Discover the Undiscovered Side of The Algarve…
When most people think of a holiday to Portugal, they think of The Western Algarve, an undeniably beautiful destination fringed with golden beaches, turquoise seas, hotel luxury and amazingly fresh fish. Or the big cities like Lisbon and Oporto, both resplendent architecturally, culturally and definitely when it comes to the culinary. But people you are missing a trick! And perhaps I shouldn’t give Secret Portugal away like this, however I am nice, so I am going to share.
That’s right. Or rather left as you exit Faro airport. The resorts of the west are all good and well but they are overcrowded in peak season, and often, sadly over-commercialised on a scale that’s beginning to rival even the likes of Magaluf!
But the Eastern Algarve on the other hand, is for me, the true Algarve. Unspoiled, rolling hills of cork and almond trees, practically deserted coastline and incredible salt marshes (with a cornucopia of awesome wildlife) make for some of the most incredible vistas in all of the Mediterranean. This area may be small geographically, but does it ever pack a punch when it comes to a holiday.
Without wishing to take too much advantage of the economic situation which has effected Portugal deeply, there has never been a better time to make your own vacation budget stretch further whilst also helping the economy of the overlooked side of Southern Portugal.
Last year we did just that…
We hired the most idyllic villa complete with pool and fruit orchards via TripAdvisor. This cost a fraction of a week’s stay in a hotel where we’d be sharing the pool with Diving Daves, Bellyflopping Biancas and their stereos blaring out ‘let’s Marvyn Gaye and get it on’ – has there ever been a more annoying song?
Best move ever!
We had space, peace and quiet, lush green scenery, our own bounty of dried figs which continued to carpet the orchard’s floor – and we never needed to go on balcony duty ready to rush out with towel sausages to bagsy sunbeds at 7.30 in the morning. Perfect.
But if you’re after action, what is there to do?
We are categorically not the kind of people who glue themselves to the sun’s path from dusk til dawn, standing only to re-fill on Mateus Rose/realign with the optimum angle of the sun’s rays.
Activity was important. I don’t mean of the quad-biking type. Although I’d never decline an opportunity for that kind of fun. Rather, this part of Portugal is bejeweled with quaint little towns and villages.
Places like the unassuming Sao Bras de Alportel.
This was the closest place to us for shops and cafes. And an absolute joy. The pasteis de nata in the eateries flanking the square were to die for. The view from the 16th century igreja matriz (parish church) overlooking orange groves and valleys was exquisite, the town’s small but fascinating museum (Museu Etnografico do Trajo-Algarvio) a wonderful insight into past local life – and extremely kid friendly. And the cork tour was a simply beautiful way to learn more about this traditional craft which is still very much alive today whilst drinking in the stunning panorama.
Places like the inimitable Tavira.
Really, I have never been anywhere quite so uniquely adorable. Tavira is so charming. It straddles the Rio Gilão and will immediately entrance you with its hilltop castle, Roman bridge and a scatter of glorious churches.
Much like a Portuguese Venice, a day in this town is best spent wandering, getting lost, realising you are never far from the river and just taking in the fabulous surroundings, stopping as often as possible for the freshest and scrummiest fish/handmade ice cream/more pasteis de nata and frango no churrasco (grilled chicken quite unlike anything you will have ever sampled). This is also one of the best places in the Med for birdwatching, owing to the salt pans which border Tavira, as well as being a hub for kitesurfers from all over the world. Go now while it remains under wraps to most every tourist except the Portuguese. You are in for a treat!
Places like Olhão
One of the largest fishing ports on The Algarve, complete with a bustling waterfront and quaint streets, it is the perfect place to come for fish – whether you do so via the morning fish and vegetable market, or treat yourself in one of the renowned restaurants. Olhão also has a distinctly North African feel about it since many of its buildings have flat roofs and the remnants of former Moorish rule can be seen in pockets all over the town. Then when you tire of eating and meandering, there are the epic beaches! These can even be reached by ferries since they are in fact on the islands of Ilha de Farol, Ilha de Culatra and Ilha de Armona, all three happily and scantily clad with visitors, quite the epitome of R&R…
Places like Castro Marim
A picturesque border village littered with awesome fortifications, still relatively untouched by tourism but offering coastal gastronomy aplenty. From the Castelo which was built on the site of Roman and Moorish fortifications in order to spy on the Spanish many centuries ago, you get an incredible view stretching out over the salt pans and all the way to the Spanish border bridge. If you are lucky, you will even clock some flamingos dotted about on the marshes of the Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim. It really is a magical and tranquil place.
And if all of the above really isn’t enough for you… then come for the golf. Unlike the other end of The Algarve, the courses on the Eastern side aren’t dominated by tourists of a certain age and predisposition!
Truly, it had been a long time since a holiday had left me feeling so refreshed, spiritually re-charged (on account of the fabulous selection of Law of Attraction books which ‘just happened’ to be waiting for me on the bookshelves of the property’s entrance) and inspired to re-visit.
So if you are looking for something a little less ordinary and a little more off the beaten track this year, a trip to Tavira and its surroundings comes highly – very highly – recommended!