October may seem an odd time to travel to the coast of Portugal. Au contraire – the Algarve is simply spectacular as it transitions into Autumn. Balmy and almost emptied of the hoards of tourists that characterise summer on the coastline, you can expect the kind of tranquility no high season beach can offer.
Having fallen for Portugal in my teens (I spent many a summer in Val do Lobo), I became a regular in Carvoiero in my early twenties and have since been quite charmed by the little Portuguese town that’s around an hour’s drive from Faro. Littered with little beaches and restaurants, it’s the ideal destination for taking some restorative sea air and sun.
Having said that, beware of the wildness of Portuguese terrain – trainers on cliffs are essential (and do stay far from the edges that seem inexplicably and irresistibly to call one over). Shoes with grip on the slippery paving stones are also advisable, as is footwear that will allow you to cover great distances in heat without creating blisters on the way to the beach. While on packing, sunblock all year round is non-negotiable and mosquitoes will make a pest of themselves at any given opportunity, so some sort of repellent is vital.
Here’s a dossier of my favourite spots in Carvoeiro //
The Beaches /
While there are plenty of pools in Portugal, it’d be a damn shame to miss the splendour of the beaches. After all, Portuguese cliff beaches are quite unique and a bog standard pool can’t compete.
Three beaches of note nestle around the coast of Carvoeiro – Centianes, Vale de Covo and the Carvoeiro town beach. The latter is the most traditional holiday beach, asking nothing more of you than a little saunter down to its mouth. This is my least favourite, however, primarily due to its close proximity to the main square and generally busy waterfront.
Both Centianes and Vale de Covo are well worth visiting but be prepared for the sheer number of steps leading to both and always keep an eye on the tides sneaking in – it is not uncommon for a bigger wave to sweep beach bags away.
A word on the sartorial for the Portuguese waterside – this is not the South of France; do not kit yourself out in diaphanous chiffons and weighty jewels for a day out – unnecessarily decorative displays are precluded by the need for practicality when navigating the stony and sandy entrances to beaches. The ocean, too, does not welcome impractical swimwear – its chilly waves will toss and turn you many a time before you manage to emerge. Frilly lycra does not hold up well under such duress.
Where to stay /
The Tivoli Almansor hotel boasts direct access to Vale de Covo and is within walking distance of the town centre but, while the rooms and facilities want for nothing, it is in dire need of an update and a good lick of paint. The best option is to rent a villa – I love Algar Seco which has an unparalleled view across the ocean.
The Restaurants /
It is easy to continue the outdoors theme during the evening in Carvoeiro – the Boneca Bar near Algar Seco and O Stop just off the Centianes beach both offer good food at reasonable prices. During warmer weather Centianes hires a singer on two nights a week (make sure you book as these nights tend to be hugely popular).
Mediocre restaurants abound in the centre – for good food go instead to Villa Medici and Primavera for Italian, or Onze and Ele & Ele for more varied cuisine. Another note on dress: the temperature seems to drop enormously when the sun disappears so never venture out for the evening without warmer attire.
Faro being the nearest airport, you will unfortunately need to rely on the rather questionable driving skills of the local drivers to get you to Carvoeiro (I once endured a rather fraught hour with a man who continually wiped the glasses he wore to correct his myopia on a sweaty shirt. The car swerved a great deal as he rubbed).
Try booking a minivan if there are quite a few of you. Fortunately, the larger the car, the safer one feels – and the less one pays. Expect it to cost between 50 and 100 euros for the journey.