Alvor and Western Algarve Break in February
Just back from sunny Algarve – two weeks in the sun (yes, in February). We stayed in the fishing village of Alvor – quiet but plenty of cafes, and restaurants open at this time of year. In Alvor we would recommend the Salsa Bistro and its companion restaurant Tango. Both serve excellent food – good variety and attentive staff. Salsa was very busy so book a table! Restaurante Ruccula is another favourite but very popular so book well in advance.
There is a lovely boardwalk around the salt estuary beside the fishing village of Alvor. This is a level circular walk with splendid views and large variety of birds (more details here).
In addition, the boardwalk extends to the end of Alvor Praia beach. Perhaps 3.0 km in all – fortunately there are a number of cafes en route – sit and enjoy your expresso or beer – and soak up the sun and panoramas.
Lagos and Meia Praia
Across the estuary entrance you can see another long sandy beach extending several kilometres to Lagos. This is Meia Praia – another fabulous location – but only accessible by road from Alvor. Head towards the Quim Bar for refreshments and a meal at unbelievably low prices! Be a beach bum and hangout at this popular bar – you can reserve a table by phone. Stunning views and a great atmosphere. One of my favourite resorts along the Algarve coast is indeed Lagos. There is a vibrant town centre with narrow cobbled streets, a great variety of shops, and lovely cafes and restaurants. One of our favourite cafes is Pastelaria Gomba with pastries to die for (plus suggest their iced coffee). Nearby is the infamous Praia de Luz – small beach (relative to Alvor and Lagos). It has a nice promenade but overall disappointing.
Western Algarve Coast
Cabo de São Vicente (the Cape of Saint Vincent) is the most southwesterly extremity of Europe. This wind blasted and storm pounded headland is the end of the known world (up until the 14th century at least!). The jagged cliffs rise 60 meters from the ferocious seas.
For the adventurous, there are a number of Western Algarve Coast walking routes – details on rotavicentina.com One of the routes is known as The “historical way“, at 230km, is the longest route and goes from Cape of São Vicente to the Santiago do Cacém. It is a rural trail, with 12 stages through forest tracks, towns and villages with centuries of history, and can be done on foot or by bike.
Our less adventurous road route started at Castle of Aljezur – with 360 degree views of the countryside. Our first port of call on the coast was at the bar overlooking the spectacular Praia da Amoreira.
A wide beach with rollers crashing in on the sandy beach. Dunes line the estuary. At this time of year the beach was deserted. Few hotels or B&Bs but plenty of mobile homes / caravans. After lunch we drove south to Praia Bordeira. Again packed with mobile homes on the edge of the village near the dunes, and paddle to the beach. Follow the road back through the village to the point for boardwalks and a splendid view across the bay.
Praia do Amado
Final call on the west coast was Praia do Amado – the road was a little rough but well worth the trip to the beach car park inevitably full of mobile homes! On the beach the first sign of surfers in the cold water. Again lovely views along the coast.
With a brief stop at Cabo Sao Vicente (lighthouse closed for maintenance) enjoying the views, our final stop was Praia do Martinhal. One of the joys of the Algarve is being a beach bum at 67, so here is another cafe / restaurant (Restaurante Martinhal) right on the beach edge – just right for a sun-downer (any excuse will do!).
East of Alvor – Barlovento and Sotovento
As you travel east into the Central Algarve (Barlovento and Sotovento), you discover some of the Algarve’s large resorts such as Albufeira and Tavira.
Portimao and Praia da Rocha
Portimao is the largest town nearest Alvor – just a short drive about 10 minutes to the marina / Praia da Rocha. The boardwalk along the beach is very popular and lined with bar / cafes / restaurants. A good selection are open in the winter. The beach is sooooo wide! Follow the boardwalk and then climb up to the Miradouro dos Três Castelos (Three Castles viewpoint) for panoramic views. At this level you can walk back along the road towards the Tourist Information office and medieval fort (Fortaleza de Santa Catarina) offering picturesque ocean & sunset views (passing many shops, hotels and restaurants).
Another interesting walk from the marina is the walk that follows the Arade river into the centre of town – passing the port, old monastery (unfortunately in ruins), the Museum, past the stone sculptures to a riverside square lined with cafes and restaurants (try the Italian ice cream!). The modern museum is well worth visiting built on the old canning site. Good exhibits, entertaining film, and wander through the renovated canning plant (also other exhibitions too).
On the other side of the river Arade head first to Ferragudo – a quaint fishing port, beach and castle. On sunny day you can enjoy fresh fish and a beer on the quay side. A few miles beyond Ferragudo discover the lovely town of Carvoeiro. Parking can be a problem but a walk to the beach side is worth the trouble: protected cove and plenty of cafes. Motor further east for the boardwalk and magnificent views. If you continue to walk east after boardwalk – albeit a bit of scramble at times – you will be rewarded with views of the caves carved out by the sea. Cheaper than taking the boat rides!
Heading further west, the well known resort of Albufeira is found. Even in the Winter, the town is busy. We used the little tourist Train. The stops on the trains circular route are Old Town, Outside Real Belavista Hotel, the Strip and the roundabout opposite the Forte do Vale Hotel. If these are really the highlights then Albufeira is very disappointing. Fortunately, a few miles along the coast you can discover the upmarket resort of Vilamoura: wide avenues, lovely villas, golf courses, luxury hotels and a splendid marina with shops, bars and restaurants. The beach is lovely too! Nearby is the large town of Quarteira. On the outskirts Quarteira Gypsy Market is open on Wednesday. Even in the winter there are plenty of stalls – not many craft stalls but many selling ripoff brands – Nike, Mulberry, Michael Kors and the like! Parking can be difficult as the main parking area is full of mobile homes!
Our final destination was the inland town of Loulé. We were fortunate to visit the Loulé Carnival – usually in February (or early March – the 3rd day being Shrove Tuesday. There are 3 days of celebration with parades, music and dancing, semi naked girls. The centre of Loulé (Avenida José da Costa Mealha) is shut off for the carnival and it costs a few euros for entrance. It is worth arriving early – the procession starts at 3.00pm. The highlights were the giant-headed puppets on the floats especially the cartoon style versions of politicians and personalities – our favourite was Angela Merkel complete with underarm hair!