4 stops you need to make on a road trip through Algarve

A meditative and inspiring drive in Portugal…

Secluded mediterranean beaches, whitewashed fishing villages, rugged cliffs overlooking secret coves…Portugal’s south-west is the epitome of unspoilt charm. A road trip then? Starting from the highest point in the Algarve region and working down to the southernmost tip of the continent. Sheer magic.

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Monchique: Heights of pure

The narrow road winds through the unspoilt terrain of the Serra de Monchique, the mountain range that separates the Algarve from Alentejo. Wait, this is still Algarve, right? This tropical jungle surrounded by lush valleys. Terraces of orange and lemon groves. Cherries, chestnuts, peaches. Even olives, almonds, eucalyptus and cork! Dispel all disbeliefs. Just bask in the bounties of nature at the ‘Garden of the Algarve’. Sway to the rhythm of the meandering drive and reorient with each twisty, exhilarating hairpin bend as you glide higher…till you reach the Foia peak, 3000 feet above sea level. Breathe the pure air. Do the balancing act on the white parapet. Embrace the gusty winds. And surrender to the 360 views.

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On the way back, allow some distraction at the pretty little village of Monchique. Taste a spicy snack…black pig pork wrapped in a bun. Eavesdrop in the quiet lanes, loiter in the tree-shaded main square, trace ogle at the lovely 19-century buildings, inhabited by a small community of 6000. Apparently, they intend to boost population. (Please don’t. Or do. Paradises like these deserve to be preserved.)

And most importantly, stop by at the Caldas de Monchique, a spa with history going back to Roman times and Portuguese royalty. Get lost in the wonderland of the waterfalls and streams in a magical wooded ravine. Fill pure, mineral rich water from roadside springs. A love fountain tinkles away, its fresh spring water ensures eternal love, a legend says. Drink up, in sync. Smell eucalyptus, pick a few button-shaped fruits and take back the perfumed souvenirs. Simple joys of simple pleasures.

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Silves: Algarve of yore

At the foothills of the Monchique mountains, beyond the quiet Arade river straddled by a simple 15th-century Roman bridge, lies the tranquil town of Silves. Go to pick up remnants of its rich past as the capital of Algarve during the Moorish occupation. Trace the circle of fame and decline at the ancient red-hued hilltop citadel preserved in a time capsule since the 8th century. Practise statue-whispering with Portuguese King Sancho I, whose army of Crusaders sieged the castle and chased out the Moors, bringing an end to the town’s golden fortunes as well. Try separating the Roman and Arab architectural influences in the stunning 13th-century Gothic Silves cathedral, a convert from the original great Mosque.

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Hungry or not, head for Cafe da Rosa, an old and famous cafe, on the ground floor of the town-hall building. Indulge in an artisan cake. By the graceful blue tiled wall or the exquisite door. Step gingerly down the steep stony streets, past clothes drying on a stand, under brick arches, doors with decorative handles, walls with peeling, aged paintwork, iron balconies dressed with vibrant bunches of flowers and alluring tile work hidden in dark alleyways. Imagine the revelry of the town’s 9-day long annual Medieval Festival…costumes, traditional food and drinks and entertainment galore. And finally, say goodbye with a unforgettable last look from across the river. Framed in your mind forever?

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Lagos: Striking colors

Venture closer to the coast now, to Lagos, a far cry from the Lacobriga that it used to be in 2000 BC! The site from where Henry the Navigator initiated the legendary ‘Voyages of the Discoveries’. More relatable. The main Dom Henrique square packs everything in at once, from Henry’s statue, the pristine white Igreja da Santa Maria and the ‘Slave Market’, where slaves brought back from the voyages were sold. The modern marina has a lovely bay full of parked sailboats and an appealing tree-lined promenade that goes on and on. But the real treasure lies in the criss-crossing curving streets inside. Whitewashed Portuguese houses with red-tiled roofs. Hidden churches with ornamental facades. Inviting eateries with splashes of orange and ochre. And traditional black-white street paving that Portugal flaunts with aplomb.

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But Lagos is also the base for the ultimate spectacle in all of Algarve. So head for Ponta da Piedade, where powerful seas smashing against the coastline have carved out rock pillars, sea caves, natural tunnels and hidden grottos out of golden sandstone cliffs. Possibly one of the most sensational coastlines in the world! Sculptures of nature or behemoth sea sponges…shapes as interpretative as your imagination can handle. And transparent water sparkling in all possible jewel tones you can name…aquamarine, turquoise, emerald and sapphire blue. Jump into a kayak and ride the gentle waves lapping at the immortal stone giants. Or just gape at the sea and the sail boats, till you have a severe case of the Piedade blues.

