Undiscovered Algarve: off the beaten track in Portugal's popular south coast

You don't have to go far from the busy holiday resorts of the Algarve to find a world free of tourists. Head east as you leave Faro, the capital, and you'll discover pretty Tavira, the Ria Formosa wetlands filled with birdlife, and the stunning beaches of Armona, with not a footprint in the sand.

Undiscovered Algarve guide, Portugal - Flamingos in the wild
Undiscovered Algarve guide, Portugal - Flamingos in the wild © Stanislaw Nowak - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Even in the busier west, the pine-scented Monchique Mountains, Costa Vicentina National Park, and wild beaches fringed with foaming waves are waiting to be explored. East or west, our guide will take you to the undiscovered Algarve.

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Costa Vicentina National Park

Stunningly beautiful beaches, eucalyptus-scented forests, and picturesque villages: welcome to the Algarve's western coastline. Stretching from Sagres in the south to the Alentejo, this area is a haven for walkers, cyclists, twitchers and surfers.

Cordoama Beach on the wild west coast of Algarve, Portugal
Cordoama Beach on the wild west coast of Algarve, Portugal © chillingworths - Fotolia.com

Watch surfers zig zag over the breakers at Praia da Cordoama, or have a surfing lesson at Amado Surfcamp, one of the many schools for wannabe wave chasers.

A dirt track will take you to wild Praia de Vale Figueira, one of several beaches in the area where you are likely to have it all to yourselves. Praia do Monte Clerigo is stunning and at Bordeira Beach, the fish literally jump out of the shallows.

Stay remote at Aldeia da Pedralva near Vila do Bispo. This once abandoned rural village has been lovingly restored and now boasts attractive stone houses and a restaurant.

The seafood here is fresh from the sea - clams, squid, sea bass and Jurassic-shaped goose barnacles, a local delicacy. Try them at O Sitio do Rio, near Bordeira Beach.

Monchique Mountains & hinterland

A jeep safari is the best way to explore the countryside - sleepy whitewashed villages, trees ladened with pomegranates, olives, almonds, oranges, figs and carob, and hedgerows scented with mint, thyme, eucalyptus and rosemary.

Jeep safari in the Algarve, Portugal
Jeep safari in the Algarve, Portugal © PortoBay Experiences - Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Learn about the area's Moorish history from your guide, as you cruise past water mills, windmills and cork trees. Jeep safaris are easily booked at resorts across the Algarve.

Ria Formosa

A leisurely boat trip is the best way to experience the tranquility and birdlife of this 60 km network of lagoons and inlets, close to Faro. Spot pink herons, oystercatchers, curlews, spoonbills, Kentish plovers, gulls and cormorants with the help of binoculars and your eagle-eyed guide from the likes of Natura Algarve.

Cruise past a working tide mill and watch locals collect oysters and clams from the sea bed, a major export of this area. Wade through the warm shallows of uninhabited Barreta Island and soak up the peace and birdsong. Trips usually include lunch on an island such as Culatra.

Barrier islands of Armona & Culatra

A crossing by ferry is the only way to reach these islands in the Ria Formosa and the 15-minute minute journey from Olhaõ is an experience in itself. Dogs leap on and off the boat, while elderly women teeter precariously on the gangplank, their shopping trolleys filled with fish and vegetables from the lively market.

The four mile long beach on Armona Island
The four mile long beach on Armona Island © João Domingos - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

There are no paved roads, just a few shops, restaurants, villas and miles and miles of golden sandy beaches without a footprint in the sand. There is very little to do here apart from walking, swimming and relaxing with a book. Time really does stand still.

Guadiana River & Alcoutim

This river, which separates Portugal from Spain, meanders as slowly as the pace of life itself. The pretty riverside village of Alcoutim dates back to 2,500 BC, when deposits of copper, iron and manganese attracted people to the area. Head to the 14th-century castle for fabulous views of the valley below.


This Portuguese fishing port, which straddles the broad River Gilao, has an elegance that many other towns in the Algarve have lost: ornate terracotta-roofed buildings decorated with beautiful azulejos (tiles), 16th-century mansions, a Roman bridge and ruins, and excellent restaurants where platters overflow with seafood. There's also a wonderful 14 km-long sandy beach on the Ilha de Tavira close by.

Part of the old town of Tavira, Algarve
Part of the old town of Tavira, Algarve © Rafal Gadomski - Dreamstime.com

Despite its popularity, there are still so many areas in the Algarve that are surprisingly off the beaten track and unknown to tourists. What better way to explore undiscovered Algarve than with a base at one of First Choice's many resorts in the region*?

Book now to get a great deal on combined flights and accommodation, while giving you plenty of time to get out and about in Portugal's unrivalled south. Do check the weather in the Algarve to make sure you are going when conditions are at their best.

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Kathryn Liston

Kathryn Liston

Posted on Tuesday 5th July 2016 in: Europe Excursions Nature

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