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 bird life, and the stunning beaches of Armona, with not a footprint in the sand. Even in the touristy 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.
Undiscovered Algarve: top picks for peace, wildlife & adventure
Whether you're exploring independently, booking a local guide, or simply planning a few day trips from resorts such as First Choice, there's so much to see and do for anyone with an interest in more than just the popular tourist areas. Read our tips for experiencing the real, undiscovered Algarve and making the most of your holiday in Portugal.
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.
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. 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.
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, oyster catchers, 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.
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 2,500BC, 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 sandy beach on the Ilha de Tavira close by.
Despite its popularity, there are still so many areas in the Algarve which are surprisingly off the beaten track and unknown to tourists. What better way to explore undiscovered Algarve than with an all inclusive 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 the Portugal's unrivalled south. Do check the weather in the Algarve to make sure you are going when conditions are at their best. Get booking, and keep our undiscovered Algarve guide to yourselves - ssh, it will be our little secret.
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