Alternative Algarve: The off-beat guide to Portugal’s Southern Coast

When you think of the Algarve, you think images of sun-drenched beaches, luxury resorts, towering golden cliffs and sparkling turquoise waters. It’s a haven for sunseekers and family holidaymakers, and it packs out in the summer months – especially during the European school holidays. 

Below we’re introducing you to the Epic take on Portugal’s southern coastline. As you know we like to get under the skin of places, so here we are sharing our little black book of off-the-beaten-path experiences, hidden natural sights, and unique local activities. Forget the crowded beaches and generic buffets, we’ll connect you with the region’s rich history, local artisans, and authentic Algarvian culture. 

If you’re travelling to the Algarve in 2024 or beyond you can mix iconic sights with some of these lesser-known visits.

Explore the untamed West Coast

Swap your flip-flops for hiking boots and trade the relaxed resort crowd for the adventure of crashing waves and open ocean. The Algarve’s untamed west coast, especially around the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, offers a dramatic counterpoint to the developed south. Here you’ll find rugged cliffs sculpted by wind, hidden beaches that are a magnet for surfers, and quiet villages

Beaches such as Monte Clérigo or Praia da Arrifana are two favorites with the surfer crowd, who flock here for relaxed sunny holidays away from the crowds. This stretch of coast also attracts hikers who can walk all or part of the Fisherman’s Trail, a multi-day 227 km hike that starts around Sines and ends in Lagos. Roaming along this patch of wild West Coast allows you to reconnect with the raw beauty of the Algarve.

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Join a cooking class that visits a local market

The food in southern Portugal is different from the rest of the country. The warmer climate means oranges, avocados, and even mangoes grow in the Algarve. Almonds appear in many desserts, and there’s even a seafood stew called cataplana that derives from a time when the Moorish people lived and worked here. Learn all about local flavours with a private cooking experience

Taste Algarve is a family project that connects visitors with the roots of the Algarve coast. Visit a local market to discover what’s in season and locally made products, then join the family at their 7-hectare organic farm, Monte do Alamo. Meet the friendly farm dogs while you wander the garden, then get into the kitchen and roll up your sleeves, ready to cook.

Go beyond the beaches, and discover ancient history

The postcard-perfect images of glorious Algarve beaches and charming towns rarely depict the rich ancient history of the place. Journey inland to Silves Castle, an ancient Moorish stronghold perched atop a hill. If these red-rock walls could talk they’d tell tales of riches and conquest. It’s thought the first fortifications here were built on top of a Lusitanian castro (ancient hill fort) by the Romans or Visigoths. Between the 8th and 13th centuries the Moorish occupied and expanded the castle when Silves was the regional capital. Now it’s considered one of the best preserved Moorish fortifications in Portugal.

Venture east along the Algarve coast until you reach Castro Marim, a riverside village with Roman and Islamic influences. The best thing to do here is explore the traditional saltpans and learn about the age-old methods of harvesting this “white gold” from the glistening salt marshes. Or take a dip in one of the extremely salty pools, then stomp around the mediaeval castle with Bronze Age roots.

Read next… The Epic Hot List: The Must-Do Experiences in Portugal in 2024 

Taste wines under a 2,000-year-old olive tree

Set amidst the Algarve’s orange orchards and olive groves lie a number of small vineyards. And the best of the lot is Morgado do Quintão, a family-owned vineyard and estate that’s squeezed between the Monchique mountains and the cool Atlantic Ocean.

Share in the family’s real-food philosophy with the “Farmer’s Table” experience, where you’ll enjoy a spread of local ingredients turned into simple, Algarvian dishes, paired with a wine flight from the estate. Your slow food feast will be enjoyed beneath the shade of a huge olive tree, estimated to be around 2,000 years old. The huge branches provide shade as you look out over the biodynamic vineyards, where generation after generation has tended the indigenous vines.

Connect with locals and learn a new skill

Sustainable tourism is about more than carrying a reusable drink bottle and choosing to recycle. It’s about the positive impact that visitors can have on local communities. What’s even better is when locals get to earn a living – or extra income – sharing their ancestral skills with travellers. 

Epic is committed to empowering local communities as part of our travel design – it is a great way to have fun and give back. When you’re in the Algarve, we’ll connect you with a local company who offer ecotourism experiences such as guided hikes, artisan workshops, gastronomy experiences, and nature tours.

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Find your peace at a hidden retreat

Beyond the busiest stretches of coastline there are plenty of tranquil corners to find your inner zen. This southern region of Portugal is well-known as a place to slow down, relax, and find peace. It’s why there are many self-care and wellness activities on offer in the Algarve region.

For the ultimate in relaxation, you could join a yoga retreat or wellness weekend. You’ll stay at a private property, either surrounded by rolling hills where nothing interrupts your breath exercises, or by the ocean where the calming rhythm of incoming waves sets the pace.

The Algarve has a huge range of accommodation choices from beachfront 5-star hotels to secluded and private eco-retreats set within nature. Whatever your accommodation style, you can always lace up your hiking boots or hop on a bicycle and explore the peaceful Algarve countryside. Disconnection is really the ultimate luxury because it allows you to reconnect with yourself.

Want to explore the Algarve yourself? Get in touch with our team and we’ll design and curate your dream southern Portugal trip.

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