The Algarve and the Costa de la Plata

Just a few hours’ drive away, the neighbouring country promises hidden treasures, forts, fertile valleys, beautiful beaches, spas, golf courses and lively fishing villages where you can enjoy a well-deserved break. While in the south, the coast of the Algarve has become one of the main Mediterranean destinations, managing to preserve its traditional flavour, in the centre, the Costa de la Plata will delight you with its beautiful bays, architecture and historical heritage. 

By Marta Carrera

1st MORNING

1st MORNING

9 h. More than a hundred beaches from which to choose

With 69 Blue Flags, the Algarve is a paradise for people who love the sun, the sea and practising sport out of doors. It has large expanses of sand, remote rocky bays, lively coastal centres, and plenty of glamour. The range of possibilities is endless. The beautiful inlets with golden sand in Albufeira have made this old-fashioned, charming fishermen’s village one of the tourist centres par excellence in the south of Portugal. From the popular Praia de Sao Rafael to the Praia da Oura, the coast is dotted with small bays and inlets with crystal clear water, protected by huge red rock cliffs. One of the best-liked ones is Praia dos Barcos, also known as the Fishermen’s Beach, where the arrival of the fishermen in their colourful boats is a picturesque event. Towards the west, the landscape becomes precipitous. Carvoeiro, surrounded by Arabian style houses is worthy of a visit, as well as the evocative rocky formations in Algar Seco Parque bays. The Praia da Rocha, in the Roman village, Portimão, is one of the most photographed beaches. 

11 h. Boat trip to the Ponta da Piedade caves

The rough seas and the foamy water of the Costa Vicentina, particularly Praia da Figueira, fill up with people practising surfing and scuba diving. In contrast, in Lagos, the beautiful Praia da Dona Ana, which can be reached on foot in half an hour, is an inlet with calm, transparent water. In the surrounding area, the number of bays, rocky arches and caves that are found along this rugged coast are worthy of a mention, from the Ponta da Piedade promontory as far as Luz. You can take a walk along the cliffs from Ponta da Piedade lighthouse to observe the fantastic rocky formations sculpted by the wind. Another possibility is to take a ride in a fishing boat to explore the coast from the sea. 

1st AFTERNOON

1st AFTERNOON

14 h. Faro, the capital oh the Algarve

You should not miss out on a trip to the capital of the region. The attractive city walls of Faro and the centre can be easily visited on foot, so you can soak up the culture and the history of the civilisations that have passed through this important Mediterranean port. The old centre can be reached by means of the Arabian Arco da Vila Gate, crowned by a carving of St Thomas Aquinas, the city's patron saint. The majestic Sé de Faro, the cathedral, was built on the lands of the former mosque. The same thing happened in the case of the 18th-century Bishop’s Palace. Outside the city wall there are other interesting monuments, such as the baroque Igreja do Carmo and the Capela dos Ossos, a chapel constructed using the bones of Carmelite monks. You can take a stroll through the lively pedestrian area found along Rua de Santo António, full of craft shops selling leather, pottery, basketwork and tiles. If you get the chance, we recommend buying local products for your lunchtime picnic: bread, dried figs, sheep's cheese, spicy cured sausages, marinated olives, vinho verde, almond sweeties and a bottle of amarguinha, a delicious bitter almond liqueur. 

 

16 h. Getting away from the hustle and bustle in Ría Formosa

Starting in Faro, you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centre and discover two of the natural beauty spots of the region. The first is Ría Formosa Natural Park (Visitors’ Centre 1 km to the east of Olhão), an interesting place where you can find out about the fauna and flora of the Algarve. It consists of a series of salinas and salt-water lagoons protected from the sea by a unique chain of sand dunes that offer shelter to numerous water birds, plants, insects and fish. You can also get to know the Portuguese water dog, a breed that is in danger of extinction which is bred here, and which was used in the past for fishing. The second are the deserted beaches found between the Ría Formosa and the Atlantic, on the Armona and Culatra Isles which, with their white sand and crystal clear water, are a piece of paradise. They can only be accessed by boat (every day from Olhão, Faro and Tavira). There are companies such as Natura Algarve,which offer romantic evenings on board at the islands with vinho verde, strawberries and poetry recitals. We should also mention the infinite Ilha Tavira Beach, the most accessible one of the entire ring of islets, which can be reached by ferry or along a walkway.

 

19 h. History and nature inland

The journey inland shows a very different side of the Algarve. An uneven landscape dotted with white villages has lush plant life in the form of citric fruit and cork oak plantations, which remind you that Portugal is a significant cork-producing country. The woody area of the Sierra de Monchique offers you the possibility to enjoy pleasant family walks or to go to the spa city, Caldas de Monchique. Meanwhile, in other places there are important prehistoric sites, Roman villas, Arabian forts and Manueline-style chapels. You should definitely try to see the cobbled streets of Silves –previously Xelb– which, under Muslim domain, was a city of brilliant domes and minarets, palaces covered in marble, and the cradle of poets and artisans. There is the market and the Loulé art galleries as well as the springs in Alte, one of the most beautiful towns in the rural Algarve. You might also like to visit the peaceful village of Estói, which has a splendid rococo palace with orange tree gardens and azulejos, and the 1st-century A.D. Roman settlement of Milreu. 

