My husband and I visited the Algarve when we were in our early twenties, about 25 years ago. The hotel was fantastic, but other than that, we thought our Portugal holiday was rather boring. Recently I was in contact with the owners of The White House, a boutique hotel in the Algarve. They convinced me to give the region a second chance, and to discover the most beautiful spots in the Algarve. This time I took my BFF for a short Algarve vacation.
Review: Boutique Hotel in The Algarve
The White House Algarve .is located in the bustling village of Olhao, which is perfectly situated to explore the eastern part of the Algarve. There are many picturesque villages and ports in the area.
It is easy to get to this charming boutique hotel in the Algarve from Faro airport. It only takes fifteen minutes to The White House Algarve.
The White House Algarve has five rooms, all of which are named after First Ladies. We stayed in the Michelle, the other options are the Jackie, Martha, or Eleanor. If only the best is good enough, you book the Melania. This suite is over 30m2, and includes a luxury bathroom and an enormous terrace. You will enjoy the privacy and peace and quiet with a beautiful view of the garden.
Great service is in the detail. Our room included a notebook “Michelle’s memories”. Perfect for noting down which villages you visited and which restaurants to recommend to your friends. And there was an enormous octopus with a personalised welcome message on the bed.
This luxury boutique hotel in the Algarve has a lovely swimming pool with some sun loungers alongside. Plenty of towels you can use, and you are also allowed to bring them to the beach if needed.
There is a lovely terrace at the house, and the garden has a number of cosy corners where you can enjoy the quiet.
Peter and Rob, the owners, are charming hosts. As soon as you come in, you are made to feel welcome in their boutique hotel in the Algarve. They are happy to show you the most beautiful places in the Algarve, and are pleased to share their restaurant tips. They have many contacts who can take you to sea for a bit of dolphin spotting or just to see those magnificent cliffs from a different perspective.
In a previous life, Peter owned a restaurant (and he was a funeral director :)) and Rob also likes to cook, which means that there is a “speciality” served for breakfast every morning. It ranges from fluffy omelettes to pastéis de nata (tasty sweet tarts) to yogurt with granola.
By the way, you have your breakfast with the other guests at one large table. If the weather is nice, you enjoy the cosy terrace, and if it is a bit cooler, you sit at the long table in the living room. We met two really nice couples from the Netherlands. The fun started at breakfast, and we continued it during our final evening meal in the Algarve.
In principle, The White House only serves breakfast, but Rob and Peter are happy to provide you with lunch or dinner on request.
If by chance the weather isn’t that great during your Algarve vacation, you can snuggle down by the fire. Rob and Peter will ensure that your Portugal holidays will have that little something special.
Getting around the Algarve
Renting a car is a great idea as it means you can tick everything of your “things to do in the Algarve” list at your leisure. We rented the cutest Peugeot 108 cabrio from Enjoy2Drive.
This car rental operator does not have an office at the airport, so Francisco, or one of his colleagues, will be waiting for you in the Arrivals hall. Your car is parked right outside, you sign the papers, and off you go. In contrast to other car rental providers, there are no additional costs upon arrival (for instance additional insurance, second driver). And you can take the car into Spain (only an hour away). Other providers will charge you extra if you want to cross the border. They also made returning the car very easy. You just park the car at the kiss & ride, right in front of the airport entrance. An Enjoy2Drive staff member will take your keys, and you go straight into the airport for your return flight.
The Algarve consists of 2 parts:
The Western Algarve runs from Sagres in the far west to a little past Albufeira. The best spots are, among others, Lagos, Monchique, Sagres, Raposeira, Cabo de Sao Vicente and the nature reserve Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
This region starts slightly east of Albufeira, and ends at the Spanish border. We mainly explored this region, and visited bustling towns and villages such as Loulé, Tavira and, of course, Faro.
If you want to explore all of the things to do in the Algarve during your Portugal holiday, it would be best to book a few days in The White House for the Eastern Algarve, and then relocate to visit the Western Algarve.
