Planning a lads' weekend away, and looking for somewhere that combines adventure, golf, good food and cracking nightlife? Portugal's western Algarve has got the winning formula down to a tee...
One minute you can be clinging to a rock face, being battered by coastal spray; the next, bantering competitively with your mates on olive-tree-lined fairways. Portugal’s western Algarve offers everything for a break-from-the-norm stag do or the ultimate lads' long weekend away.
Only an hour's transfer from Faro airport is the Parque da Floresta Golf & Leisure Resort. Set on the boundary of the Costa Vicentina Nature Reserve, it offers the perfect base for a weekend of adrenaline-fuelled action. Drop your bags in one of the resort’s luxury golf village houses, and head straight out for your first cheeky 18 holes.
The course here is one of Europe’s most picturesque, and even the most reluctant golfer cannot fail to be won over by its stunning, panoramic vistas. Each hole is steeped in originality and there is a complete contrast between front and back nine. The course’s uncompromising gradients demand focused accuracy off the tee - fail, and you will find yourself screaming for mercy at the base of one of the resort’s eucalyptus-covered ravines. It’s very easy to go from performing like Tiger to playing like a tabby, in one misjudged slice.
Despite the challenge, the course offers rewards to brave golfers. Finish up your round by taking in the marvellous view from the clubhouse terrace with a cold beer and a bowl of the excellent local fish soup.
Prices for four-night golf packages start at €221 each for four people sharing (that includes buffet breakfast and 40 per cent off green fees). Those travelling on a tighter budget, and wanting to be in the centre of the party action, can stay at the Rising Cock hostel in the middle of bustling Lagos. It's just like staying at a mate’s beach house; prices are about €20 a night.
Now it’s time for something a bit more perilous. Essential to the draw of the western Algarve is its combination of secluded beaches and jagged rock formations, pounded by wild Atlantic swells. The area is a haven for adrenaline junkies. Check out the guys at Extreme Algarve, who offer an impressive array of different rushes, including surfing, rock climbing, sea kayaking, mountain biking and even skydiving.
Heights and I go together like BA Baracus and planes, so I wasn’t enthused to find out that rock climbing was first up on our weekend agenda. I have never really understood its appeal as a pastime. My only knowledge gleaned from Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger, I was under the illusion that upper body strength is the key to rock climbing success. My lack of muscle, fused with vertigo, means climbing the stairs is normally my extreme limit.
What a revelation, then, to hear from my climbing instructor Pete that ‘it’s all about the legs’. While climbing the rock face, I discovered that by focusing on the mental puzzle of where next to put my hands and feet, I was able to push away my fears. After reaching the summit, my adrenaline and new-found enthusiasm for the sport managed to convince a fellow hardened sceptic to give it a crack. By the end we were even discussing taking climbing holidays together in the Brecon Beacons!
Next up on the agenda was exploring the coast around the historic town of Lagos by sea kayak. With a bit of elbow grease and some barking at your fellow kayaker, you can spend a whole afternoon following the impressive limestone formations and, for the plucky adventurer, wave-beaten caves and grottoes.
Of all the extreme pursuits on offer in the Western Algarve, surfing is the biggest draw and, this being Europe’s most westerly point, pretty impressive swells are guaranteed all year round. No trip would be complete without spending time at one of the coastline’s amazing surf spots (Ariffana beach is good for beginners, because high rocks protect it from the wind). A day is enough to give you a taste for the surf rush - but you'll need to dedicate a few more days if you are to become its master.
After all the exhilaration, it’s time to experience the secret gem of this area: the fantastic food and wine. With the region's proximity to the Atlantic, seafood is definitely the order of the day, and nowhere is it prepared better, in traditional cataplanas (copper pots), than at the undiscovered A Eira Do Mel, in beautifully rustic surroundings in Vila do Bispo. Mixed fish cataplana, Atlantic prawns and rabbit are all prepared using fresh, local produce. Wash this down with one of the hugely impressive yet little-known Portuguese wines, such as Barranco Longo or Dom Rafael Mouchao, and finish off with a glass of the local port, such as Niepoort (2001). This restaurant alone is reason enough to visit the western Algarve - but don’t let this be the end of your night.
Lagos is the party capital of Portugal and its centre comes alive on Saturday nights. The nightlife here will ensure that whether you choose action or fairways the next morning/afternoon, you'll have a suitable headache to accompany you. Three Monkeys, Joe’s Garage, Inside Out and Bon Vivant are just a few of the names I can hazily recall from my night out there. The laidback, international crowd that Lagos attracts, together with the cheap drinks, ensures that whether you're there for a stag do or just a normal weekend away, you’ll return tired but with a great big smile on your chops.