The Algarve: Europe's Most Famous Secret
With the promise of teetering cliffs, gold sand beaches and a taste of PORTUGAL'S coastal mediterranean lifestyle — we set off for the algarve with visit portugal.
Not even the wind could cool us down as we sped through the harbor. Hot wind tousled my hair and sea-spray quickly turned my straight locks into random, kinky waves. “You brought sunscreen right?” Soraia, our Visit Portugal liaison for the week, asked skeptically as I closed my eyes and let the sun’s rays flood my skin — bright days are few and far between back in the Netherlands.
I nodded back, but I hadn’t put it on yet. I could already feel the magic of the Portuguese sun, and I wanted it to zap a blemish first.
In an early morning whirlwind, we’d landed in Faro, our first destination for the trip to Portugal's Algarve coast. They call it Europe’s most famous secret, and if you’re there in late June — decidedly the high season — like we were, you’d understand exactly what that means.
The coastline is littered with breathtaking beaches — teetering cliffs, gentle swells, turquoise waters, periwinkle skies and all.
Yet, even the most popular beaches weren’t crowded, and while hugging the coast by boat, you’ll spot dozens of pockets of beaches secluded from one another by massive rocks — completely empty. Other times, you’d glare enviously at the couple who had a beach to themselves, enjoying a picnic and a swim.
Yes, I am indeed talking about the coveted Mediterranean coast. The same sea that some of the world’s most famous cities, towns and beaches have been carved out of. And it’s practically untouched.
Can you keep a secret?
In recent years you’ve probably seen more and more about the country’s capital, Lisbon, where people flock to climb those hilly streets, snap Instagram-worthy shots of the street cars and munch on pastel de nata. Yet, just a few hours south lies the Algarve, and it’s mostly slipped under the radar. Yes, it’s been named to have some of the world’s best beaches — and rightly so — but we can’t wrap our heads around why it hasn’t caught on.
In all honesty (and selfishly) we kind of hope it stays just the way it is. Over our three day trip we were spoiled with empty beaches, breathtaking vistas, copious amounts of strong coffee and endless Mediterranean lunches that could feed a village. There weren’t streets inundated with travelers, we sped from beach to beach with little to no traffic, and there was a real authenticity in the air.
Despite the temptation to keep all our secrets to ourselves, we’ve partnered with Visit Portugal to showcase all the Algarve has to offer. Just because it’s under everyone else's radar doesn’t mean it should slip under yours — our modern traveler.
Explore the fishing villages
INDULGE IN SEAFOOD
At one point, the Algarve coast was made up of seemingly endless fishing villages. Today, some have blossomed into cities and others have faded into time. But, there are still places like Ilha Do Farol, lighthouse island, left. You might notice the towering lighthouse from afar, but once on the tiny fisherman's island, the colorful houses and lush blooms will distract you.
Today the island is inhabited by a small group of fishing families year round. But come summer, many come to holiday on the island, too. Take the ferry from Faro to the island for the day to soak up the sun, watch chameleons climb cacti, and listen to waves lap the coast.
wander the streets of coastal cities
HIT THE BEACH & cruise the coast
take it slow & admire the little things
Cate was traveling with Visit Portugal for this trip.
If you're familiar with the Mediterranean lifestyle in general, you know lunch is a pretty big deal — literally. So plan to block out a few hours for lunch if you want to get the whole experience that comes with enjoying the local catch.
Your table is bound to be overflowing with crunchy bread, cold salads and fish right after you sit down. And while you're there, indulge in everything the sea has to offer — try octopus salad, savor baked white fish, slurp oysters, and by all means, don't leave without eating the beloved tuna.
All of your meals will be based around a few simple elements — salt, oil and vinegar. Almost like a Portuguese umami. That delicate balance will follow you through every meal, no matter what you order. Relish in the simplicity.
The Algarve stretches from one end of Portugal's Mediterranean coast to another — covering stunning cities like Lagos, Faro, Tavira and Olhao.
It's well worth it to rent a car and cruise from one city to the next, making your base in one of these cities then venturing out to the beaches.
In Lagos, climb the hilly streets to get a bird's eye view. In Faro, revel in the monumental architecture. Head to Tavira — lovingly called the Venice of Portugal — to wander through gardens and get lost in colorful streets. In Olhao, relish the old Moorish culture left behind and stop here to eat their famed fish.
There's a reason these beaches have been named some of the best in the world. And this here, Praia Dona Ana, is a fine example. Can you believe how few umbrellas dot this beach in late June?
Around Lagos, there are plenty of beaches to lay out on — from Pinhao to Praia do Camilo. But if you ride the coast, like outside Albufera, you'll stumble upon much smaller beaches you might even be able to claim for yourself.
For a change of perspective, we also suggest heading out on a boat to cruise the coast. You'll get to admire the golden cliffs from afar and maybe even scope out the next beach you want to visit.
As you can see, there are endless things to admire in the Algarve. But sometimes, it's the most simple pleasures or tiny details that make a place come alive.
While exploring the Algarve, there's always a bit of sea spray in your hair. You'll curiously try and sneak a peek past colorful doorways. The wafting smell of fresh fish is never far, and neither is the beach.
so, when are you headed
to the algarve?
While you might be packing your bags already, we suggest heading to the Algarve at the beginning or tail end of the high season, like June or September if you really want privacy. And when you go, don't forget to tag your pics with #moderngetaways