 

21 h. Charge your batteries in a pousada listening to fado

Sardines, cod and tuna fish are the basis of the fishing trade and the canning industry in Portugal, as well as being the main ingredient of the succulent southern gastronomy. The coast is full of restaurants, taverns, bars and pousadas where you can enjoy delicious fresh fish and seafood. Some of specialities of the region are roast sardines; atum de cebolada - a fillet of tuna fish on a bed of tomato and onion; fish or meat cataplana; caldeirada – a fish stew with potatoes; lulas recheadas – squid filled with meat and rice; and lamb stew or ensopado borrego. Don't forget to ask for desserts, mainly prepared from almonds and figs, and queijadas. The Algarve is a delight for your palate. If you would also like to delight your ears, you will find several places which play pleasant sessions of fado, African slave music whose tradition would be their destiny.

2nd MORNING

2nd MORNING

10 h. White sand and fishermen's villages 

Leaving Faro, take the A-1 motorway towards Estremadura and the La Beira Coast, signposted to Costa de la Plata, famous for its architectural treasures, its handicraft, its forests and, of course, its beaches. On reaching Batalha, and after a visit to the spectacular Dominican Santa Maria da Vitória monastery, declared World Heritage by UNESCO, travellers should turn off towards Nazaré. This beautiful fishing village preserves all its traditional charm. It is not unusual to find the fishermen and their wives mending their fishing nets on the beach, which is one of the most picturesque ones in the region. We recommend taking the cable car that takes you to the highest part of Sítio and offers a wonderful panoramic view of the coast. Just over ten kilometres to the south, you come to the white sandy beach of Sao Martinho do Porto. Another important port is Peniche, in a small peninsula, whose inhabitants live off the sea. A fort and a 16th-century wall, narrow streets and old houses with their snowy white facades are another of its attractions.

 

13 h. Ploughing through the Aveiro canals

Before visiting the small Portuguese Venice, Aveiro, we suggest stopping of in Figueira da Foz to do some parasailing or surfing. A little further north, Praia da Mira is a beautiful fishing town set among the dunes of a natural reserve, the Atlantic and Barrinha Lagoon. You can swim in the lagoon. The boats on the beach give it a picture postcard look. The peaceful waters of the Ría de Aveiro and its marine lagoon have, for centuries, conditioned the life of this place, which it is believed was founded in the time of Marcus Aurelius and which became prosperous thanks to its salinas and the bacalhoeiros that fished in Terra Nova. The city is laid out in an interesting labyrinth of canals that are sailed by colourful moliceiros, small boats that collect the alga that is later used as a fertiliser. On both sides of the Central Canal, there is a series of art nouveau buildings, a fish market, Aveiro Museum, churches and monuments. We highly recommend you to try the ovos moles, a local speciality based on sweet egg yolks covered in sugar, in shapes inspired by the sea.

2nd AFTERNOON

2nd AFTERNOON

17 h. A stroll through historic Buçaco

A delightful botanical garden dotted with giant trees, chapels, caves, monasteries, lakes, viewpoints and springs with crystal clear water. This is a general description of the Buçaco forest, which grows in the middle of the mountain range, to the north of Coimbra. We highly recommend that, for a while, you forget the sound of the sea and submerge yourself in this magical universe which was a place of retreat for the Carmelite monks in the 16th century. Species that had been brought in from the colonies were planted and today, in addition to more than 100 hectares, the place has more than 700 species. Its paths have borne witness to chapters in the history of Portugal, such as the battle of Buçaco in which Portuguese and British troops confronted the French in 1810. From the Cruz Alta viewpoint, there are magnificent views of the Fonte Fria, an impressive waterfall that is fed from six springs, of the Vale dos Fetos (the valley of the ferns) and, of course, of the wonderful neo-Manueline style palace built by the last monarchs of Portugal in the 19th century, which today is the Hotel Palace do Buçaco. Although it occupies the area where the former convent used to be, all that is left of the original building are the cloisters, the chapel and some cells. To help you relax, what could be better than submerging in the thermal waters of the neighbouring city-spas, Luso and Curia?

 

19 h. The oldest university in Portugal 

In beautiful Coimbra, you will be able to enjoy Portugal’s cultural heritage, in particular, its university, one of the oldest, most illustrious and best-preserved ones in Europe (it was built in 1290 by King Denis of Portugal) and its sumptuous baroque library, which contains more than 300,000 books. In the old centre, the atmosphere is that of a university town, with groups of students singing fados, burning the ribbons of their togas to celebrate the end of exams or enjoying a delicious plate of suckling pig. The home of kings and a place through which many civilisations have passed, the National Museum Machado de Castro is home to Celtic, Roman, Mozarabic and Christian archaeological remains that bear witness to the important role that Coimbra played in founding the Portuguese nation. The emblematic buildings include the 12th-century Sé Velha, in Romanesque style, which is more like a fort than a cathedral, São Tiago, Santa Cruz and São Salvador churches and the Torre de Anto. Finally, at the Portugal dos Pequenitos theme park you can explore the country, thanks to the miniature models of its towns and temples. 

 

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