Portugal: Th’Algarve

Were it not for the late October sunshine and the long beaches, Albufeira probably wouldn’t be all that different from Northern England, certainly from the monopoly of ‘Yorkshire restaurants’ or ‘home-cooked English grub’ (what are they doing – flying it over?!). I think it’s a place that has the potential to be unbearable during summer but, when we arrived – just at the end of season – it managed to retain its charm.

The big draw for Albufeira and the rest of the southern Portuguese coast is its weather. This was evident when we pulled out of rainy Lisbon and arrived at sunny Albufeira around 3 hours later. The train journey was pleasant and your best bet is booking tickets online in advance as they’re sold off pretty cheaply.

The train station in Albufeira was a few kilometres outside of the centre. Buses do ply the route but, depending where you want to go, you might have to get several. Taxis to the centre are inexpensive (around 8 euros) but all of them were snapped up by the time we got off the train, meaning we had about a 20 minute wait before another one showed up.

In true Albufeira-style, we directed our driver to our apartment near ‘Coconuts Bar’. It was a lovely apartment though (found on trusty Airbnb) and incredibly cheap for what you got. The owner was away but his father was friendly and helpful, even kindly driving us back to the train station to catch our early morning train to Lisbon when we left.

The reason we came.

The main strip in Albufeira doesn’t differ wildly from any other clubbing district in a resort town. Mercifully though, we didn’t get hassled too much because everything was shutting down. Some of the bars and restaurants were already closed and only a few revellers wandered the strip at night, rather than the hordes of crowds I imagine you see in the summer.

Just past the strip are the real jewels in Albufeira’s crown though – the beaches. Even in late October, the sunshine was in full force (with temperatures well into the early-mid 20s – that’s a big deal for Brits) and the sand was golden, though the water was freezing! The Algarve beaches also benefit from a host of interesting rock formations, which delighted the photographer in me. This backfired slightly though when the tide came in staggeringly quickly and my sister and I ended up having to swim back after looking at the rocks.

It is still pretty built up around the main Oura Beach but there are nice little walkways and my mother found space to fuel her passion for running, going for a jog each morning on the beach. It’s one of those beaches you wish had remained untouched because of the brilliant cliffs and rocks. An early morning or evening stroll often meant you had little company, even though the beaches made for some stunning sunsets.

Sunset porn

Beyond the beaches, Albufeira’s Old Town was probably one of my favourite chill-out places. It still has a slight Blackpool vibe about it, but the cobbled streets and windy roads had more of a Lisbon feel about it, albeit a Lisbon where you could buy fridge magnets at every turn. It’s 100% geared towards British tourists, but if you take it for what it is, enjoy the sunshine and have a cheap beer, it’s great. There’s a real snobbery from some travellers about the path well travelled but at the end of the day I was drinking beer in 20 degree sunshine at the end of October. And I hadn’t had to fly all the way to Asia for the privilege. I was more than happy.

(I should probably add, in case my mother reads this, that the company was great too.)

Albufeira’s Old Town & beach

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and the sunshine ended in spectacular style as, on our last day, the Algarve suffered from huge floods. The Old Town that we’d been strolling through just 24 hours before was submerged in water whilst we were trapped inside for most of the day because the roads surrounded our complex looked like swimming pools. It did ease off towards the evening and we managed to escape, but it’s always irritating when you can’t brag to people at home that the weather was nice everyday.

I think it’d drive me mad in full season, but the build in tourism shouldn’t take away from the beauty of the Algarve and it’s shocking how cheap you can get flights to Portugal (both Lisbon and Faro) given the weather stays so good until mid-autumn. Even then, it’s a damn sight warmer than the UK. I’ve seen flights on Ryanair for less than £30, even £20 return, so it’s worth a punt. When the inevitably painful UK winter arrives, Portugal makes for a perfect sunny getaway.

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