Pure shores: 10 top Portuguese beaches

Do you want challenging waves or sheltered bays? Sophie Lam selects the best stretches of sand for rest and play

1 Vila Praia da Ancora, Costa Verde

1 Vila Praia da Ancora, Costa Verde

Portugal's "green coast" in the northern, Minho region, extends from the Spanish border to the city of Porto and is characterised by wild beaches that are popular with surfers and windsurfers alike. The beaches north of Viana do Castelo are among the country's prettiest, in particular the stretch at the fishing town of Vila Praia de Ancora, which offers calm water for swimmers. Protected from harsh winds off the Atlantic by the Serra d'Arga hills to the north and the Monte de Santa Luzia to the south, it is particularly popular with bathers during the summer.

How to get there

Magic of Portugal (0870-888 0222; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers seven nights' b&b at the Pousada Viana do Castelo in nearby Viana do Castelo in July or August from £669 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights to Porto or Lisbon from London Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester (the latter incurs a £50 supplement) on TAP Air Portugal or GB Airways, with daily departures, and a week's car hire. The pousada's facilities include a swimming pool, a gym and tennis courts. Magic of Portugal is offering a 10 per cent discount on all holidays booked and taken this summer.

2 Adraga and Baleal, Costa de Prata

Further south between Porto and Lisbon there's a change of colour and we're on the "silver coast" with its white sandy beaches which are equally popular with watersports enthusiasts and sunbathers. The beach at Adraga, near Sintra, set between two hills and accessed via a steep, winding road, is popular with surfers. So is the fishing port of Peniche, a little further north. For calmer waters head for the stretch of unspoilt sand further east at Baleal.

How to get there

Caravela (0870-443 8181; www.caravela .co.uk) is offering seven nights' b&b at the Hotel Ofir in Ofir at the mouth of the River Cavado, on the Costa de Prata. The cost is £565 per adult and £120 per child sharing with two adults. The price includes return flights from London Gatwick or Heathrow to Porto on TAP Air Portugal, with daily departures, and a week's car hire. The hotel's facilities include two swimming pools, tennis courts, gym, football pitch, and access to the Surf School de Viana and two golf clubs.

3 Estoril and Cascais, Costa de Lisboa

Just below the Costa de Prata is the Costa de Lisboa, where residents of Lisbon flock to escape the city heat on summer weekends. The ritzy town of Estoril is the principle destination, with casinos, upmarket hotels and five beaches lined with bars and restaurants. The water is calmer than along Portugal's main stretches of coastline, because the beaches face south. Just to the west lies Cascais, about a 20-minute walk away, again popular with Lisbon escapees. There, Praia de Guincho is considered one of the country's best beaches for windsurfing, whereas Praia da Rainha and Praia de Ribeira are more popular with families.

How to get there

Cadogan Holidays (02380 828310; www.cadoganholidays.com) is offering seven nights' b&b in the five-star Senhora da Guia hotel in Cascais in July or August for £882 per adult and £494 per child sharing with two adults. The price includes return flights with British Airways from London Heathrow to Lisbon, with daily departures, and transfers to the hotel. The hotel's facilities include an outdoor seawater pool, six golf courses, tennis courts and a health club. There are regular train connections from Lisbon to Estoril and Cascais from Estacao Cais do Sondre.

4 Praia da Caparica, Costa de Lisboa

The Costa da Caparica to the south of Lisbon has nearly 30km of calm water and sandy beaches. It is popular with city-dwellers and the beaches can get crowded during the summer and at weekends. Nevertheless, the calm sea and large sweeps of sand lend an air of Rio de Janeiro and there are plenty of bars and restaurants in which to sip a cool drink during the midday sun. Caparica itself is a fishing village with brightly coloured sardine boats moored offshore and there is an open-carriage railway running along the coast linking the beaches. The coast can also be reached via the Ponte 25 de Abril, the suspension bridge from Lisbon.

How to get there

Pousadas de Portugal (020-7616 0307; www.pousadas.pt) runs the Setubal pousada in the port of the same name, south-east of Caparica. A 17th-century fortress converted to accommodate guests, it offers b&b in July and August at £62.50 per person Sunday to Thursday and £69 Saturday and Sunday. There is a 15 per cent room supplement for children aged three to 12 years and a free cot is provided for children under two. British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com) flies to Lisbon from London Heathrow. A return flight in mid-July costs about £140 for adults and children. A week's car hire from Lisbon airport, booked through Budget Car Rental (0870-153 9170; www.budget.co.uk) costs from £165.

5 Santo Andre, Alentejo

Alentejo's coastline, just above the Algarve, is relatively short. However, its beaches are incredibly popular, not least because two tranquil lagoons offer calm, warm waters for swimmers. The beach at Santo Andre is set on the largest lagoon, separated from the Atlantic by a strip of sand.

