When most people (me included) think of the Algarve, they imagine a series of cheesy resorts full of Brits abroad. So when the Algarve tourist board invited me on a trip to discover that there’s more to the Algarve than the familiar tourist hotspots – I jumped at the chance to be proven wrong.
Budget airlines including EasyJet fly into the capital of the Algarve, Faro. And it’s only a two-and-a-half hour flight from Gatwick, making it the ideal destination for a weekend break. As I found out, it’s definitely worth spending at least a few days in Faro city before heading down the coast, as Faro has lots of hidden gems.
I wandered along the cobbled streets of the Cidade Velha (Old Town) to find a pretty little orange tree-lined square. And if it’s a bit of sea and sand you’re after you can relax on the beach at Faro Island. I hopped on a local bus (it costs less than €2 each way) which took 20- minutes from the centre of town.
A boat trip is the perfect way to be at one with nature and discover some of the Algarve’s less crowded golden, sandy beaches. The picturesque fishing village of Olhão is around a 15-minute drive from Faro. From here, I went with Natura Algarve to the tranquil Farol Island, with its towering white lighthouse.
The highlight of my day was a leisurely lunch at A do João (John’s House) a real hidden gem. Don’t be misled by the cheap-looking exterior, with its plastic tables and chairs, the food here is simply divine. I had freshly caught seabass cooked with garlic, it melted in my mouth, served with a vegetable cataplana, a traditional casserole usually made with fish or meat. The dishes change daily, depending on what the fisherman catch that day.
My next stop was the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a lagoon protected from the sea by 60km of beach and dunes. A twitcher’s paradise, I was lucky enough to see flamingos at sunset as I rented a bike and cycled around it. Don’t forget to take repellent if you’re at the Ria Formosa after dark or the insects will have a field day as I found out a little too late in the day!
I had to admit I was pleasantly surprised by what I’d discovered in the Algarve – it’s teeming with hidden gems – lush scenery, picturesque fishing villages and quiet, sandy beaches. And I just scratched the surface. Ana, the lady from the Algarve tourist board, told me she was from Tavira. A beautiful old town about half an hour’s drive along the east coast from Faro, it has quieter beaches (including its own secluded beach island) if you’re looking for somewhere to unwind. But I’ll be leaving the popular coastal resorts of Albufeira to Sir Cliff and his celebrity mates I’m afraid.