Algarve, Portugal

Sunny days of cliff top walks and hidden cultural delights

Overview

Crowded beaches of summer sun worshippers, feasting on fresh fish and partying late into the warm evenings are doubtless a massive boon to the Algarvian economy. Although it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the tourism industry contributed almost €36 billion in 2019, a staggering 20% of Portuguese GDP. With easy access from Faro’s International airport and a well-established tourist infrastructure, it’s hardly surprising that holidaymakers choose the Algarve’s beautiful 200km coastline for their peak season family getaway. By mid-September however, the vibe begins to relax, seasonal staff start to return to their village homes and during the low season November to March, the area reverts to a more authentic version of itself. These mild winter months in fact offer an ideal chance to escape the grey sky days of northern Europe, engage with the locals, reconnect with nature or play a round of golf. For the low season Algarvian traveller, gone is the scorching heat, the busy bars, the crammed sands. Now it is your time to kick back, explore at your own pace, and linger of a long long lunch of wholesome southern Portuguese cuisine washed down with a bottle of delicious local wine.

88 Blue Flag Beaches

Unless you take a wet suit, the water might be a little cool for dip, but that doesn’t mean the low season traveller can’t enjoy the Algarve’s stunning coastline. Explore the area, checking out secret coves, phenomenal rock formations and age-old blowholes, or just stroll on crowd free stretches of golden sand.  The south facing beaches tend to be calmer while the western coast is wilder and more dramatically rocky. Marinha Beach, Manta Rota and Praia do Ancão are good choices but take a car and find your own favourite. Better still, hire a boat from the marina at Portimão and approach by sea.

 

Hiking and Cycling

Not something you want to do in the summer heat, low season is a fantastic time to discover the diverse trails that weave through the pristine nature of the region. Take in birding hotspots, wildlife reserves and beautiful views, as well as cultural heritage sites. Key routes include the magnificent Via Algarviana, a long-distance path running the length of the Algarve to the western tip at Cape St. Vincent; and the Vicentina route which covers north to south from the Alentejo region to Sagres.

Cyclists should check out the Ecovia, comprising five stretches of already-existing cycle routes, country trails and low traffic roads. 3, 5 or 7 day guided and self-guided itineraries including plans, accommodation and food options are available from tour operators.

 

Going Inland

Doubtlessly the ocean is an integral part of Algarve life, but many don’t realise there is so much more to discover.  Just a short distance inland, you’ll find a rural landscape, old villages with narrow winding streets, and charming market towns where people live in harmony with the seasons, speak limited English and embrace a traditional culture rich in local crafts, music and dance. Moorish influence is clear in the ceramics and architecture from the pretty little azulejo glazed tiles to the impressive battlements of the forts at Silves, Paderne, Tavira and Aljezur. Roman ruins dot the landscape and are still very much in evidence, for example, at the thermal spa waters of Caldas de Monchique. Catholicism is embraced as a central part of village life, where attendance at the local whitewashed medieval church is customary.


Major Airport

Faro Airport: FAO

Low Season Months

Jan
14°C
85mm
5hrs
Feb
14°C
25mm
6hrs
Mar
15°C
40mm
7hrs
Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
17°C
72mm
6hrs
Dec
14°C
117mm
5hrs

Featured Hotels

Top Experiences

Self-Drive Adventure

With public transport a bit limiting in low season, hire a car and go for your life. From the beaches of the southern coast and the natural park at Ria Formosa to the wild rocky west and the surf town of Sagres you choose where you want to go. Travel at your own pace and linger where you like.

Jazz in a Vineyard

A low season initiative bringing together top quality cross cultural offerings. Several wineries offer tours, talks, wine tastings, and tapas, showcasing seasonal produce along with musical entertainment. Poetry, guitar music, soloists and Latin rhythm bands may also take to the stage.

Be the King of the Castle

Climbing the ramparts of a magnificent Moorish stronghold is a must for kids and brings out the child in the rest of us. An absolute favourite is the red sandstone castelo at Silves, reached by climbing the narrow streets of the old town. It’s brilliantly preserved and the views from the top are amazing.

Insider Tips

  • For low season activities check out the website for 365 Algarve showcasing local events, exhibitions, festivals, art, and music projects. This initiative enhances, differentiates and diversifies the region’s varied entertainment throughout the year, and is appropriately subtitled ‘Make Every Day Count’.
  • The Algarve has its fair share of nature parks, reserves and an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna. The Castro Marim wetland is a haven for birds hosting 200 species year round; Ria Formosa is a system of Atlantic barrier islands; and, though smaller, Lagoa dos Salgados homes rare species.
  • What kind of a low season break do you need? Faro and Lagos are major centres with year round cultural events. The large resorts of Albufeira, Vilamoura, and Pria de Rocha have a large expat community and a lively atmosphere. Tavira, Alvor, Carvoerio and Sagres are much quieter in winter.

Good To Know

  • Don’t be tempted to drink and drive. With wine and cocktails tasting great and at good prices too, it is easy to indulge. Choose instead to take an Uber. Download the app for an efficient, fast and cost effective service. It’s a chance to chat to local drivers too and get their insights into places to go.
  • Many of the beautiful shore front fish restaurants remain open for lunch throughout the winter, when you’ll find them more relaxed and calm. Please note when ordering fish, it will be brought as the whole fish rather than filleted. Good local sustainable choices are sea bream, dourada, and hake.
  • When planning your itinerary, don’t make your schedule too tight. Chances are you’ll come upon a small bar or beautiful harbour and want to chill a while. Take your time to explore each location fully allowing a couple of days free to do the things that you will discover only after arrival.

Food & Drink

São Gabriel, Almancil

£££££

There are 6 Michelin-starred restaurants in the Algarve and São Gabriel is a firm favourite. Chef Torsten Schulz produces delicious dishes in the charming farmhouse set in lovely gardens. Inspiration is Algarvian cuisine reinterpreted, such as whelk tartar and scallops with pear.

Aguardente de Medronho

£££

The Algarve produces some very distinctive wines especially rosé and reds. For something much stronger try medronho or firewater, the tradition brandy moonshine drink made from the fruits of medronho trees. Many growers of the 48% liquor remain unlicensed but a blind eye is turned.

Seafood Cataplana

£££

Named after the special dish in which it is cooked, this flavourful stew is traditionally made with clams, but can include all types of fish, seafood, prawns or even chorizo or pork. Its tomato based sauce is enhanced with onion, garlic, wine, paprika, and parsley and served with bread.

Hotel Deals

Booking.com

Experiences

Reviews

Menu