Restaurants in the Algarve
The Algarve is a great place for great food. Because of its proximity to the ocean, there is a lot of fish and other seafood on the menu, but they also serve delicious chicken and spicy sausages.
Tapas e Lendas
Gastro Bar Tapas e Lendas. is located in the bustling village of Olhao. The restaurant lies a short distance away from the dike (Mercado de Olhao), in an attractive alley. They serve absolutely delicious Portuguese dishes here. We chose a number of small dishes to share. The razor clams, squid, Portuguese sausage, and other delicacies were exquisite. Add a nice carafe of white sangria, and it is an absolute must-do.
Address: Olhão, Rua Dr Manuel Arriaga 18
Tel. +351 289706429
This restaurant is also located in one of the many small streets of Olhao. The tables are simply put out on the street, and they serve the most wonderful shrimp and chicken wings.
Address: Rua dr Alexandre Herculano 48, Olhão
Tel. +351 289070403
O Belo Sol
Do you want to really go where the locals go? Visit O Belo Sol, located a few kilometres from The White House. Peter and Rob are happy to show you the way. The restaurant is full of Portuguese families who are here to enjoy a lovely piece of salmon, a juicy chicken, or a tasty lamb chop. Simple food at low prices. We paid 75 euro for 6 people, including drinks. That’s €12.50 per person!
This cosy bistro is located in Tavira, the village known for its 40 churches. Perfect for a light lunch during your visit.
Adres: Rua Gonçalo Velho 16/18, Tavira
Tel. +351 281381034
Beach bars and restaurants at the beach in the Algarve
This restaurant is located on the Praia do Barranco das Abelharucas in Albufeira. They serve typical regional dishes here. Imagine the freshest fish, wonderful shellfish, and cataplana (a steamed dish prepared in a cataplana, a copper sphere used for cooking). It also has a take-away.
Puro beach is a chain of beach clubs in Barcelona, Marbella, Denia, etc. They have now landed in the Algarve, and have opened the hippest beach club in the region in hotel Tivoli in Villamoura. It has a small terrace where you can enjoy a nice cocktail, lunch, or dinner with a view of the sea. If it is too hot or too cold, you can also sit inside.
You can rent a bed beside the pool or on the beach. There are 116 sun loungers and 8 Balinese beds available. A real club for the beach babes (and boys) among us.
This wooden beach bar lies a little past Puro Beach. Tastefully decorated with a wonderful view of the sea. The quotes on the surfboards will no doubt make you laugh out loud. The serve wonderful regional dishes here. The service we received was not the most welcoming, but the dishes were delightful. After lunch, you can descend on one of the many sun loungers for a well-deserved siesta.
Praia do Evoristo
Praia do Evaristo, named after the famous restaurant that is located here, is mostly popular for its phenomenal location. The beach is shielded by fantastic rock formations. It is frequented by famous Portuguese people.
You can reach the beach by way of Galé.
The most beautiful places in the Algarve
The Algarve has plenty of charming villages, tourist seaside resorts, spectacular cliffs, and so much more. These are the top places to visit in the Eastern Algarve during your Portugal holiday.
Ofcourse, we start with Olhão, the home of The White House, the cosiest boutique hotel in the Algarve. Olhao is the largest fishing town in the Algarve. When the fishing boats appear on the horizon, the alarm is sounded for people to come help to unload the fish. Helpers are paid in goods or cash.
The daily market takes place in the two red buildings near the beach, about halfway up the boulevard. This is where you get the freshest fish, fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives and more. A number of terraces around the building give you a great vantage point to watch the hustle and bustle on the market and the beach.
Every 30 minutes, a ferry leaves for Amona and Culatra, small islands off the coast. The ferry to the larger Farol leaves every 3 hours. Farol has beautiful beaches, a number of restaurants and bars, and even some holiday homes.
