With many of the country’s safest and loveliest beaches, and a year round nice climate, it is not surprising that the Algarve is Portugal’s most popular region for those trying to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
With that said, this also means stretches of the coast, in particular from towns such as Faro to Albufeira (heading westbound), are a bit more developed, though even here the beaches are top-notch, as are the facilities and amenities.
To the west of Vilamoura, you’ll find the rocky outcrops, grottos and cove beaches for which the Algarve is best known, especially around the main towns of Abufeira and Lagos.
Interestingly enough, the coast becomes progressively wilder as you head west, where attractive smaller towns include the former fishing villages of Salema or Burgau and the historic cape of Sagres. The string of villages along the rougher west coast, as far as Odeceixe, are quieter still, with incredible cliff jumping options, fantastic wild beaches ideal for surfing and interesting hiking options for the more adventurer types.
The eastern coast between Faro and the Spanish border is very different. Most of it is protected within the Reserva Natural da Ria Formosa, a series of barrier islands fronted by extensive sandy beaches. That means taking a short boat trip or sea kayak to reach the sands and beaches, which has helped preserve the towns from large-scale development.
The towns and resorts here have a more authentic Portuguese feel than those in the central stretch, and my first choice recommendation here would be Faro itself (capital of the entire region). The seafood here is fresh, with small family-owned and operated restaurants lighting up the quaint and quiet streets of the center plaza. They make an incredible sardine pate, seafood paella (Portuguese-style), served in a stainless steel pot, and if you need to indulge in meat, I highly recommend a killer spicy Piri-Piri rotisserie chicken. Top that off with a glass of port from Porto (north of Lisbon) and custard pudding to complete the experience. Oh, did I mention the white asparagus are a welcomed addition to any dish, as I never get to see those back in the United States.
Take some time out to visit this very peculiar, yet slightly off-the-beaten path region. Portugal has much to offer and the Algarve region is unexplored, unique and has a flavor all in its own, and rightfully so!