Portugal’s Algarve coastline is ready to astound you, appeal to your inner artist and challenge you in more ways than you can imagine. Join us as we hug Portugal’s coastal fringes in pursuit of visual experiences that are set to blow our tiny minds.
We’ve seen some stunning sights around Europe over our three years on the road, although none so evocative for me as the rich experience of the coast. There’s something that grabs me deep within when I hear the sound of the crashing waves pounding against the rocks, the seagulls’ cries as they skim above the brilliant blue seas and the contrasting colours of the sand against the ocean. It truly brings out the poet in me and I find a seaside fix almost a necessary dosage to my inner happiness.
So you can imagine my delight when we started to explore the craggy Algarve coastline. From a previous holiday 15 years ago we knew that the south west was pretty spectacular, although had no idea about the bits in between. It was like visiting Willy Wonker’s Chocolate factory.
We have hiked the coast, taken a gazillion photos and exclaimed in sheer delight at the wondrous sights before our eyes. Mother Nature playing a starring role in her shaping of this most southerly coast of Europe. Here we share our thoughts on the routes we’ve taken from Algarve central at Armacão de Pera to Alvor.
Portugal’s Coastal Geology
Now I don’t intend to complicate matters with the composition of this Algarve coastline. Let’s keep it simple! This coastal region is a predominantly limestone with karst features along this southerly edge, blended with rich mineral deposits. Whilst over thousands of years, the land has been battered by winds and waves that sweep in from the Atlantic Ocean, the Algarve coastline is also significantly shaped by seismic activity due to the Loulé fault that lies through the region. There is also a fault line that lies off the coast and these have had and continue to play a huge part in the shaping of this coastal beauty. The Lisbon earthquake was a massive event in 1755, although in 1969 the Algarve was hit particularly hard. Smaller events are noted and undoubtedly affect the coastline together with its weather buddy. (For information of Portugal seismic activity you can check out this website which gives up to date information.)
During the winter particularly the seas take on a personality that seems something like a tempestuous teenager. Enormous waves forming way out at sea, roll in tune with the fresh winds as they hammer their way to the coast. Crashing and thumping their full weight onto any shore and cliffs that happen to get in their way. This southerly coastline slowly buckles beneath its force and decades worth of natural forces slowly make their mark on the landscape. Leaving for us a stunning coastal perspective that puts one of its beaches in the Top 100 Best Beaches in the World.
So geology lesson over, let’s place our focus on the beauty that these natural forces continue to carve for our delights. For this particular post, we explored what is known as the Rocky Algarve due to the craggy and gnarly limestone artwork that is evident here. Giant and sheer cliff faces defy access to those who wish to conquer the land and yet conversely the little bays, coves and caves that have formed thanks to the relentless pounding of the seas, is enough to have your heart melting.
Our 5 Coastal Hikes
1. Armacão de Pera to Galé
Easy beach walking up to 6 miles return (approx)
Heading east to west, our first hiking recommendation is from Armacão de Pera. This is a tourist town just 50km west from Algarve’s capital Faro. From its peninsular at Galé, this arcing bay is wall to wall sand that can often look like a scene out of a Desert Monthly magazine. With mounds of sand moulded by the incessant winds that blow on-shore, camels are the only thing missing from this evocative painting. The town, whilst certainly a tourist hot spot, has its areas of authenticity; namely the fishermen’s huts from where they still launch their boats from the sandy shore as there is no harbour here in Armacão. Beach walking is extensive around here and it is possible to reach Our Lady of the Rock fortress and peninsular, which offers great views back across the town. Although a little bit of road walking is necessary to reach it.
2. Alabandeira to Our Lady of the Rock
Medium difficulty – some clambering required. 75 mins duration and 4 miles return
We wilded overnight at the parking here for two nights. What an incredible spot with waves crashing to the twin beaches below. At low tide they are worth checking out. Just thirty seconds to the west you will find the most incredible archway that offers great views up and down the coast and it is especially beautiful at sunrise.
The walk to the east from the parking area took about an hour and fifteen, including photostops and using the orange dots that mark the way, you can deviate to the edge of the cliffs for some amazing views. There’s a number of blow holes that you can just about see into on tip toes and the cliff line and secret beaches are incredible. There is one point where you are required to climb down the cliff on a rough path, and then scale up the other side. At times the path is narrow and eroded, although unless you have vertigo is doable.
The destination is Our Lady of the Rock which is a peninsular on which a fortress was built to protect the area from pirates. A chapel was also built here, which was partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The 16th century chapel stands today and has the most staggering views perched on this small peninsular at the mercy of the sea gods. And as such it is a monument of Public Interest Patrimony.
The walk back will take you significantly less time without the indirect route and photos – I made it back in 30 minutes.
Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.
3. Albandeira to Benagil Caves
Easy to medium difficulty, 5 miles return taking 2.5 hours
Heading west from the car park area, you get a chance to savour the magnificent view of the archway, which like most things looks so different at various points in the day
The views will have you wowing pretty regularly and with a path that is continually bordered by wild juniper bushes sheltering all sorts of wildlife, you will be in for a natural world treat.
There is one part of the walk that has the feel of someone’s back garden, as the path becomes landscaped and walled with the most divine wild freesias creating a heady scent that boosts any weariness that you may be experiencing.
Just around the corner comes one of the main sections of the walk and a big bucket list tick if you are determined to visit every one of the 100 Best Beaches in the World – Praia de Marinha. Used on advertising for the Algarve, this beach can easily rub shoulders with the best that Malaysia and New Zealand can offer. Steep steps carry you down to the beach from the cliff top and at low tide you are able to walk to the famous M Rocks.
