I once overheard a man and woman at a cocktail party talking about “The Algarve”. I had no idea what they were talking about, but after eavesdropping for a while, I realized they were talking about a fascinating, adventurous, and exclusive destination. This year when my sister suggested that we go to “The Algarve” for our annual sisters’ summer getaway, I jumped at the chance!
The Algarve coast, in Portugal, is a world-famous vacation destination. The region stretches along the southern coast of the country and is home to some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. Travel guidebooks like Lonely Planet, authors such as Rick Steves and news outlets like CNN have praised the beauty of the Algarve coast beaches. From Albufeira to Portimão is a stunning coastline with scenic towns and villages to explore, magnificent natural coves and caves as well as an abundance of activities for travelers who like sport and adventure including kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, hiking and cycling.
I traveled from Milan-Bergamo airport with Ryanair to the Faro airport. Flights to and from Milan are not frequent and sometimes the flight times are very early. My flight for example was at 6 am! My return flight was quite early too and I stayed overnight at the 3k Faro airport hotel which was easy to manage. Getting up early was worth it. Click here to find and compare flights on Skyscanner.com.
Where to stay
We stayed at the quiet and low-key resort of Quinta do Rosal in the charming town of Carvoeiro. Quinta do Rosal is more like a neighborhood than a holiday resort, yet it has everything a resort can offer from a swimming pool to tennis, mini golf and an excellent poolside restaurant serving local delicacies and cuisine.
Carvoeiro is a popular destination for all ages. Families, couples and retirees seeking sun, sport and relaxation. Carvoeiro is calm and quiet unlike some of the other tourist destinations along the coast such as Albufeira which is a larger city and known as a nightlife party town.
Our accommodation was just a 10-minute drive from the center of town and the beach. We rented a car which was great as we were able to discover and explored the area – and found some great restaurants!
What to eat
Portuguese cuisine is a beautiful mix of fresh fish from the Atlantic and fresh produce from the inland. Sardines, cod, monk fish are grilled over charcoal, roasted, or stewed and served with olives, tomatoes, peppers, vegetables and herbs. Caldiera is a traditional fish stew and Cataplana is a fish and meat stew. For meat lovers, beef, rabbit, and sausage are also on the Portuguese menu. These are just some of Portugal’s culinary specialties but there is a whole lot more to discover!
Portuguese cuisine is very healthy, but they love their sweets! There is a fantastic bakery in Carvoeiro called Fábrica Velha where they make Doce Fino, small marizpan treats and Flordos di Lagoa made of sugar, almonds and egg. Here, I discovered something heavenly, which I would naively describe as a ‘pumpkin strudel’ (I’ll have to learn the name of it next time!)
Where to eat
R. dos Pescadores 7,
8400 Carvoeiro, Portugal
+351 282 354 278
Best bakery in town. Try everything, especially the Flordos di Lagoa.
Restaurant Donna Maria
Rampa Nossa Senhora Da Encarnação,
8400-513 Carvoeiro, Portugal
Italian cuisine with a terrace overlooking the beach of Praia de Carvoeiro and the village center.
Sky Bar at Hotel Plaza
Largo da Praia 1,
8400-517 Carvoeiro, Portugal
Great place to meet up with friends for happy hour or after dinner drinks. Watch the sunset over the picturesque Praia de Carvoeiro.
Located steps away from the Chapel Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Playa Pera is a modest beach bar/restaurant serving fresh fish and local cuisine.
Clube de Mar at Alba Resort and Spa
Estr. de Albandeira,
8400-403 Lagoa, Portugal
Restaurant inside the resort complex, but close to the Praia da Estaquinha. We went to the beach in the morning and the Clube de Mar for lunch. It has a spectacular view of the spa gardens and coastline.
Estr. de Benagil,
8400-401 Lagoa, Portugal
Fine dining and an excellent selection of wines, O Pescador serves fresh fish, meat and pasta dishes. There’s also a charming ambiance with a cozy, romantic terrace.
Beaches near Carvoeiro
Beaches in the area near Carvoeiro are set in coves below the cliffs. Much like the beaches of Dana Point, California or Calabria, Italy, you have to walk down stone or wooden steps to get to them. Once on the beach, the embrace of mother nature instantly calms and soothes your soul. However, be warned – the cold Atlantic waters will give your heart a jolt! Locals (and my sister) swear that the cold waters offer infinite health benefits, but I couldn’t bear it for more than 5 minutes.
I was told that the beaches further east towards Albufeira and Faro have long sandy stretches and are good for long walks. Another thing I will have to see on my next visit!
At some of the more popular beaches, parking is hard to find, so it’s best to get there early. Praia is the Portuguese word for beach. You will find nearby: Praia de Carvoeiro, Praia da Estaquinha, Praia da Marinha, Praia do Vale Espinhaço, Praia do Vale de Centeanes, Praia de Vale Covo and many more.
The Boardwalk of Carvoeiro
A 5 km boardwalk passes along the cliff tops. Nice for an early evening stroll or a morning jog.
Chapel Nossa Senhora da Rocha
A stunning white chapel set on a cliff in front of a backdrop of deep blue. Once a military fortress, it is believed to have been built at the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century. Inside the church, there is a 16th century statue of Our Lady with Child, as well as a Mannerist altarpiece.
A small village known for its colorful pottery and ceramic crafts. Set in the inland wine country, the terrain around Porches has natural clay pits. In the late 1960’s, Irish painter and artisan Patrick Swift brought new birth to the area by popularizing traditional, local craftsmanship. Along the EN-125 road you will see roadside pottery stores Porches Pottery and Olaria Pequena.
Visit the caves
The Benagil cave is the most famous of the area. It’s famous for its secluded and hard to reach location. You can only get there by water and it is a spectacular sight. The Benagil beach sits under a stone dome with a natural skylight. The top of the dome is open and looking up it feels as if you have fallen from the sky. In travel magazines it is depicted as a private, sheltered oasis. In reality, it is flooded with tourists, but that shouldn’t discourage you from visiting it. It really is a breathtaking sight.
We did a boat tour from Carvoeiro which took us along the coastline and cliffs from Praia de Carvoeiro. Boat tours depart from most towns, or you can rent a Kayak or Sup and paddle from Praia da Marinha.
The area inland from the beaches is wine country. You can do a local tour of the vineyards or explore the town of Silves, where there is a Moorish castle and a town center with shopping, cafes and charming cobblestone lanes.
Monchique in the Serra de Monchique hills is also another town to explore. It offers views from the two peaks of Foia and Picota, hiking, bird watching and biking. There are natural hot sulfur springs, with baths and health spas in ‘Caldas de Monchique’ (Hot spring of Monchique).
Lisbon is a two-hour drive and Seville in Spain the same. Carvoeiro is a good starting point for both.
I really enjoyed my visit to the Algarve, and I would love to go back and discover more!
For questions or further information, contact me here.
Article by Celia Abernethy for MilanoStyle.com
Featured image by Celia Abernethy
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