The Algarve – By Motorhome

The Algarve region of Portugal is one of the most popular places in Europe for motorhome and campervan owners to visit, which is not surprising given the fact that it has a fantastic year round climate, a coastline to die for, really friendly people and a big plus, it is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, with good campsites to be had for 11 euros upwards.

What will also not be surprising, with cheap holiday flights, is that the region will be popular with other types of holiday makers and what was very noticeable, is that it is an area frequented by the Brits. Cross over the border into Spain on the Costa de La Luz and you will struggle to hear an English voice.

Our plan, if there was one, was that we were going to try to avoid the main tourist area of Albufeira and motor our way to Cape St Vincent at the furthest western point of the Algarve.

On entering Portugal from Spain and crossing the Guadiana river it makes sense to register your motorhome for the electronic tolls on the A22 motorway, as though you can avoid the motorway, it is inevitable that at some stage you will use it. The pull off is well signposted and the automatic registration tolls are easy to use. The advantage of coming through Spain into the Algarve is that you will avoid the Portuguese motorway tolls.

Castro Marim Natural Reserve

This is a case of blink and you will miss it and in fact we did, for it was not until we arrived at our campsite Ria Formosa that a fellow motorhomer told us of its existence, and in fact we visited it on our return journey. It is situated off the motorway as soon as you cross the river into Portugal and it is signposted. You will have to go on a gravel road to reach the reserve centre but it is easily accessible. Luckily for us the reserve centre was open but the main attraction are the salt flats, where you can see a variety of birds, flamingoes,spoonbills,  avocets and black winged stilts to name a few.

Black Winged Stilt

The medieval castle of Castro Marim can be seen in the distance.



Just across the border is Tavira, our first stop and what a fantastic introduction to the Algarve. This is an ancient Moorish town with bags of character located on the River Gilao, which leads down to the coast opposite the Isla de Tavira. The beaches are superb, protected by the islands of the Ria Formosa, which are very much a feature of this coastline and a trip to at least one of the islands is a must. It is a very pleasant cycle ride down to the coast from the town.

The main square is a good focal point and ideal for relaxing with a coffee and cake or a drink.

We stayed at the campsite Rio Formosa, just outside Tavira in the village of Cabanes.

Tavira is an easy 20 to 30 minutes cycle ride over the salt flats and most of it is off road, before you come onto the quiet road, which leads into Tavira.. On your way you pass the Continente supermarket and there is another in the town, Pingo Douce. It is also pleasant to explore the salt flats and the coastal areas by bike.

You cross the bridge before you enter the main square

A short walk or cycle ride takes you to the coastal resort area of Cabanes.

There is a station at Cabanes, a few hundred metres from the entrance to the campsite with trains to Faro and Vila Real. Apparently there is a bus as well but we went everywhere by bike..

There are not many ACSI sites in Portugal and I think the reason is simple, the Portuguese  t campsites represent good value for money without participating in the scheme. We paid 14 euros for a night with excellent facilities and free wi fi. The campsite layout does resemble a car park to some extent but you could not fault this site.

This is a very popular winter site with pitches being booked well in advance.



A short hop from Tavira took us to Olhao which is the Algarve's largest fishing port and though there is a large and not very attractive area of warehousing and port area connected with the fishing industry, this is a town of character. To the west  there is a very attractive paved promenade area and  a berth where the boats leave for the neighbouring islands, for the beaches.

We took the short hop by ferry to the Ilha da Armona and had a very enjoyable day exploring the islands superb beaches with an excellent lunch at the Restaurant Tolinhas,(cash only) right on the beach front,by the boat jetty.Olhao

A short hop from Tavira took us to Olhao which is the Algarve's largest fishing port and though there is a large and not very attractive area of warehousing and port area connected with the fishing industry, this is a town of character. To the west  there is a very attractive paved promenade area and  a berth where the boats leave for the neighbouring islands, for the beaches.

Main Street on the Island
The island's beaches

On the promenade there are two large market halls, one specialising in fruit and veg and the other a most fantastic fish market. No supermarket shopping for us here. At the weekend the fruit and veg market spills out onto the promenade.

Behind the market halls is the entrance to the old town and with a little imagination you can recreate the old fishing village that this once was.

We stayed at the campsite Parque de Campismo e Caravanismo de Olhao Pinheirosde Marim, Apartado 300 8700-912 Olhao


We liked this campsite, not only because it was only 11 euros a night but it was in a very pleasant pine forest setting and we could not argue with the faciliities and the reception as always was fantastic.

It is situated a good half hour walk from the beginning of the old town by the church and the first part of the walk is down a main road but luckily there is an hourly town bus service, which stops right outside the campsite and also stops in the town, at the bus station for onward buses to Faro.

The church is a good focal point and entrance to the old town from the station.

A short walk from the campsite is the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve,  where there is a small entrance fee, and we spent a good morning and afternoon exploring. We had hoped to have seen the 'Purple Swamphen' or 'Purple Gallinule' but sadly we were unsuccessful but nevertheless we spotted a wide variety of birds.

The reserve has a working tidal mill.


We took the bus from the bus station in Olhao, you can take a train but we thought the bus offered the best bet.

