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Snowboards have been packed away and surfboards dusted down; winter is a distant memory and summer is in full swing. Where are you going and what will you do? After an albeit successful camping surf trip last year in Cornwall, we concluded that our primary objective for a holiday was to feel heat. So our search led us to Portugal in southern Europe, to the lesser-known area of the south west Algarve. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean it has its own climate with cooling winds making the summer temperatures more bearable and considerably less than the southern Algarve resorts of Albufeira and Vilamoura. This part of the Portuguese coast is a designated national park, Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano Costa Vicentina, and is therefore protected from development. Covered in eucalyptus, pine forests, cork and other semi-arid vegetation such as huge head-high cacti but with a smattering of purple, pink, orange and white flowers it is an unspoilt area of natural beauty.

We stayed close to the small town of Aljezur, near the popular surf spot of Arrifana, which is characterised by white lime-walled houses with terracotta roofs, and overseen by a 10th Century Moorish castle. The whole area is reminiscent of northern Cornwall with its wild, rugged beauty and sweeping sandy beaches backed by high cliffs accessed down small, winding roads. The waves generated across thousands of miles of the Atlantic are particularly popular with experienced German and Portuguese surfers, but surf schools are evident with their large foam boards and colour-coded rash vest students learning in the shallows. Our home for the fortnight was courtesy of Jonny Bull, friend, music producer and skateboarder extraordinaire at Villa Casa Touro which has a great pool for the kids (and adults), sea views and is in a quiet but central location.

beaches_mapBest bits

  • The tranquil beauty and pace of life allows any holidaymaker to experience peace and relaxation.
  • The vibe here is different. There is an air of hippiedom coupled with a laissez-faire attitude with campervans of every age, description and colour parked on headlands, in lay-bys and at scenic beauty spots. Plus alternative therapies such as yoga are advertised in coffee shops and on fly posters.
  • There are a variety of beaches to choose from all within 10-45 minutes’ drive; some are wide expanses of sand with huge, rolling surf and no facilities, such as Vale dos Homens, whilst others, particularly on the south coast, are small coves with gently lapping sea and nearby cafes and toilets. Praia da Ingrina near Sagres is one such beach and a perennial favourite.
  • The climate allows for hot days but cooler evenings making for restful nights.
  • The food is fresh and good value. Plenty of Dorado, prawns and sardines alongside Portuguese custard tarts or pastéis de nata which were a must with morning coffee.
  • Portugal is cheaper than other European countries; a coffee and custard tart cost 2.20 euros. Post-Brexit with the value of the pound falling against the Euro this most certainly helped keep the holiday more affordable.
  • Other attractions can be found not too far away on the south coast such as shopping in Lagos, Slide and Splash waterpark and Ponta da Piedade beachside grottos.

Worst bits

  • You need a car to get to most places, so someone always needs to drive.
  • Mosquitos at dusk; whilst the kids escaped all the adults got bitten.
  • Cold sea means most surfers wear wetsuits.
  • Some beaches have no facilities including shade so you have to take everything with you.
  • Unpredictable weather; we experienced sea frets with the mist rolling in off the cold ocean onto the hot land, but this can be escaped if you are prepared to drive to the south coast which is bathed in sunshine and heat.
  • No wifi which was both a blessing and a curse. With teenagers this could be a deal-breaker.

Would suit….

  • Surf-mad families.
  • Those looking for peace, quiet and relaxation.
  • People looking for freedom and flexibility.
  • Families or friends with differing views on heat.
  • Those looking to experience alternative lifestyles.
  • Families who want a good value holiday.

Would not suit….

  • Anyone who wants organised entertainment.
  • Families wanting laid-on childcare.
  • Those who want to dress up in the evening and/or shopping opportunities.
  • Non-drivers.

With the current political climate European tourists are looking for alternative destinations to those in the eastern Mediterranean and locating this lesser-known part of Portugal has been a refreshing discovery. In the height of the summer this region is still quiet and uncrowded. The slow burning appreciation of the wild, raw beauty alongside warm Portuguese hospitality, solitude of the villa and relaxed way of life makes for a magnetic combination which will draw us back again in the future. Just don’t tell too many people. Checkout the new Carver Skateboards as demonstrated by Jonny and friends…..

Until later, TTFN