Looking for a last minute holiday on a low budget, we went through the destinations before finding what suited us: Portugal! At first not very excited about the idea, we booked a flight to Faro (the capital of the Algarve, southern Portugal) where we discovered a beautiful region, with breathtaking landscape for ridiculously low prices!
We took a last minute flight with Ryanair for €36 per person and we arrived directly in the city of Faro. From the airport there is a bus that takes you to the center for a few euros in less than 30 minutes.
Day 1 in southern Portugal: Faro
We arrived at Faro airport in the morning, we chose the hotel Best Western Dom Bernardo, just because it was in our budget, located in the city center and good value for money. The host, who speaks several languages, gave us a warm welcome. Small luxury in the hotel: the bath is actually a jacuzzi! After settling in, we went out looking for a place to have lunch, and that’s where we found the MakTostas, which we loved so much that we ate here at least 3 times in a week! They serve are big toasts for €7 (you’ll probably have to share because it’s impossible to eat one all by yourself) that are just delicious! See the section Yummy below for more info. After lunch, we went to visit the city of Faro. As the capital of the Algarve, the town is charming and very well communicated to reach other sites. The city is surrounded by Roman walls, and you will also find the old town, the Cathedral (or Church of St. Mary) and the Palace Belmarço , which is good for a pleasant walk.
In the early evening go to the harbor to see the sunset.
Day 2 in southern Portugal: Sagres, Cape Saint Vincent
For the second and third day we decided to rent a car to explore western Algarve. There are not many rental agencies in central Faro, because most of them are located at or near the airport. But we found a nice offer with Autoescape.com and we paid €113 for two days. But oops, there was no GPS available at the agency, so we struggled a bit to find our way out of Faro!
From Faro to Cabo São Vicente (Cape St Vincent) there are about 120 km. Cabo de São Vicente is near the town of Sagres, and it’s also southwestern end of Europe. By car, we first arrived in the town of Sagres and the end of a road we saw a former white monastery and a red lighthouse dating from the 19th century. On both sides of the road, the landscape is flat and rocky, we really had the impression of being at the end of the world! Remember to take warm clothes because even if it’s sunny, it’s also very windy! The easiest way to get there is by car, but if you’re staying in the town of Sagres and are brave enough, you can also go walking or even cycling. This is a great destination for fans of surf and sea sports.
Once arrived to the cliffs, the view is breathtaking, between vegetation and rocks, we didn’t know where to look. In the lighthouse there is a museum, a cafeteria and a small gift shop for those who wish to buy souvenirs.
Also close to Sagres, but not as impressive as the lighthouse, you will find the Fortress of Sagres. It’s an old fort that can be visited by 3 or 4 euros; we did not go in however, as apparently there was not much inside (but if you know this place, please share your experience with us in the comments!)
Day 3 in southern Portugal: Visit the villages of Loulé and Alte
During the second day with our rental car we decided to visit the little typical towns.
First stop: Loulé.
This small town is 20 km from Faro. Loulé retains many traditions and customs, specially in crafts and pottery. Walking through the city you will see the church of Our Lady of Mercy, the Convent Arc de Grace, the Castle and the Convent of the Holy Spirit.
Second stop: Alte.
We stopped there because the village is known to be one of the most typical in southern Portugal. When we arrived, we parked at the bottom of the village to walk our way up the village and enjoy its pretty whitewashed houses and colorful windows. At the entrance of the village there are two fountains : Fonte Pequena and Fonte Grande, which were once the water supply source of the houses. You will also see the poems of Portuguese poet Cândido Guerreiro who was born in this village.
In the upper part of the village, we came across a mill (the only one remaining of the 9 there were in the past) which dates from the 13th century. In the town center there is also a church ( Nostra Senora de la Asunción), dating from the 13th century.
From the top of the village one can clearly see the flag of Portugal in a field.
Alte is one of the villages we preferred in the southern Portugal!
