Odeceixe, on the border of the Algarve and the Alentejo, has a glorious beach and the cheapest accommodation I've seen in a long time. Just make sure you get that beach trip right...unlike me!
The guidebook suggested that Odeceixe, at the northern end of Portugal's Costa Vicentina, was a haven for hippies and surf dudes from June to September. My husband raised a wary eyebrow at this, but I was determined to see for myself.
The main attraction was the 4km stroll beside the river to a pristine beach at Praia de Odeceixe. Not one for strolling further than is necessary, husband Michael perked up at the notion of a restaurant facing the Atlantic rollers.
Odeceixe revealed itself to be a sleepy little town of closely packed houses tumbling down the side of a couple of hills. A windmill perches picturesquely on high. We easily parked the hire car and proceeded to follow signs clearly marked Praia. Not a hippy in sight and this was flaming June. We blinked with astonishment at the sign which advertised rooms for 27.50euros for two, big breakfast included. Too good to be true, we just had to take a look at the Pensao Residencia do Parque (Rua dos Correiros 15, Odeceixe) and concluded that it represented very good value for money indeed.
There was a laidback charm to the place and lots of tiny bars and restaurants that invited closer inspection, but I was on a mission- that stroll to the beach. All was going well till we reached the edge of town. Using my limited Portuguese I checked with a lady working the fields that we were indeed on the correct route. Receiving encouragement we continued to the left, despite the distinct absence of a river to follow. I sensed my husband's displeasure as the road rose gently ahead of us, especially as an occasional car whizzed past! Insult was added to injury when we spotted the river in the valley far below, and a campervan pulled in beside us. They admired the view while we paused to get our breath back. To be honest, I was happy as can be- the views were glorious, the weather perfect and huge green and yellow butterflies frolicked around us.
We laboured on up the hill and there it was in front of us- the gleaming bay. A wide expanse of beach was dotted with a few families and yes, I think I spied a surfer or two. Best of all we could relax and gaze at the waves launching themselves at the rocks from our cliff top viewpoint at the Café Dorita. The warm wind was a little frisky so we were glad of the glass screen while we pondered the extensive menu. We munched on Algarve-style carrots, olives, delicious bread and olive butter while we debated the mains- black pork, fish, falafel with hummus and figs (my choice), pancakes (wholewheat with a lavish helping of salad) both savoury and sweet, quiche, burgers. Plenty of variety and reasonably priced from 6 to 12euros. The service was a little slow as a few people had wandered in after us, but it wasn’t a place to hurry from. (Restaurante Café Dorita, Praia de Odeceixe phone 282 947 581) We noticed that there were also rooms available, with shared facilities.
From our vantage point we’d been able to see quite clearly the path that led alongside the river and all that was needed was a simple fording to continue on our way. The village at Praia de Odeceixe was tiny with a steep descent to the beach- two large coves enclosed by dramatic cliffs. After a few close encounters with the waves cascading over the rocks, it was time to cross the river. A happily paddling dog seemed to suggest that the water wasn’t deep. Cautiously though, I kept my favourite red-bowed flip flops on in case anything lurked in the water. Mistake!
I emerged from the water triumphantly, only to find, two steps on, that the toepost on my flip flops had disintegrated and I was strolling the pleasant 4km back to the car minus one shoe! Unfortunately whereas the road we travelled out on was smooth surfaced, the track we now followed was exactly that, and a little bumpy in places. A lesson learned! We did in fact complete our unintentional circular walk, and I could recommend it to anybody, despite my mishaps. I certainly might consider the reverse route another time, or even, as Michael muttered, take the car to the beach. The happy ending was the hammock shop we spotted as I limped over the bridge and back into Odeceixe- and a new pair of flip flops.
Odeceixe sits right on the border between the Algarve and the Alentejo. On Easter weekend the Folar Fair takes place- a tribute to cakes and sweet and sticky things, with traditional crafts. More importantly, you have access to any number of unspoiled beautiful beaches. To the south, in the Algarve, Bordeira and Amado are both wonderful swathes of sand, while, to the north, the Alentejo has the resort of Vila Nova de Milfontes. There's a walk I've yet to try from Porto Covo to Ilha do Pessegueiro (Peach Tree Island) which sounds really lovely. I'll let you know how I get on!
Where to stay
The real selling point of this area is its amazing value for money. In addition to the Pensao Residencia do Parque, as we wandered we spotted numerous rooms to let, obviously geared to the young surfing community. They are well catered for. Odeceixe Surf School Camp has shared rooms from 370 euros per week which includes 4 hours surf tuition, equipment and meals on the beach.
If you prefer your beaches with a hint of luxury you can't do better than Casas do Moinho Turismo de Aldeia. Superbly modernised houses with mezzanine level, swimming pool and free WiFi in a great location right by the windmill - I could really enjoy a stay here. 5 star accommodation from 110 euros for a double room with breakfast.
From Faro airport it's 124km and about a 1.5 hours' drive to Odeceixe, west to Lagos and then north on the N120. A regular bus runs from Lagos and passes through Aljezur, where you can scramble upwards through higgledy piggledy medieval streets to the scant remains of a Moorish castle. From Aljezur the N267 is a beautiful way to reach the heights of Monchique. The journey need never end.