How to get there

The Individual Traveller (08700 773773; www.indiv-travellers.com) rents out a villa in Vila Nova de Milfontes, at the mouth of the River Mira, a short drive south from the lagoons and a short walk from the beaches around the estuary of the River Mira. Seven nights' self-catering costs £841 in July or August, including a week's car hire. The one-bedroom villa sleeps four, with sofa beds in the living room, and has a terrace, use of swimming pool and tennis courts. Flights are not included, but can be booked through The Individual Traveller. A return flight to Lisbon with British Airways in late July costs about £243 return, departing Saturdays.

6 Praia da Rocha, Algarve

The Algarve is the best-known stretch of Portugal's coast, with Albufeira and Vilamoura among the area's favourite resorts. Its beaches of white sand lapped by calm turquoise waters are hugely popular. But it is still possible to find some less visited and relatively quiet beaches. Praia da Rocha is a good example, located east of Lagos, near Portimao. The sandy beach is backed by remarkable ochre cliffs.

How to get there

Portuguese Affair (020-7385 4775; www.portugueseaffair.com) offers a week at the two-bedroom Casa Petit, between Portimao and Carvoeiro, between 17 July and 27 August, for £1,169. The villa, which sleeps four, has a terrace, garden and swimming pool. The Carvoeiro Tennis and Fitness Club is nearby. Portuguese Affair can also arrange flights and car hire. A chartered return flight from London Gatwick to Faro in mid-July costs around £220.

7 Tavira, Algarve

A quieter beach on the Algarve can be found at Tavira, near the border with Andalusia in Spain. The town has distinct Moorish influences, although much of the architecture was destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755, which destroyed Lisbon and killed an estimated 60,000 people in and around the city. The town has links to the nearby island of Ilha da Tavira, which has got fine sandy beaches. There are also three isolated beaches nearby, which are separated from the town by an arm of the Ria Formosa and accessed by boat from Tavira: Cabanas and Conceicao to the east and Barill to the west.

How to get there

Simply Travel (020-8541 2207; www.simplytravel.com) offers the Casa Roberto apartment in Santa Luzia, which has a sandy beach, a short distance to the west of Tavira. The apartment, which has two balconies, sleeps up to four people and has capacity for children. The cost is £565 per person in July and August, based on four sharing. The price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Faro on Monarch Airlines and a week's car hire. Departures on Sundays.

8 Salema, Algarve

Salema is a laid-back fishing village in the western Algarve, between Sagres and Lagos, which has retained a traditional atmosphere despite increased tourism. The long sandy beach sits between two cliffs, providing a relatively secluded area for swimming. The calm waters make this an ideal spot for families and the beach has been awarded a blue flag for cleanliness. The beach is reached from the village via a narrow valley. Fishermen go about their daily work among the bathers, with their colourful boats moored offshore.

How to get there

Exclusively Algarve (01223 568907; www.lightbluetravel.co.uk) is offering the three-bedroom Casa Caravelha, with terrace and pool, for £495 per person for the week of 15 August, based on four sharing (sleeps up to seven). Price includes chartered flights from Gatwick to Faro and a week's car hire.

9 Porto Santo, off Madeira

The Portuguese island of Madeira has sharp, angular cliffs, so head for its tiny neighbour, Porto Santo, 75km to the north-east, which has a golden sandy beach along its southern coast. Life is simpler here, with just a handful of hotels and some good local restaurants.

How to get there

The island can be reached by plane, which takes about 15 minutes from Madeira. Aeroscope (01608 650103; www.aeroscope-madeira.co.uk) offers seven nights' b&b in July at the Vila Baleira Spa Hotel near Vila Baleira town from £566 for adults and £368 for children. The price includes return flights with GB Airways from London Gatwick via Funchal, with daily departures. The hotel is a purpose-built thalassotherapy centre, with an indoor seawater pool, hydromassage, foot baths, massages, sauna and facials.

10 Santa Maria, the Azores

The Azores archipelago in the Atlantic has nine islands. The only beach option is Santa Maria, the most southerly island, which has two sandy shores, Praia Formosa and Sao Lourenco. Summer temperatures average a pleasant 23C.

How to get there

Sunvil Discovery (020-8758 4770; www.sunvil.co.uk) offers accommodation at the Hotel Praia de Lobos in Vila do Porto on the south-west of the island. Although the hotel is not on a beach, Praia Formosa is 7km away and Sao Lourenco is 18km and cars or bicycles can be hired. At only 17km long and 10km wide, the island is easily explored, and taxis are relatively cheap. Eight nights' b&b at the three-star Hotel Praia de Lobos during July and August costs £761 per adult and £570 per child sharing a double room. The price includes return flights with TAP Air Portugal and SATA from London Heathrow or Gatwick via Lisbon, transfers and a night in Lisbon.

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