Keeping in mind that a week before we left for Portugal, I had no idea where Algarve was – I think our spontaneous trip turned out to be a huge success. Greg decided to rent a car for the week so that we could be a little bit more independent while traveling. It was the best choice to save both money and time. But let’s start from the beginning.
Algarve it is! How we decided to go to Portugal
Initially, we were planning to go to a different country (I’m keeping it secret!). We really hoped we could have made it work. Unfortunately, it was a last minute deal without much time to arrange our lives around it. We couldn’t get time off work back then. Our dates didn’t match, it was all a bit of a mess and so we kept looking. Then, we got lucky. We found fantastic flights to Faro, the heart of Algarve, at only 60 GBP per person straight from Cardiff!
Heading to Algarve the only thing we really knew was that it was quite a pricey and touristy area of Portugal. But with enough traveling experience, we knew that we could find nice and local places on a budget anywhere we went! And then Greg said, ‘Especially if we had a car!’
How to rent a car in Algarve? Easier than you think!
We decided to rent a car from Europcar (as it’s the company we use in the UK) straightaway after landing in Faro. The prices for seven days rental were quite good, considering the money we’d save on transport.
In the end, we paid 187 GBP for Renault Kadjar and it wasn’t even the cheapest option. We just wanted comfort in case we decided on sleeping in the car for a night or two.
The prices generally started at about 130 GBP for 7 days. If you were going in a group of let’s say 3 or 4 people, it really is quite a good low-budget option.
There is a couple of other car rental companies located at the airport in Faro as well. However, we haven’t checked out their prices and decided to go with the company we knew.
First stop? Olhao! Lovely fish in a fishing village
After our arrival to Faro, we decided to get away from the city straight away. We headed east to the nearby fishing village Olhao. That’s where we spent the first night as well, renting a lovely room in a local guesthouse.
The orange tree in the garden of the guesthouse made me feel so much better in a matter of seconds. I was finally away from rainy Cardiff, at least for a couple of days. The guesthouse we were staying at was called Roaz de Bandeira House. It’s about 10 minutes walk away from the promenade and the prices per night for a double room are at about 40-50 EUR. You can check out their Agoda profile here:
The main reason to go to Olhao was to get closer to the area east of Faro. Get out of the city, so that the next day we would be able to easily avoid traffic. We spent the first afternoon trying out a local pastelaria, Delicia de Olhao (trying these gorgeous Portuguese pastries was like opening Pandora’s box for the rest of the trip…), walking around town and in the evening having a tasty dinner at Restaurante Lagar Mar. Fresh grilled fish, fantastic desserts and local delicacies – also, cheap wine!
First Day Trip in Algarve – East of Faro:
Fuseta – Tavira – Cacela Velha – Pego do Inferno
We wanted to make the most of our time in Algarve, so it was best to ask for recommendations from the locals themselves. After speaking to the most friendly owners of Roaz de Bandeira, we went exactly where they recommended us to go next.
Fishing Villages of Algarve: Fuseta & Tavira
First, we headed to Fuseta, another small fishing village nearby to have a look at the local beaches and take a stroll along the promenade. While there you can also take a boat to an island nearby where the beaches are said to be some of the most beautiful in the area. Unfortunately, due to limited time, we couldn’t have gone there – but there’s always next time, right?
Our second stop on the itinerary for that day was Tavira, a local town and the capital of the Costa do Acantilado. We decided it was time for an afternoon coffee by then. We found a pretty cool local coffee shop – Pastelaria Madrigal. And again, we tried some Portuguese pastries, pastel de natas and fantastic coffee. We were also searching for a pharmacy to get some sunscreen as we could both feel our arms burning in the sun even though it wasn’t even that hot. A rookie mistake we didn’t have one with us.
We went to see Castelo de Tavira (Tavira Castle) where we climbed up the steps to the viewpoint from where we could take a look around the whole town, see beautiful Portuguese architecture from a different angle and listen to the sounds of a local Portuguese town.
