Algarve – how to escape winter on a budget

As much as we seek to explore new terrains, we are appreciating the comfort of repetition and the well known. In this spirit, after spending the 4th winter vacations in the Algarve region in Portugal, I think it’s safe to say it became a family tradition. A comfy foretaste of spring while Paris is  still buried under road salt (theoretically, if they would ever bother, different story…).

It started some years ago, I was pregnant with my second son and lunatic emotionally everything but stable. Sunlight was a desperate attempt to find some zen such a need , that we had to shift in some last minute vacation that had to fulfill the 2 main requirements: rich in sun and low in budget. After some research, it became apparent, that the Algarve region seemed to be our swiss army knife. And hell yeah, it was!

Where to stay

When deciding on whether to stay in Portugal in an Airbnb or an Hotel, we left our normal path and stayed in a hotel. Our reasoning was very simple: we visited Algarve in winter and the possibility of rain and cabin fever was relatively high. Besides that hotels are usually offering more space to hang out, we picked one with an indoor pool (and Spa, Hammam, Sauna and Gym) to have more options on rainy days. Our hotel room came furthermore with a well equipped kitchen that helped us to keep our catering costs within budget. (and a washing machine, the top 1 item in case of a stomach bug, experience talking here)

As a location we chose Albufeira. Probably no destination we would go for in high season, but perfect in winter; enough stores and bars are open for convenience but generally, it is rather deserted. Albufeira lays although quite central and is a good starting point to explore the Algarve region.

view over Albufeira’s old town

view over Albufeira’s old town

Where to go – our Top 5 hot spots in Algarve

Even though we discover each time something new, we just keep on coming back to some places without that they are loosing any of their charm. This being said, the sights and landmarks below are anything but a complete  “top sights in Algarve” list, it’s rather a collection of our favorite spots.

Our Algarve top five: 1.Sagres, 2. Monchique, 3. Praia de Marinha, 4. Loulé and 5.Faro

Our Algarve top five: 1.Sagres, 2. Monchique, 3. Praia de Marinha, 4. Loulé and 5.Faro

1. Sagres

Sagres, (roughly a 1,5h drive from Albufeira) in the very lower left corner of Europe is clearly our front-runner. Just outside town, on a peninsula that reaches far into the ocean, lays a fortress that is strongly linked to Portugals nautical past and the 15th century explorer Henry the Navigator. Even Francis Drake can be linked to the fortress of Sagres: being himself, he pillaged it in the 16th century.

However,  besides its kick ass historical relevance, Sagres is just stunningly beautiful. A trail leads once around the land tongue, along steep cliffs, rough landscapes and bat shit crazy fishermen that are balancing on the very edge of the crag to drag up their dinner – or crash in the stiff breeze. Either way it makes you hold your breath.

One of the fishermen in Sagres, standing on the cliffs as you do.

One of the fishermen in Sagres, standing on the cliffs as you do.

and as you are already there, at the end of the world, pass by the Cabo de São Vicente  and maybe Hercules sends some waves your way:

2. Monchique

When leaving the coastline of Algarve and head inlands, you will soon stumble upon the hilly grounds of Monchique. It’s perfect for hiking and outdoor stuff.. or you just do it our way: stop in town, have a drink on a terrasse, enjoy the sun and watch people who are doing outdoor stuff.

After you’re all warmed up, head to Mount Foia. The streets might be challenging for people with motion sickness but Algarves’ highest peak will reward you with a spectacular view. In a 30km far distance you can even spot the sea. We usually use this trip for a Picnic at the mountain top and to fill up our water bottles with the local source water. That is really a thing by the way, people are queueing to fill up their bottles.

3. Praia de Marinha

Praia de Marinha with it’s dramatic rock formations is probably the most classic Algarve postcard motive you can find and you REALLY don’t wanna miss it – trust me, you don’t. From the parking you can turn either right, to walk on the cliffs and enjoy the view or take the stairs on your left to explore the beach. We choose the explorer option and en par with the season, we were almost the only ones down there. (Good for us: noone could witness our parenting fail highlights when our son 1. got almost carried away by a wave and 2. we carried absolutely no spare clothes (or food or drinks) with us)

Exploring Praia de Marinha – the most famous rock formations in Algarve

Exploring Praia de Marinha – the most famous rock formations in Algarve

4.Loulé

A bit off the coast lays the typical Algarven town of Loulé.  The indoor market offers a huge selection of fresh fish, local fruits, veggies, cheese and everything else the region has in display. You don’t wanna miss the old town neither, the cobbled stoned streets are cute and cozy and make great motives to rock your instagram profile #nofilterneeded

cobbled stoned streets, colourful houses and cute doors – The old town of Loulé

cobbled stoned streets, colourful houses and cute doors – The old town of Loulé

After feeding on too much junk food for some unreasonable amount of days, we were searching for a more authentic kitchen in Loulé. The Restaurante Cavaco was the right place; simple, local, friendly and very affordable with excellent food, including the obligatory Medronhos we had along with our coffees. We are basically locals now.

5. Faro

… and this I will keep for another time 🙂

Breakdown:

Flights: 314€  with Easyjet (78€ p.P.), only hand luggage

Hotel: 240€ (the Cerro Mar turned out to be a good deal for us)

Rentalcar: 78€ with insurance, we brought the car seats for the kids from home

Check out more pictures from our trips in the Gallery

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