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Portugal’s balmy south has hit the holiday jackpot with reliable sunshine, natural good looks, and a diversity of accommodation to keep everyone from family savers to big-spenders satisfied. And whether you’re going to the Algarve for golf, surfing, or fly-and-flopping, you’ll love the short flight, warm welcome and great value.
Brits' love affair with the Algarve is longstanding. With 3,000 hours of sun a year, golden beaches, and prices low enough to make it good value despite the fluctuating euro, its popularity with holidaymakers is set to stay. Beyond the good value, family-friendly resorts you’ll find a remote, rugged coastline perfect for hiking, and secluded, picture-perfect beaches with stunning surf breaks.
The Algarve is what you make it. Take the kids to the Central Algarve and you’ll find Blue Flag beaches, numerous waterparks, accommodation designed with families in mind and competitive prices – try May and October half terms for off-peak prices with still-warm weather.
Well-groomed greens and sea-view tees characterise the region’s many golf courses, where competition fuels continual investment and keeps standards high. You can enjoy a round at any time of year, with winter deals making stays and plays more affordable.
The Algarve knows a spa is the perfect accompaniment to an 18-hole holiday, and its luxury hotels have expansive wellness facilities offering everything from pampering massages to high-tech anti-ageing procedures and fitness boot camps.
Albufeira is the most popular resort, with a vast beach, pretty old town and a strip of bars and clubs hedonistic enough to keep the hardest of party animals satisfied. More modern Praia del Roche has an even larger beach and an equally heady nightlife. If you’d prefer a sleepier stay, go slightly north to Portimao.
Exclusive Vilamoura is built around a marina, and is the top spot for golfers, with the exclusive restaurants and shops to match. Neighbouring Quarteira has less character but a lovely beach, and doesn’t carry the Vilamoura price tag.
Looking for something more authentic? Lagos has one of the Algarve’s best beaches, plus a vivid and visible history – see the fort and churches, or pop to the fishing village of Sagres nearby – a popular spot for surfers and the most south-westerly point of Europe. Venture to the far west, where the Atlantic pounds a dramatic coastline and carves rocks into sculptures on secluded sands, and you’ll be in the region’s best hiking and surfing territory. Or head east from Faro to find whitewashed villages set in olive groves, hardly touched by mass tourism.
With some of the most reliably balmy weather in Europe, there’s hardly a bad moment to visit the Algarve. Families take advantage of the short-haul sunshine – usually tempered by a sea breeze – in the school summer holidays, so it’s worth booking in advance to get the best deals in this busy period.
If you aren’t boxed into a six-week window, June and September temperatures will still see you bake and bronze, and if you’re planning anything active – from playing on the legendary golf courses to hiking or cycling in the region’s more remote and rugged beauty spots – then you’ll be thankful for the cooler temperatures in April, May, October and November.
You can still enjoy winter sun right through the season in the Algarve, with spa and golf on offer year-round. Low prices mean long stays are great value, so you can take an extended escape from the British winter.
The Portuguese love sardines and eat them by the bucket load. Witness the healthy obsession in action at this tasty fiesta in Portimao.
Step back to the 12th century with this action-packed week of all things medieval. Hundreds of stalls line the streets of historic Silves, with costumes, food and the odd bit of jousting.
Flights from the UK touch down at Faro Airport on the Algarve’s south coast, and there are a whole host of transport options just waiting to help you continue your journey.
Hiring a car in the Algarve is simple and convenient, and allows you explore the region at your own pace. You’ll be able to discover secluded villages and remote beaches that have no public transport access, and enjoy the simplicity of throwing all your gear in the boot.
The Portuguese drive on the right, and roads are in the main well signposted. It’s worth paying the toll to use the wide, comfortable A22 highway, which stretches from the Spanish border to near Lagos in the west.
If your plans lean towards a lazy fly-and-flop holiday – and who can blame you? – then taxis and transfers will be your best bet. Taxi ranks are found in all the major resorts and city centres, but it’s worth noting down numbers for a few local cab firms if you plan to head off the beaten track. Uber has been operating in the Algarve since 2016, with a higher concentration of cars available in the bigger cities of Faro, Vilamoura and Albufeira.
Most taxis can only take four passengers, so it’s worth booking in advance if you need a six or eight-seater. Pre-booked transfers make a reliable choice for airport journeys, and give you the advantage of specifying the vehicle size to suit your party.
Local bus services have the reputation of being a little haphazard, but rail travel in the Algarve is cheap and reliable, and with a line running from Vila Real de Santo Antonio all the way to Lagos it’s a viable option for longer journeys. Find timetables and prices on the Comboios de Portugal website.
Nearly 90 Blue Flag beaches line the Algarve’s 200km coastline, but for something different try Alcoutim’s river beach – that’s Spain on the other bank.
The Algarve is known for its fruity, heady wines, but don’t miss medronho, the arbutus-berry brandy that has been produced here since the 10th century.
For an active day out, head west to the Algarve’s Atlantic Coast for a surf lesson. There are schools at Sagres, Praia do Amado and Praia da Arrifana. Gnarly.