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Sagres: Endless end

And finally, drive for less than an hour, along white clusters of Portuguese villages through a windswept, largely barren stretch towards what once believed to be the end of the world. Cape St. Vincent, the southernmost tip of Europe at Sagres is a fitting conclusion to a dazzling drive through Portugal’s picturesque southwest. This is where Prince Henry set up a navigation school six centuries ago, attracting students in the league of Magellan, Columbus and Vasco da Gama! The use of the compass and the invention of a seaworthy vessel (‘caravel’) is credited to this very school. Turning the pages of history in unthinkable ways. But that’s not the only reason you’re here.

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Hair flying uncontrollably in the strong gusts, get drawn to the powerful lighthouse perched over an imposing rocky outcrop. To the very edge of the desolate high cliff, the land falls away abruptly, as if sliced by some gigantic axe. Vertigo inducing, unfathomable heights. In the distance, tiny frames of people adding to the ‘immensity’ perspective that was already obvious. Waves beating mercilessly far, far, far below. The setting sun spreading a silvery sheen and at the horizon, blues blends imperceptibly into golds.

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The endless Atlantic Ocean going on forever. Endlessly. But this is not the end, is it? Miles and miles to go.

 

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A meditative and inspiring drive through Western Algarve region of Portugal

 

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46 thoughts on “4 stops you need to make on a road trip through Algarve

  1. Looks like a lovely road trip. Silve and its Azulejos tiles in classic blue and white are like markers that would always give away where you are. Is this route in the famous pilgrimage path or am I mistaken?

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  2. Great suggestions for a road trip in Portugal. We drove down to Lagos and along to Sagres and up the West coast but never visited (didn’t even know about!) Monchique. Sounds amazing and somewhere I’d definitely love to check out on another visit to Portugal. Another gem is Sintra with it’s incredible palace – did you visit there? Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Great account of road tripping in Portugal. We drove down to Lagos and along to Sagres and were blown away by the incredible scenery. We never visited (or even knew about!) Monchique – sounds equally amazing and somewhere we will definitely check out on our next visit to Portugal. We also loved Sintra with it’s amazing palace – did you visit there? Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Yes! We love road trips and it’s always useful when we can find interesting and practical driving information for an area! The views look spectacular up there and I see there are so many places to grab a delcious bite along the road!

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  5. Portugal has been on my radar, especially the less-visited areas outside of Lisbon and Porto. The architecture here looks lovely – really enjoy seeing the Moorish influence! Have pinned for next time 🙂 Thanks for these great recs!

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  6. How cool is it to sit where Christopher Columbus and Francisco Magellan learned how to use a compass. One could argue that European exploration has been the biggest agent of change the world has known. As such, the epicenter of navigation could be the fulcrum by which the world was moved.

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  7. Great photos, I think you really captured the essence of a Portugal roadtrips! When I used to live in Madrid, we went on a few weekend road trip escapes through northern Portugal to cities like Lisboa, Oporto, Coimbra and some smaller villages. Your description of “unspoilt charm” is absolutely on point – there is really something special about the country! This post really inspired me to get back and visit the south!

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  8. I have only visited Lisbon and couple of other places close by in Portugal. Your post has evoked a desire to take a road trip in this country. The small towns, from your description, seem to be magical – a good combination of interesting history and panoramic views. Great post!

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  9. You must have the best of Algarve. It’s historical yet beautiful. Those waters are calling for a dive. Lagos is really the deal here. How did you find here? Black pig pork wrapped in a bun sounds yummy, so sad there’s no picture of it. I’ll surely make this stops when I visit Portugal

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  10. The Algarve region really does sound like a fabulous destination for a roadtrip. Silves in particular looks like sucha charming and unassuming town. I love the colors and the buildings, the architecture is really beautiful, what a great day it would have been strolling through those Medieval streets! And Lagos sounds like it has such a rich history – and the coastline truly is spectacular! What an awesome balance of different sights for a roadtrip!

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  11. What a lovely road trip. I actually loved the Stories connected with Sagres. Also endless views of the Atlantic is just awesome. The blue tiles of the cafe seems to tell a story of its own!

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  12. This is definitely pure magic. There is no other word that would do justice to the region that you have covered in your trip as well as post. Algarve comes alive through your words and the stunning pictures. Want to head out to these stunning and pristine villages now!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. After my brief trip to Alentejo a few months back I really want to self-drive the different regions of Portugal. I love the look of the landscape, and the small villages and towns like Monchique, Silves, and Lagos . Of course, fantastic food and drink everywhere!

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  14. Road tripping around Portugal would be so much fun—the views in the Algarve region look beautiful! The history in Silves sounds interesting and I’d like to check out Café da Rosa as well. Ponta da Piedade looks really beautiful, too—that coastline is gorgeous and we’d love to hope in a kayak to explore the area more! Great suggestions and sounds like a really fun time.

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  15. I think it is hard to beat a good road trip along a coast. I have done a couple of them in Ireland with visitors and they are always liked. I have to say, that cobblestone street reminds me so much of a small village I stayed in in Crete last year, it could almost be the same street!

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