A villa holiday in Portugal is a holiday classic. Quick and reasonably priced flights, no time difference, great weather, gorgeous beaches and easy to navigate roads all add up to an easy holiday choice. The area of the Algarve around Albufeira is beautiful, but often over-populated with tourists. Our writer, Laura, recently visited a resort towards the western tip of the Algarve. Here’s what she got up to, and all the things you could do!
Where we stayed:
Situated on the south coast, towards the westernmost corner of the Algarve, the resort of Santo Antonio is a calm oasis surrounded by wild hills. The resort is lush and well appointed, white-painted villas with blooming gardens encircle the vast golf course in the centre. Driving in, you pass tennis courts and bowling greens along with signs to the restaurants and spa.
Who are we:
Three mid-twenties friends meeting for a few days of sun, surf and sand. We are not normally classic ‘resort’ people, more used to camping and dinky apartments! Needless to say, we were all very excited for our villa holiday in Portugal. I had spent lots of time in the Algarve as a child, but my Canadian friends were brand new to it.
Who you could be?
A golfer, a sporty family, a couple of foodies, a gaggle of friends looking to chill out, a history buff.
What we did:
Here’s a day by day diary of what we got up to on our villa holiday in Portugal. I’ve also done a sample itinerary that you could do, depending on your taste and your holiday companions!
Arrived at Faro airport and collected hire car with minimal fuss. A few minor “detours” collecting my pals from the bus station in town, but the three of us were happily on the road by noon. We arrived at the villa, oohing and aahing at the enormous birds of paradise in the garden, and gorgeous cobbled stone walkways, giving it a cute village vibe. The villa was huge, the pool warm and lovely and we had our pick of several sunny patios.
We threw on our bikinis and sunglasses, and, ravenous, made the 5 minute drive down a winding road to the little village of Salema. The beach there was a huge sweep of golden sand, with a handful of Portuguese and British families playing in the sand. We sat at the first sunny patio we found at the Atlantico restaurant and enjoyed some icy pints of local Sagres beer and a seafood lunch. I opted for the tuna steak with tomatoes and olives which was fresh and delicious, and my friends ate the sole with butter and almonds – which none of us had tried before but really enjoyed. After a windy walk on the beach after our late lunch, we picked up some snacks and Vinho Verde (local, light and slightly fizzy wine) and took them back to our villa to catch up.
After a lazy morning getting our tans started by the pool, we packed up our towels and drove into Lagos, probably the biggest local town. Within half an hour we were loving the view and the vibe at Praia do Ana. This beach was gorgeous with amber rock stacks and cliffs, with a bit more of a young, buzzy crowd playing volleyball and playing music.
We declared the sea a bit too cold – being May it hadn’t quite hotted up yet, so we hit up the beach bar for some fantastic barbequed sardines. Simple, delicious, so Portugal. After a couple more hours on the beach, we took a wander through the warren of pretty streets that make up Lagos. It’s famous for being a backpacker town, and there were definitely a couple of streets with plenty of fun-looking bars if we’d wanted to party. What we didn’t expect was the amount of culture there – we saw lots of galleries, a theatre, some fantastic street art and some great little artisanal shops along with some scrummy looking restaurants.
After researching the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve, we took a road trip (only an hour) to Praia da Marinha, stopping at a roadside stall for a bag of oranges on the way. Although we had downloaded maps ahead of time, the roads were actually amazingly well signposted and we found finding places very easy. The beach is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, photos do not do it justice. We spent the day there swimming through the rock archways and exploring the caves when the tide went out. Being the weekend it was a little busy, but it didn’t feel crowded at all. Taking snacks is definitely a good idea, as the beach bar was limited and quite pricey compared to other places we went.
On the way home we stopped at Portimao for enormous ice creams and a wander around the port. Then back to the villa for home-made paella and more Vinho Verde, of course.
After going to Portugal with the intent of surfing but not 100% confident in our abilities, we’d been waiting for the perfect weather, and on the last day we got it! We had read about Praia do Amado as being a great beach for surfers of all levels, so we headed up the west coast into the natural park to find it. After bumping (very slowly) down a dusty track we made it! It’s totally undeveloped, with just a couple of surf shacks and a snack bar at the top of the cliffs, but nothing at all on the vast expanse of beach.
On one side the waves were definitely bigger than us, but we were entertained by watching some incredible surfers doing their thing for a while before we plucked up the courage to go in. We rented boards and wetsuits for a couple of hours and had an incredible time. Even if we weren’t entirely successful, we got out of the water exhilarated, tired and a bit proud of ourselves. There are a few surf schools that teach from there too if you wanted to get a pro to show you how it’s done.
We popped in to Sagres for a look around but found it pretty sleepy and not as picturesque as other places we’d visited, so we returned to Salema beach for ice cream and a paddle. Follow that by a sunset dinner on the balcony and I’d say we had a wonderful first Portugal resort experience.
What you could do:
Of course, our trip was catered to our specific tastes; there are plenty of other things you could do with a four-day holiday in the Algarve. Here’s a sample to whet your whistle.
Wake up early and get your swing started with 9 holes of golf before the sun is at its hottest. Clubs are usually available for rent if you don’t want to bring your own. Courses include Santo Antonio Resort, Monte Rei and Pine Cliffs. If you have little ones in tow, they are sure to love spending the morning or the day making new friends at the kids clubs available at most Algarve resorts. After all that walking around and working on your handicap, it seems only sensible to have lunch at one of the resort restaurants or on your terrace, and spend the afternoon by the pool.
Hit up one of the famous family beaches close to you for the morning and in the afternoon, give in to your kids, (or your inner child) and head to a waterpark. Slide and Splash is probably the biggest but there are others to be found throughout the region, more on that here. These purpose built parks are touristy, sure, but are they also lots of fun for kids of all ages? Heck yes.
Spend an indulgent day with an on-site spa treatment at the resort, then follow up with a wine tour. There are plenty of vineyards in the area, but if you need a suggestion Quinta Dos Vales is a great one. It’s a vineyard on a lovely estate, that also has dedicated spaces for unique sculpture and artwork. The wine tour of the vines and cellar is really interesting, the wine is excellent and tastings are plentiful.
End the day with dinner at one of the fantastic beachfront restaurants scattered along the coast. Portuguese seafood is really incomparable, the freshest and most naturally flavourful you’re likely to taste. Sandbanks at Vale do Lobo is a chic choice, with bleached wood, white sails, great views and fab food. Our foodie guide has many more restaurant suggestions too.
End on a decadent note and hire a yacht for your group for the day. You’ll be able to explore the hidden caves and beaches along the coast, swim in the stunning blue sea and maybe even spot a few dolphins along the way. Normally a small crew will accompany you to show you the ropes and skipper you through anything complicated, but you can, of course, rent a smaller boat and captain yourselves. Southwest charters based in Lagos are a good place to start.
Check out our full guide to the Algarve for some more great ideas, and our top picks for activities in the Algarve here. Hope that’s been helpful in planning your holiday in the Algarve, don’t forget our concierge team are always around to help you find the best resort and villa for your needs.