There are many restaurants and bars along the dike. Personally, I thought the restaurants in the alleyways behind the dike were a lot more charming.
The most important sight in the town is the Nossa Senhora do Rosario church.
Albufeira is one of the most popular Algarve vacation destinations.
The Romans settled here 2000 years ago. The Arabs conquered the city in the 8th century, and the Christians seized power in the 13th century. Traces of the different rulers can be found throughout the city.
An earthquake in 1755 caused the castle walls to collapse, but the northern gate is still standing in Rua Joaquim Pedro Samora. The St. Anna Gate is also still standing, but now stands in the middle of a restaurant.
Praia dos Pescadores is a nice beach that owes its name to the many fishing boats that are moored here, and Praia da Oura, “the golden beach”, is the most popular beach in Albufeira.
The Strip is a long, narrow street full of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and other amusements. For a taste of Las Vegas, walk around here after dark, when all the neon lights are on. The nightclubs Kiss and Liberto’s are extremely popular.
Divers, fishermen, and those who like boat tours will need to visit Albufeira marina, it is the starting point for many excursions.
If you travel to the Algarve with children, be sure to visit the Parque Aventura. A day of climbing and sliding down equals a good day out.
Vilamoura is the Knokke of Portugal. This modern, busy seaside city is one of the most popular destinations of the Algarve. In the 1970s, the city started building these tourist attractions with an upmarket marina at its heart. Hotels, restaurants, bars, and golf courses opened in rapid succession.
The Algarve in general, and Vilamoura in particular, are the Walhalla for golf aficionados. There are no less than 19 golf courses in and around Vilamoura.
It also boasts many 5-star hotels, such as Tivoli Marina, The Lake Resort, Hilton, and Anantara. The Casino de Vilamoura and the many bars and nightclubs provide entertainment till the early hours of the morning.
The kilometres-long beaches of Praia de Vilamoura and Praia da Falesia are popular with sunbathers. It is also the location for a number of hip and happening beach bars such as Puro Beach.
Lovers of designer fashion are also at home in Vilamoura. Quinta Shopping, across from the Conrad Hotel, is a great shopping centre where you can purchase a new Rolex, Gucci handbag, and so much more. It also features a number of inviting terraces and bars.
TIP: if the Algarve is too quiet for you, combine it with a few days in Lissabon. It's only 2.5 hours drive from Faro.
The town of Loulé lies about 12 kilometres from the coast. It is one of the oldest towns in the Algarve, and was established by the Moors. Loulé is now known for its traditional arts and crafts, and its bustling Saturday market. Not a typical tourist market, but one for the locals. Be sure to taste the local “Bifana Sandwich” with pork and mustard.
Souvenir tip: Craftspeople here still use century-old techniques for making pottery, weaving baskets and crafting hats, tapestries and jute dolls.
The market hall in oriental style dates to 1908, and is one of the best places to visit in the Algarve.
The walls are the only thing remaining of the Castelo de Loulé, and the tower is what is left of the Igreja Matriz de Sao Clemente. The church tower used to be the minaret of the mosque. You have a wonderful view of the city from the castle walls.
The Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao is a very small church in the centre of Loulé. The walls are decorated with blue-white azulejos, Portuguese tiles, and the gold altarpiece is a true master piece. Make sure you also admire the magnificent painted ceilings. The church is a little gem and one of the best places to visit in the Algarve.
The Banhos Islamicos are the ruins of an Islamic bathing house from the 12/13th century. You can view the foundations from a platform.
While you walk from one sight to the next, you wander through the charming medieval alleyways, a sight in themselves.
And if you don’t fancy going to Venice or Rio for Mardi Gras, you can always come here. Loulé is home to the largest three-day Mardi Gras festival in the Algarve.
Tavira is known as the most beautiful location in the Algarve. It owes it reputation to its bustling streets, the many relics from times gone by, but mostly to its large number of churches (nearly 40).
