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Visit Algarve in mid-April 2015: Yes or No?

Visit Algarve in mid-April 2015: Yes or No?

Feb 25th, 2015, 04:42 PM
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Visit Algarve in mid-April 2015: Yes or No?

We will visit Portugal from April 8 to 22, following up on a very successful first encounter with this country in April 2014. Last year, we based ourselves in Evora, Batalha (1 night only), Tomar, Guimaraes and Lisbon -- and loved them all.

This time, we plan on delving further into areas (such as the Alentejo) that we skimped on last time. We still have 5 days unallocated. I'm wondering whether we should spend some time in the Algarve, which we've not seen.

We like: history, striking scenery, good food, especially seafood. We avoid: noise, congestion and crowds, especially our fellow English-speakers.

I have researched the Algarve online, including Fodors threads and TRs. Most material is oriented to younger, summer-time travelers looking for a beach holiday -- and we are none of those things.

What I've gleaned to date through my reading is:

Sunnier and warmer than the North (another area we haven't fully explored)
Some protected spaces, with dramatic, unspoiled landscapes, which are a big draw for me
Plenty of tourist infrastructure
Peace and quiet in the off season

Massive development and huge hotels, at least in the central Algarve region
A relative dearth of historic architecture other than in Faro and a few other places

Can someone steer me to a less-developed and less international corner of the Algarve where we might be happy to base ourselves for a few days, exploring nature and discovering some charming small towns?

Or am I foolish even to look to the Algarve for the sort of experience I enjoyed when traveling last year in the rest of Portugal?
tedgale is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 01:28 AM
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Weather in April is unpredictable all over Portugal.
In my opinion, the North (Coimbra, Porto, Douro Valley, may be Spanish Santiago de Compostela and Salamanca) is more interesting than the south.
neckervd is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 01:49 AM
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Well the massive hotel bit is unfair, the area does have hotels but not many massive ones. Two areas of unspoilt are at the east and west extremes, Tavira is a good place to stop on the east side, with open land and nature parks almost all the way to the Spanish border. The town has a Roman bridge, a pleasant centre, salt pans and a beach on a sand bar.

At the western end the whole place is nature park with some nice little villages down on the front, ok aimed at the tourist but still pleasant enough, with some fine bird watching, stay at the Parador (probably not the right word) at the tip.

You'll need a car.

There are also plenty of other nature parks all the way along, around river mouths etc, (I once spent 4 hours trying to get a bike out of the mud at one), you just have to slow down and enjoy the place.

Alentejo is even nicer but a bit more away from the beaten track.

Avoiding English speakers, might be tricky. They make their money by being able to speak the main European languages.
bilboburgler is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 08:55 AM
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Bilboburgler: I'm intrigued by your comment that the Alentejo region is even nicer.

I have reserved 3 nights at the pousada in Estremoz but would be happy to extend our stay with another booking in the region if there is enough to see and do.

Last year we spent 2 nights just outside Evora and I regretted we did not have more time. We explored Evora, Estremoz and Vila Vicosa but did not get beyond that small sub-region. This time I'd like to see the hillier towns closer to the Spanish border( we WILL have a car). Beja also looked interesting.

If I could find somewhere to base for 2 nights after Estremoz, that could be a substitute for, or an adjunct to, the Algarve.

Or we could just do as neckervd says and add time in the north. We have 3 nights reserved at the pousada in Viseu (where there was a time-limited special deal) but could expand that leg of our trip.
tedgale is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 10:59 AM
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Ted: We were advised on our first trip to Portugal in 1984, by our friend who was living there, to stay away from the Algarve, as it is NOT the real POrtugal.

Unfortunately, I think that is largely still true. We did spend 2 weeks in the Algarve several years later (about 2003 or 4, I think) but it was in February!! Meaning all the English and Irish were somewhere else, because although it was quiet and easy to get around, it was COLD. Cold and sunny was OK with me, because I live in the Hudson Valley, so cold is a relative term.

I think it was Bilbo who said at the extreme ends, the Algarve is not so bad,and that is true. The pousada called Henry the Navigator, or some reference to HIm, is in
sagres, way West, and is lovely. There are some smaller towns along the beach on the way out to the western Algarve,which are rather nice in the off season.

Lagos is a large town, but is interesting, off season, again.

Also, off season, if you go up into the mountains just above the Algarve, there are some nice little towns around Monchique, and that area.

We very much prefer the north of Portugal, and we have gone all the way to the top, to Valenca da Minho, above Ponte de LIma, which is the center for a very nice groups of "pacos" which are small "palaces" private homw which take guests. We spent Christmas there on year at the home of the young Conde de Caleirhos, (who is no longer young, as it was 1985) a lovely man who is now head of this group of 'pacos'

Towns like Tomar (maybe you went there last year, I think I remember reading about your impressions of the Manueline architecture.) and Viseu, and Braga, and north, are marvelous and much more real

I'll dig out my trip report (not posted here) and see if I can give you any other ideas.

