Are you tired of those gray winter days and do you also long for some rays of sunshine to recharge your batteries? Probably the Algarve is not the first destination that comes to your mind. Unfairly so I can now state.
We visited the Algarve from the 7th to the 14th of January, middle of winter, but we had great winter weather.
We did some hiking in pleasant temperatures and even spent a few hours sunbathing at the pool!
For those wanting to spend a week relaxing at the pool, there’re better options in January. Everybody else, continue reading and let me take you on a trip to this pearl in the South of Portugal.
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You can fly to Lisbon or Faro. During winter you will find more, as well as cheaper, flights to Lisbon. After all, Faro is for many companies a seasonal destination that is only serviced over summer. Year-round, flights to Faro will typically be more expensive. And after just about 2 hours driving from Lisbon – as well as paying a €25 toll – you will find yourself in Faro.
Given this toll, you will find yourself almost alone on the Portuguese highways. Most Portuguese prefer to ride on the local roads.
They probably prefer to spend their money on the delicious Portuguese wines and we understand that too well.
For this one week, we paid around €70 in toll, imagine paying that all year long.
So what did we love so much about the Algarve?
The Algarve has several small charming villages. Ideal for a pleasant stroll that allows you to take in the atmosphere of this beautiful region.
This changes during the summer.
We spoke to different people who live there and they all told us that in August they lock themselves in their homes because it is uncomfortably busy.
The streets and the parking lots are not capable of handling the large flow of tourists who visit the Algarve in the summer.
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There were only a handful of people at a tourist hotspot like Ponta Da Piedade when we visited it in January, yet the parking lot was already half full. It looked like we had the whole place to ourselves now but I can imagine that in high season it may be hard to first find a parking spot and afterward take a picture.
Certainly, if you don’t want to find your picture ruined by a herd of tourists walking in front of your camera just the moment you thought you would make the perfect photo.
Clearly, If you want to see the Algarve at its best, then you should avoid July and August.
The whole week we enjoyed a pleasant 17 degrees Celsius. Ideal to stroll through the charming villages and hike alongside the coast.
Keep in mind that there is always some wind on the coast anyway.
Good deals for hotel rooms
Just like anywhere else hotel room prices tend to be lower in low season. In the Algarve as well.
We stayed in 2 different hotels of which we are both quite satisfied. And for the prices we paid, those were really a steal!
Hilton Vilamoura as Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa
A hotel that I would book again without any hesitation is the Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa. Here you will find several swimming pools and a nice restaurant. But above all, the main reason I would come here again is their superb spa. We spend one drizzly day in the spa. It would have been a lost day otherwise but instead, we now had a wonderfully relaxing day with sauna and hammam visits and a wonderful massage.
Holiday Inn Armaçao de Pera
A second hotel that you can consider is the Holiday Inn in Armaçao de Pera. This village is situated more central in the Algarve. This hotel is not at the same level as the Hilton, it’s a bit older and you can see some wear and tear in the rooms. But for the price we paid, only €50/night, this was really a steal. Especially when you know that breakfast was included in that price. A breakfast that is not as extensive as the one we found in the Hilton, but if you’re not paying attention you will still end up with an overloaded stomach. Here we also enjoyed a few hours the beautiful view from the pool and we even went for a few laps in the heated pool.
Quite a lot is closed
Not everything is rosy. You might find some drawbacks as well in January. For example, many restaurants were closed when we were here. Initially, we always searched for a few addresses with good reviews in advance.
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After 2 evenings we stopped doing this because those places we had looked up turned out to be closed when we arrived.
Instead, we just headed downtown and strolled through the main streets until we spotted something that appealed to us.
We didn’t let it on to us, but all those closed restaurants sometimes made a sad impression.
It’s too early for water sports activities
The Algarve is also the place 2 be for all kinds of water sports activities, but in January it is really a bit early.
Other Algarve tips
The best views on the impressive rocky coasts of the Algarve are from a boat. Certainly around sunset when the rocks transform into those beautiful warm colors. With a boat trip, you also visit some caves, including the famous Benagil cave.
Boat trips in the Algarve go all year round. In the winter you have a chance to find your trip canceled due to the weather. Book a boat trip that leaves around 3:30 pm to enjoy the sunset, just make sure to take a warm coat, gloves and a hat.
If you don’t like boating, a jeep safari is also fun to do.
If you like hiking, the Ria Formosa national park is worth a visit. If you prefer not to walk, but still like being surrounded by nature, a ride on a Segway is a great alternative.
For the first time, we booked a rental car with Sixt. Significantly cheaper than Hertz where we traditionally always look first and usually find a good deal. Sixt offered us a rental car for € 63 for 1 week including the -toll system. A price that no one else could beat.
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We had rented a Renault Captur and received a slightly larger Peugeot 2008.
The car was relatively new with only 18800 km on the clock and even had a built-in GPS. A good experience for a first rental and I will consider them again for my next rental.
Although an International Driving Permit is not officially required by Portuguese law it is sometimes recommended as it can significantly speed-up paperwork if you would be involved in an accident. A translation of your original driving license is sufficient for the Portuguese authorities.
It’s best to always reserve the e-toll system (Via Verde) in Portugal. On the highway from Lisbon to the Algarve you still have the choice to pay cash, but on the highway, in the Algarve there is only the e-toll system. If you do not have this, you are forced to pay cash in a post office. Quite a hassle for something that you can easily avoid by paying a small supplement. (€10 in our case).
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The Algarve is a great destination in winter if you hate mass tourism, like to hike and like discovering the beautiful nature in peace.
A downside is that you may find many places, like restaurants and shops, closed.
Algarve winter weather is moderate and the temperatures are a pleasant 17 degrees with an occasional rainy day. May and September are perfect options if you prefer warmer temperatures and still want to avoid the crowds.
August is apparently the busiest month and we would certainly advise avoiding this month if you can.
Other fun things to do in the Algarve
Here are some travel guides to get you started:
|Top 10 Algarve-Eyewitness travel||The lonely Planet Portugal||The Rough Guide Portugal|
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