Stop the press: Portugal has been keeping a not-so-secret from you.
What is a not-so-secret? I hear you ask.
It is that niggling kernel of knowledge you had tucked away at the back of your brain but had allowed to get submerged under a pile of other stuff. Something you knew all along but chose to ignore. When you hear about that particular subject again you can’t say you are totally surprised, because you kinda had an inkling this whole time…
What am I on about?
Portugal’s not-so-secret is that the Algarve is the place to go to escape the winter blues.
I had heard that people from all over flocked to the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast for a winter in the mild weather. It was the sort of knowledge I had tucked away in my ‘maybe you should remember that’ mental note folder, which certainly came in useful when planning a roadtrip to the south of Spain and Portugal in November.
But there’s more.
What you may have also heard of is that, given the aforementioned beautiful Mediterranean weather, many parts of the Algarve are pretty built up. The stretch of coastline between Lagos and Faro are lined with hotels, bars and lush green golf courses that stretch as far as the eye can see.
This may float some people’s boats, but does not quite fit with my modus operandi. I am sure a few eyes would roll if I rocked up to a five star golf resort in a mud-splattered camper van and asked a member of staff if there was anywhere I could grab a free shower because it had been, like days.
No, I was about to unearth another incredible not-so-secret for myself: that the western Atlantic coast and the tiny villages along the way there were far more pretty than I ever could have imagined.
Highlights of the Algarve
Here are a few of my Algarve highlights to help you find a positive meaning to the term ‘winter blues’.
All of these places are slightly less frequented and will suit you if you are looking to find spots where you can escape the crowds and chill. It’s perfect for the independent travellers among you, or those with a surf board and keen to use it!
A tiny settlement on the coast with incredible history dating back to the 10th Century.
It remains undeveloped for tourism, although it features a beautiful church and a Moorish fortress. There are a couple of tiny restaurants that serve locally caught fish. When the tide is out you can explore the beach and paddle in the inlets channelled by the sand. Peaceful perfection.
I stayed at the nearby campsite in Vila Nova de Cacela. Here I sipped a freshly squeezed orange juice courtesy of my random encounter with a kind hearted man called Joe. If you don’t yet know the story about Joe, then read about how he came to my rescue (and gave me oranges) here.
Praia do Zavial
I sat and watched two dogs larking about, happily playing with each other for ages like a couple of best friends. One dog was much smaller than the other and clearly a lot younger, although the older one showed no signs of frustration with its playmate.
In the end, it was the older dog that lingered on the sand, seemingly unwilling to heed the call of its owner and leave the beach. The dog eventually followed me and as I drew level with the owner she explained that she had only just adopted the older dog and that it had been kept chained up on a lead indoors for its whole life. The dog’s obvious joy at leaping about on the beach and reticence to leave the fresh air took on a profound new meaning.
Praia do Ingrina
This is a gorgeous little nook of a beach with gentle rolling waves. I sat on the sand with my picnic and watched as local mums played with their children nearby and dog walkers walked along the water’s edge.
I stayed at a faded old campsite nearby that had an almost commune feel to it. If you don’t mind your facilities basic then claim a spot on the cliff edge for beautiful views. The residents of this place had clearly lived here a long time and their battered old caravans with potted plants on the steps suggested little intention to move on anytime soon.
Vila do Bispo
A tiny village that is actually more of a municipality, including nearby Carrapateira and Raposeira, which is again steeped in history dating back to the 14th century. Attractive Algarvean houses cluster round a central 16th century church. There is a bank and a couple of shops here, but really this sleepy little place appeals because of its proximity to the beaches and its peaceful pace of life.
Here I was charmed by the beautiful pottery warehouse with its brightly coloured wares.
In November Sagres was feeling a little sleepy and out of season. A surf destination all year round, I found that the shops selling surf and beach clothing outnumbered the shops of any other kind.
Still, this small town is worth a stroll around for its pleasant architecture of its low buildings and a visit to the Fortaleza de Sagres, where you could spend a couple of hours reading about the local history.
To my delight, I found a tiny beach bar perched right next to the sand that served up fresh sea food washed down with a gin and tonic.
The Fortaleza is a 15th century fort on a rocky outcrop with stunning views of the cliffs, beaches below and the Farol do Cabo de São Vicente – the Cape Vincent lighthouse on the most southwesterly point of Portugal.
Here I spent a long time watching sea birds wheeling and spinning in the up-currents of air channelled by the cliff edges. These birds simply lay in the air, wings outstretched and rigid, supported and bobbed about by the currents, allowing their bodies to be turned in the air.
Now, I am not someone who professes the ability to speak bird, but even I could work out that their calls to each other as they arced through the air were ones of pure joy. It was clear that they were loving it.
And so was I. It was wonderful to witness; to be drawn into sharing that feeling of happiness with another species on a beautiful sunny day was something that I will remember for a long time.
Praia do Amado
If surfing’s your thing then you’ve struck gold. A gravel track leads through undulating shrubby hills to the ocean where you are greeted with the relentless roll of the waves. Here my camper van nestled amongst some new friends – beat up old Volkswagens and a converted bus all with a distinct hippy vibe – home to lots of avid surfers who donned their wet-suits and made good use of the incessant rollers.
A little less inclined to throw myself about in the sea, I was content to relax and take in the beauty of this laid back spot. The rocks edging the beach were lined with many different colours and walking along the beach you could appreciate the variations in the cliff.
I love a good sunset – who doesn’t? – and here I was witness to a sunset master class. The sunsets were incredible; the sun dipping directly into the water every night.
Sip a glass of red wine and be alone with your thoughts as the sky turns from blue to pink to red to magenta before your eyes.
You can wild camp here for a couple of nights right by the beach. Be mindful that there are no facilities here, so you’ll be wanting to be self-contained in your camper van/ There is, however, a generator powered coffee truck that cranks into life each morning serving you hot and cold drinks. Hard to beat when you can enjoy your caffeine fix with such a great view.
Tips On Heading To The Algarve, Portugal
So the not-so-secret is well and truly out. If you are looking to escape the dreary winter weather – and pretty much everything else – then the Algarve is the place to head. You can escape the crowds in this western part of the Algarve and it’s not uncommon to find yourself the only occupant of these beautiful, sweeping beaches.
I was exploring by camper van and was surprised -although perhaps not really given the weather – at how busy the campsites were in the main destinations such as Olhão and Faro. If you were planning on going in the summer then you would definitely need to book well in advance.
If you fancy trying something a bit different and want to save some money, check out my post on wild camping for some inspiration.
If you are willing to explore a bit further afield then I think you will find everything to be uncrowded to the point where it feels like you are the only one there. Which of course means you get to enjoys views like this by yourself.
If you liked this, take a look at:
- My search for more winter sun in Tenerife, Spain
- Wine tasting in the Rioja region in Spain
- My summary of my three week road trip in Spain and Portugal.
Have you been to Portugal? What were your favourite places to visit?
Do you seek the winter sun? Share your go-to winter destination with me!
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