Glorious sunshine, sandy beaches and low-cost airlines have long made Portugal a popular European destination, but it's low-key Eastern Algarve that we're so addicted to. Leave the crowds in the central strip between Faro and Albufeira, and escape in the direction of Sagres to the west, Tavira to the east and the hills beyond the motorway.
The west coast north of Sagres is a national park, with no development at all, popular with surfers, who come for the Atlantic rollers that break onto its wild beaches. At Ria Formosa, a small archipelago of lagoon islands stretches east for 50km from Faro to the Spanish border. The islands are ringed by sand and rich in birdlife. Some are connected to the mainland by bridges, others serviced by water taxis, and even in high season you can find a strip of sand all to yourself. Up in the hills, the old spa town of Monchique is a graceful alternative to the beach and offers fine woodland walking. You can ride in the hills, play golf all along the coast, dig into an abundance of fresh seafood or stop for a cooling ale in the seafaring village of Sagres, which brews the country’s favourite beer.
Discover pristine lagoon beaches throughout this beautiful national park; take taxi boats to Culatra and Armona from Olhão, or stay at Vila Monte Farm House, where i-escape guests can arrange to go to this incredible sand-spit for a picnic. If you're feeling adventurous, we also love Cacelha Velha and Fabrica beach. Stand on the quay at Fabrica and wave at passing fishing boats, who will charge you a tiny fee to take you over to the island/ When you’re ready to come back, stand by the water's edge and wait for the next fisherman!
1. Gosto Disto dishes up simple but superb tapas in the centre of Olhão. Try the grilled sardines and wild boar strips, washed down with a chilled white Rioja. (Largo Joao Da Carma N. 24)
2. Hello Sailor above Arrifana beach is a great little cafe, serving 'good-mood food'. A fun international crew with a fun, international menu.
3. O Fialho is our go-to restaurant for monkfish stew. (Sitio Pinheiro)
4. The terrace at Sabores da Ria in Cabanas overlooks the beautiful Rio Formosa. We love just-caught clams with a glass of wine after a day on one of the beaches. (Av da Ria Formosa)
There's lots for families to do in laid-back Tavira, the Algarve's prettiest town. Start with a tuk-tuk tour along the main roads, then wander the Gilão River with its arched Roman bridge. The Camera Obscura has 360-degree views over the town and you can climb cobbled streets to the 13th-century castle and picnic within the crumbling walls. Later, drive (or hire bikes and cycle) to nearby Pedras D’el Rei and catch the miniature train to Barril Beach, a stunning white-sand stretch and former tuna fishing village.
1. Olhão's food markets are the biggest on the Algarve and a hive of activity, especially on Saturday mornings, when the fresh fish market is in full swing. Rosemary honey and dried figs are great items to take home in your suitcase, both locally produced.
2. Fuseta has a flea market on the first Sunday of every month.
3. Tavira has an antiques market on the first Saturday of every month.
Come early; Portuguese markets tend to be over and done with by 11am
Wrap up warm and watch electrifying sunsets at Cape St Vincent, accompanied by the sound of the Atlantic surf crashing into the cliffs.
Praia de Amoreira sits at the mouth of a river, so there are calm shallows and rock pools for little ones, as well as great surfing conditions for older kids. While you’re there, treat yourself to a fish lunch at the Taberna do Gabriel.