Algarve Guide Book of Information
The Algarve has plenty of organised day trips. Trips are often grouped by how long they take - half day, full day and 2-3 day trips. The main types include:
Town trips - Alcoutim, Tavira, Monchique,
Shopping Trips - Faro, Loule Markets, Seville
Adventure Trips - Jeep Safaris,
Cruises - Exploring the coastline and also the river that runs up by the Spanish border.
The trips are ideal for those that want to leave the car behind and take the hassle out of a day trip but also to try something a little different. Tickets are available from tour operators in the main coastal towns.
Buying tickets in advance is possilbe at the Algarve Guidebook shop
- Fully charge your digital camera the night before your trip.
- Take a backpack with you and include sunglasses, suntan lotion, a hat, chewing gum, local phrase book, paperback book.
- Buying tickets in advance saves time when you arrive for your holiday. In peak months (July and August) some trips get sold out so advance tickets will ensure you get the trips you want.
I'm so thankful that I can actually write about Algarve, my favorite region in Portugal. A year ago I was fighting for my life after the retrievable IVC filter my surgeon had implanted for my DVT, deep vein thrombosis, could not be easily removed. For some reason it had migrated from its original position in the vena cava vein. I had never wanted the IVC filter in the first place, but I was unable to take anticoagulants (blood thinners) in order to prevent blood clots from moving to the lungs, so my doctors recommended the implantation of an IVC filter, a medical devise that was suppose to help me, not hurt me. Once we learned about the lawsuits against the IVC filter manufacturer Bard, the manufacturer of the filter I had) my husband immediately contacted an IVC filter lawyer to discuss my situation. It's a long story both medically and legally, but the outcome is I survived the second, third and fourth surgeries to remove the medical device, and I am part of a class action against Bard. Who knows when that will be settled. In the meantime, my husband and I have returned to Portugal, I am mostly healthy, and I am writing again. So enjoy your adventures in Algrave. It is a most wonderful region with many points of interest.
This has to be the favourite Algarve driving trip for all the team here at Algarve Guidebook. The views over the Guadiana River to neighbouring Spain are simply stunning and there are plenty of smaller towns to drop in on the way including the river museum at Guerreiros do Rio and also a local cheesemaker at the mouth of the Odeleite river.
Alcoutim was conquered by the Moslems in 1240 and Alcoutim Castle was built in the 14th century. In the town there is some great architecture and several churches to visit. There is Alcoutim Dam nearby and a river beach next to Alcoutim Reservoir.
Nearby is the Cova dos Mouros Mine Park which shows how copper mining took place as far back as 2500BC.
Getting There Alcoutim Church
Take the final exit of the motorway (IP1) before you cross the bridge into Spain and take the 122 North.
Alcoutim Market - Pereiro: In front of the parish church 4th Sunday every month, Vaqueiros: Exit to Bentos 2nd Thursday every month
Although Almancil is now more famous for its Karting track the town has some wonderful architecture and is a lovely place to stop for lunch or dinner. The Igreja de São Lourenço - parish church of St. Lawrence dates back to the 18th centrury and has some beautiful glazed tiles inside depicting the life of St. Lawrence.
Castro Marim nestles between two hills. There is a commanding view of the river Guadiana from the town, which marks the border between the Algarve the Spain province of Andalusia. Castro Marim has two separate forts - one stands on the hill on the riverside. You can drive nearl to the front gate and walk around within the battlements.
There is in fact a castle within a castle. The inner one is square and has tower at each corner. In the 15th-century, this was the headquarters of the Order of Christ, the religious-military order that followed the Knights Templar in Portugal.L In the mid 17th-century a second fort was added, the Fort of São Sebastião, which stands on the other side of the village.
The fort was built to strengthen Portugal's defences whenit regained its independence after 60 years of Spanish rule (between 1580 and 1640). The area around Castro Marim is a protected natural reserve (Reserva Natural do Sapal), rich in bird life. Its saltpans and marshes are feeding and breeding grounds for many species of water birds, including Black-winged Stilts. Flocks of flamingos can be seen feeding in the pans. There is a great information office inside the main gate of the castle. There are also guided tours, but you have to book in advance.
Castro Marim is only a few minutes drive from the coastal town of Monte Gordo so if you are heading out this way a nice contrast day is to visit Castro Marim, see the great views and then visit the many cafes and restaurants in Monte Gordo in the afternoon.
Loulé is one of the Algarve's larger towns located just off the coast North of Faro. Loulé holds on Saturdays a typical Portuguese market, with the locals selling fish, fruit and fresh vegetables. Local craftsmen, coppersmiths, basket and harness makers have stalls, and you can browse for traditional goods. Of course, as with all markets these days there are areas of cheap imports but thankfully as the market is inland there is plenty of locally produced items too.
Loulé is a city that dates back to medieval times with a charter in 1266. The ruined walls of the castle date back to the 12th century. There are several monuments that are worth taking the time out to look at including the the old Moorish well, The Graca Convent portals Misericordia Church and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Conception.
The Loulé carnival is well worth a visit and is always a very colourful affair with many influences.
Mértola is picturesquely set on the slopes above the left bank of the Guadana, joined here by its tributary the Oreias, about 70km/43mi northwest of the coastal border town of Vila Real de Santo António.
In Roman times the site was occupied by the town of Mirtilis, mentioned by the Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy (second C. A.D.), which later had to give way to a Moorish stronghold.
With its narrow and twisting alleys Mértola is still rather Moorish in appearance. From the main square its narrow streets, lined with little white houses, lead uphill to the parish church and then on up to the castle.
This is a beautiful day trip to get away from the coast and the resorts. High in the hills around an hours drive is the charming town of Monchique.
