20
Jan
14

Europe Trip – Portugal – The Algarve and its beaches

ALGARVE PICASA PHOTO ALBUM (129 photos)

Algarve, the southernmost province of Portugal, is by far the touristiest part of the country especially in the winter months. Renowned for its beautiful beaches, it is the destination for most retired northern European couples who head south with their camper to escape the cold winters.

Heading from the western most point towards east, the first beach town we visited was Sagres with its windswept Praia do Martinhal. The beach was littered with squid bones and large aloe flowers which were washed ashore.
Further east, the pretty but touristy town of Lagos contained some beautiful coves and grottoes backed by colorful sandstone cliffs especially at Praia de Dona Ana.

Portimão , the second-biggest town in the Algarve, had one of the finest beaches in the province ( Praia da Rocha). We spent a few days exploring the wide stretch of sand backed ochre & red colored cliffs, accessible only via long stairways at low tide only. During high tide the caves and archways were full of water and could only be viewed from the cliff tops.

Feeling a little beached-out, we headed inland to visit the cute cobblestoned town of Silves, with one of the best preserved castles in the Algarve. The remote campsite in the middle of the orange groves and overlooking the river marshlands was definitely worth the stay. Further east we drove through the undulating hills of the Serra do Caldeirão, with the little towns of Alte and Salir as main attractions.

Heading back to the coast, we passed through the resort town of Quinteira on the way to Ilha de Faro. This little tiny sandy peninsula is in front of the Algarve’s biggest town, Faro, and part of Parque Natural de Ria Formosa. We ended up staying longer than expected on the one-street-wide island and loved everything about it: remote and quiet, sandy streets, beautiful long white-sandy beaches, nature reserves with plenty of dunes and birds. We celebrated Kyle’s second birthday at the campsite with a super-friendly English couple.

Thinking we had seen the best beaches of the region, we were pleasantly surprised to find Praia do Barril, hands down the best beach in Portugal. Located on an island right in front of Pedras d’El Rei village, the beach was only accessible by a causeway across a marshland, then across a pontoon bridge, followed by a ride on a little steam train. As part of Ria Formosa Natural Park, the long white sandy beach was backed by beautiful dunes and had a gentle sloping shore with turquoise waters.  Huge shells were everywhere and with two bucket full, we had to stop Kyra from collecting any more shells.

On the eastern most edge of Algarve were the charming towns of Tavira on Rio Gilão and Castro Marim, the border town with Spain, producing the best salt in Portugal. Castro Marim contained two fortresses, of which one of them was the first headquarters of the Knights Templar.

We then headed straight north following the riverbed of the Guadiana along the Spanish boarder, and visited the spectacularly set medieval town of Mértola, where there was not a single flat street to be seen.  Steep cobble street roads, a fortified old center, white washed buildings built high on an escarpment, the confluence of two rivers below and a Roman bridge were all typical characteristics of medieval Portuguese villages.

After a loop from Beja to Lisbon and back (to have the bumper of the camper replaced as well as some extra repairs), we headed east to the Spanish border. After 73 days in Portugal, it was time to see another country…

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