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’s surrounded by two sides of the Atlantic. It offers a surfers’ paradise on the southwest coast and a natural, authentic and undeveloped east coast.
The tourist hotspot is right in the middle. It’s here, you’ll find the newly developed condos and resorts being built in close proximity to those gorgeous beaches. Where you will find lots of shopping, restaurants, water-sport activities and nightlife.
The further inland you go is where you will find the historic white-washed towns, the rolling countryside and farmland with its cork and olive groves. This is where it eventually meets up with the Alentejo region, known as the new Tuscany.
When to go
If you are looking to avoid the large crowds and the intense heat, visit in the shoulder season. April to June or September to October. This time will still allow you to enjoy the warm temperatures of the air and the sea.
Portugal’s rainy season is November and December. And January is its coldest month of the year.
But, why not consider Portugal your late winter holiday escape. I visited at end of February into early March. Even though it was too cold to swim, it was sunny and almost 20 degrees every day. Just perfect for this Canadian girl.
Places to see
Olhão is essentially a fishing port. But is experiencing a lot of vitalization. The preservation of the small historic town is underway with the restoration of many of its original buildings from 16th to 18th centuries. It also features a lively daily Mercado, or market. The local fishermen deliver the fresh catch of the day before sunrise.
Olhão is 10 minutes from Casa Modesta
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
In the eastern part of the Algarve you find 18,000 hectors of protected land. Its unique bird-filled lagoons and tiny islands make up the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. 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. It serves as an important stop-over point in the migration routes between Europe and Africa.
Culatra is an authentic fishing village, only assessible by boat. Residents maintain a traditional way of life here, no cars and no modern amenities. The residents who continue to reside on this island live a very quiet and simple way of life. If you are visiting the island, plan a beach day on this remote setting.
The charming town of Tavira has the slow flowing River Gilão cut through its center. Here you will find the traditional whitewash buildings with coloured borderlines and cobbled squares and pathways. It features many historical landmarks dating back to the 13th to 17th centuries.
Tavira is 20 minutes from Casa Modesta
Faro is the biggest city in the Algarve. Worth visiting is the picturesque cidade velha (or old town). You enter through this part of the city through a stately tunnel passage with 1,000-year-old stonework. Here, you can easily spend a couple of hours just wandering the streets. Here you will find the beautiful ruins of old buildings and doors.
Faro is 30 minutes from Casa Modesta
Beaches to visit
There are more than 150 beaches in this region. Here are the most popular and beautiful beaches in the western part of the region.
Praia Da Marinha
Praia do Carvalho
Praia Do Camilo
Praia da Falésia
Where to stay
Our home base for the next 5 days was at the modern retreat of Casa Modesta. This retreat is located in the Ria Formosa just outside the town of Olhão. When you arrive, you are welcomed by the owner, Carlos Fernandes. He shares his 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 and bar area, complete with a centuries old bread oven and wine cellar. The second building features a small lounge and reception area as well as dining hall. This is where you will be treated to the best breakfast before you start your day exploring Algarve region.
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.
As a holidaymaker…
I hope this has inspired your planning to the Algarve region. There is much to explore, so give yourself several days to see how much this region has to offer.