Portugal is the hidden gem of Europe, and the Algarve is the hidden gem of Portugal. With more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, It’s seriously an absolute dream. Between the breathtaking coastline and majestic coves and grottos, to the deep blue waters and stunning beaches, the Algarve is truly unlike anywhere else and is an absolute must if you’re planning a trip to Portugal. Whether you’re a surfer, beach lover, or adventurer, the charming beach towns of the Algarve will absolutely steal your heart. They’ve definitely stolen mine.
We arrived to Algarve by train from Lisbon, and it was super easy. It’s also a beautiful way to view the country from your window en route. Once we arrived we rented a car. **I highly suggest renting a car if you’re wanting to hop around between the different towns and beaches. I wouldn’t suggest relying on public transportation, because it will really limit what you are able to see and do.** There are plenty of your standard car rental options, as well as some smaller ones only in the Algarve that will drive you to your hotel from the train or airport!
There are SO many different adorable towns and beach cities in the Algarve, but here are my top three:
Lagos (pronounced lah go sh) Portugal is unlike any other place I’ve visited. It’s a cute, quaint little beach town with great restaurants, bars and beautiful scenery. Sounds pretty typical, right? What makes Lagos so unique is that it’s set near massive cliffs against bright turquoise waters with caves and giant rock formations popping up out of the water everywhere. The architecture, street-art, and intricately tiled sidewalks reminded us of everything I loved so much about Lisbon.
WHAT TO DO:
Explore Praia do Camilo: Praia do Camilo has amazing hiking trails at the top, so you can see all the cliffs and coastline into the next town over, Portimão. It is 200 stairs down to the beach, so be prepared for the leg workout on the way back up, but the beach is absolutely beautiful and surrounded by the most breathtaking rocks. Also you can take a cliff side walk from Praia do Camilo all the way to Ponta de Piedad. (*sidenote we decided to wait until we got we to Ponta de Piedad for drone footage, as we thought it would be better, but if bringing a drone, I recommend using it here).
Hike around Ponta de Piedad : Ponta da Piedade is my favorite spot in all of Lagos. The most picturesque spot where giant rocky cliffs meet the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. From the top, it’s absolutely breathtaking and it’s so fun to hike around and explore. There are so many different views and angles you can walk around and see. It’s a photographer’s dream. You can also hop in a boat from here to take a tour through the grottos.
Praia dos Estudantes: I had seen pictures of this beach, when combing through spots, I wanted to visit in Lagos, but had no idea where this bridge on the beach that I had seen so many times on Instagram was actually located. Luckily, while having lunch one day, I saw it right in front of me (I was like, “winning!”). Right off the main drag in Lagos, where all the restaurants, shopping and bars are, just past the old fortress, I stumbled upon Estudantes beach, where the bridge connecting two cliffs is located.
Where to Stay:
Hands down you must stay at La Quinta Bonita. I have never been to the Italian countryside, but I imagine it to be as breathtaking and look similar to the grounds of La Quinta Bonita. Pulling up to this hotel, through the wrought iron gate, you enter into what used to be a family’s vacation home that has been passed on through generations. Chantel decided to turn her family’s summer getaway into her year-round home and share the amazing property with all of us (lucky us!), by turning the main home into a lovely hotel. It has all the amenities one could need for luxury, but nothing cookie cutter. Set amidst lush landscape, oranges and lemons are grown on the grounds, and an Italian garden that could have been the set for the movie “Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil” sits right below the new Yoga studio. It’s just nuts how nice the staff and hotel are. Stay there. Period.
Where to Eat:
Casa Do Prego: Serving up perfectly cooked Portuguese-style steaks and a variety of tapas starters, Casa Do Prego is quality with a capital Q. The service is also excellent which makes the whole experience even better – as you arrive, your name is taken down by a walkie-talkie-clad maître D’ and you are sent upstairs to their rooftop terrace to enjoy a drink (Mocktail) while you wait for a table.
