Monday 29 February 2016

Ferragudo, Monchique and Alvor

Portugal, 15th – 20th February 2016

Taking over from where Jo left it last time, we had several more days of a busy week with my parents on holiday visiting us. It was nice to spend time with them down here and we had a great time doing more sightseeing and walking. It was a shame the weather wasn’t too good, it was mixed with mainly dull skies, some rain showers and a bit of sun. Typically after my mum and dad went home it improved that day becoming sunny and warm, then the following days were very nice with sun and temperatures around 22°C.

Exploring east of Portimão

Ferragudo with Portimão marina in the background
Seagulls came flocking in whenever a
fisherman arrived or sorted their gear out
We spent one day exploring the towns and beaches along the coast to the east of Portimão. The first place we came to across the river was Ferragudo which from a distance as we arrived looked a nice place so we parked the car to have a look around. The first impression turned out to be right, it is more of a traditional Portuguese village that hasn’t been taken over by tourism development. Built on a hillside facing the river estuary it consists of small cobbled streets of whitewashed buildings leading up to a church at the top of the hill. There’s a nice central square with tables and chairs outside cafés and restaurants around the edge. We stopped here to relax with a coffee in the sun after a walk along the sandy river beach past the castle, which was paired with the one across the river in Portimão but is now a private residence, and onto the main Praia Grande. Ferragudo is still a working fishing village with lots of seagulls hanging around the fishing boats in the port. It was a highlight of the week for all of us, and is one of our favourite places down here.

The fort at Ferragudo, twinned with the one over the river at Praia da Rocha, built to defend Portimão

Further along at Carvoeiro we found an interesting area of rock formations in the cliffs on the coast with various rounded forms and water inlets that you can walk around. After a walk through the town we continued to Armaҫão de Pêra, which from not knowing about the place beforehand we thought was going to be a smallish place, but it turned out to be a heavily developed resort of high-rise hotels like Portimão. For a snack lunch at a café, along with some mediocre soup, we had one of their speciality large tostas (toastie) between us filled with tuna, mayo and olives. It turned it was very large, we’re not sure where they got bread so big, with each of our quarters being about the size of a normal toastie! Nearby at Praia de Albondeira (accessed down small single lane roads not suitable for motorhomes) there is a very scenic coastal walk west on the cliff tops along an undeveloped stretch of the coast with lots of small sandy coves with rocky outcrops and arches, plus some huge sinkholes in the ground. The route passes Praia da Marinha, a nice place with parking accessible by road, and goes on to the small fishing village of Benagil although we didn’t quite get that far as we turned back to make sure we got back to the car before dark.

On the rocks at Carvoeiro
Scenery on the coastal walk between Praia de Albondeira and Benagil

Monchique and Fóia

Inland of Portimão is the Serra de Monchique, a wooded mountain range of cork, chestnut and eucalyptus trees, in which is the hill town of Monchique. Here our first stop was the tourist office to ask about walking routes around Fóia, where the lady was very helpful suggesting a route to walk around the town and giving us info leaflets for a couple of walks starting from the top of Fóia. During our walk around the town whilst we paused looking at the view over the rooftops a passing local started talking to my dad pointing out the unique chimneys in the town, where the larger they are signifies a wealthier family. He told us how a skirt around the bottom inside the house was used to house and store sausages to smoke them. The chap was previously a tour guide in Monchique but now has a business producing products made from the local cork (Portugal makes up somewhere between 54-63% of the world’s cork harvest). He had also worked in the UK for several years sourcing and taking Portuguese workers over.

At the top of the town set in woods with ancient classified trees is a derelict seventeenth-century monastery that is privately owned/kept by a man who shouted and signalled to us to go over and go inside. Jo followed my mum in to have a look while my dad and I hung around outside guessing he would be wanting money for it, but it turned out he just briefly tried to sell them some aromatherapy oils and oranges.

Artwork in the main square of Monchique
The outside of the monastery
We took the car up to the top of Fóia, the highest point of the Algarve at 902m where there are views out across the south coast and even the bottom end of the west coast. There are also a lot of radio masts. It was very chilly up here with a cold wind so we found a sheltered spot with the view to sit and eat our sandwiches. Jo, my mum and I got well wrapped up with fleeces, coats and hats on to tackle a walk from one of the leaflets we’d been given earlier but quickly found after setting off that with the walk being on the sheltered side of the mountain it was warm so we had to take all the extra layers off again! The walk started with quite a steep 300m descent which wasn’t good for Jo’s dodgy knees, but the rest of the route was a gradual uphill stretch and a lot of the way around we had good views out over the surroundings. Afterwards on the drive back down we called at Caldas de Monchique, a small spa village since Roman times built in a ravine. There was a clear water stream running through the village which we followed expecting it to lead to a spring but couldn’t find it.

