Transformed in the 1960s, the sleepy southern coast of Portugal was once a hub of fishing towns. The region’s deep-rooted history has been shaped by everyone from seafaring North African Moors to Roman conquerors.
Favourable weather, unspoiled landscapes and charismatic towns are all part of the Algarve’s allure. Its windswept coastlines, isolated waterfalls and a checkerboard of islands deliver a truly unique experience for travellers.
Spend your time exploring an eclectic mix of archetypal towns and diverse vistas that continue to draw sun-seekers. Opt for car hire so you can access some of the Algarve’s best-kept secrets.Car hire Faro
Just 20 minutes from Faro, this fishing village is the largest of its kind in the Algarve. Bustling lanes in the charming Old Town weave toward an active waterfront. The municipal market, home to fishmongers and their deluge of freshly caught shellfish, octopus, bream and eel, is unmissable with its red-brick facade.
Olhão serves as the gateway to Ria Formosa Natural Park, a network of lagoons and wetlands brimming with wildlife. Head further east to take a tour of the olive groves at Monterosa Olive Oil Farm where you can sample spectacular oil and enjoy the tranquillity of the farm.
Straddling the slow-flowing Gilão River, Tavira is a charming Portuguese town with endemic Moorish influence. Cobbled streets are dressed in an array of colourful buildings embroidered with bright fuschia and periwinkle tinted bougainvillaea. Roman and Gothic churches are peppered throughout and the ruins of a hilltop castle watch over the streets below.
Escape the midday heat among the many hidden leafy gardens and shaded plazas tucked away within the labyrinth of laneways. Then, make your way to the wonderful sandy beaches of Ilha de Tavira for an afternoon swim.
Finding a place that feels like it’s still waiting to be discovered can be difficult. The hidden waterfall of Pego de Inferno is relatively unknown by anyone except locals. Just a short distance from Tavira, this idyllic inland oasis is an adventure in itself to reach.
Dirt paths require trainers but the journey toward the bottom of the hill is worthwhile. A small green shoal is engulfed by lush greenery and russet rocks, as a modest waterfall plunges into the serene water below. You’ll see the views of the Asseca Valley set against the calming soundtrack of the nearby Asseca Creek.
Wind whipped cliffs plummet into the azure seas of the Atlantic, cobbled streets are enclosed by 16th-century stone walls and stunning beaches punctuate the majestic coastline in the west of the Algarve. Lagos oozes natural beauty, bountiful with viewpoints dotted across its golden cliff faces.
Despite its extensive history and well-preserved ancient city walls, it’s the convolution of sandstone arches and tunnels, gently eroded coves and sandy beaches that draw the attention of most visitors. Spend the day exploring the picturesque Praia Dona Ana, the challenging cove of Ponta da Piedade and the most iconic of the lot, Praia do Camilo.
Yet more whitewashed cobbled streets fill the small civil parish of Alte. Nestled among the foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão, the town is characteristic of Portuguese living with exceptional views of the pristine countryside truncated by achromatic homes with handcrafted chimneys.
In periods of sufficient rainfall, Vigario Falls feed a delightful swimming hole, surrounded by lush grasslands and ideally located on the edge of Alte village. Nearby, a cave boasts stalactites deposited like candles around its walls.
Protected from coastal winds and free from crowds lugging brightly coloured inflatable animals, Cão Raivoso Beach is a secluded haven for those looking for a place of their own. With a beach only accessible by boat, the views over this narrow strip of sand are perfect to watch the waves repeat their tidal dance. Pack a picnic lunch and explore the adjacent cliffs before returning to the winding coastal roads back to drop your car off to Faro Airport.