Rolling green hills may have exclusive villas but the village keeps its traditional character. The peaks of Picota and Foia look over a great view of the Western Algarve. This is the highest part of the region a full 773m high.
Olhao Shopping Streets
One of the two main fishing towns of the Algarve, Olhao is famous for its sardines which are said to be in the top three in the world. Just East of Faro, Olhao has an absolutely amazing covered fish market (also vegetables and meat in the hall next door) where you can buy that mornings catch. You need to be getting there around 7-8am to get the best choice.
lhao, like Tavira, is undergoing a lot of change and development,but at a slighlty slower pace. It's a deceptively large town with some beautiful shopping streets and a total of six major supermarkets.
Another key thing with Olhao is that it is a main route to the Eastern Algarve islands and you can catch a boat (too small to call them ferries really) from the promenade.
Some excellent restaturants on the front, especially for fish lovers as the catch has only a few metres to travel across from the market and the restaurant owners get the pick of the catch each day.
Ilha de Tavira
Lies south of the town of Tavira, just a few hundred metres off the coast.
It is 11 kilometres long and varies between 150 m to 1 km in width. The island has 11 km of the best beaches in the Algarve, Portugal, including areas where naturism can be legally practised. It is part of the Natural reserve of Ria Formosa. It is also popular among tourists, people that like to swim and bird watchers.
The island of Tavira can be accessed via water boat in the summer (July and August) from the riverside behind the enclosed market next to the river past the bridges in Tavira. Alternatively it is easy to drive to. Cross the main arched bridge in Tavira take the right turn as you go down the other side, then turn right and drive under the arched bridge. Continue along this road past the salt flats to the end where you can park in a number of car parks (the unmanned ones in the middle are free if you get there early enough i.e. 9 a.m.) Then you pay 1 Euro return for the ferry crossing to the Tavira Island Bridge to Beachbeach. There are numerous restaurants for lunch on the island.
Tavira Island Camping
Drive east to Prai Verde or the stunning Manta Rota approximately 5 km away. Here there is ample free parking and a wooden walkway to the beach that is stretches as far as the eye can see. There are various cafes a short distance from the beach or take the cooler from the apartment with a packed lunch and the small parasol. This is a good location for many different shells to discover..
Ria Formosa National Park
Ria Formosa Algarve Ilha De Faro
Ria Formosa, on the coast of the Algarve close to Faro, is one of the area's most popular destinations for bird lovers and a wonderful place to spend the day. A protected nature reserve, the park covers over 50km of coastline from Tavira in the east to Ancao, encompassing almost the entire Formosa Estuary.
The park is made up of a narrow strip of land separated from the sea by vast sand dunes, behind which lies a labyrinth of lagoons and small sand islands, mud flats, marshes and canals.The park holds special appeal for bird watchers, who flock to see a wide range of breeds such as the little bittern and purple heron, as well as egrets, white stork and the stone-curlew.
Many make this their breeding ground, while others use it as a migratory stopover. At the right time of year it's also possible to see the great spotted cuckoo, tawny Pipit, bluethroat, pied flycatcher and various warblers. Some birds of prey, such as the hunting kestrel, are frequent visitors to this protected zone.
The park also has the famous 'Portuguese Water Dogs'. These lovely shaggy dogs were once used by fishermen to drive fish into their nets. They even have webbed feet. The park is also an area of great botanical interest, with woodland, marsh and dune vegetation. This is a fantastic place to enjoy a short walk or take a longer hike. Take a sturdy pair of boots and binoculars, or just a blanket and a picnic, for a peaceful day away from the crowds on the beach.
If you'd like to see the Portuguese Water Dogs then head to the Olhao entrance to the partk. The turning for the park is about 1km East of Olhao off the N125. It can be most easily reached by taking the Olhao turning off the motorway (IP1) and heading towards Olhao. When you reach the N125 roundabout turn right then you will see the brown sign at the next left turning. The park is on the left just after the railway tracks.
Take a cooler box with your picnic and a decent set of walking shoes as the carp park is near the entrance and you will see the most beautiful parts of the park if you walk a while. Worth a chat with the security guard and getting a map from him before heading into the park.
• Dog visiting hours at the Ria Formosa Natural Park, near Olhao, Portugal are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• Admission to the park is 2.50 euros. There is no extra charge to see the Portuguese water dogs, but visitors may make donations.
Vilamoura town is acutally a larger area. It is one of the largest tourist complexes in Europe covering some 2.000 hectares.
It has a very large marina, many hotels, several golf courses and could easily be described as self-contained. There are two main beaches - the town beach of Vilamoura itself and Falésia is ideal for a day on the beach surrounded by red coloured cliffs. You can reach the beach at a number of points.
Another beach option is Olhos de Água, surrounded by cliffs covered with pine trees.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Villa Real is a lovely town on the border with Spain - some say the most attractive on the Algarve - there is an excellent video link below to see for yourself. It has an good marina with many sailboats coming and going and a host of cafes and bars to sit and watch the world go by. You can get the ferry across to the Spanish border town of Ayamonte. A favourite with the locals is to go over on the ferry for morning breakfast tapas following a late night out.
Twenty years after rebuilding Lisbon Marquês de Pombal sent his architects and builders to Vila Real de Santo António to re-establish this border town. In just 5 months they created a thriving centre the envy of their Spanish neighbours. Praça de Pombal is the remaining testament to Pombal's vision of a town that the Eastern Algarve could be proud of. An obelisk sits in the center of the square (pictured left).
The main cultural attraction is the Museu de Manuel Cabanas, Rua Doctor Teofilo Braga, Central Cultural de Vila Real do San António (tel. 00351-28-158-00-45). It is in the main square of town. From mid-July to mid-Sept it is open weekdays 4pm to midnight, 10am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm the rest of the year. Admission is free.