explore. Another Canadian who loved the warmth there!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much fellow Canadian! I appreciate your kind words and pleased that it brought back some memories.

  • Stephanie

    Well…this just shot to the top of my bucket list! I’ve only ever been to Lisbon and it was for a 12 hour layover. The Algarve Region looks absolutely STUNNING! You’ve done an amazing job capturing it and created a true sense of “get there now!” Also, thanks for including a little bit about each section of the region. It makes trip planning that much easier, as I haven’t seen a whole lot of travel guides or posts on this region!

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