Steep cliff drops, dramatic rock formations and wild Atlantic rollers are amongst the characteristics that have made the Algarve in Portugal famous, and to the centre and west of the area there is certainly plenty of these to be found. Yet the first-time visitor is often pleasantly surprised to discover that to the east of this 200km stretch of coastline lies another Algarve, one of sweeping white sands, calm waters and peace and tranquillity.
For most visitors arriving from abroad, Faro serves as the gateway to the Algarve, a place in which people arrive and are promptly dispatched to the many resorts that flank this delightful southern coast of Portugal. But those who take the time to explore the city itself and the towns and beaches of the surrounding area are in for a pleasant surprise.
Faro and its surrounding coastline are protected by a series of sandspits, creating shallow waters that are protected from the Atlantic waves. The area is a favourite amongst families in search of safe and secure bathing in attractive surroundings with plenty of amenities within reach. So what are the best beaches to visit in the Faro region?
Ilha de Faro
Faro beach itself is a wide stretch of golden sand, easy on the eye and close enough for easy access. Known as Ilha de Faro, or Faro Island, like many of the beaches in the area it is located on a sandbar wrapping around the coastline a short distance offshore.
The Ilha de Faro offers something for everyone, with safe bathing waters and pretty views to the lagoon side, while the Atlantic side is flanked by a wide stretch of golden sand with plenty of watersports activities. Both sides are packed full with facilities including shops, restaurants, hotels and watersports centres and are highly popular with a local crowd at weekends.
Straight over the water lies the Ilha Deserta, or “Desert Island”, the sandspit that curves around the coastline directly in front of Faro city. It is accessible from several points of departure on the shoreline of the mainland via regular ferryboat or private water taxi and is well worth the trip. Part of the Ria Formosa National Park, the Ilha Deserta offers 10km of sweeping golden sands, approached via a maze of wetland channels from which you can admire the flamingos who stand guarding their land with dignity and hundreds of terns happily going about their daily business.
The beach offers a nature trail for exploration, plenty of sand for frolicking in the sun and safe, shallow waters for in which to take a dip. There are plenty of umbrellas for hire should you feel the need to shelter from the midday sun and a variety of freshly-cooked snacks available without the need to leave the comfort of the sandy beach.
Ilha da Armona
Ilha da Armona is one of the largest and most popular beaches in the area. Located just east of Faro around two kilometres off the coast of Olhão, Ilha da Armona is accessible via a fifteen-minute ferry ride from Olhão itself or from nearby Fuseta. Here a series of sand dunes provides plenty of room for fun and exploration and are home to a variety of restaurants and beach facilities catering for a mixed crowd of locals and visitors from out of the area. There is even a campsite here for those who find the island too blissful to leave at the end of the day.
Ilha de Tavira
There are many other beautiful beaches to visit in and around the Faro area. If you are here for more than a day or so it is well worth making the trip to explore the town of Tavira and its wonderful sweeping sandspit island.
As with the Ilha Deserta, the Ilha de Tavira is accessed from the mainland at Quatro Águas by water taxi or ferryboat, which run throughout the day from dawn until dusk. In fact in the peak summer months the service runs as late as midnight to enable visitors to enjoy sundowners and a tasty meal on the golden sands of this tranquil island paradise before heading home for a contented slumber.
Ilha de Tavira is 14km long and is well populated with restaurants and beach bars to cater for the varied culinary tastes of its visitors. There are a few houses dotted in the shade of the pines and a campsite for the more adventurous. The beauty of these sandspit beaches is the variety they offer – with the tranquil waters of the lagoon to one side and the cooling waves of the Atlantic to the other, there is something to be found for everyone.
Vale de Lobo
For a taste of the “other” Algarve, head west a few kilometres from Faro to the world-renowned beach resort of Vale do Lobo. Here you will find the iconic sandstone cliffs for which Portugal’s Algarve region has become so famous, flanking the sweeping sands of the wide, well-maintained beach. Many visitors come here to perfect their swing on the golf course, but the beach at Vale do Lobo is worth a visit in its own right for its stunning surroundings and excellent facilities.
The square (Praça) is situated right on the beach and offers a wide selection of cafés, bars, restaurants and live music venues in which to savour the Portuguese gastronomic delights. Once you have had your fill, take a wander through the shade of the trees to explore the greenery of the golf resort, head to the water’s edge to indulge in one of the many watersports on offer, or simply relax on a sunlounger and drink in the beauty of your surroundings.
Whatever you are looking for from your time on the Algarve beaches, there is no need to venture far from Faro to find it.