Activity holiday in the Algarve, Portugal

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Sagres, western Algarve

I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to the Algarve. It was my first time in Portugal and my first activity holiday, involving cycling, walking and a feeble attempt at surfing.

The Algarve is the westernmost part of mainland Europe and the name comes from the Arabic Al Gharb, meaning “the west.”

DISCLOSURE: My visit was on a press trip in collaboration with Ryanair and The Algarve Tourism Bureau.

They kindly provided our flights and accommodation, as well as meals throughout the trip to celebrate the launch of a new Ryanair Cork to Faro route.

One of my first observations was that the dialect spoken by Brazilians sounds much different from that spoken by the Portuguese. In fact, I thought it sounded more like Polish at times!

I flew from Dublin to Faro and the journey took around three hours although our flight was slightly late taking off.

In Faro, I met my three travel companions and a tourism board representative Joseph who drove us to our accommodation, Hotel Rural Quinta do Marco.

Quinta means “country house” and the hotel had its own chickens and a beautiful white donkey.

Our hosts were very welcoming and provided us with a hearty dinner.

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Hotel Rural Quinta do Marco

Our first taste of Portuguese cuisine didn’t disappoint, from delicious soup to olives and pate and a tasty fish stew.

Feeling satiated, we went to check out the rooms which were lovely. I had great plans to go for a swim in the outdoor pool the next morning but I found it hard to sleep and was too tired.

I was also awoken by roosters crowing quite early!

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After enjoying some fresh eggs and the best orange juice I’ve ever tasted, we set out a 17km cycle from Cabanas de Tavira to Praia Verde.

Our guides Antonio and Ana took us along part of the Ecovia trail which stretches 220km from the west to the east of the Algarve.

I’m definitely not sporty but we stopped several times along the way and the terrain was quite smooth.

We stopped off at Cacela Velha, a charming whitewashed village with cobbled streets, where no new houses are allowed to be built.

Few people live here due to the lack of facilities but the church is still open and an old telephone box has been converted into a mini-library.

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Cacela Velha

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Old telephone box

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The village of Cacela

We had a delicious traditional lunch in the A Terra restaurant at the Praia Verde Boutique Hotel, among the delicacies were octopus with yellow sweet potatoes and a carob and raspberry dessert.

We also got to peek inside some of the incredible suites and rooms.

After our three-course meal, more exercise was required and we set out on a walking tour through the Castro Marim area.

We walked through a marshy hilly area before coming out at the town.

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I think this is an immature orange?

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Street signs in Castro Marim

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Tiled street sign

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Tile details

Our guide Felipe was most knowledgeable and answered our many questions about the area, Portugal and taught us a few words of Portuguese.

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Castro Marim

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Castro Marim bell tower

There were very few signs of Christmas around the Algarve but I did spot a beautiful Nativity scene on the side of a hilltop church.

I found this very refreshing and a nice change from the overload at home!

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Nativity scene on church in Castro Marim

Along the way, Felipe pointed out some of the plants native to Portugal, including  almond and carob trees.

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Flower

We ventured across the mud of the Salmarim saltpan and met the owner who offered us wine while we sampled goats’ cheese and tomatoes with different kinds of salt and delicious figs.

He also gave us four different boxes of salt to take home and try!

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Sunset at the saltpan

Our next stop was the Magnolia Hotel in the Quinta Do Lago resort. This is a funky former motel which has been transformed into an upmarket hotel.

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Magnolia Hotel pool

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Magnolia Hotel restaurant

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Funky shower tiles

We had a brief rest before meeting with Quinta Do Lago’s marketing manager Joana who took us for a tour of The Campus which houses incredible sports facilities used by professional athletes as well as guests.

Dinner took place at Dano’s sports bar, one of the resort’s restaurants and the food was fantastic, I especially enjoyed a starter of nachos and an elderflower wine spritzer.

The next day we headed for the town of Loule, a market town which retains many Moorish influences.

Loule’s fascinating history and authentic feel made it one of my favourite places on the trip.

