You have two weeks off, you’re worn out, you’re pale, and all you want to do is lie down in the sun, bake yourself, and drink cold alcoholic beverages. It’s not the worst plan in the world and to be fair, the Algarve is the perfect place to be both impressively lazy and embarrassingly over-indulgent (seafood, custard tarts and Sagres, we salute you).
But where do you go and what can you do if you’re looking to achieve more than a body-shaped groove in the sand? Who better to ask than these Ryanair regulars, who like to get active when they travel to Portugal’s beautiful southern coast…
“I’ve been golfing in The Algarve for almost 20 years – a fact that speaks volumes for the quality of golf courses in the area – but it’s also to do with the friendliness of the people there, the food, the weather, and how easy it is to get around to different courses. I tend to go in late spring or September-November, when the weather is far better than at home but not too hot. You can find golf courses to match every level of ability, and green fees to suit every pocket. I’ve played courses in the Eastern, Central and Western Algarve (almost all within two hours of Faro airport), lots of great ones – but there are a few that stand out.
Monte Rei, in the Eastern Algarve is exceptional. Look, it’s not cheap – but to my mind, for a one-off treat, it is worth every penny. Some things are just worth paying for. The golf course is superb (not just because I was playing great golf that day!), and the clubhouse facilities and dining are phenomenal. I’ve only played there once and it still sticks out it my memory, I’d love to play it again.
Less expensive in the same area are Quinta da Ria and Quinta da Cima. Da Ria will test your accuracy throughout, and any lack of planning your way round the course will impact severely on your supply of golf balls – but they’re both lovely courses and you get great bang for your buck.
My favourites in Central Algarve were San Lorenzo, Vale do Lobo, and Victoria (home of the Portuguese Masters), but the area is studded with excellent courses. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, there are agencies that will arrange a package of courses for you with special deals, and they can cater to your level of ability.
In the last few years I have started playing in the Western Algarve and so far my personal favourite is Penina, but I have a lot more fieldwork to do… I may have to report back!”
“I like to go away for weekends as often as I can, and fit as much adventure as possible into a few days. I flew to Faro in April, rented a car, and drove to Oura Beach. It’s a really good place to stay – under an hour’s drive from the airport and the perfect base for someone who wants to do lots of different activities. You can find so many things to do within the area, all just a half hour’s drive or so.
The first thing we did was right on Oura beach though, a ‘Dolphins and Caves’ boat trip with a tour operator called Ski Molhado – and dolphins and caves are exactly what you get! You take a powerboat along the beautiful coastline towards Benagil Cave, which is really the most spectacular cave along the coast. The whole trip is really beautiful though, the golden cliffs and little coves and grottoes all along the coast are so stunning. But the best part is that you are almost certain to see pods of wild dolphins on the trip – and they seem to like playing alongside the boat, it’s really magical.
I went to Carvoeiro the next day to do a ‘Discover’ scuba dive with Algarve Diveexperience – it’s about a 30 minute drive from Oura. The rocky coastline means there are some lovely little caves to explore, and it’s a really great, sheltered place to experience the underwater world for the first time, or if you’ve not done a lot of diving. The instructors were lovely too!
The Algarve is a perfect spot to do another kind of diving too… I went to a place called Skydive Algarve in Portimao to jump out of a plane at 14,000ft. At that altitude you get an extra long freefall, and trust me, it’s really worth it. It was unbelievable and totally terrifying, but amazing – and to freefall on a sunny day, with a view of the huge bay and the beautiful coast far below makes it extra special.
I think Portugal is made for people like me, there are so many things to do in the Algarve, and the weather is so perfect, you can’t possibly get bored.”
“I refuse to let my training slip, even when I’m away – even though it can be difficult! I regularly go to Alvor to visit my sister and extended family who live there, and it has some excellent gyms where the local people enjoy the cool dark interiors. But I hate giving up even a moment in the sun – not when I finally get to feel some on my Irish skin!
It’s grand though – the Algarve is like a big outdoor gym, and the scenery in Alvor is breathtaking so it’s a great place to take your training outside. From experience, I have carved out a route I jog, all along this fabulous boardwalk that leads to the end of the beach in Alvor. There are several benches along the route where I stop and do some burpees and box jumps too! From there I run the length of the beach (about 4km) until I reach the stunning caves and grottoes at Praia dos Tres Irmaos. Luckily, even in the hot, HOT days of July and August, there is usually a nice Atlantic breeze that keeps me from over-heating.
I’m not much of a cardio person, so to keep myself interested and challenged I found a set of steps carved into the cliffs where I am able to do some sprint training. It’s killer, but the view at the top makes it worth it, you can see all the way over to Lagos and the Ponte De Piedade.
Of course you don’t have to run to enjoy it, it’s just as for a leisurely stroll – if you’re into that sort of thing! Oh, and if you like to eat clean the Algarve is great too, you can just gorge on amazing barbecued meat and fish every day (let’s not think about the chips).”
“I’ve been walking and hiking in a fair few countries around Europe but the Algarve is a real winner for me. There’s nothing wrong with spending two weeks on a beach, but if you go to the south of Portugal and don’t make time to explore the coast properly, you’re really missing out –it’s absolutely cracking. Walking the cliff trails is the perfect way to take it all in.
It’s not too difficult for the most part, but there are some challenging sections. If you start around Lagos and make your way along the coast towards Cape St Vincente, you could easily spend a good few hours walking each day and it’ll still take the best part of a week to compete.
It’s not just the cliffs and coastal scenery that make this an unforgettable walk – you’re always coming across beautiful little coves and villages where you can stop along the way for a rest and a bite, and the food and hospitality there can’t be beaten. There’s really nothing like taking the weight off after a long day walking in the sun and eating your weight in fresh seafood (I recommend barbecued squid, washed down with a few icy beers). Overall, I think Sagres was my favourite part – really dramatic… and not unlike parts of the west of Ireland, but with better weather!
It’s easy enough to research and plan the route yourself, and book a B&B or a hotel in a different town every evening. If that’s not your thing though, and you want someone to look after your luggage and all the logistics, you can find agencies that will organise the route and accommodation for you. Personally, I like the organising part.
Flights to Faro
- Dee Murray