View of the south coast with Portimão the builtup area on the left, and bottom of the west coast on the right


A visit to the Algarve wouldn’t have been complete for us without going to Alvor, the first place we stayed in our motorhome when arriving in Portugal near the start of our tour back in December 2014 and one of our favourite Portuguese coastal towns. There’s a nice old town with restaurants, bars and shops that leads down to a port area, then there’s a vast sandy beach. We had visited the town after taking the coastal walk here from Portimão mentioned in the last post and went back twice for meals in the evenings, one of which at an Indian restaurant after wandering around not sure where to go, and it was comparable to one you’d get in the UK. The other was at Panda Grill Bar & Restaurant which still does a €7.50 menu del dia that we sampled and enjoyed last year. For this small sum you get bread and olives, a main, a dessert, a drink and a coffee which makes it great value, one of the best we’ve found.

Alvor aire
We moved the camper to Alvor for the last couple of nights of the week, initially to the free beach parking area overnight after arriving in the evening, then onto the aire across the road in the morning (GPS: 37.12527 -8.59388, €4.50 inc Serv. pt., Electric €2.50). It was much busier than when we were  here last year but we still spotted a few familiar vans around from last time, including the couple in the huge RV (once more we forgot to ask their names) that we had a chat too and they said we’d taken their crown as youngest motorhomers down here. For the last day of their holiday my parents walked along from Portimão to join us for some time relaxing on the aire to have a barbeque. Jo made some very nicely marinaded chicken skewers that were popular, along with burgers, vegetable skewers, salad and wine, so we had a good feast. We followed this with a walk along a nature trail on the spit head and sea defence that protrudes across the mouth of the river which was pleasant but had nothing of note to see as such.

Free parking area over the road from the aire
After rain overnight the aire which is on unsurfaced ground had got very muddy which we managed to drive across without getting stuck but it was dubious with a lot of wheel spin. This place could really do with some of the money it makes reinvesting to put a sensible surface down because it regularly gets like this in winter and when it’s dry there are large ruts all over from previous wet times when people have got bogged down in the mud. The free parking area across the road actually has a better surface. We got away before breakfast to meet up with my mum & dad at their hotel before they left to collect some bits from them and say goodbye.

Locals at Alvor beachcombing the estuary when the tide is out; that's Lagos in the background 

Back by ourselves

After my parents left we called for diesel for the first time in three and a half weeks, which was unusually long for us, and went back to Ferragudo for a couple of days to relax as there’s a great freeparking area on a grassy headland just outside the town where you can park by the water’s edge (GPS: 37.12586 -8.52465). We got a prime spot facing onto the small beach looking up the estuary out to sea and at Ferragudo to the left and Portimão marina to the right. We had a peaceful time spent planning, catching up log writing and walking along the beach and around the village. We also had an incident of a nearby French lady’s cat running away, where we joined forces with a few others including a lady from South Africa to help look for the cat, and then working together we got it home eventually. From the relief on the French lady’s face you’d assume it was an isolated incident, but apparently it had previously run away 24 hours ago so maybe time for her to invest in a cat harness.

We’d got used to the eating out of the previous week and before leaving the area we wanted to have one more meal out in Alvor so headed to the beach parking there again in the evening. The options were Panda Grill for another €7.50 menu or a churrasqueira for piri-piri chicken if we could find it. After we couldn’t, we went to Panda Grill and both had fried flounder with tomato rice and a side portion of chips to share, which turned out to be a plate full. We also got the same amount of bread and olives as when there were four of us and got 1L of wine between us this time! I think it really will be hard to beat this place for value without going into eastern Europe.

In the morning before leaving we had a walk on the beach in the glorious sunshine then it was time to head off to see some new places in the eastern Algarve.

- Matt
Portimão marina viewed from Ferragudo


  1. What a pity for your parents to just catch the cloudy skies ... But then again it would hve been much better than UK temperatures? Reading your blog is as walking through those wonderful villages myself! Great pictures too. And how wonderful going to a restaurant without being afraid of the bill! I will remember the Alvor one ...

  2. Thank you for the comments Chris. You're right it was definitely more pleasant weather than the UK, it was still 16-18 degrees C whilst we'd heard from family there was snow there at the same time. They're our favourite kind of restaurants ones like this, it'll be a shock to the system when back in the UK! Panda Grill is near Pingo Doce supermarket if you ever find yourself down there