Towards the setting sun: a weekend in the western Algarve itinerary
June 1st 2016
Rugged, wild, and beaten by the Atlantic Ocean, the western Algarve offers a different view to what you’d usually consider southern Portugal to look like. Once you venture west of Lagos, a small surf town on the south coast, a more humble Algarve opens up. Overrun tourist-fuelled restaurant become few and far between, and the beaches more and more deserted.
You can reach this part of the Algarve in less than two hours from Faro, the busy port town where most fly into to reach Portugal’s southern shores. Regular and short flights from the UK allow you to pop over here at affordable prices, making it an ideal place for a few sun-soaked days away. It’s best to rent a car here, as public transport becomes more sparsely scheduled out west.
Follow this western Algarve itinerary to discover some of this region’s best highlights over two days.
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Day 1: Lagos, Monchique, and southern beaches
Lagos is a great place to base yourself in the western Algarve. While in the summer you certainly won’t be the only traveller in town, there are lots of things going on here – plenty of cafés, restaurants, and bars to entertain yourself in on your first night. Try one of these Lagos restaurants for dinner, and go out for a cocktail afterwards. We love Baffi Bar – venture to the back of the building to find a cosy terrace ideal for those warm summer nights.
// Related: Where to stay in Lagos, Portugal
On the morning of your first full day, head up to Monchique. This mountainous area 25km north of Portimão is one of the most authentic parts of the Algarve, where the locals live in rural ways as they have done for centuries. Stop by the spa settlement of Caldas de Monchique to learn more about the healing waters in this area and take amble through walkways shaded by the trees. Drive up the roads along the sides of Picota and Foia, the two highest peaks in the Algarve and pride of the Serra da Monchique.
Hop out at intervals to go for strolls, basking in the panoramas you’ll find of the surrounding region from atop these two hills. Take a break on the terrace of Restaurante Rampa for lunch – this place might look a little basic, but its modesty is made up for by the views you can see from here all the way down to the coastline. Order the piri-piri chicken – it’s among the best we’ve ever tried and a meal for two plus drinks will cost you less than €20.
On your way down from Monchique stop by Quinta do Francês, one of the Algarve’s few vineyards. This small business makes a variety of white, rose, and red wines on its humble collection of slopes, all of which you can try at one of their tasting sessions – the basic tours take you around the winery and give you tastings of three varieties. We highly recommend for just a few euros more to have tapas too (bread, cheese and cured meats), plus chip in the extra euro to try one of the top-tier wines – you won’t regret it. Tours run in the afternoon at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm – book ahead to secure a place.
Head back down towards the coast and spend the last few hours of sunshine on one of the quieter beaches west of Praia da Luz. Burgau is one of the most accessible (in fact, there is a scenic walk along the cliff-tops from Luz to Burgau that takes around an hour), and just a little further on is Salema or Praia do Barranco. Essentially, any beach on this far side of the coast is going to be quieter than those in the centre.
As you’re out this way have dinner in Burgau. Nº9 Tasca Bar is a good option for tapas, or the Burgau Beach Bar right on the sand also has a solid menu – lots of fish, a delicious chicken and mango salad, and for meat-eaters a mean plate of sticky ribs. Both get busy in the summer months so book ahead if possible.
Day 2: the wild west coast
Head out to Sagres and Cabo de São Vicente to kick off your second day. This is Europe’s most southwestern point and worth stopping briefly at just for the novelty. Take a walk around the outside of the lighthouse and along the paths that nail-bitingly sip atop the edge of the cliff scenery
From here head north, discovering the Algarve’s far western coastline. There are countless bays here you can spend the day hopping in between, diving in the crashing ocean to cool off. This part of the western Algarve feels like a world away from the rest of this region; the scenery is far more dramatic here, with cliffs rising up like mighty gatekeepers protecting the quiet beaches below. The waves are a constant soundtrack. Instead of holidaying families you’ll find surfers and hippies trundling around in vans, camping out on the coast and clinking beer bottles at sunset.
Praia do Amado is a must visit, especially if you’re looking to take surf lessons. There are surf schools based directly on the beach, taking groups out most days when the weather allows. North of here it’s also worth taking a break at Carrapateira, a little village with a square where you can sit outside a bar and have a beer. Praia da Bordeira is the beach just down from here, a huge mass of flat sand where it’s easy to feel completely undisturbed.
Further north again stop at Praia da Arrifana, another good place for learning to surf, and Praia da Amoreira, where you’ll find lots of Portuguese locals. At the latter, which is near Aljezur, the sea flows into the land to create the Ribeira de Aljezur – on the eastern side of the beach the river banks start to form and you can actually dive into the sea from the sand, a surreal but fun experience.
The town of Odeceixe marks the start of the Alentejo, but just before you cross into this province north of the Algarve, stop for dinner at Restaurante Chaparro. Make sure you take a table outside, not only because the restaurant inside is a slightly nauseating shade of yellow, but also so you sit next to the grill and watch the chefs cook over coals. They sip beer as they do so too, a telling sign of how relaxed this place is. However laid-back the set-up, the food is incredible – the meat succulent and the fish fresh from the ocean – and a three-course meal for two with wine will cost you less than €40.
If you’re not that far north for dinner and have a little money to burn, opt for O Paulo at Arrifana. This up-scale fish restaurant sits on top of the cliffs above the village, offering unbeatable views of the sunset while you dine. It will cost you a bit more to eat here – roughly €70-80 for two courses plus a bottle of wine – but it’s worth it for the setting and to finish your weekend in the western Algarve with a bang.
Have you been to the western Algarve?
Which parts of this itinerary would you love to do?