Portugal's Algarve: Barlavento (West)
Six of our 9 days in the Algarve were spent based in the central town of Albufeira. Though large parts of the town are quite modern and decidedly un-Portuguese (e.g., Irish pubs and sports bars), its central location and beautiful beach were factors in our decision to stay there. Luckily, our Airbnb was located in the quiet and traditional area immediately around Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Albufeira, where we spent evenings strolling the streets and walking down to the beach. We also dedicated two days fully as beach days. Our main dinner spot was Ricardo's Pizzaria (spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti carbonara, ravioli, bruschetta, tiramisu)—also decidedly un-Portuguese!—and we made a few trips in the car out to Pastelaria Riviera for its large collection of cakes, cookies, and other sweet delights.
We used Albufeira as a base to explore the western Algarve by car. Lagos, one of the most popular cities in the region, surprised us with its mix of traditional and modern. We walked through the streets, zig-zagging from Praça Gil Eanes in the north down to lunch Nah Nah Bah (burgers), appreciating its churches (Igreja de Santa Maria on Praça Infante Dom Henrique) and white-washed architecture. We both agreed that we would stay in Lagos if we visited the Algarve again.
In the afternoon, we set off on a sailing adventure with Bom Dia—we had booked the 4-and-a-half-hour Baia de Lagos trip. Highlights were anchoring in the open ocean for a swim, transferring to small boats to explore Ponta da Piedade, and eating a delicious homemade dinner (piri piri chicken) prepared and served at sunset. Not a bad end to the day!
While you could spend all your time in the Algarve on the coast, you’d be missing out on gems like Silves, a hill town crowned by its Castelo. After visiting the cathedral and taking in the views from the walls of the Castelo, we walked around the old town, taking our time in the many picturesque streets west of the cathedral (which were completely empty!). All that walking left us hungry, so we refueled at Churrasqueira Valdemar, a local piri piri chicken spot worth a visit.
During one of our drives we stopped briefly at Carvoveiro to walk its boardwalk (and down into the rock formations below at one point) and snag a view of its picturesque beach.
The smaller towns of Ferragudo and Salema gave us a view into a less busy side of the Algarve. Ferragudo is a small fishing village dwarfed by its large neighbor Portimão. We walked around the small streets radiating east and west from Praça Rainha Dona Leonor and got our feet in the sand at Praia da Angrinha. And check out the viewpoint at 37.125444, -8.522887.
Salema is a sleepy beach town on the way to the western edge of the Algarve’s coast. There’s not much to do other than walk the streets and relax on the beach—and eat delicious pizza at Pizzamobile!
Not far from Salema is Cabo de São Vicente, Portugal’s southwesternmost point crowned by a lighthouse. The views from the cliffs around the lighthouse are fantastic.
Praia da Marinha is a postcard-perfect beach, but we only liked it for its dramatic views—it’s not the best for swimming. We laid out for about an hour before deciding to head back to Albufeira for the last swim of our trip.
We knew the Algarve would be serving in part as a beachy destination, and it handles that responsibility very well. And though we were surprised by the beauty and culture of places like Tavira, Faro, Silves, Lagos, overall we felt just OK about the trip. We didn’t fall in love with the Algarve like we have other beachy locations like the Greek Islands, Italy’s Amalfi Coast, or Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. But Portugal still remains a country of interest for us and we’ll shortly be heading back for a third (fourth for Britt) time to see the north of the country. And I’m sure that won’t be our last visit!