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Ancient water fountain

We met local tradespeople including weavers and coppersmiths and we learned how these crafts are being revived through the TASA programme which encourages young people to return to Loule and take up apprenticeships.

Palm weaving was a skill mainly practiced by older women down through the years, however, it is now being kept alive through TASA.

The process of selecting and drying palm leaves is time-consuming and it can take up to four hours to create a simple basket.

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Palm weaving shop

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Woven bags

Loule’s architecture is quite distinct as many churches were former mosques and the town’s market hall also has an Arabic design.

Ancient baths used by the Muslims are currently being excavated in the middle of the town.

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The Islamic baths excavation site

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Loule buildings

Our guides Joao and Vanessa took us to the marketplace where we sampled marzipan sweets made with egg.

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The market building

Apparently, the town is very busy at the weekend with many market-goers selling their wares but it was peaceful when we visited.

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Igreja Matriz church

We stopped off at the Cafe Calcinha, the town’s oldest cafe, open since 1928, for a coffee.

For many years, women were not allowed in and wealthy men were the only patrons.

However, there is a statue outside of the only poor man who was allowed in, a satirical poet named Antonio Aleixo.

Afterwards, we hopped in Joao’s car and he drove us up to a mountainous area where he showed us part of the Fonte Benemola trail, a protected area of great natural beauty.

Our next destination was the hilltop village of Querenca where we ate at a local restaurant. Once again, the food was delicious and the hospitality was also wonderful.

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Querenca

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The church in Querenca

However, I was sad to see an elderly lady asking for money after we left the restaurant. I had no cash with me and I felt horrible.

We hit the road once more for our last stop, Sagres in the western Algarve.

After checking in at the Memmo Baleeira hotel, we were whisked off to the Finisterra spa for some relaxing treatments.

I had a back and leg massage which was just what I needed after the cycle!

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View of Sagres marina

The following day we were taken out for a surfing lesson on a local beach which I had been quite anxious about as I’m not a good swimmer.

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It was a beautiful day in Sagres

I made an attempt at bodysurfing but getting on the board was a disaster as I was knocked under straightaway and had to get out as I was on the verge of a panic attack.

The others were much more successful and anyone who is confident swimming in the sea would be fine but if you aren’t, you probably aren’t ready for surfing!

Once I calmed down, I enjoyed relaxing as it was a lovely sunny day and made friends with a cute dog.

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The beach in Sagres

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This little dog cheered me up

It was the warmest day of the trip with temperatures around 17C and I was warm enough in a t-shirt and shorts at the beach.

After a tasty lunch at the nearby Restaurante Carlos, we headed on our final activity,  a nature walk through the Rota Vincentina natural park.

Our guide Nuno, a keen bird-watcher and a marine biologist, pointed out lots of birds to us as well as explaining all about the local flora and fauna.

It was a long walk but we were rewarded with stunning views of the cliffs at Cape Saint Vincent at golden hour as the sun set.

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Cape Saint Vincent, Sagres

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A view from the cliffs

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Dusk at Cape Saint Vincent

After some much-needed rest, we had our final dinner at Pousada Infante Sagres which is a cool 1960s hotel filled with antique furniture.

The food was amazing and the staff were very kind and attentive.

Going on an activity holiday was slightly out of my comfort zone but it was great and I would definitely recommend visiting the Algarve for a fun-filled winter break.

The evenings are quite chilly so remember to pack a jacket and a jumper or two! it was mild and sunny during the day but by no means roasting hot.

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Sagres marina

As I mentioned this was a press trip and we were asked to mention the new Cork to Faro route but other than that there was no brief or expectation for this blog post and I did not receive any monetary payment.

A massive thank you to the Algarve Tourism Bureau, Ryanair and all our wonderful guides who made it such a good trip.

Hope you all enjoyed this post and if you have any questions about the trip, leave me a comment below.

Thanks for reading as always and if you would like to follow me on social media,  check out my InstagramTwitter and Facebook page.

Edel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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