I’d say it is enough to spend just a couple of hours in Tavira to see what is there to see and appreciate it, before heading to the next destination. It’s a lovely small town with adorable local shops and full of great looking eating places, mostly restaurants, pastelarias, and coffee shops. Also, as usual, the further away you get from the main streets of Tavira, the more local experiences you’ll get in terms of food and prices.
Cacela Velha: a gorgeous beach and a rookie mistake!
Once we were done with Tavira, we decided to keep going east, as we thought we still had enough time to visit a warmly recommended by the owners of Roaz de Bandeira place called Cacela Velha.
Cacela Velha turned out to be pretty breathtaking from the moment we stepped from our car and saw the view of the sea and the beach from above.
We spent about two hours wandering around Cacela Velha beach and the nearby island. Hundreds of little crabs would play hide and seek in the sand and the wind smelled like summer holidays. Without many people around, it was a great place to relax, take some photos and videos. Although we burned in the sun, in the end, we still very much enjoyed our time there. Cacela Velha is hands down one of the most memorable and my favourite places in Algarve.
Pego de Inferno: A Hidden Paradise
On our way back to Albufeira, where we were spending the night at our friend’s apartment, Greg decided to quickly visit one last place he’d found online. Pego do Inferno, a secret waterfall just about 10 km north-west of Tavira (Road EM514-2 or N270). I didn’t expect much from it and it turned out to be a truly gorgeous spot!
From what we’ve seen, most of the people there were locals. It’s definitely a place off the beaten path, but at the same time it really is something that you don’t get to see every day. Hidden at the bottom of the hill, down the path behind a broken fence, as you follow the sounds of people in the distance, you end up seeing Pego de Inferno in its majesty. It seemed like one of those secret waterfalls you only see in the movies and even though there was quite a crowd there, it still seemed special. If you’re nearby and have access to a car, definitely check it out.
We spent the night at our friend’s apartment in Albufeira and had a nice dinner in one of those touristy restaurants, but that was more for the company rather than experience, so let’s not get into details of where what or how much because it is honestly just not worth it.
Somewhere in Algarve:
Alte – Portimao – Carvoeiro – Armacao de Pera
Another day, another adventure. This day turned out to be much more spontaneous than we initially expected. As we woke up in the morning in Albufeira, we gathered our things, said goodbye to our friends and made our way to a little town 25km north, Alte.
With the population of only 2000, Alte is a village and civil parish in the municipality of Loule. We decided to visit the place as it was also recommended to us by locals. We ate breakfast in a lovely Pastelaria Aguamel and then walked for a bit around the cobbled alleys surrounded by whitewashed houses. It seemed like one of these small towns you see in the movies, where everybody knows each other and if you’re a tourist, they can tell straight away.
An Unexpected Highlight of Alte: Vigario Falls
During breakfast, Greg’s done some digging online and found out there was a waterfall in Alte. Vigario Falls is not far from the town center and if you’re in Alte, might as well check it out. It won’t take you long to get there, take some photos and come back up. Keep in mind, however, that according to Tripadvisor reviews, it oftentimes dries out if it doesn’t rain for too long. We were lucky enough to see it at its best.
There are two ways to get there, one walking down a path just by the fields and the other one (which is quicker, but quite rough) walking down a steeper hill.
While in Alte, make sure to try their local pastel de natas with almonds. They’re awesome – just like any pastel de nata, really. We had a lovely breakfast followed by coffee and sweet pastries at Agua Mel Pastelaria in Alte. If we stayed in Portugal for longer, we’d surely put some weight on!
Next stop? Beaches of Portimao!
Due to limited time, we only decided to visit Portimao to see the famous beach (Praia da Rocha), have lunch and a little walk around – so we can’t say for definite whether it’s a must see or not.
The beach was definitely quite impressive for a bigger city, though. Wide and long, with gorgeous rocks scattered here and there, a couple of beach restaurants and plenty of other food places only a couple of steps away from the beach.