Day 4 in southern Portugal: Visit of Olhao and Tavira
To get to Olhao, we took a train from Faro for €1.40. Between the station and the city center, the seafront promenade is beautiful to walk and enjoy the view. Olhao is a charming little town, authentic, and close to the sea.
We explored the shady alleys of the city to admire the decorations on the houses (colors and tiles). We obviously visited the market, the weather was very pleasant.
Then we took the same train in the direction of Tavira.
Tavira is a town that was rebuilt, and it still conserves many buildings from the 18th century. The old center is located around the castle and Santa Maria Church. Among the monuments, we recommend the castle, the remaining walls around the Mediterranean garden, Palacio da Galeria transformed into the town’s gallery, the churches and monasteries, and the old market on the edge of the river Gilão .
How to get to the beach of Ilha De Tavira ?
This beach is connected to the city by ferry, you can take it in the city center. There is a depart every half hour from June to September. Schedules are posted and the prices are about 2 euros per person round trip. The ride is 20 minutes, which gives you time to enjoy the beautiful views of the Ria Formosa National Park.
Once on the beach (Praia De Tavira), you will have 12km of sand to enjoy the national park (7km of real beach). This is one of the most popular beaches, you will easily find something to eat. If this beach is too touristy for you, you may just walk a few minutes and you will reach a little quiet place. Note that the water is quite cold (Atlantic, not the Mediterranean).
There are two other beaches on this island: that of Terra Estreita (20 min walk and less crowded) and that of Barril (40 min walk) that we did not go to, but which seem just as pretty as Praia De Tavira . If you know them please share your experience with us!
Day 5 in southern Portugal: cruise to Vilamoura
We took a bus from Faro bus Station to reach Vilamoura. We wanted a cool day, let go and enjoy the holidays. This is why we chose to take a little cruise. We booked with the agency Visit Huelva a day on the yacht Moena, which departed from the small Marina in Vilamoura in direction to the coast of Barlavento.
The cruise is from 09h30 to 16h and the course in front the Algarve coast is spectacular, with beautiful beaches, fishing villages, impressive rocks and cliffs and caves which are among the largest of Europe. During the cruise we had the chance to see several groups of dolphins. We stopped at several beaches (where we had lunch, it is included in the price of the cruise ) and we took small boats to go inside the caves . We enjoyed the day. Usually we do not like organized trips but it was the only way for us to have such an impressive view of the coast, and frankly we loved it.
- Rent a car to have the freedom to visit small villages.
- Take a cruise or rent a boat (whatever) but see the coast from the sea, it is just beautiful.
- Stay in Faro, the most active city in the region, where you’ll find various restaurants, and which is well communicated to visit other places in the region.
The Maktostas in Faro is just sensational, we loved it and the food there is very unusual! For 7 € you’ll get two huge toasts with loads of different garnish. We tasted most of them and our favorite is the one with salmon! We recommend you to try it. Besides, you’ll eat on the terrace on a small peaceful square.
Also in Faro, we do not recommend the Chelsea restaurant. We went for a pizza and a bottle of water. The bottle cost us €5 !! And the pizzas were so small that we had to have dinner again elsewhere.
The Restaurant Taska is quite renowned in the area, we tried, but unfortunately we left without eating. We arrived and we ordered two beers and cheese, so far so good. Then we ordered rice with shrimp for two, and we waited … and waited … Other customers sat at the table next to ours and were served before … The manager of the restaurant realized that the dishes from the table next to us were for us, so she just took the plates and shrimp from the other customers hands (who were actually eating them) and gave them to… Nice! We kindly refused (we don’t eat on other people’s dishes, sorry!)
|- Beautiful area, lots of sun, lots of things to visit, people are very friendly and often speak several languages|
- Even if it becomes more and more touristic, the Algarve still is a fairly quiet and exotic destination.
- Low prices
|- Nothing we really liked it|