If you only have time to visit one church, visit the Igreja da Misericordia. This 16th-century church is known as the most beautiful renaissance monument of the Algarve. The Fado Museum is located beside the church, where you will learn everything about this tragic, Portuguese musical genre. You can enjoy a small Fado concert in the church from Monday to Saturday at 12:15, 15:15, and 17:15.
Camera Obscura is a tower in the centre of Tavira. From the top of the tower you can view a panorama of the city through a system of mirrors and optical lenses. And while you enjoy the 360-degree view of the city, you will be informed about the history of the city and its main sights.
Quatro aguas is the perfect place for lunch. A number of fish restaurants are located on the shores of this lagoon.
The remains of a Moor fort are on view in the centre of the town. Within its walls lies a beautiful garden, and you have a wonderful view over the roofs of Tavira from its walls.
The Ponta Romana is a stone bridge over the Rio Gilao. The foundations date back to the Roman time. Try to visit the bridge in the evening when it is lit up beautifully.
Ilha de Tavira is a small dune island off the coast of Tavira, and it is a great place to swim. A regular ferry service runs to the island. The island is part of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa nature reserve.
Of course, you should not miss out on Faro while you’re on holidays in Portugal. Faro has a turbulent history. Established as a Fenician and Carthagian trading post, it became an important Roman port. The Moors tried everything to defend the city, but it was conquered by Alfonso III in 1249. The city blossomed under his reign, but the Earl of Essed completely destroyed the city by fire in 1596. The city was rebuild, but was once again turned to rubble as a result of the earthquake of 1755.
The capital of the Algarve has a new and an old part.
In the new city, ensure you visit the Igreja do Carmo with its Capela dos Ossos. The capela’s walls are covered in the skulls and bones of over 1000 monks.
Many boat trips leave from the port. Destinations include Ilha de Faro, a string of small dune islands which are part of Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, just like Ilha de Tavira.
A bit of a contradiction, but the oldest building in Faro is located in the new city. Ermida de Santo Antonio do Alto dates back to 1355. You can climb the stairs to the side of the chapel. There is a fantastic view of the area from the top.
The 13th-century cathedral of Faro, the Sé de Faro, is located in the old city. The building is a mix of different styles (Gothic, renaissance, baroque).
Arco da Vila is an enormous arch from 1812, which was built around an 11th-century gate. General opinion is that the gate was built by the Moors. It is the only one of its kind in the Algarve.
Cliffs in the Algarve
The Algarve is known for its spectacular cliffs beside the Atlantic Ocean. You can take the most beautiful pictures in these locations:
most photographs of the Algarve are taken here. The best views are from Ponta da Piedade.
Praia da Falesia
Praia da Falesia is not only the longest and, according to many, the most beautiful beach of the Algarve, but if you ask me it also has the most beautiful cliffs. Walk into the Sheraton Pine Cliffs, and have a drink on their champagne terrace. You are treated to a beautiful view of the orange cliffs from there. Stairs or an elevator will bring you down to the start of a wooden boardwalk that will bring you to the beach.
After 4 days in the Algarve we realised that there is a lot more to explore. The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa is one of the most important wetlands of Europe, and is certainly worth another more extensive visit.
We will need to explore the villages of Silves, Monchique and Portimao the next time. Silves was once the capital of the Moor province al-Gharb, and still has its city walls and a castle. Monchique is built on a hill side and has a well-known spa. And Portimao has an 18th-century city centre and boasts a beautiful view of the river Arade.
And of course, a visit to Cabo de Sao Vincente (Cape St Vincent) should not be left out. The bare, rocky landscape and frothing waves caused Greek writers to describe it as the end of the world. The Romans considered it a holy place. And according to legend, Prince Henry the Navigator lived in the castle beside the lighthouse. Fact is that the cape is the most south-western point of the European mainland.
That means that there is plenty to do still, which is a good reason to plan another trip to the Algarve
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