Algarve in Autumn – Portugal in October: So much Sun!
Sometimes, luxury is in the small things. It’s in getting away from grey and cold seasons and enjoying the sun, all without traveling too far. My advice? The Algarve in Autumn. Especially outside of the summer season, you can enjoy warmth without masses of tourists. In the middle of October, my husband and I were invited to visit friends on the Algarve. It was my first time in Portugal: join me along the lagoons and cliffs to discover small villages and tasty Portuguese cuisine. I’ll tell you why I would never live in Faro, why sometimes you just shouldn’t turn around, and why it doesn’t always have to be a restaurant with stars.
Arriving and Renting a Car in Faro.
After an almost three-hour flight from Dusseldorf, we arrived at the airport in Faro. The airport was freshly renovated after the roof collapsed from heavy rainfall in 2011. Not all the work is done yet, nevertheless the arrival and departure progressed flawlessly. The airport also has a lounge (1. Level next to gate A52) which is accessible with a Priority Pass. Conclusion: Nothing special, but sufficient. The big car rental companies are located directly next to the airport. Some of them, however, are a little further away, so you may need transport. For these cases, employees of the company will wait for you after the baggage claim with name signs and lead you to the next free shuttle bus.
The weather at the Algarve in Autumn.
In mid-October, the Algarve is still warm, around 30 degrees with a light breeze. Very comfortable, especially after was 14 degrees and rain just a few hours ago in Germany. In autumn, the Algarve offers between 6 and 8 hours of sun per day and an 18-degree water temperature, the perfect mix for a beach vacation. December can also be quite warm with temperatures around 15 degrees. A vacation during the winter season could prove a good alternative to the Canary Islands.
Driving a Car at the Algarve.
We jumped in our rental car and started our journey! Off we went to the East. We stayed on the N125, the main road and lifeline along the Algarve. Apparently, it’s one of the most dangerous and accident prone roads in Europe. The condition of the road is definitely worrisome, but that didn’t prevent people from attempting risky passes. There is also a highway, the A22, which is relatively new and connects the West and the East of the Algarve from as far as the Spanish border. However, the toll, its distance from the coast, and the bigger cities makes it less popular. The toll system is also rather complicated, so if you do take that route, I’d recommend you to also rent an electronic toll device.
First Impressions of the Country and it’s People.
As in most parts in Southern Europe, the vegetation is more brown than green in autumn. We passed almond trees, olive trees and tall bamboo. The scenery stayed the same: empty ruins alternating with houses in dire need of renovation. Sometimes, you can see a spark of old beauty shine through the old facade.
Then, suddenly, there were huge modern shopping malls and discount stores separated by barren fields with malnourished horses and dogs. I have never seen so many dogs anywhere. Every property had at least one, and they were also on the streets and barking from balconies. If you drive along the N125, you can get a close picture of people’s lives there. Once a great colonial empire, Portugal is now among the poorest members of the EU. 40 years of dictatorship and financial crises have taken a toll on the land and people. Nonetheless, or maybe for that exact reason, the country’s people are still friendly. While a little more reserved and quiet than their Spanish neighbours, they are still quite willing to help others. Our friends have told stories of cars pulled out of ditches and collaborating on renovation work. The Algarve and its low crime rate makes it one of the safest travel destinations in Europe. At least if you don’t count traffic accidents on the N125.
The East Algarve – Ria Formosa.
Up until then, I had only seen the typical photos of the Portuguese cliffs (which I will show you shortly). So, I was quite surprised by the scenery that awaited me at the Algarve. On 80km2 you can find lagoons with small islands between the Atlantic and the main land. Ria Formosa, a nature reserve, also offers various forms of wildlife and habitat. Never would I have thought of doing a tour around the tidelands. If I think of tidelands, I think of Sylt, not Portugal. It was a wonderful new experience!
Faro – Old Quarter and Aviation Noise.
Contrary to my expectations, Faro has a beautiful old quarter with small shops, sometimes selling high value goods. Small parks and squares and also the harbour all invite you for a stroll. Because of the university, the city also offers various cafes and restaurants. Very surprising, maybe even a little terrifying, was the aviation noise, which came with a constant fear that a plane would crash during take-off or landing. In no other city have airplanes come so close to my head. It was unbearable, and I’d recommend not staying in Faro for this reason.
Fuseta – Beach and Fish.
Fuseta is a fishing village in the Moorish style with a small harbour and wonderful beach. With the protection of the lagoon, it’s a perfect place for swimming with your children. The freshly modernised beach shops offer toast and cold beer. At the Praca da Republica, you can find many small restaurants with outside seating areas, but the best fish is sold on the street. At the cafe Dos Mestres at the Largo 1° de Maio, or rather on the side walk across from it, you can find fresh fish with, albeit, a Spartan atmosphere. The freezer for the fish and the grill are right next to the street, and the fish tastes marvellous and is unbelievably cheap. Be there early or you will not find an empty seat. Of course, a Vinho Verde pairs perfectly with the dish.
