Algarve beach life – not just for beach bums
I recently spent a week at the beach. Without a sunbed, a novel, sunglasses or a towel. There were no crowds and few other tourists. And no, I didn’t go to Bermuda or The Maldives. I was only a stone’s throw from the main tourist strips of The Algarve, where 74 blue flag beaches make for a surprisingly peaceful off-peak adventure…
Welcome to Action Algarve
Not your normal Brits on a beach
The last time I lay on a beach I was 21 years old and had to wear my sunburn to my graduation ball. These days my children are closer to University age than I am, and although we’ve made a few sandcastles here and there, we’ve never exactly thrown ourselves into the role of ‘Brits on the beach.’ I don’t do resorts where saving a sunbed provokes an international dispute.
But when we are offered an intriguing week in the Algarve with lowcostholidays.com, we can’t resist. Our brief is to bag as many of the 74 blue flag beaches that stud the coast as we can, to sample the variety of Algarve beach life. It’s not exactly an onerous task; Algarve beaches are clean and plentiful. Visit Albufeira and you’ll be in the heart of where it’s all happening, with a busy tourist strip and wide sands. But we are in search of something quieter so we head to Portimao with its flagship Praia de Rocha. The nearby old town of Lagos has a walled charm and some great beaches too.
74 beaches? There must be at least one we’d like?
As it turns out we love them all. It helps that we are travelling off peak. On a safari inland the sun-bleached houses gleam in the mountain villages, citrus groves polka-dot the landscape with orange, and the cork trees and almond blossom add stripes to the Serra de Monchique mountain range. And that’s before we turn our eyes to the South West coastline. The sea is the bluest, the sand is the whitest, and the sun, while not exactly the brightest, at least comes out to play now and again. The back end of our winter is the start of the Portuguese spring and the warmer weather and surf season will soon come crashing in.
Finding some unexpected sun seekers
Meia Praia, near Lagos, is a white beach blanket that stretches as far as the eye can see. We go family surfing and then warm up at the chilled out beach bar with hot chocolate. Later the children clamber around the rocky jetty searching for crabs. Instead they find kittens; a cat rescue ‘hotel’ on the beach provides shelter to the local fluffy strays.
A rocky paradise made for kids
But it is the sandstone rock that’s characteristic of this coastline and outcrops of it are everywhere. By day you can watch the tourist boats chug past the towering ocean columns while at sunset the crags glow golden.
Caves, coves and kites
Cliffs and caves that have been formed and eroded over many thousands of years make immediate playgrounds for agile kids. Cameron climbs into a high cave at Praia Batata-Estudantes as locals launch kites on the sand. While Matthew prefers to happily get himself stuck on a slab of rock at Praia Dona Ana as the tide washes in and out temporarily surrounding him.
Swimming under rainbows
Hannah writes her name in the sand at Praia dos Avieros and asks how to spell Portugal. We picnic amongst cactus flowers at Praia Maria Luisa. And then bury Matthew in the sand at Praia do Vale de Centianes. Later he washes it off in the rain, surrounded by rock and rainbow, at Praia do Camilo.
The fun doesn’t stop at sunset
You might think life beach life stops when the sun goes down, but there’s still fun to be had. You can brush up your photography skills by capturing the seventeenth century Nossa Senhora da Rocha chapel at sunset.
Or take an atmospheric stroll on the boardwalk promenade near Praia da Rocha, perhaps venturing off to explore sea and sand painted black by the night sky.
It’s not nearly so peaceful at night in Albufeira but you can sample the party vibe peacefully from the clifftop promenades that look down on the town.
You can live the simple life here. If building a castle, swimming (in the admittedly cold at this time of year Atlantic) or digging a hole is enough to keep your kids engaged and happy then you’d easily while away a week here in the early spring. It makes for cheap family holiday when you just need to add a picnic and an ice cream to the mix.
The ocean with a past
But the star of all this is the ocean and it would be a shame to come to The Algarve and not get out onto it. This is an ocean with history. It’s where Henry the Navigator had a school for explorers and it’s where adventurers like Columbus came to dream and plot their journeys. We follow their path by hiring sea kayaks from outdoor-tours.com, and in the weak morning sunshine we take off around the coast. But we’re not bound for Africa, we’re in search of beaches that can’t be reached by foot and bird-life that can’t be seen from the beach. The caves and coves are just big enough for family of happy explorers with two kayaks to squeeze into and bob around in peace.
Heading off to wilder places
If you are travelling to this region in peak season, you may have a different experience. The Albufeira strip can be jam-packed in holiday time, the beaches crowded, and the sand too hot to walk on. If you can only visit peak season, then you might think about hiring a car and heading out West, past Sagres, the most southwesterly point of Europe. A different world emerges as the tourist strips give way to rolling hills, farm tractors and National Park. Little villages stud the land. There are established walking and cycling trails. Beaches like Arrifana and Cordoama are wilder and less populated, although surfers do come to chase the waves all year round..
A week well spent
In all, we manage over a dozen beaches in seven days. We cram many more activities into our time on those beaches and could probably do the same for another few weeks without running out of places to visit and things to do. If you’re a family of beach babes with a week to spare off peak, then you might want to dip your toe into The Algarve. And like us, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Disclosure Note: Our thanks to the Algarve Tourist Board and lowcostholidays.com for supporting our Algarve Adventure. The experience, all views and opinions expressed are as ever, entirely our own.