When I close my eyes and think about Portugal, Algarve is what pops into my mind. Beautiful rugged landscape reaching out over blue turquoise waters. The Algarve coastline lived up to all of my expectations and more.
Getting There (and Around)
Faro is the nearest airport to the Algarve region and is probably less than an hour by car to Portimão. We drove down the coast from Porto so we could stop through Agueda and Lisbon along our journey. It was also great to have a car for the area as there are so many small coastal towns and beaches to be discovered. Cars are also relatively inexpensive in Portugal as well. Not to mention I had friends tell me that it cost them around $100 USD or so to get a taxi from Portimão to Faro airport, which was more than the cost of our three day rental. Tolls are definitely on the pricey side however, so be mindful of that. In addition, the parking garage we parked overnight was fairly pricey. It wasn’t until the last night that we discovered how cheap the street parking was, only a few Euro. So if you can snag a spot and have coins, that’s certainly the best way to go.
We stayed at Jupiter Algarve Hotel which is steps from Praia da Rocha, one of the more popular beaches in Algarve and Portimão. The Jupiter is located right along the main esplanade in central Portimão, near several restaurants and shops of the area. The hotel is modern and the rooms are nice, although somewhat small. The pool is large and has plenty of loungers as well. However, overall, the hotel was disappointing in a few areas. With the location, price and modern design, we expected this hotel to cater a little more to a younger crowd, however, it definitely had a number of older tourists staying there. Each night, live music and dancing took place poolside and we were surprised not only at the music, but also at the guests. Everyone was much older and the music was at least 20 years beyond it’s prime. It felt like we were at a Margaritaville or on a cruise ship, certainly not our scene. Fortunately, the music ended every night at 11, so we didn’t have to endure it for long. The entertainment was fairly surprising considering the main reason we came to Portimão was to attend BPM Festival which draws house and electronic DJs from across the globe. This hotel certainly wasn’t trying to cater to BPM attendees.
See and Do
Visiting the Algarve Coast is definitely the primary reason that many people visit this part of the country. The huge caves and jagged cliffs remind me of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, but with a little more rugged-vibe. Having spent our first full day hanging out at No Solo Agua (which I would highly recommend) and BPM Festival, we spent our next day exploring the region.
It took some navigating, some guessing and little bit of luck, but we found our way to Praia da Prainha, a dramatic part of the Algarve coastline with a small beach and some gorgeous rock and cave-like formations. Navigating to this area is a little tricky as we constantly second-guessed ourselves getting there. However, we finally parked at the end of a dirt road, walked across an expansive lawn that was part of another resort and eventually saw signs for Caniço. We made our way over to the restaurant, took an in-ground elevator and set of stairs and eventually were able to get a table in the cave-like restaurant setting. They do take reservations, which I would recommend since the restaurant has limited seating. Caniço is one of the few Michelin starred restaurants in the area and after enjoying an absolutely delicious meal and some wine, we certainly could see why.
Post lunch, we made our way west along the coastline and went to Praia do Camilo in Lagos which had a long switchback style staircase leading down to the beach. Although this area of Algarve was beautiful, it was also very popular. Cars were parking all up and down the beach road and beyond and there were tourists everywhere. A little too crowded for our liking. This felt much different than our ‘hidden’ gem at Praia da Prainha. Rather than fight the crowds on the beach, we decided to stay up on top of the cliffside and enjoy a drink and take in the views at O Camilo. Eventually, we made our way back to Praia da Prainha to try to catch the sunset and enjoy a little more serenity.
This was by far the better choice as the beach at Praia da Prainha was still far less crowded and the sunset turned the cliff facing and rock formations a brilliant orange color. We explored a little around the area, caught the sunset and then returned back to Portimão to grab at bite to eat near the hotel.
The next morning, we had an early flight to Madrid, so we didn’t have much time to explore, but we did make our way to Praia da Marinha with the sole intention of testing out our new drone. Candidly, we purchased it two days before our trip and had no idea how to use the thing. We took it to beautiful Praia da Marinha and played around with it along some of the viewpoints, nervously hoping it wouldn’t fall out of the sky and crash onto the rocks below. This area was just as beautiful as the beaches we had seen prior, if not more. It was fairly early in the AM, so it definitely was not as crowded, but my gut says that even during peak hours, Praia da Marinha would be more enjoyable than Praia do Camilo.
Again, we left Algarve feeling as if we had shorted ourselves of enough time in the area. The ocean and scenery is so unique and absolutely stunning. The food and wine we experienced were great and we barely even scratched the surface. If we were to go back, I think we’d try to different accommodations or perhaps an AirBnB with a little more of a unique feel. The esplanade area around Portimão is nice and clean, but it definitely has a ‘we cater to mass tourism and families’ type of feel and we tend to prefer places with a little more charm or slightly off the beaten path.