If you decide to drive a little further in the direction of Santa Luzia, I recommend the restaurant Marisquiera Fialho, right off the Ria Formosa. The seats are right next to each other on the roofed terrace, and the atmosphere is very modest and warm. Try a few delicious traditional dishes, like the Cataplana: a hotpot of mussels and pork. Sounds unusual, but tastes brilliant. If our friends had not planned our dinner schedule, we probably would have missed out on some delicious food, all because of the looks of the restaurants. Thank you! My recommendation: if you are interested in good and traditional Portuguese dishes, pass on restaurants with exclusive atmospheres. Don’t be fooled by the exterior. You will not regret it.
Olhao – Market and Street Art.
Olhao is the area’s government seat, and with 15.000 inhabitants, is much busier than Fuseta. In the big market halls at the main street, you can buy fish, meat, fruits and vegetables daily. On Saturdays, you can even shop outside the market hall. From the harbour, you can catch ferries to the islands or connect with many boat tours. Olhao offers a plethora of shops, cafes and restaurants, and exciting architecture with a strong African influence. The town also has a big street art scene. Susanne knows almost every part of Portugal and can take you on a Streetart-Tour through Olhao .
Tavira – It’s Worth It.
This small village has a unique character. The traditional Portuguese architecture in the city centre is especially beautiful. The river, which runs straight through town, is fed by the Atlantic, and at low tide you can watch mussel seekers in the river bed. The village also has a small castle with a tower you can climb to watch the city. In the past, the city was a popular trading place, especially for fish, and the evidence of this heritage is everywhere, even on the beach. My recommendation: visit Praia do Barril. There, you can find 100 old anchors used for tuna fishing. You can reach the beach through a bridge and a 1km long path, either by foot or tram. It’s worth the trip. A dream beach on the Atlantic coast! At the entrance you’ll find gastronomy and a supervised area, but if you go a little further down, you’ll be by yourself.
The West Algarve – the Classic.
You can follow the N125, along the entire Algarve. Our trip took us from Fuseta to Praia do Vau near Portimao, close to Lagos. I definitely wanted to see the stony cliffs, which I had only ever seen in photos. Maybe it was because the singular rocks standing in the water reminded me of the 12 Apostle at the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
Quarteira – better not.
There were many opportunities for short stops and we choose Quarteira without any prior research. With my feet in the water, I looked out into the ocean. Beautiful! But don’t dare turn around. When I did, there was a grotesque promenade, one architectural sin after another. Each held a few charmless bars and small restaurants with sun bleached pictures of dishes for English or German guests. The main season was over, and the party street was deserted apart from a few senior tourists. The scene was sadly typical for many parts of the Algarve. Many parts were packed with buildings, especially close to the beach. Not a pleasing sight.
Praia do Vau – Finally cliffs!
On we went to the west. No more experiments. We stuck to our plan and drove to Praia do Vau / Praia da Rocha. But, there too, buildings crowded the beach and disturbed the atmosphere. At least they weren’t as tall as in Quarteira. I tried to ignore the shock and focused on the beach and the rocky shore. It was late, and the sun sank deeper and deeper. It was worth the trip – in that light, the atmosphere was wonderful.
Luxury hotels at the Algarve.
Deciding on a hotel is a difficult topic made worse by the unsightly buildings at the beach. I could not imagine spending a week here on beach holiday without a rental car. You can find classics like the Conrad or the Sheraton, as well as many hotels designed for golf players, as the Algarve offers many priced golf courses. The prices are relatively cheap. For under 200 Euros per night, you can book a room in a 5 star hotel. From a first impression, my hotel was rather unspectacular. The premises was huge and certainly had beautiful gardens, but there was no charm. If all you want is some autumn sun, this is probably at the right place.
My Hotel Recommendation: Pousadas – Small but Nice!
I would like to recommend an alternative for exploring the Algarve or even Portugal itself: old land houses and palaces – the so called Pousadas. I was able to explore one in Estoi. The Small & Luxury Hotel PALACIO DE ESTOI is a magnificent old palace with a lot of atmosphere – both inside and out. The hotel rooms and the pool are located in an attached modern addition to the building. I could not test the quality of the rooms, but would certainly prefer this hotel to a large resort. You can find these Pousadas all across Portugal and can check out an overview here on Posadas of Portugal.
Algarve in Autumn – Conclusion.
If you don’t need Chi Chi or Bling Bling to feel well, I recommend the Algarve in the off-season. East Algarve offers luxury of a different kind: empty beaches on the Atlantic coast that you can walk on for hours. Friendly and respectful people await you. The wonderful Portuguese cuisine and outstanding wines, all at a good value, will please every foodie. And of course, there is the excellent weather that can give you your much needed sun in the autumn and winter, all without a long flight. I want to explore more of Portugal and am already planning a road trip from Pousada to Pousada.
(Translated by Barbara Riedel)
Have you visited the Algarve? What did you like most?
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