If we had more time, we would definitely stay in Portimao for at least one night to get a chance to see a little bit more of the city. But this trip was more about smaller, local places. Portimao would be a good place for a city-beach holiday with its majestic hotels and more expensive and fancier restaurants.
Walking down the clifftop pier at Carvoeiro
On our way back from Portimao to Albufeira where we were spending another night at our friend’s apartment, we decided to take the road by the shore. We stopped in Carvoeiro (more commonly known as Praia de Carvoeiro), a town in Lagoa that tempted us with some gorgeous photos we saw online. As soon as we arrived in Carvoeiro, we dropped the car off on one of the main streets and went for a long walk. First up the streets of the town, then down the cliffs towards the beach.
The cliff-top pier is a great place to take fantastic photos of the landscape and the area and generally a lovely spot to just sit down and admire the location. Little houses and hotels along the way towards the beach are everything we love about Portuguese architecture. The beach in Carvoeiro itself isn’t the most gorgeous we’ve seen, but it’s definitely worth visiting. It definitely makes this little town even more charming.
Unfortunate choice and the worst meal in Portugal
Upon sunset, we got back to our car and made our way to Armacao de Pera. Greg found an interestingly-looking restaurant with great reviews on TripAdvisor down there. Unfortunately, after we arrived, it turned out that the place was fully booked for the entire evening.
We then decided to find an alternative and had an awful dinner at “A Grelha” restaurant in Armacao de Pera. As I’d rather not spend too much time detailing why the meal there was a total disaster, I’ll just sum it up saying we definitely wouldn’t recommend this place to so many others around. We were just unlucky we ever walked in there.
We finished our day trip in Albufeira once again and had an early night – getting ready for an even earlier morning.
Sagres, the place at the end of the world
The next day we had to make our way from Albufeira all the way to what seemed like the end of the world, but really was just the south-west corner of Portugal – a lovely little town of Sagres.
With many fortalezas and igrejas around, we were surprised by how non-touristy Sagres was. Hardly any hotels or restaurants around and hardly any people on the streets. It was the wind that quickly became the signature of Sagres in our memory. The place definitely had a unique vibe to it and some stunning views of the cliffs.
This part of Portugal is particularly popular amongst surfers with many surfing schools and hostels around. If you’re looking for a beach holiday this might not be the best place, because it’s rather hard to just chill on the beach with such wind. It’s a great place for an active holiday and if you’re looking for breathtaking landscapes and lovely food.
Where to eat the best grilled fish in Sagres? Adega dos Arcos!
It was in Sagres where we had our best meal in Portugal. Adega dos Arcos is a seafood restaurant selling fresh grilled fish. There is no menu – you eat what they’ve got. Once it’s gone – it’s gone, so make sure to go there early.
All fish is accompanied by bread, olives, chips, and salads included in the price. The meal was absolutely fantastic. We ordered a grilled mackerel and a sea bass, but after we tasted it, we decided to not even touch the chips or salads. Instead, we ordered another fish to share between the two of us! Greedy, I know, but we couldn’t stop ourselves. For 3 whole grilled fish, chips, massive salad, bread, olives and 2 beers to go with the meal, we only paid 29 EUR. It was the best grilled fish I’ve ever had in my life. It’s honestly worth it to go to Sagres if only just to try Adega dos Arcos.
Sleeping in Sagres
In Sagres we rented a lovely room on Airbnb in a guesthouse Casa10 run by friendly and informative Elina on Airbnb. We would definitely recommend staying there. The location is good, the rooms are lovely and have a local vibe to them. If you’re planning a road trip as well, here is a good parking spot available and the price was fair for what you get as well.
If you’d like to check out Elina’s rooms, click here and if it’s your first Airbnb, register with our link here, and get up to 25 GBP off your first booking!
