Whatever the reason for visiting the Algarve, do not give in to the temptation to miss the stunning beaches. They are not like beaches in other popular holiday destinations such as Spain. For a start, the beaches in the Algarve are not on the Med but the Atlantic, so there is a proper tide, big waves and the beaches are just a bit wilder, especially as you go west: wherever you are, you are never far from a really good beach. Almost all have the coveted EU blue flag for water quality and while some may get crowded, you don’t have to go far to get off the beaten track. Here is the first of an occasional series of some of the best beaches, starting off with the Central Algarve which is where you will find the beaches that are likely to be closest to where you are staying.
Praia da Marinha
In the most central part of the Algarve, Praia da Marinha is the classic picture postcard beach that regularly shows up in lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and appears on lots of postcards and posters. The eroded limestone forms outcrops, arches and caves that are very photogenic and great fun. Snorkelling is superb, as the sea is particularly clear, and the rocks continue out to sea. The white sand may hold your interest all day, but boats depart from here for very scenic tours of the sea caves along the coast. It has restaurant, WCs and car park.
Praia do Ançao
From Faro in the east to Olhos d’Agua in the west runs a continuous stretch of smooth white sand along which are lots of the area’s most famous beaches. Praia do Ancao is a continuation of the Quinta do Lago beach (but with free parking) and has a wide, clean, sandy beach surrounded by dunes, protected from development as it forms the western end of the Ria Formosa National Park. It is usually much less crowded than some other beaches in the area. One of the best fish restaurants in the Algarve Dois Passos is here, built on stilts right by the sand and where you can eat indoors with amazing glass walls, or upstairs on the open terrace.
Head a bit further towards Faro and you come to the village of Olhos D’Agua with its delightful beach. The rocks and cliffs here are very good for climbing. Flat rocks jut out into the bay and at low tide you can scramble over them and explore the rock pools. On the sand are rock formations and caves rather like on the Praia da Marinha.
Praia da Gale
Gale is a quiet residential area a few kilometres to the west of Albufeira. The beach is 4km running over to Armacao de Pera, perfect for running or walking. At the eastern end are sheltered rocky coves, good rock pools and wild rocky fun, and to the west end it is wider, more open and spacious but generally it is wide, sandy and beautiful. The great thing here is that you just walk and walk until you get tired or find a nice bit. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes (mainly around Gale). At the eastern end is also the Vila Joya hotel and restaurant, with 2 Michelin stars.
Santa Eulalia Beach
A very pretty, smaller beach about 3km east of Albufeira, almost a secret and quieter than the other beaches in the area. Just off the beach is a strip of restaurants and cafes and a good hotel. The beach backs onto attractive and dramatic cliffs, with a couple of beachfront villas nestling into them.
Stretching for 4km alongside the lively town of Lagos, this is a fun, sociable beach that fills up with all sorts and more but always has plenty of spare sand even if it does get busy sometimes. Several good bars and restaurants are on the beach itself, so you can make a day of it here.
Praia da Luz
Just a bit further along the coast in a lovely bay surrounded by cliffs and high ground is Praia da Luz. The town is built around the beach, so everything is convenient and you can walk off the beach to any number of restaurants, bars, shops or anything else. Villas that are very close to the beach are also easier to find here. A fun beach, you can often find things such as sand sculpture competitions at different times of year, and sailing dinghies and windsurfers are available for rental.