The village of Alvor in the Algarve is charmingly unspoilt. Unlike some of its larger neighbours along the coast, it has retained its unique character and friendly feel
Although it’s well placed for a day or two of sightseeing in the historic city of Lagos, as well as the lively clubs and bars of Praia da Rocha, Alvor has plenty to occupy visitors looking for a week of relaxation.
The old part of the village is a maze of quaint cobbled streets that have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Here locals mingle with tourists, sitting out on the streets chatting until late into the evening. Thankfully, you won’t find beer-swilling tourists behaving badly here; the atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and ideal for families who want to be able to go out in the evenings for a meal and a few drinks.
It’s worth wandering as far as village’s 16th century parish church, which looks like a wedding cake with its white painted walls and Manueline stone carvings. The streets gradually open out on to an attractive harbour area lined with colourfully painted fishing boats, which is the ideal place to pass an hour or two watching villagers collect shellfish from the estuary over a chilled glass of Portuguese rosé. Close to the harbour you will find a good choice of restaurants, many of which serve a selection of fantastic seafood dishes, including the local speciality cataplana, a delicious fish stew typically served in a huge copper pot. Other local dishes worth sampling include clams, mussels, seafood kebabs and, of course, chicken piri piri. Casa da Mare, the Captain’s Table and Vagabundo are among my favourite eating places, and most have outdoor seating for those balmy summer evenings.
Vagabundo is located in a traditional house and has a lovely hidden garden at the rear so it’s worth getting there early to claim an outdoor table. For a change of scenery, head up the hill to the newer part of the village and have drinks and dinner at the French Bar. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from proprietors José and Antonio, as well as tasty, affordably priced food. As we were on a fairly tight budget, we stayed in the French Bar - self-catering apartments, just down the street from the French Bar and owned by the same family. It was clean, tidy and comfortable, and had a little sun terrace with great views out across the surrounding countryside.
Sunseekers will be drawn to Torralta Beach, a 0.6-mile stretch of golden sand, where there are sun loungers for hire for a couple of pounds, as well as a selection of beachside snack bars and cafés. My favourite lunchtime snack was grilled sardines, cooked simply and served with a wedge of lemon, bread and butter. It’s a dish that rarely costs more than £5, but one that I will never tire of. If you’re the type of person who gets bored of sitting still for too long, take a walk along the beach and explore the network of archways carved into the rocks by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Just when you think you have reached the end of the beach, another opening appears in the rocks ahead of you, enabling you to access a series of secluded bays.
For a spot of shopping and a dose of culture, we took a taxi ride to the town of Lagos, where we explored the museum and chapel at Forte Ponta da Bandeira, a tiny 17th century fort worth visiting for the amazing views across the harbour if nothing else. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the visit was simply soaking up the atmosphere as we wandered through cobbled streets and courtyards bordered by attractively painted houses. We headed out along the Rua Miguel Bombarda towards the huge gateway that forms part of the city walls, which date back to the 14th and 16th centuries. The city is steeped in history; Henry the Navigator was a former resident and, in the corner of the main square, is a building where African slaves were once bought and sold. When your feet get tired from pounding the pavements, grab a table outside on the many eateries off the pedestrian precinct and tuck into a milky coffee and a huge slice of almond tart – another local delicacy – yum!
Most of the towns and villages along the coast have a regular market day – in Alvor it is traditionally the second Tuesday of the month and in Lagos the first Saturday. Here you can pick up colourful ceramics, lacework, linen and wicker baskets at competitive prices. I bought a selection of painted terracotta serving dishes for a couple of pounds each, and a set of three attractive white-painted ceramic lanterns for less than £20.
If you’re looking for excitement and adventure, then Alvor is not the place for you, but if you are in need of a week’s sunshine, rest and relaxation, not to mention great food and friendly surroundings, it’s a place that I would recommend to return to time and time again.