This coastal and sunny region of southern Portugal is a top destination, with its natural parks, seaside resorts and wild beaches and coves sheltered by cliffs. On the other side of the coin, the most emblematic sites are often taken by storm in high season. But there are still nuggets.
For a majority of Portuguese, holidays in the Algarve are an almost sacred annual rite, a natural destination for a population in love with its beaches and its Mediterranean climate, deeply attached to a region that brings together all the ingredients to make a perfect summer cocktail. The recipe is simple: take the warmest region of Portugal, add its exceptional sunshine and its coast bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, mix it all up and you have a seaside paradise that stretches over some 200 km, from the western tip of the Algarve at the Spanish border. Small rocky coves and beaches bordered by cliffs plunging into clear waters in the center of the Algarve; large expanses of fine white sand between the Atlantic and Ria de Faro or the wild coastline of the Vicentine coast (west): there is something for everyone, the choice is yours.
Ilha Deserta, an island within reach by ferry
La Ilha Deserta is the only island in Faro which, as its name suggests, is not inhabited. A wild island in its raw state, 7 km of fine sand, almost white, almost without infrastructure. Also known as the “Ilha da Barreta”, this little paradise serving as a barrier island in the Ria Formosa Natural Park is very uncrowded, even in summer, and for good reason: 45 minutes by ferry are necessary to reach this point, the southernmost part of the country. But the effort is worth it: almost deserted beach, warm and transparent waters and unspoiled nature await you there. As well as a unique fish and seafood restaurant, L’Estamin. Reservation more than recommended (Tel.: +351 917 811 856).
Go : from Faro Marina, a ferry will take you to Ilha Deserta in 45 minutes (approx. €5/person).
Ilha do Farol, the family island off Faro
This island located 30 minutes by boat from Faro is also part of the natural barriers protecting the Ria Formosa and has a long beach particularly popular with Portuguese families. Which is easy to understand: what is also called “Ilha de Culatra” is an entirely pedestrian haven of peace, which nevertheless has all the infrastructure (accommodation, restaurants and bars) essential for a family stay, in a natural setting. both bathed by the calm waters of the Ria Formosa and those of the Atlantic. The locals tend to gather in front of the lighthouse (farol), but a few hundred meters of walking are enough to be quiet, enjoy fine sand and incredibly clear water.
Go : from Faro Marina, a ferry will take you to Ilha do Farol in 40 minutes (€5/person).
Praia da Estaquinha, Lagoa’s “secret” beach
The small cove of Estaquinha is in Lagoa (between Faro and Lagos). And it is only at low tide that it is possible to get there other than by swimming, crossing a tiny natural tunnel from the lovely Praia de Albandeira, opened in the cliff and separating the two beaches. These rocky coves with golden sand are small in size, but are little frequented, even in summer. On the Estaquinha side (which can also be reached in a few strokes by skirting the cliff), swim under the arch of Albandeira: it is a must. Please note: the Praia de Estaquinha disappears almost entirely at high tide.
How to get there : from Lagoa, 10 minutes from the beach, take the N125 then the EM1154, towards Vale de Engenhos. Parking available on site.
Praia da Marinha, the icon of the region
The Praia da Marinha is the least confidential of the selection, but it was impossible not to mention this beach, regularly ranked among the most beautiful in Europe, if not the world. From the vantage point overlooking the beach, the panorama is breathtaking and unforgettable: rocks planted in the ocean, steep cliffs plunging into the Atlantic, transparent waters as far as the eye can see, and of course, the famous “cathedral”, two arches composing an “m”, carved into the rock. It is at low tide that you will best enjoy the site, walking along the cliff to the right. Very family-friendly and touristy, the Praia da Marinha is nevertheless the least frequented of the most famous beaches in the Algarve, in particular because a car is essential to get there.
How to get there : from Lagoa, 10 minutes, take Estrada da Marinha to Praia da Marinha. Parking available on site.
Ponta da Piedade, for the more athletic
It is difficult to make a selection of beaches in the Algarve without mentioning one of these very rocky coves with turquoise waters, containing sea caves or tiny beaches as paradisiacal as they are difficult to access. Ponta da Piedade, a stone’s throw from Lagos, is one of them, without however being “invaded” in the summer, as the Benagil site can be, for example. Not least because you have to go down (and then up) a long staircase leading to sea level. From there, to revel in its sumptuous surrounding coastline, its monumental limestone cliffs and its evocatively nicknamed rock formations, it is necessary to hire the services of a small fishing boat which will take you along the coast, with swimming stops. It is also possible to enjoy the same program by kayak, which we recommend, from the nearby beach of Praia da Batata (guide recommended, reservation at the Marina of Lagos), for a discovery in complete freedom of the wonders of Ponta da Piedade .
How to get there : from Lagos, 10 minutes, take the N125 towards R. Raul Brandão. Or by kayak from Praia da Batata beach, which we highly recommend.
Odeceixe, an atoll on the border of Alentejo
Odeceixe beach is the northernmost of our selection, on the edge of Alentejo. And also one of the most beautiful in Portugal. Seen from the sky, this jewel of the Vicentine coast has an astonishing resemblance to an atoll, thanks to its very particular configuration: on one side, the beach overlooks the Atlantic, on which strong waves often break, and on the other, the waters are those of the Odeceixe river, perfect for small children, especially at low tide when small “lagoons” form there. This beach located 20 minutes from Aljezur is surrounded by a splendid natural setting, between shale and sandstone cliffs typical of the region and the verdant mouth of the river. The Portuguese also adore it because of its very family character. As proof, they elected it among the 7 most beautiful beaches in the country.
How to get there : from the town of Aljezur, 20 minutes away, take the N120 towards Odeceixe.
Published August 2021, this article is being updated