The Algarve. It’s just over 2 1/2 hours flight time away, and is Portugal’s premier holiday destination. I’m not a huge fan of crowds, but what drew me to organising our first trip abroad to this popular tourist hotspot was the short travelling time, no time difference and the sunshine… well, the expectation of some sunshine…

The area has sweeping coastlines framed by limestone rock, award-winning sandy beaches, big resorts, small hidden gems, big attractions, golf, golf, golf, pretty castle towns, stunning scenery – you get the picture. It’s also a regular winner of at the World Travel Awards, so it’s not surprising it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.

There are several popular resorts, including:

Albufeira

The largest of them, this has over 30km of coastline made up of unspoilt beaches and little bays. It’s old town is famed for its cobbled streets, little boutiques and café culture, while the main strip is buzzing with nightlife, bars and clubs.

AlvorAlvorThink of old-world charm and Alvor hits the mark. It has narrow cobbled streets leading to the harbour, and its own lagoon and river. Not only that, it’s got some of the best restaurants in the western Algarve. And the beaches have golden sand, warm waters and sheltered spots.

Tavira

Imagine what the Algarve was like before the tourists descended… this cultural city has churches galore, a port and a lagoon and, according to fans, exudes authentic Portugese charm.

Tavira-portugal_2526065bWhere we stayed

We opted for the seaside town of Vilamoura. Home to a huge marina and luxury yachts, waterside restaurants and bars, Vilamoura is a golfing mecca, with four championship courses, and has two long sandy beaches Praia de Marina and Praia de Falesia.

We spent the majority of our time wandering around the marina, walking from our self-catering apartment into town via Vilamoura’s very odd (because the main road in and out of the marina is on either side), purpose built ‘activity’ walkway, which consists of several different exercise stations. Monkey enjoyed amusing himself on them and splashing in the water features.

SpringPortugal2013 131Unfortunately for us, our holiday was ruined by the changeable weather. It pretty much peed it down for five days out of seven, which is unusual for late May. It was also chilly, windy (from the Atlantic) and our aspirations of lying by the pool and playing with D in the water was well and truly squashed, by the giant foot of crap weather fronts. Between us, we only had a couple of jumpers and cardigans. We were freezing!

What made it worse was on our first day, we were led into a false sense of sunshine security when we rocked up to the marina. Not only did we enjoy  a lovely lunch by the water’s edge, it was refreshing to sip a cold beer as it was so warm and sunny!

SpringPortugal2013 095However, we still took Monkey to the beach on several occasions, and even dared to get into the swimming pool a few times, not withstanding the screams from the cold water and shivering and chattering teeth!

We also chanced upon an activity area for young children as part of the marina complex. There was a large soft play area, with small rides. Monkey really enjoyed getting stuck in here, and it was just what we needed to tire and occupy him when the weather was particularly bad.

SpringPortugal2013 080It was my mistake, but I wanted everything on our doorstep, so that we could reach them via foot; I didn’t want to venture too far, which is why we didn’t hire a car. Also, seeing as this was our first foreign adventure with monkey, I was apprehensive about driving him around exploring, because he got bored easily. What I didn’t factor was that we would also get bored…

If we had hired a car, we could have visited a number of places nearby, including:

  • Zoo Marine – A theme park and aquarium all-in-one. The biggest attractions are the dolphins, where children over 6 years of age and adults are able to swim with them. Prices into the park start from €17 if you purchase in advance.
  • Krazy World Zoo – Think large advenutre playground, petting zoo, mini-golf, bouncy castles and swimming pools. Prices are from €9.95 per adult. Children under 4 get in for free!
  • Bella Vista Leisure Park – Situated in Albufeira this is brilliant for younger children and toddlers as there is Fun Factory, with bouncy castles, ball pits and slides. The park is open daily.
  • Aqua Show Park – This popular family waterpark has slides, wave machines, tubes, a lazy river and even a section for younger customers. There’s also a theme park, too, with rides, animal shows and a mini-train. Prices from €22.95 for adults and €15.30 for children between 5-10 years old.

Verdict

Vilamoura wasn’t for us… it felt too touristy, too catered towards the Brits, and, even though we went out of season, it was still busy (except for the beaches) – so I can only guess how packed it would be in the height of summer. In my opinion, it lacked charm, and while the weather did dampen our spirits, and our opinion of this Portugese town, a week was too long to be spent in this one area.

The Algarve has so much to offer, and if we ever visit the region again, I will most definitely be heading east or west and exploring smaller, hidden pockets that will offer us more in the way of culture and natural beauty than fried english breakfasts and tat.

SpringPortugal2013 055However, when all’s said and done, the most important thing was to spend quality time together as a family – and that we certainly did.