The Greenroom: A festive atmosphere, massive portions, great drinks, and drool-inducing grub? Count me in! The Greenroom is a buzzing Mexican café and definitely classified as value-for-money because we were stuffed like two taxidermy peacocks by the end of our meal. The burrito bowls are a great no-carb option with all the same yumminess minus the tortilla, and the quesadillas are the stuff of cheesy dreams.
A sea of white houses sit atop the golden cliffs of Carvoeiro, a small town in the Western Algarve. This former fishing village became a popular holiday destination in the 1960’s, thanks to its stunning natural landscape and its paradisiacal cove beach. Carvoeiro has three main streets and a small square. There is one road that gives access to the square in front of the beach, another one connecting it to the city of Lagos, and the other along the coastline which has most of the restaurants in town. Get lost in the small streets and admire the beautiful facades and houses. Look out for electrical boxes on the street that are turned into fun pieces of art, or just sit down, relax and enjoy the Portuguese sun.
What To Do :
Get your sun on at Praia da Marinha: Praia da Marinha is the most epic and beautiful beach not far from Cavoeiro. There is a giant stretch of classic beach, so there’s plenty of room to spread out. But then there is a whole area that’s basically like a giant natural playground. There are tons of rocks to walk around and climb on and various caves and coves to walk into. There’s also lots of crabs around, so if you like sea life, be sure to spend some time over on the rocky side.
Carvoiero Boardwalk to Algar Seco: The boardwalk looks like it goes on forever but it’s not bad at all once you’re on it – so don’t be put off by the length of it as you see it twisting and turning in the distance! It’s a pleasant, short stroll along the ocean and leads to the town centre by the beach. About mid-way through the boardwalk you’ll notice some stairs tailing off, follow this and you’ll find the caves. There are steps cut into the rock formations that are perfectly fine to use, but be warned it does look scary. When you reach the caves, you’ll see it’s the optimal place to watch the sunset… just make sure to get back up to the boardwalk before its dark as there are no lights! Also be sure to check out the “Window to the sea” the perfect photo op!
Get on A Boat with Algarexperience: If you comb the internet like me, before a trip. You will see millions of pictures of the Benagil Caves, and what is thought to be a not to miss spot. What you won’t know or find, is that is not easy to get to. That being said Benagil to me is one of those overrated or over-publicized places in a location that’s full of beautiful places. That’s in no small part thanks to people like me and Instagram, but there are definitely other beautiful places to check out in the Algarve. Either way I wanted to see it, and thanks to Algarexperience, I got to see the caves, as well as many other beautiful beaches along the coast that are only accessible by boat. Included on this boat also was a fabulous barbecue at a private beach.
Where to Stay:
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to stay in Carvoeiro, but there seem to be plenty of great options! If we went back to the Algarve, we’d probably choose to spend a couple of nights in this beautiful little city. However, we were fortunate to have a rental car at our disposal, which made exploring from our home base of the hotel Dona Fillipa (see below) a breeze! Having a car isn’t a must if you’re content to soak up one spot and not explore all the Algarve has to offer, but I’d definitely recommend having one as the natural beauty and diversity of activities is immense. Our trusty rental provided us the opportunity to fully experience the fun, beauty and charm of places like Carvoeiro without jumping to different hotels.
Where to Eat:
Le Cro: restaurant is small, but the flavors are huge. Shane and I went here for date night and ended up ordering almost the entire menu. We didn’t intend to, but it all smelled so delicious that we couldn’t resist, and we didn’t stop when it came to desserts, because YOLO! What was not fun, was walking up the big hill back to our car after dinner. Make sure you contact them to reserve a table as it gets booked up incredibly quickly.
Ele and Ela: is an independently owned restaurant in the centre of Carvoeiro. It’s decor is relaxed with seats in the back for larger tables, and seats at the front which are situated under a covered terrace – perfect for those that enjoy a warm breeze with their meal. The menu is short, sweet and screams “eat me”. I mean how could I not, with items like chicken samosas with tzatziki drizzled over.