Faro is the capital of the Algarve and though most people associate it with the airport this town is well worth the visit and though constantly seeing the aeroplanes bringing in the tourists to the Algarve you are left wondering how many of them will actually visit the town. This would definitely be their loss.

The town, like Tavira and Olhao displays many moorish influences. It has a walled town which is very scenic and in May very peaceful. The shopping centre outside the walls is not unpleasant and I would suggest finding a restaurant in one of the narrow side roads for a more authentic Portuguese atmosphere. Cafe Alianca is one of the more famous cafes and is worth a visit as is the whole marina area,

In essence this was a great day's visit and easy to get to from Olhao.


This was our next stop and this was very much a beach stop in a charming characterful fishing village. It will not take you long to explore the village but it has a good selection of bars and restaurants.

There were a couple of highlights,firstly the boardwalks that cross the sand dunes and mudflats of the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve with great views over the estuary. We cycled and walked these boardwalks.

The second highlight is the main beach, Praia de Alvor and if you venture a little towards the left, towards the east, you come across the rock formations of Praia de Tres Imaos which are great fun.

If you wanted to, it was easy to park your motorhome in May.

We stayed at Camping Alvor, about a 15 minute walk from the town. This is an ACSI site. It has everything you would want from a site, including a very nice swimming pool. The pitches near the entrance are smaller and appear to go first, probably because they are nearer the pool etc. If you descend down to the bottom of the site the pitches are in a more natural setting, though access is not always easy and they are not as such designated pitches but on balance I think they are better than the more crowded top town. There is a motorhome service point.


There is also a large motorhome aire in Alvor, down by the beaches.


This was the furthest west that we ventured as far as campsites were concerned, using it as a base to explore the Western Algarve.

We stayed at another ACSI site, Salema Eco Camp


This is a very pleasant site in a woodland setting with excellent facilities which includes a motorhome service point.

They say the beach is 1km away, it is nearer a mile and down a road but hardly any traffic. Allegedly they say they offer a beach shuttle but we saw no evidence of this but perhaps it is a high season facility. It is a very pleasant beach area but not a lot to occupy you otherwise.

It was at this site that I rescued a baby hoopoe, who had the misfortune to end up on the main road, which would have severely limited his chances of survival. A towel over his head to limit the human contact and a quick transfer to the gravel road at the side and in next to no time mum had found him.

Cape St Vincent

This was our final destination in the Western Algarve and was explored from our campsite in Salema. There is an Orbitur campsite just outside of Sagres, about 2 miles but it is more expensive and in any case it is easy to explore this section of the coast in a motorhome, parking was not a problem in May.

It is a good idea to make a number of stops on your way to the final destination, Portugal's equivalent of Lands End and just as windy but spectacular views all along this coast.

Praia do Beliche
Cape Vincent
Cape Vincent
Praia Do Beliche


This was our final stop before heading along the motorway back to Spain.

We stayed at the Turiscampo, just outside of Espiche on the main N125 road and this is a big commercial site and very luxurious, popular with caravans as they like all the mod cons.

This is an ACSI site but you will be allocated one of the smaller pitches, which was fine for us and we took a pitch right at the top of the site, with superb views of the surrounding countryside but not sheltered from the strong winds, that can be a feature of this area.

This site is also a popular winter site which you can understand as it has superb facilities to include a large pool area, which you would expect from a large commercial site.



It is a good half hour walk from the campsite to Praia da Luz. There is a bus service and details are available from the campsite.

Praia da Luz is a family resort, fairly well developed with lots of holiday accommodation but not high rise and very popular with the Brits, particularly as we hit it in the Whit Bank Holiday but though lively it was not busy. It has a good beach hemmed in by cliffs and though it is a steep hike to the top of the Rocha Negra Cliffs, to the east, it does provide you with spectacular views.


We nearly got put off going to Lagos as it apparently has a reputation for being a very lively town with a thumping nightlife and lively it is but it was May and we were not going for the nightlife.

It does tend to be blessed with everything that would be required from a tourist destination. It lies along the banks of the Rio Bensafrim, with its associated marinas, so great for strolling. You will, however, be bombarded, politely, from tour operators trying to sell you a boat tour around the Ponta da Piedada headland. We did, however, take the advice of one of them 'Even if you decide not to do it with us make sure you do the trip'. Sadly we did not do it with them but chose a trip from a group of fishermen near the old town, in the afternoon. We also chose carefully, by hanging back and then arriving when there were no other people so got a boat and guide tom ourselves, This would be impossible to do in the peak period. The original tour operator was right though, it was a spectacular trip.

It also has an old walled town with pretty cobbled lanes and picturesque piazzas and churches. Outside of the town, on the sea front, it even has its own fort, As you would expect the town has sprawled outside of the town walls but the streets are not unattractive. Then to top it all it has a massive beach to the east of town. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this is a very attractive tourist spot.

We took the bus from outside the campsite to Lagos, which is a reasonably regular service for a day trip.

Our trip to the Algarve finished with a call in to the nature reserve at Castro Marim, before crossing the border to the Costa Da Luz.

What our trip showed was an experience of the authentic Algarve, unspoilt if not untouched by tourism.