10 of the best hiking & biking routes in the Algarve
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The Algarve*'s beaches get all the fuss, with their lofty cliffs, vast swathes of butterscotch sand and crashing Atlantic waves. But turn your back on the big resorts for a moment and you'll discover a quieter, greener, far less touristy side to southern Portugal*'s poster child.
Stray from the sunbed and within half an hour you can be cresting a pine-cloaked mountain, exploring marshes and salt pans fizzing with pink flamingos and wandering deep in cork oak woods, silent but for the trill of birds and the sound of your own footsteps.
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Hike the coast
The Algarve sure packs in a lot of diversity for its size. Within a few miles of the main resorts, you'll find trails where you can tiptoe away from the crowds on a half or full-day coastal hike.
For the full-on drama of the Algarve's wind-whipped, wave-lashed, spectacularly eroded coastline, hike the cliff-top Seven Hanging Valleys Walk, or Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos, knitting together the beaches east of Carvoeiro.
The brilliant turquoise sea is your constant companion on this 3.7-mile ramble, which heads up and over ravines from Praia de Vale Centeanes to Praia da Marinha, weaving past Aleppo pine and juniper forest and a necklace of bays forming deep thumbprints along the coast.
Here the limestone cliffs have been whittled into some extraordinary rock formations, such as the cathedral-like Bengali Cave, the double sea arch at Praia da Marinha, and the grottoes and rock pillars at Vale Espinhaço.
A cracking alternative just south of Lagos (follow the road to Praia Dona Ana) is Piety Point, or Ponta da Piedade, where a 4-mile round walk takes you to a wild, thrillingly exposed headland, honeycombed with caves, sandstone cliffs, rock stacks and sea arches, which have been scoured and shaped by the elements over millennia.
Hit the mountains
Mountains? In the Algarve? You bet. Avoid the roasting heat of summer (spring and autumn are ideal) by making for the hinterland and you'll find peaks offering arresting views and an escape from the coastal throngs.
It's well worth the short day trip north of Loulé to hook onto the well-marked, 4-mile circular trail up Rocha da Pena, the Algarve's very own Table Mountain.
Dodge high season and you'll pretty much have this 479m-high limestone outcrop all to yourself. Steep at times, gentle at others, the trail leads past holm and cork oak, olive and carob woods fragrant with wild herbs to a juniper-cloaked plateau with views to the Serra do Caldeirão rippling north. Take your own water and snacks.
For more of a challenge still, take the road meandering through pine and eucalyptus forest up to the Algarve's highest point, 902m-high Fóia in the Serra de Monchique.
After admiring the view that takes in the full sweep of the west coast - all the way to lighthouse-topped Cabo de São Vicente - join the 4.3-mile circular trail that sidles along the slope, traversing mountain streams and passing woods bristling with cork oaks, chestnut trees and rare rhododendrons.
Begin your walk as the shadows lengthen in the late afternoon and you'll be treated to one of the Algarve's most incredible sunsets upon your return.
Walk the wetlands
The Algarve's wetlands barely get a look-in on holiday wish lists, but perhaps they should. Peaceful, little-visited and brimming with plant and birdlife, they are a treat for walkers and twitchers (bring along binoculars, sunscreen and insect repellent).
One of the best short wetland walks is the 4-mile Venta Moinhos Salt Marsh Trail, which dives deep into the Castro Marim Nature Reserve on the Spanish border.
Following the Guadiana River, the trail threads past lagoons, farmland, orchards and olive, pine and carob woods. With luck, patience and good timing (winter is best), you might spot species like white storks, flamingos and black-winged stilts.
Wrapping around the coast south of Faro and the fishing town of Olhão, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is a feast for birders, with its inlets, islands, tidal flats, canals, dunes and lagoons attracting the likes of spoonbills, herons, flamingos, Kentish plovers and European bee-eaters.
You can hike its western reaches on the 4.3-mile Ludo Trail near Faro, or check out Formosamar, which offers eco-aware tours as well as bike, kayak and SUP rental.
Bike the coast & hills
The cooler months of spring and summer are delightful for leaping into the saddle of a bike in the Algarve.
The big one for cyclists is the 133-mile Ecovia do Litoral, which links Vila Real de Santo António on the Spanish border in the east to wave-lashed, lighthouse-topped Cabo de São Vincente in the west, where many a mighty caravel was launched during the 16th-century Age of Discovery.
It's a highly memorable ride, ticking off some of the Algarve's most striking beaches, towns, castles and nature reserves. You'll need to be fit to tackle it as the route involves some steep gradients and challenging terrain.
If mountain biking is more your bag, the pretty coastal town of Lagos makes a terrific base for joining one of the tours offered by The Mountain Bike Adventure, which reach from cliff-top tours to canal rides.
Summit to Sea takes you all the way from the Algarve's highest point to the ocean along dirt roads and single-tracks with phenomenal views.
Plan a long-distance hike
'Long-distance hike' might not be the first phrase that pops to mind when you plan a trip to the Algarve, but the region works its real magic when you strike out on foot and linger that bit longer.
For a go-slow taste of the Algarve's wild west, nothing beats the 217-mile Rota Vicentina from Odeceixe to Cabo de São Vicente.
The waymarked hike shows off the Algarve from its most flattering angles, taking deserted beaches, high dunes, rugged cliffs, secluded coves, caves, rock formations and tranquil white-washed villages in its stride.
If you don't have time for the whole thing, you can easily walk a leg of it in a day from Vila do Bispo to Cabo de São Vicente, say.
Soul-stirring views also await on the 186-mile Via Algarviana (GR13), which dips into the Algarve's under-the-radar hinterland.
Crossing the entire region from Alcoutim in the east to Sagres in the west, the trail gathers momentum as it passes through hills, olive groves, cork oak forests, serene villages and the mountains of the Serra do Caldeirão and Monchique, before going out with a bang as it finally emerges at the coast.
The route is signed with red-and-white waymarkers and takes roughly two weeks to complete. The vast majority can also be tackled by mountain bike. Spring and summer are glorious.
Weather in the Algarve
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The above guide shows the weather in Faro. You can find out more about other resorts and destinations in our complete guide to the Algarve's weather.
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