Continuing on from there, you eventually reach the famous Algar de Benagil. This is the must see of the area and sadly during the winter season when the seas are rough getting entry into this sea cave by boat or canoe is a no go. Still being able to get a glimpse of it from the clifftop gives you a suitable tease for what might be beneath you feet and have you rushing back to see it in calmer seasons.
Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.
4. Alvor to Portimão
Easy to medium difficulty, 7 miles one way taking 2.5 hours
Alvor has a brown sign off the main roads – we like brown signs as it always means there’s something pretty to see. And Alvor is delightful. It has many features; the town, which is predominantly restaurants enticing tourists to sample their fare. Then there’s the harbour and fishing area, where the traditional Algarve fishermen’s sheds take the beach hut to a whole new level. With locals chilling or mending their nets, this is a bit of culture right before your eyes. Alvor also has its sandy beach, its peninsular and then…. Then there are the rock formations. Of all the sections of coast we saw this was our favourite as at low tide you could get down and personally with these naturally carved pieces of art. Arches, stacks, tunnels and cliffs that look like Leonardo has painted its intricate layers of gold, yellow and orange streaks. Set against the blue ocean and the green juniper shrubs, this place will wow you. I felt like a child at a fun fair – not knowing which way to turn and certainly not wanting to leave.
Up on the cliff tops, you can then walk miles – sometimes slightly inland, sometimes hugging the edges of this precarious landmass that is surrendering slowly to the sea. Whilst the sea may ebb and flow from your view, you will still be captured by the fields of wild lupins and daisies. Hoopoes and finches flying around you as you meander around the coast towards Portimão. A stop for lunch at one of the beaches is a must surely?
And as you see the skylines changing from the natural architecture of the cliffs to modern, high-rise tourist homes, the feel of the coast does change. Although I still found myself marvel at the show th coastal fringes displayed.
However you feel about tourist destinations, Praia de Rocha will certainly help you overcome any dislike you may have the towering giants looking for the picture postcard view. The beach stretches out for 1km with its curvaceous bay and golden sands inviting you to strip off your shoes and walking socks and get down and dirty on the beach. Allow the grains of sand to wedge between your toes and feel the warmth of the day’s sun on the souls of your feet. Or if you prefer there is a boardwalk you can promenade along instead.
At the end of the beach, the personality of the area changes to a high class marina with identical apartments lining the water’s edge. Across the water you see Ferragudo and yet another masterpiece in the Algarve coastal gallery. At this stage we decided to organise a taxi back, using the Uber app. For €7.71 and 10 minutes we were soon home with our feet up and a refreshing cup of tea. 7 miles was more than enough for one day.
Click on the image below for our Gallery of Pictures.
5. Carvoeira to Ferragudo
Cycle route taken – 10 miles round trip 1.5 hours
After the miles we walked this week, Myles’ foot injury from two years ago came back to haunt him – so no more walking for a couple of weeks. Instead we took to our bikes instead to capture the Carvoeira coastline.
From our campsite we cycled 10 minutes into the village, which is charming. Its one way cobbled street, lined with elegant shops leads down to a pedestrian area full of vibrant bars. The golden sand beaches just implore you to place your naked feet upon its velvet covering.
If a beer tempts you, then succumb and people watch – even in February there was plenty going on. We continued up the west side of the village to catch a glimpse from the vantage point. Taking the quiet roads we cycled through the very neat and very smart area on the outskirts of the village, home to millionaires we’re sure.
The Arriba da Salgadeira peninsular is amazing with views east and west show-casing its magnificent cliff face and hidden bays carved out by the pounding seas.
Our final destination was the Torre do Lapa, which is a 17th century watchtower, protecting the locals from pirates. It is one of many similar structures located along the coast, which on in the event of danger would send out smoke or fire signals to the other towers so they could keep alert to the dangers. From here we were able to cycle the 3 miles back to to the campsite happy in the knowledge that we had seen a bit more of the coast, without putting any pressure on Myles’ injured foot.
Practical Tips for Hiking the Algarve safely
As with any type of hiking, a few basic rules and common sense apply. Although given the precarious geology in the area it is worth being a little more alert to the dangers than on some other coastal routes.
1. If hiking out of season watch for slippery rocks as whilst the days are warm even in January, the nights are cold and there is often a dew.
2. During winter hiking take plenty of layers. The winds along this exposed Atlantic coast can be harsh, so be prepared.
3. If hiking in the height of season take plenty of water. Whilst there are cafés on some of the routes, dehydration can be a big issue, so walk responsibly.
4. You are walking in an area with seismic activity, so be mindful that tremors could happen at any time and create crevices in the rocks.
5. Keep away from the cliff edges – whilst it is tempting to get up close and personal, the cliff fringes are delicate.
6. There are areas that have been cordoned off with wooden barriers. Observe them, they are there for a reason. In the Benagil area there are fines for anyone caught climbing over the fences.
7. Make sure you wear solid walking shoes and not the flipflops we saw so often! The cliffs are stoney and uneven, so caution is required.
8. There are orange blobs and arrows to follow so you shouldn’t get lost, although I suggest taking your phone with the app maps.me. For walking this is far better than Google Maps as it shows footpaths and will guide you back should you loose your way.
9. As so often stressed in any nature walk, “Take only pictures and leave behind only footprints.”
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