Getting away from it all on the Algarve Coast
As we are sitting and watching the sun set at Europe’s most southwestern point, I realise that the Algarve really is a place to get away from it all. While the kids cuddle up under their blanket, sharing their warmth in a cosy embrace, I look at the crowd of people that has gathered here to give their goodbyes to yet another perfect day in Portugal’s south.
It is indeed the perfect way to finish our two days in the region, a glorious finale to a relaxing stay that gave us everything we ask for in a trip: stunning scenery, an exciting culture, and family-friendly experiences.
A relaxing stay in quiet Salema
We stay in Salema with the kids, a tiny fishing village with just the right amount of tourism to ensure that you would find a glass of wine and good meal in the evening. Yet at the same time it is pleasantly quiet and laid back, with plenty of old-fashioned fishing boats resting on the beach among the holiday makers.
The village is nestled between high cliffs, so typical for the Algarve. You can wander out onto these cliffs and catch the views, the endless blue of the sea and the golden glow of the sandstone rocks. Or you could easily spend a day on the beach, rent one of these airy lounge beds and sip cocktails while the kids explore their sandy world with shovels in hand. It couldn’t be more picturesque – the friendly restaurants with their sunny terraces, the white houses with their terracotta roofs and blue framed windows.
But there is more that we need to explore along the coast, and so we set off to visit some of the Algarve’s most favourite places.
The enchanting views of Tavira
From Salema it is an hour’s drive to the town of Tavira. It is called the Venice of the Algarve, mostly because of the way the river cuts through its centre, meandering past the old riverfront houses that have stairs leading all the way to the water. The water that flows through Tavira looks peaceful and calm that day. Nothing hints at the time when the river Gilão forced its way through the narrow passage, taking the old Roman bridge with it.
We make the new Roman Bridge the starting point of our excursion, a pretty stone bridge with broad arches and wide balconies with benches to sit and rest. The walk takes us to the Praça da República, an open cobblestone square with build-in auditorium for performances and lots of flowering trees. It’s the heart and centre of the town, where you will find the town hall and the tourist information. It’s been wonderfully restored, the multi-coloured pavers laid into pretty patterns.
Our eyes wander to the tropical gardens along the river, the Jardim Püblico, with its shady palm trees and welcoming park benches. The town has had the gardens decorated with flower garlands, paper flowers, and photos. Cheerful and colourful under the Portuguese sun.
Time for some sightseeing with the kids. We take the old cobblestone roads that go up the hill all the way to the castle. It’s perfect to visit with the kids – it’s free and small, making it easy to consume even on a hot day. The surrounding walls and parts of the towers are still standing and you can climb onto most of them, you just need to be careful as the stairs are steep and slippery.
Your reward will be the views of the city, the neighbouring church of Santa Maria do Castelo, and indeed the insides of the castle. Because inside these walls there grows a miniature Garden Eden. Flowering bushes and trees, bougainvilleas and hibiscus, oleander and magnolia. A sea of colour, pretty little flowers that are vying for your attention, framed by herbs like thyme and lavender. It’s a Mediterranean garden par excellence, a wonderful unexpected find in the middle of the city.
Before we leave Tavira, we visit the Igreja da Misericórdia church, enjoy the cool interiors of the basilica. We have the church to ourselves, and so we take our time to admire the stunning blue wall tiles that cover the lower parts of the walls. The tiles depict the lives and legends of the saints, a Baroque masterpiece unlike anything we have ever seen before.
The untamed coast of Lagos
From Tavira we slowly find our way back towards Salema, stopping at the popular tourist resort Lagos. Another picturesque historic town, now in summer brimming with activity. In the wide and open streets of the old town there are market stalls selling artisan products. Musicians play in the squares that are surrounded by apartment buildings with French windows and typical tiled facades.
The atmosphere is busier than in Tavira but not less welcoming. The mix of people – the holidaymakers from overseas, the local families, the hippies and backpackers, is made for people watching. We could spend hours just studying the eclectic mix of people that are drawn to Lagos.
There is some sightseeing that you can do here. We decide for a quick stop at the fort of Ponta de Bandeira. A small structure, no more than a square and a ramp leading up to the rooftop, but at the same time a great viewpoint from which to see the entrance to the harbour and the nearby beaches.
From here we can make out the colourful boats that take visitors out to sea, to let them explore the many caves and the dramatic cliffs along the Algarve coast. The small chapel inside the fort is what we like best: the tiles with their geometrical patterns cover the little space from top to bottom – so pretty!
A short ride in the car takes us to a popular sightseeing spot on the coast near the lighthouse, the Ponta da Piedade. It’s popular as a launching point for boat tours to the numerous sea caves and stone arches that make up the crumbling sandstone coast. From our vantage point we can make out the tall red pillars that are slowly eaten away by the tide.
The water is so clear that you can see the big round pebbles shine through. From here, the little boats appear tiny as they weave their way though the narrow passageways and into the deep tunnels of the rock formations. We can hear the echoing voices of the passengers as one boat after the other disappears between the pillars and out of view.
A glorious Sagres sunset
We tell the children that when the sun sets you need to pay attention or you will miss the hissing sound as it touches the sea. Our destination for the evening is Sagres, the southwestern most point of the European mainland. As we are approaching the end of the world, the road cuts through endless grassy plains.
So close to sunset, the light adds a golden glow to the landscape. At the end of the road to nowhere there is a lighthouse where people have started setting themselves up for the event. Hundreds of romance seekers have gathered here, couples and groups of friends, families. They look for a good spot to look out at sea and once they have settled on the ideal location they stay put.
A strange kind of atmosphere is covering us sun watchers like a blanket. The mood is cheerful yet solemn. There are no screaming children or loud laughter. No big party groups breaking the silence. Just the crashing of the surf and the cries of seagulls.
As the sun touches the ocean we think we can almost hear the hissing sound, almost.
Afterwards, we slowly find our way back to the car. Getting back to our hotel will take a while – there is only one road taking all of us home. But we have plenty of time. The Algarve has taken us far away from the stress and the hectic of everyday life. We are in no hurry. Quite the opposite. As I turn around one last time I catch the last glimpses of a perfect day out.
Practical Information: Staying on the Algarve Coast
We stayed just on the outskirts of Salema in a newly built resort called Salema Beach Village. The resort is made up of large, modern townhouses that offer plenty of space and relaxing private outdoor areas including a rooftop terrace. The resort has a restaurant and a pool area which is perfect for families.
You can walk to the town centre from here or make use of the free courtesy bus. We just loved the clean and modern design of the townhouse and are happy to recommend it to our readers. The following link is an affiliate link to Booking.com – this means that if you click on this link and book the hotel you will send a small commission our way. Many thanks.