Imagine stunning rock formations framing turquoise waters and fields of wild flowers, under brilliant blue skies. The Algarve is that unique juxtaposition of a destination with plenty of infrastructure but also a rugged spirit. While much of the region is developed and tourists reign supreme, you can still find hundreds of hidden cliffs, caves, beaches and villages to explore. Rent a car or jump on a bus and be prepared to be stunned. These guides focus on three locations in the Algarve - Lagos, Sagres & Benagil but you can set out to discover many more.
At the "end of the world," Sagres lies in the southwest corner of Portugal. The wild countryside and laid-back surfer vibe, make this an ideal stop for relaxation and leisurely exploring. Expect less tourist traffic than Lagos but still plenty of good infrastructure in terms of restaurants, cafes and accommodation options. You'll want to spend at least two days here.
There is something about the rugged and wild landscape in Sagres that will summon your inner explorer and motivate you to get moving. Start early before the noon heat kicks in with a walk, jog or workout along the sea cliffs. There are so many scenic spots to choose from that you might want to opt for a moving workout - try this moving circuit for inspiration.
Sagres is meant for exploring. You'll see natural beauty without even trying but if you want to peer beyond the top layer, you'll need to go off-road. Rent a bike for the day to discover literal off-the-beaten paths. Expect to pass sheep and dodge wild brush; this is not an experience that you'll come out of as pretty as you went in but, wow is it ever worth it! You'll be surrounded by thousands of flowers, sit alone on sea cliffs and discover hidden beaches.
Rent your bike from most surf shops in the town center for 12 to 15 euros for the day. (Plan for at least 3 hours as simply getting to the paths requires a 35 - 40 minute cycle along the main road.)
If you only eat at one restaurant in Sagres, this is the one to do! Trusting the advice of a fellow New Yorker, we gave Vila Velha a go and it certainly delivered. The seafood and traditional Portuguese dishes here were the tastiest that I had during my entire trip. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation and don't miss the Piri Piri Prawns!
There are two main beaches close to the town center, Mareta and Martinhal. Personally, I found Mareta to be far better in terms of atmosphere and scenery. It depends whether you choose a villa, hostel or hotel but most likely you'll be closer to Mareta anyway (the exception being if you choose to stay in a surf lodge.)
Before taking a dip in the water, grab a cold drink and a seat on the balcony of Restaurante Raposo. Try local Portuguese beer (Sagres) or a caipirinha - it was surprisingly one of the better ones I've had outside of Brazil!
There are many options in the town center for a cuppa but nothing really beats sipping it next to the ocean. Many hotels will have restaurants with a sea view even if yours doesn't so there's always a way to watch the waves as you fuel up for the day.
Be prepared to pack summer clothes for the warm days and more layers for cooler nights. The temperature drop is significant and you don't want to be discouraged from dining in the lovely outdoors just because of the cool winds. (This is coming from someone who constantly packs a little too positively with the lightest of light summer clothes. I usually make do but this time I had to resort to shopping for sweaters!)
Seafood, seafood and more seafood. If you like it or even if you don't usually, this is the place to try. Often restaurants will prepare dishes made from the catch of the day. It doesn't get any fresher than that! For healthier prep, order your courses grilled with a squeeze of lemon.
Also, although not technically a nutrient...the white wine is outstanding and easily a treat in itself. Be sure to try Paxa Escolha (a white wine) it's local to the Algarve and phenomenal! Don't miss a chance to sip on Vinho Verde either if you haven't had it.