Gorgeous Views in Algarve
We couldn’t have been happier with this part of Algarve. Driving up the coast the next day towards Aljezur was just like being on a huge fantasy movie set. It was almost like sightseeing around King’s Landing from Game of Thrones. The forts, the cliffs, the beaches and the stormy sea. It’s hard to take your eyes off it all.
So many amazing viewpoints around Sagres! If you wanted to stop at each of them it would take you days! On your way, you can stumble upon some local souvenir markets and pottery shops with beautiful Portuguese ceramics.
Visiting Aljezur: sand dunes, castles and surfing schools
Our last two nights before heading back to Faro we spent in a lovely brand new hostel in Aljezur.
Divided into two parts – the old town, with hundreds of lovely houses below a 10th-century hilltop castle ruins and the New Church (Igreja Nova), the eastern, more modern part of town – Aljezur is close to a lot of some fantastic beaches and clifftop viewpoints.
It’s the best place to take some fun snapshots on sand dunes or sign up for a surfing class. The landscape is rough and chilling and the exotic feel of it all makes it seem like you’re not in Europe anymore. If you are interested in surfing, there’s many surfing classes available in Aljezur.
If you want to check out the hostel we stayed it, Jo House Guesthouse, here’s the link to their Airbnb profile. Remember that if you don’t have an Airbnb account, you can register from our link and get up to 25 GBP off your first booking. Jo House Guesthouse is a brand new place with private rooms and dorms available. The location is good and you can have access to a commune kitchen area and a backyard.
Food Alert! Cervejaria Mar, a must-dine restaurant in Aljezur
There’s a great seafood restaurant just next door to Jo House Guesthouse we’d like to recommend to you. We went to Cervejaria Mar thanks to Pedro, the owner of Jo House. It was hands down the nicest dining experience we’ve had in Portugal. The service there is fantastic, the restaurant looks fab and we loved their menu! The manageress welcomed us with sparkling wine and recommended a couple of Portuguese dishes. We had a great laugh with her and our waitress. The food we ordered looked absolutely gorgeous – just look at these prawns!
At the end, we were offered complimentary tasting of medronho, a traditional Portuguese fruit brandy. Overall, it was an exceptional experience and I’d love to go there again one day.
Oh, Faro, I wish we had more time
Our time in Portugal was quickly coming to an end. We haven’t seen all of Algarve during our time, but we’ve seen enough to make us want to come back! Our last stop was Faro, the place we didn’t get to see at the beginning.
The day before our flight back to the UK, we drove back to Faro. On our way there we kept admiring beautiful Algarve landscapes. Wished we could stay for at least another week. But maybe next time!
Where to stay in Faro?
Coming to Faro, we didn’t really know what to expect. Bigger cities always tend to have higher prices and lower standards in countries we visited before. We ended up renting another Airbnb in Portugal. Hotels seemed so bland and boring – compared to Airbnb, the prices also seemed better. And so we chose a local apartment in a communal building in Faro city center. It was cheaper than any of the hotels we checked out in Faro. The place also had a great local vibe and amazing wifi speed! If you want to check it out, here’s a link to the Airbnb profile.
We spent the last evening walking around Faro’s old town. I really enjoyed the romantic vibe of Faro. The churches, little cafes, restaurants, walking down the marina. It surprised me by its cozy atmosphere and proximity. You can easily walk around Faro without the need of getting a taxi, so it was a great decision to save Faro for when we dropped our car off. We didn’t even need it there anyway!
In the morning I woke up just as the sun was rising in Faro. It was time to get to the airport. We’ve had a great week in Algarve. I fell for Portugal a little bit, I gotta admit. For the coffee, for the pastries, for the lovely people and the landscapes I’ve never seen anywhere else before. Algarve gave me fantastic memories and a lot of laughs. And maybe we didn’t eat any rice or noodles during this holiday, but that just means that not every holiday has to be in Asia. Algarve was something different. I’m glad we decided to step out of our travel routine this time.
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