We recently spent a week with Soul Campers exploring Portugal’s beautiful coastline and spent the majority of our time in the Algarve, Portugal’s most southern region. The Algarve is well known for its sunny Mediterranean climate, its beaches and resorts but it is so much more than just that. Portugal has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, we found the people to be friendly and welcoming and the food and wine to be incredible! To say we fell in love with the Algarve is an understatement and here is just 5 of our favourite and must see destinations on the Algarve.
We flew into Faro from the UK and were collected from the airport by our transfer company, hoppa who are a fantastic transfer company that we highly recommend if you’re visiting the region. We then started our trip in the Eastern part of the Algarve which is less frequented by tourists and contains naturally beautiful beaches, secluded islands, small traditional fishing villages and authentic Portuguese countryside. From the Eastern part we headed to the more central and more “touristy” part of the Algarve where we chose our destinations wisely to suit us and found paradise in Lagos and the gorgeous beach towns which surround it. From there we headed to the end of the Algarve to the most south western point in Portugal and all of Europe where we witnessed wild, rugged beauty in its most natural form.
We began our travels through the Algarve in the unspoilt, authentic Eastern region where we heard a lot about how built up, commercial and touristy the Western Algarve is. Whilst many parts are full of resorts and are touristy, the region also has some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in all our Europe and we had an incredible time exploring all the city of Lagos had to offer us!
Lagos lies on the banks of the Rio Bensafrim and has impressive 16th century walls which enclose the beautiful, charming old town which boasts cobblestoned streets, beautiful plazas, an impressive fort, charming tiny streets and picturesque churches along with bars and restaurants with street side dining which offers a perfect people watching experience!
Lagos has something for everyone including a busy nightlife, every activity under the sun, beautiful weather, excellent restaurants and some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. You’ll stroll down wooden steps onto the beautiful, sandy beaches and coves with majestic limestone cliffs and formations which dominate postcards and travel brochures for Portugal. We had an amazing time in Lagos where our days were filled with beach after beach and nights were filled with excellent seafood and spent strolling through the old town. On our last day we stopped at Ponta de Piedade which is a lookout which offers sweeping, panoramic views of the headland, rock formations and sparkling blue seas below which was certainly a highlight!
Cacela Velha is a tiny whitewashed village that is incredibly picturesque and gives a wonderful insight into how the rest of the Algarve would have looked hundreds of years ago. Apart from a few small restaurants Cacela has no tourist facilities simply a pretty church and the remains of an impressive fort perched on the cliffs overlooking the Rio Formosa lagoon and out to sea.
Cacela Velha has been a thriving location over the years for archeological finds from the Romans and both during Christian and Muslim medieval times and is in the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage protected site. Cacela is tiny and we only spent about an hour exploring its cobbled streets lined with whitewashed, traditional Portuguese buildings but we very quickly fell in love with its charm, history and also majestic views. If you are travelling in the Eastern Algarve then Cacela is well worth popping in for a short visit and stroll through the very picturesque town!
Every single person we spoke to on the Eastern Algarve said that we had to pay a visit to charming Tavira during our stay in the region. Tavira is a scenic town located on both sides of the meandering tidal Rio Gilao river. The Eastern Algarve receives a lot fewer tourists than the central and western Algarve regions of Portugal which means that visitors to Tavira will be rewarded with an authentic Portuguese experience.
We spent a morning strolling around Tavira’s cobblestoned streets in the sunshine, marvelling at the pretty gardens, beautiful tree lined streets, traditional Portuguese architecture and historic buildings. Tavira had an extremely authentic feel to it and we loved hearing the traditional Portuguese music being played on the streets which further added to our wonderful experience and helped to set the scene of a traditional Portuguese town.
Tavira has a really interesting historical background and has a mixture of Roman, Arab and Christian historical heritage which had resulted in the centre of the town being comprised of castle walls, churches, bridges and buildings all from different areas. In addition to simply strolling through the beautiful cobbled streets it is well worth also paying a visit to the ruins of a hilltop castle, the old Roman bridge and a number of beautiful Gothic and Renaissance churches which are scattered through Tavira.
The Rio Gilao flows into the Rio Formosa National Park which is a wonder in itself and onto the sandy, unspoilt beaches of Ilha de Tavira which boasts some of the region’s most beautiful beaches. We loved Tavira and also spent an afternoon on Ilha de Tavira at the stunning Barril Beach, and we’d recommended adding these destinations to your Eastern Algarve list if you are travelling in the region.
Cabo St Vincent
Europe’s most southwesternmost point is located five kilometres from Sagres and is home to some of the most rugged and impressive landscapes in the Algarve. Sagres’ history has been defined by its geographic location and it was the last part of Europe that Portuguese sailors would have seen as they set off into the unknown when attempting to explore the world.
At the Cape itself is a former convent and a red lighthouse where you’ll find a small but really interesting museum which displays the importance of Sagres in Portugal’s maritime navigation history. Cabo St Vincent is one of the most rugged and stunning locations we’ve seen not just in Portugal but in all our travels and reminded us a little of the stunning Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s West Coast. Cabo St Vincent is truly epic and when you see the huge scale of these enormous cliffs which drop dramatically into the wild, tumultuous seas below you will be truly lost for words.
We were recommended to go at sunset but unfortunately didn’t have the time in our schedule to stay for sunset but no matter what time of the day you visit you will be truly impressed and blown away by the natural, wild beauty of Europe’s most southwesternmost point, Cabo St Vincent which should be on every visitor to Portugal’s list
Rio Formosa & the islands of the East Algarve
The Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the most amazing places of the Algarve, not only for its variety of landscapes but also because of its unique location. It was recently elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal and the 18,000 hectare site was classified as a National Park in 1987.
The Rio Formosa is protected by the sea by 5 Barrier Islands and 2 Penisulas. The Barrier Islands are beautiful, unspoilt sandy beaches and during our time in the Algarve we visited Ilha Tavira which was stunning and we loved that we didn’t have to catch a boat to the island as we could walk across a bridge over the Rio Formosa and through the national park to the beach which took about 30 minutes and was an incredible experience. The beach we visited, Barril Beach was beautiful and even had an awesome “Anchor Graveyard” built into the same dunes!
We were also told by a number of people that Ilha Armona is also one of the most beautiful barrier islands and well worth a visit! The natural features of the Rio Formosa make it an ideal habitat and breeding area for birds, fish and many other animals in the region and is truly well worth a visit to experience this natural wonder of Portugal which stretches along a huge part of the Eastern Algarve.
Read more on the Algarve: Portugal Campervan Diary, Campervanning through Portugal: Logistics of Life on the Road, 10 Reasons you should explore Portugal in a Soul Campers Campervan, Our Portugal Campervan Itinerary, An amazing week exploring the Algarve and Alentejo regions on Portugal, Fazenda Nova Country House: A Relaxing and Luxurious Hideaway in the Heart of the East Algarve, The Ultimate Algarve Retreat: Vila Monte Farm House, An Authentic, Homemade Portuguese Dining Experience at A Terra.