Just Back From…The Algarve

sunrise over Ponta da Piedade near Luz, Portugal

We sent a small group of team members on a walking holiday in Portugal to experience the delights of the Algarve, with the chance to enjoy first-hand the experiences and accommodation we feature on our Eastern and Western Algarve Guided Walking Holidays. Here, guests get to uncover the area’s rich heritage and discover that there’s much more to the region than the stereotype. Yes, there are soaring cliffs, sea caves, golden beaches and scalloped bays, but there’s also layers of history and architecture, salt pans full of birdlife and beautiful walking country. Below, we report back:

Stretching from the Spanish border nearly 100 miles along the Atlantic coast to the southwestern tip of Europe, the Algarve is almost a victim of its own loveliness. Blame the coast’s good looks, its windswept dunes, powdery sands and sublime seafood. But beyond these hotspots, there’s another side waiting to be discovered.

We started our stay in Tavira an elegant town with a picture-perfect beach only reachable by boat, which is still very little known. Stradling the Gilao River, it’s arguably the prettiest place to base yourself in the Algarve. This colourful, old-town charmer exudes an authentic Portuguese atmosphere. Buildings are traditional, churches are many, fishing boats crowd the river and everyone has time to dawdle. The centrally located, stylish Hotel Vila Gale Tavira that guests stay at has bedrooms decorated in contemporary Arabian style, reflecting the region’s Moorish history; the name Algarve comes from the Arabic ‘Al-Gharb’, meaning ‘the west'. After soaking up the lovely spa and sauna with an indoor pool, we explored the dining room, bar and outside upper terrace, perfect for that end of day sundowner.

Following a short 5-minute walk through the narrow alleyways of Tavira, we emerged in the centre, among sidewalk cafes and shops, surrounded by blinding-white walls, brilliant azulejo tiles and fiery red pantiles. Having picked up fresh baguettes for a pack lunch, we headed to the harbourside. A gentle path led onward to the area’s famous anchor graveyard, a monument to the tuna fishing industry that once thrived here but is no longer active in the Algarve. The giant rusting anchors sit embedded in the sand, adjacent to a pristine sandy beach, backed by dunes and mudflats that are a haven for rare birds, making it a must-see sight. There’s a mini, vintage train that used to shuttle goods and freshly caught fish between the coast and the town; these days it’s a convenient way to get back from Praia Barril beach.

To contrast Eastern and Western Algarve and the guided walking holidays we offer in each, we took a taxi to Luz and the beautiful Belavista De Luz hotel, sat on an elevated position overlooking the coast. Here the host Elke gave us a warm welcome and guided us around the rooms that we offer our guests. The hotel has a stunning pool; we ate lunch overlooking this. A short walk down the hill took us in to the very pretty town of Luz, where we discovered the picturesque cathedral and castle.

On the final day we visited Faro by train, which took a little over an hour. Having lost ourselves in the city, we had lunch by the harbour and sought out delicious pastel de nata, Portugal’s famous custard tarts. The afternoon was spent on a bird watching boat trip through the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, where an expert guide pointed out bird-filled lagoons and protected islands, home to marsh harrier, whimbrel, dunlin, turnstones and spoonbills.

Inland, in the hilly hinterland behind the coast are historic castle towns and whitewashed villages, set in rolling countryside covered in cork, carob and almond trees. Walking paths criss-cross the region, winding between citrus orchards and rural farmhouses. Paths range from coastal routes to rural corners, climbing hills and valleys, with plenty of time to pause and drink in the scenery and silence.

We came away from the 'Other' Algarve enamoured with the traditional side of this coast and countryside, convinced that there was something here for everyone.