Whilst the Algarve has been a popular destination for the Irish for many years, the region still has some hidden places to discover for those that can tear themselves away from the beach or golf course.
A local tour rep, a fisherman and a taxi driver were asked where they would go to see an unexpected side to the Algarve and to avoid the crowds. This is what they recommended.
Visit a Desert Island, the Mountains & Medronho in Monchique
Algarve’s award-winning beaches are extremely popular but the locals in central Algarve head to the island beaches in the Ria Formosa which are on a series of barrier islands just off the coast.
The remote barrier islands are Barreta, Culatra, Armona and Ilha Tavira and they can be easily reached by ferry from Faro, Olhão or Tavira. Not only is the Ria Formosa a stunning sight, it is a fabulous place for bird watching as it’s an important breeding ground for many coastal birds such as Oystercatchers, Cranes, and Flamingos, whilst also being a hotspot during the migration season.
Head to the deserted island of the aptly named Deserta and enjoy the day sunbathing, swimming and enjoying a long lazy lunch at local favourite Estamine, which serves up fresh fish and seafood, among other genuinely Algarvian specialties from its solar powered kitchen.
The Monchique mountain range is a chain of mountains found in the western part of the Algarve about 20 km inshore. The highest point is the peak of Fóia which stands tall at 902 m. Picota is another notable peak at 774m high. These peaks can be reached by foot, mountain bike or by jeep with many tourism companies provide routes and services. Reaching the peak of Fóia provides phenomenal panoramic views over the Algarve, when the weather is clear, you can see the Atlantic Ocean. It is the highest elevation of the whole Algarve.
To explore the mountains take a Jeep Safari Experience by Extremo Ambiente which includes sampling the local brandy Medronho, Melosa liqueur, honey and & wine. The tasting is organized by a sommelier with comparatives and tasting notes, with a pairing with cheese and Monchique cured meats.
Villages, Sunset & Tapas
Go inland to visit small villages such as Aljezur on the west coast and Querença near Loulé in the surrounding Algarvian mountains.
Aljezur is in a river valley surrounded by hills with a cascade of zigzagging narrow streets. On one side of the river stands the old town, which was developed in the tenth century when the Moors first settled there.
The village is dominated by the ruins of a Moorish castle built at that time which sits at the top of a narrow and very steep cobbled hill. Not only were the Moors responsible for many buildings in the region, but also various legends and myths living among people even now.
The village of Querença is one of the most ‘typical’ villages in the Algarve with clear signs of an Arab architectural influence.
The town is renowned for its rich traditional gastronomy, kept alive by local restaurants. The village also distils the famous arbutus-berry brandy and produces a very popular variety of chorizo sausage, in addition to many other traditional products.
Visitors must try one of their wintery delicious stews (lamb, goat, chicken), finished with a “medronho” to warm up the soul.
Watch the sunset at Cacela Velha and then straight to the small alleys of Tavira old town for a gourmet tapas dinner.
Cacela Velha village is situated on top of a hill with a view of the easternmost lagoon of the Ria Formosa. The village has a beach known for its dreamy landscape and its fantastic sunset, consisting of sand that changes shapes according to the winds and tides.
Tavira is regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in the Algarve. Here you will find a unique mix of traditional architecture with Moorish influences incorporated plus 37 churches.
Tavira is sometimes also called the ‘Venice of the Algarve’, thanks to the riverside restaurants and bars with views of the famous Ponte Romana bridge.
East for Least & Cross Border Zip Lining
Alcoutim on the south-eastern border of Algarve is known as a hidden treasure in the Algarve. This interesting river town is set among beautiful green hills.
Here you will find the perfect combination of history, nature, and tranquillity, whilst being only a 30-minute drive from the coastal area of the Algarve.
The town is located on the Guadiana River, an international river running the length of Portugal’s south-eastern border with Spain. After meandering its way through some of the most picturesque landscapes, the river eventually spills out into the Atlantic Ocean at the border town of Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve.
For a thrill do the only cross border zipline in the world that starts in Spain, crosses the Guadiana River on a 720m line and finishes in Alcoutim.
For more information visit www.visitalgarve.pt