Summer on the Beach: The Algarve

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

To most, it's a land of factor 30 and golf. But there's plenty to get you out of the resorts, says Kate Simon

The communal pool at Parque da Floresta is packed today. The transient population of this holiday housing estate has turned out en masse, rubber rings at the ready. It's a squeeze to find a vacant sunbed around its shapely edges.

Those few who are not slapping on the factor 30 are on the golf course, improving their handicap, or maybe not, and perhaps hoping to rub shoulders with one of the resident football superstars at the 19th hole. The Algarve has fly, flop and sporting fun down to a T.

But there are more ways to see this coast than along the shaft of a five iron or from a lilo in the resort pool. Away from the package-holiday hubs lie rocky coves and dune-backed sands where surfers battle with the Atlantic waves. There are fantastic nature reserves where birdwatchers flock and walkers step out, and there are fishing villages that still bring in the daily catch and haven't entirely given themselves up to the tourist euro.

You could ignore the beach altogether and follow a historic trail to the old Moorish capital of Silves. Then there's the 13th-century fortress at Sagres where Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) studied the art of seafaring before becoming one of the great patrons of exploration. And there's the Roman bridge at Tavira. You could spend a night at the elegant new pousada in Estoi, housed in a restored 19th-century palace.

But these impressive diversions are unlikely to make you turn your back on the sea; its warm waters seduce bathers well into the autumn months. This is the real secret of the Algarve's success: summer doesn't shut up shop in September. This is the place to come for the last rays of Europe's sun.

The beaches

It's all about the beach here, but which one? The bays and coves west of Portimao lace the coast connecting the quieter, tourist-friendly fishing villages of Luz, Burgau and Salema. They lead to broader sweeps of sand on the wind-blown Atlantic at Belixe and Martinhal, popular with the surfing crowd. In the east, beach islands in the lagoon of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa entice hardcore sunseekers.

A day off the beach

Leave the coast behind to climb the wooded slopes of the Serra de Monchique, by foot or in the car. A forest of cork, chestnut and eucalyptus trees leads the way to the charming town of Monchique and the spa resort of Caldas de Monchique, which dates from the 19th century. If you're feeling fit, make your way to the highest point, Foia, for spectacular views across the coast.

The nature reserve

Follow one of the marked trails into the wetlands of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa to explore this landscape of lagoons, sand islands and salt marshes. This is one of the most important wetlands on the Iberian peninsula. Migrating birds, including flamingos and the elusive purple gallinule, alight here – visitors can watch them from hides. There are Roman ruins to discover, too.

The resorts

The Algarve isn't overwhelmed by hot spots such as Albufeira and Carvoeiro. In Tavira, you can stroll around streets of atmospheric, crumbling 18th-century buildings with ornate wrought-iron balconies. Discover the Moorish houses beyond the riverside gardens in Olhao and explore the cobbled streets of Faro's old town. Sail from the fishing port of Lagos and discover grottos and weird pillars of rock fashioned by the elements. You can also sense the end-of-the-world feel at Sagres, departure point for Portugal's great global explorers.

Compact facts

How to get there

British Airways (ba.com) flies to Faro from £213 return. Keytel (020-7616 0300; keytel.co.uk) offers five nights at Sao Bras pousada from £445 per person, based on two sharing.

Further information

Contact the Portugal Tourist Board at visitportugal.com

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones