The Algarve- A Portuguese Adventure Playground for the Whole Family

 In Europe

Think of Portugal’s Algarve on the southern most side of the country and you probably think of sun, sea and sand. After all, there are 74 blue flag beaches scattered along this coastline. But The Algarve is more than just a beach; if you pick the right time of year it can be a challenging playground for an active family. In this guest post, Kirstie Pelling explains how an Algarve Adventure with changed her mind about package deals to the sun…

The Algarve

I am allergic to being still and I’d rather eat a sand sandwich than sunbathe. As a family we are much more used to dodging snow or rain on city breaks, or biking in strange places. So what do I do when the plane lands in The Algarve this past February, and everyone else drives straight to the beach to lie down for a week? I turn a cheap package holiday into an active adventure with the help of high ropes, horses, surf boards, bikes, jeeps and kayaks. And I take the kids along for the ride.

Or is it them talking me for the ride? Cameron (age 10) is miles ahead on our tree top adventure, only stopping to point out wobbly footholds and advise on swingy things at Albufeira’s Parque Aventura. Meanwhile Matthew (age 12) turns out to be a dude-in-training during the family surfing lesson at Meia Praia. Who knew he could ride a wave on his knees? And Hannah (age 7) discovers a hidden talent for pony trekking as she trots steadily through a valley of almond blossom, forging fast flowing streams like she’s a veteran of the gymkhana.

The Algarve

You don’t have to dip a toe in the Atlantic

If you’re not a beach person, don’t let that put you off trying The Algarve. It’s not all sun, sea and sand. Well, it might be in peak summer, but if you go off season the interior is a lush, tranquil and mountainous place.

We make our way up Foia, part of the Serra de Monchique mountain range, in a jeep. We pass walkers on some of the area’s classic hikes, like the Via Algarviana that winds through the mountains to the Spanish border. And we even catch an international cycle race at the top of the mountain.

Dutchman Frank Jupman from leads our jeep safari. He also makes it his personal mission to educate us about his adopted homeland. We learn where Columbus and Henry the Navigator studied and plotted their great explorations. We find out how to harvest cork, and how to grow eucalyptus; we have a heated discussion about which might make an entrepreneur the most profit. We stumble upon citrus, figs and kumquats, local markets, back street cafes, a granite quarry, a cork factory and even a Formula One circuit. We visit the home of a Medronho producer, where we drink firewater and then cool down our burning throats with honey, as the bees buzz around their hives. Then we drive back in the shade, watching women irrigate the terraces on the mountainside. The work looks hard, although it must bring rewards; the mountain settlement of Monchique has 10 high street banks for just 5000 people.

The Algarve

The Algarve

The tourist strips are many and varied

Down at Albufeira, there’s fierce competition for the tourist buck, and it’s hard to find a single mile that hasn’t had the life developed out of it. This does have the advantage of keeping prices competitive, and offering huge choice. But a short drive down the coast takes us to a town that blends tradition with tourism in a more seamless way. We wander around the whitewashed streets of Lagos, marvel that anyone ever manages to get into the tight parking spaces, and then sit outside a café snacking on the tiny but addictive pasteis de nata pastries. We try to entice the kids into the Slavery Museum or the stylish Fort da Ponta da Bandeira, but they’re happier playing in the fountains near the city wall. We all love the little stray cat hotel at the edge of Meia Praia beach.

The Algarve

The Algarve

But why miss out on the best bit?  

With 74 blue flag beaches it would be crazy for a family like us to ignore the sand, so we bag a few at high speed. We build castles, have picnics, bury each other, go boardwalking in the dark, and cartwheeling in the sunshine. We paddle in kayaks and explore caves, climb sandstone crags and venture into barnacled beach tunnels. The tourist crowds haven’t yet descended for their summer holidays, so we have the clean white beaches pretty much to ourselves. We don’t do any sunbathing.

As I head back to the airport, thoroughly exhausted, I wonder if I might be in need of a holiday?

The Algarve

Kirstie is a founding partner of The Family Adventure Project, a family adventure lifestyle blog that encourages families to get out, get active and adventure together. Kirstie and her family have cycled over 12,000 miles in 20+ countries in search of adventures but they are just as happy seeking them out in their own backyard. The blog is filled with ideas and inspiration for an active, healthy family lifestyle. You can find them on Twitter @familyonabike, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube.

All photos are property of Stuart Wickes, The Family Adventure Project, and used with expressed consent by the photographer in this post. 

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