Vale De Labo
With never-ending sandy beaches and the Ria Formosa nature reserve on the doorstep, not to mention the charming old town of Faro just a short drive away, there is so much more on offer in this region of the Algarve than just playing golf, as I recently discovered when I stayed at the luxurious Dona Filipia Hotel.
What To Do:
Bike Ria Formoa Nature Park: Quinta do Lago lies on the edge of Ria Formosa Natural Park which covers an area of some 18,000 hectares. The park is protected from the sea by a series of islands and peninsulas with many stunning sandy beaches. Deemed a ‘wetland of international importance,’ and chosen as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, the park is a fabulous site for birdwatching, and we definitely saw many people with high-tech birdwatching gear. We booked a tour with Megasport Cycling Holidays, and had an amazing informative guide.
Zoo Marine: So I definitely got to cross one item off my bucket list when going to Zoo Marine. I know what you’re thinking, you’re an adult, why go to a theme park? But, participating in their “Dolphin Emotions” program, where I had the pleasure of not only learning more about the dolphins, but actually getting up close and personal with them. I swam with them, used hand gestures to communicate with them, and actually got pushed around by two of them as if I was on water skis. The cherry on top, at the end of this whole experience I actually got to meet the owner who is a spritely young 70 year old man, who still goes to work at the park everyday.
Isea Charter: Who doesn’t want to step aboard their own yacht with a captain and crew? This girl definitely was loving it! This excursion was probably the easiest, most relaxing and enjoyable that we were fortunate enough to experience while in the Algarve. From a boat in the marina, ISea takes you out to where their Luxurious 40 foot Catamaran yacht is anchored off shore. Captained by professional sailing instructor Bruno, and crewed by former Brazilian Olympic Sailing Team member Maria, these experienced and award winning professionals are as down to Earth as can be (we didn’t know about their accolades and accomplishments until we asked!). ISea provides a truly unique and personalized experience aboard a yacht that has every amenity you could want without distracting you from the beauty of the sea. The Yacht was ours for 4 hours, and Bruno gave us several options of where to go and what to do. It was so laid back and relaxing, yet exhilarating at the same time, wind in your face, standing at the prow of a 40 foot Catamaran that’s briskly but smoothly cruising over the ocean and lagoons of the Ria Formosa National Park.
I really can’t say enough about the ISea experience and would recommend it to anyone visiting the Faro area! Go on a cruise with Captain Bruno and you will NOT be disappointed, I assure you!
Where to Stay:
Dona Filipa Hotel: Located on an 18 hole golf course, and also next to a mini golf course aptly name “Par-Tee,” where you would more likely find me, is the perfect place to retreat to after a day spent navigating the beaches and the more touristy parts of Algarve.
At Dona Filipa there’s plenty of room to breathe, with spacious rooms, a stunning deck overlooking the pool and the beach where we took in an epic sunset of pink cotton candy skies, and caught up on a bit of work. The grounds feel sleek and modern while still incorporating nods here and there to its heritage. Also with a billiards room, and a piano on site, we found ourselves being serenaded by some golfers having a good time one evening.
Where to Eat:
The Dona Filipa, has two restaurants on site, Kamal and Dom Duarte restaurant as well as Duques Lounge Bar, where you may find yourself listening to some local live music, or some fans getting rowdy watching a soccer game, both of which we got to enjoy.
Casa Velha: As Quinta do Lago’s first ever culinary venue, Casa Velha is where it all began. Serving exquisite, Michelin-recommended cuisine, experience fine dining at its very best.
Casa Do Lago: Located on the edge of the lake, Casa do Lago serves fresh seafood bought from the local markets. Famed for its exquisite cuisine, the restaurant features an outdoor terrace, pool and fire pit.
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