The Algarve: Driving Southern Portugal

by Lauren on April 14, 2014

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Portugal’s southern coast is one of breathtaking beauty. The Algarve region is a popular summer destination, famous for its beaches, but there is plenty to see and do year around.

Hiking: A three-hour drive from Lisbon, the mountain town of Monchique is a refreshing and off the beaten path destination. Beautiful vistas are everywhere and hiking trails are plentiful. For a welcoming place to stay, check out The Art of Joy, a relaxed bed and breakfast run by a warm Dutch couple.

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The Art of Joy’s Eugene and Annelies are expert hikers with reams of suggestions for the adventurous. Make sure you visit Café Ochala after a morning hike for tea and homemade dessert. Then stroll up a cobblestoned hill for a quick tour of the Convento de Nossa Senhora do Desterro — her ruins still stand after the earthquake of 1755.

By “tour,” expect an affable invite by the squatters inhabiting the premises. They’ll show you around, in Portuguese.

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Scenery: Along Portugals’ southern coast are a number of trails and paths, which weave in and out of beaches, and along spectacular cliffs. At the seaside village of Benagil is the start of one such beautiful walk. Trail access is immediately to the left of the Algar restaurant — just ask the locals for the Restaurante Algar.

Don’t forget your camera and a bottle of water, and inquire about the parking situation before you arrive. Parking is plentiful in the off-season.

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History: Southern Portugal is home to one of the oldest and most significant castles in Moorish history, the Silves Castle. Striking yet understated, the castle is southeast of Monchique. In its centuries of existence it was the developed by the Moors, captured by Christians, and then won back by the Moors.

Remember to hang on to your kids as you stroll along the castle’s high exterior. Just outside the walls you’ll find Cafe Ingles, an artsy and stylish lunch café. Harried wait staff left much to be desired, but the desserts were out of this world.

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On the Water: Lagos is a busy, sea-side destination with vibrant summer nightlife, and also the historical epicenter of slavery in Europe. It can feel sleepy in the winter, but the maritime tradition is alive and well. White-washed walls and boats dotting the marina provide a chill backdrop.

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However you craft your itinerary, make sure to leave time for leisurely lunches or a chat with friendly locals. The Algarve may be one of the busiest tourist destinations in all of Europe. But really, why rush it…

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