Beaches are one of my favourite places to be. I’m not fussy as to whether they have black sand, pebbles or white sand, but hand on heart my favourite is a white sandy beach. I love the feeling when you sink your toes into the grains and they heat your feet with alarming speed so you need to run as fast as your little toes will take you and plunge them into the sea.
And that is why I go back to the Algarve time and time again. Portugal is the quieter companion of Spain; content to sit quietly as its friend dominates the conversation, but I absolutely love it. My grandparents have a house there and I feel serene when I step off the plane and make my journey down the coast. I’m back.
The house is outside Tavira, in a little area called Cabanas. It’s a small town with a boat that can take you across to the island beach, and the shoreline teems with cafes and bistros serving only the freshest of foods; fish, olives and still-warm bread for you to eat until you can eat no more, all washed down with some delicious wine.
If you want to do more than soak up the sun and sip on the sangria then you can ride the bus into the nearest big town, which is Tavira and is a short journey again. I love the town because it is one of the last fishing villages on the Algarve that hasn’t been caught up in tourism, although it is far more built up than when I was there a decade ago, the first time. Tavira has a fantastic fish market; you have to get there early but you can get some great bargains on fish caught that morning. I love wandering up and down the aisles and seeing all the fish; gigantic tuna next to trays of prawns (like nothing you will ever see in the UK, they’re huge!) and swordfish, mullet and mackerel, all lined up like soldiers.
The town is really close to te Spanish border (you cross at Villa Real) and the port that welcomes you on the other side is a small town called Ayamonte. Its beautiful there as the town is organised around a square covered in mosaic and tiles. As a child we used to visit a tapas bar in a street next to a church; I like to go back there and watch the next generation of tiny children running up and down the steps as their parents eat the little plates of sumptuous delights. Did you know tapas were first given to be a way of keeping flies out of beer? The little plates of food were put on top of the glasses to keep out unwanted visitors. Another thing I love about the region.
Portugal is so close to England too. The flight is only a couple of hours so you could easily go for a weekend and not eat into the time off that you get from work each year. Avoid resort towns like Albufeira unless you like row after row of restaurants that serve English food and have no charm, and opt for Val de Lobo, Tavira or Villa Real. You wont regret it.