Oh, yes, go to Monsarraz in the mountains on the border, that area is breathaking, as are all the border areas, because of the mountains. (a few hairy roads, however!!)
taconictraveler is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 11:16 AM
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Also we loved Guimaraes, in the north. It is a real town, and it has two pousadas, although you may wish to stay at other places. There was something about this small city that was super.

We have never spent time in Porto. Some people say that it has become very worthwhile to visit. I'm sure others on the site will be able to comment.
taconictraveler is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 03:23 PM
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Thanks Taconictraveler for the advice. I read your blog posts too, which helped.

We've had so much cold, rainy weather here in Savannah -- it's 7 C/ 45 F here today -- that I've become obsessed with getting sun and warmth on this April trip. I think that's what is pushing me toward the Algarve. I have a horror of rain and cold when I'm traveling....Otherwise we'd probably do something bold - like driving to Santiago de C and then make our way back south to Lisbon!

Btw, we too stayed in one of those Guimaraes pousadas last year, high above the town, and greatly enjoyed it.
tedgale is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 11:38 PM
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I like the North and the South as well as the area around Lisbon. As well as riding a bike across the Algarve I also spent some time with some ex-pats in the Alentejo who are keen bird watchers. Needless to say there are miles and miles of land that can be walked across, un-interrupted by the view of tourists, there is the famous oak-road with loads of, well, oaks, from which corks are made. There is also a lot of money going into new wineries towards the Spanish border. Using mordern technology and training but local grapes, these are some of the most interesting wines in the country at the moment and given that the wines of this country are so interesting they cannot be avoided.

Much as like Faro, I would think it and the central area of the Algarve needs to be avoided at high summer.

I've driven down from Santiago d C into Portugal and its not a bad drive, but I've seen some better looking towns.

If you have a historical bent you could try and follow the path of Wellington's fortresses that drove the French out of the country, not much left. If you are a reader of the Sharp novels, you can see the monestry in Porto that was a key part in an artillery duel across the river etc etc.
bilboburgler is offline  
Feb 26th, 2015, 11:40 PM
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Just reminded myself you are going in April, not so bad in Algarve, I've found some great little boutique hotels with added yoga, honey, yoghurt, rosemary etc al volente!
bilboburgler is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 06:44 AM
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There's a pousada in the sleepy town of Estoi that used to be a Roman-styled villa -- it's away from the coast, but from there, you can daytrip easily to these interesting and atmospheric places: the little village of Alte, the fortress at Castro Marim (and duck over to see pretty Ayamonte in Spain), the aforementioned gem that is Tavira, the pristine and magical white tiny town with gorgeous views Cacela Velha - - along with Faro, and Loule (the Saturday market in Loule is fab). A daytrip west to Lagos might be nice for some tasteful tourism and tasty restaurangs. Also, I haven't been, but apparently the sands south of Tavira are great for long nature walks.
dfourh is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 06:47 AM
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One additional word - - we go to the Algarve in March and the roads and resorts are empty - - there is considerably more activity beginning around Easter, but it still won't feel jammed.
dfourh is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 09:17 AM
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Ted, we are off to Lisbon tomorrow night, staying one week in one of the Fado Flats you mentioned last year, and then spending three weeks in a rented house in Monchique in the Algarve.

Our original plan was to spend those three weeks driving Portugal from the north to south, but after a lot of soul searching, we finally decided that we simply wanted to set up house in one location and make exploratory day trips. Once we settled on that, we looked for more rural properties at either the eastern or western end of the Algarve, finally finding a place in Monchique that we think will work for us.

The big draw for us will be hiking; we will be very close to the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina, and there are, of course, a lot of clifftop and beach trails along the Algarve coast. We may also make at least one overnight excursion into the Alentejo.

I realize the weather may be iffy, but we have had a brutal winter in Halifax (and this from a guy who is usually happy enough with winter). Anything above 10C will feel incredible.
AnselmAdorne is offline  
Feb 27th, 2015, 09:28 AM
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AA - have a great trip!
Elizabeth_S is online now  
Feb 27th, 2015, 11:06 AM
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Thanks, Liz. We'll do our best!
AnselmAdorne is offline  
Feb 28th, 2015, 01:57 AM
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Monchique looks pretty hilly, not been there, have fun.
bilboburgler is offline  
Feb 28th, 2015, 04:04 AM
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Anselm: Good to hear from you (and the highly esteemed Elizabeth_S).

Monchique was already on my radar screen. I love the idea of hilltop and sea-cliff walks - not really feasible for R because of heart problems but I can do stuff on my own.

Friends who love the Alentejo also recommended the SW part of the region as somewhere to get close to nature - close enough too to W Algarve that we could make day trips.

I was in London 2 weeks ago for 6 nights for my brother's wife's memorial service. I flew from Savannah; my sister and her husband flew from Halifax. They were checking online constantly for Hfx weather during the snow storms there. Sunday flight home cancelled. Monday flight home cancelled. They got another flight to Toronto but could not get out of Toronto. Overnight there, then they flew Tuesday to Ottawa, where my BiL was supposed to be on Wednesday for business. Never got to Halifax til Thurs or Fri. What a mess you've had there!
tedgale is offline  

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