by Connie Hand
Admittedly, the beaches in the Portuguese Algarve are famous for their beauty, but they are also very crowded.
Having been to the Algarve several times, I always wondered where the quiet, uncrowded beaches were. There had to be many since the coast was about 60 miles long. But how to find them?
My research always came to a dead end. I used a current Michelin map of Portugal. I went online. Not many beaches were noted except the usual—mostly eastern Algarve four and five star resorts.
I imagined beach after beach, cove after cove nestled under huge rocks and boulders. With so many coastal miles, especially on the Atlantic Coast, I was sure that the Portuguese and the German and British tourists or expats knew about dozens of these paradises, even if Americans hadn’t yet found them.
A couple of years ago, I decided to find some people to speak with on the subject during my visit. But about a week before my trip, while reading a Rick Steves’ Portugal guide, I came across a small paragraph that mentioned Castelejo Beach on the Atlantic Coast of Algarve, Portugal. In his guidebook under “The Algarve: Cape Sagres” section, he listed “Beaches”. He stated that there were many little beaches from Salema to Sagres. And then...he mentioned Praia do Castelejo which is north of Sagres past Vila do Bispo. Rick wrote “If you have a car and didn’t grow up in Fiji, this is really worth the drive”. He said it was “the best secluded beach in the region”.
At last, someone was as interested as I in the tucked away and little heard of western Algarve beaches!
So my husband and I decided to go for it.
When we arrived at Lagos, we checked into the Romantik Hotel Vivenda Miranda. This boutique hotel is situated up on a cliff overlooking the Praia do Mos. (The hotel is beautiful and lovingly cared for by owners Vera and Urs Wild, and their friendly, helpful staff. I highly recommend it).
After lunch, we made our plans to drive out to Castelejo beach the next day. We would follow Rick Steve’s directions.
The next morning, after a delicious buffet breakfast on the hotel patio with its ocean view, we left on our adventure.
Driving west out of Lagos, we drove on A22 to highway 125 toward Vila do Bispo. From there, we followed the signs to Castelejo beach.
I was agog staring at the beauty of the countryside. I couldn’t wait to get near the beach, but the good roads disappeared. We were now on a poorly paved road with no guard rails. Huge cliffs rose up on one side and there were steep drops on the other. As we proceeded, my fingers dug into the car seat as I held on with heart thumping. My stomach turned to acid. I was perspiring. I noticed that I was holding my breath. My husband said nothing (thank God, as this foray was my idea). The road did not improve. I hoped another car would not come by. How could we get out of the way? Would we be able to pass each other? I thought maybe we should go back but... there was no way to turn around.
After about 25 minutes, we came to a smaller road with some parked cars. We parked alongside of them and walked past the Castelejo Restaurant and down a rickety flight of stairs to a secluded and seductive beach. We looked at each other. We had arrived.
The tide was low. The water was warm and inviting. The golden sand beach was very wide and surrounded by huge boulders and cliffs. The rocks on the beach were glowing in shades of green and orange.
Surfers rode the wild waves, swimmers frolicked in the surf, and sunbathers were enjoying the warmth of the sun.
I wasn’t surprised to notice that we were the only tourists from the United States. These beach aficionados and surfers were Portuguese locals, and as I suspected, a few German and British tourists on holiday.
We investigated the nooks and crannies of this sunny beach and its coast, but too soon it was time to leave. No way would we attempt the drive back in the DARK!
We stopped for a cool drink and snack at the restaurant, which specializes in fresh octopus dishes, fish stews, and large portions.
Knowing the condition of the road, we were tense and on edge. We were very relieved when we reached the highway.
I felt a great satisfaction that I had found this wild, untamed beach and I knew there had to be other beaches like Castelejo.
Last August, I returned to the Algarve and the Lagos hotel. We drove to Praia do Castelejo again. We were very apprehensive and although I dreaded the drive, I knew it would be worth it. I tried to calm my nerves and compose myself.
Much to my relief, the road had been widened and was newly paved. The drive was much less stressful and took less time. And there were other surprises, like a large parking lot and a new stairway to replace the old, shabby one.
The beach was still gorgeous under its grand boulders. The tide was out and the sun was shining under the typical Portuguese azure sky. I felt joy in my heart as I stepped down to the beach.What a beach! What a coast! I sat in the sun, then walked down the wild coast, waded in the clear waters, and just relaxed, awed by my “western Algarve beach”.
As we drove back to the hotel, I knew there would be more trips to the western Algarve to find more hidden beaches on what I now know is the Costa Vicentina. I have a map, that I picked up at the Castelejo Restaurant, and I know there will be another day, another time, another beach....
If you go:
For complete Portugal trip planning information, go to visitportugal.com.
Connie Hand was born and raised in New Jersey. She is a former educator. She has traveled extensively over the years and photographed her trips to many states in the U.S., to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, Europe, and South America. Connie continues to travel and writes about her experiences. She lives in Florida and New Jersey with her husband, Jeff.
[photography by connie hand (collage) and Portuguesa72 via flickr.com common license.]