The Central Algarve is a mix of traditions, landscapes, scents, and colors. With this tailored Self-Drive road trip, you’ll be able to explore independently routes along the shore and through the mountain hills.
From the core of the Algarve’s most famous resort, Albufeira, we invite you on a wonderful journey into the contrasts of this region, rich in culture and heritage.
Holidays in Albufeira
We’ll show you how to reach secret coastal spots where you can dive in clear waters, roam between the canals of the Ria Formosa, or paddle along the beaches of Albufeira.
From Paderne, with the quaint white houses and decorated 18th-century chimneys, to Alte and the cool refreshing waters of Fonte Grande and Fonte Pequena.
We’ll take you to see Boliqueime, on the slopes of a hill, at the beginning of the Barrocal – the area between the coast and the mountains. It was the center of commerce trade for figs, almonds, and carobs, and, of course, the famous sweet and juicy oranges from Algarve!
Experience the contrasts of Loulé with the traditional handicrafts and Arab inspired designed municipal market building that some say it’s one of the most beautiful markets in the world!
Drive to Salir, a village on the edge of the Serra do Caldeirão, whose origins are lost in time and Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, in search of the tile makers who have been there for centuries.
Holidays in Albufeira
Discover an unknown side of Albufeira as you wander through the narrow lanes, searching for the traditional places where the local cuisine is rich and original.
Take with you the views of Senhora da Rocha, the cliff over the boardwalks of Carvoeiro, and a remembrance of what the pottery design of Porches tells about the Portuguese history.
Try xarém (maize porridge) with crackling pork, or mountain soup. Experience goat and sheep cheeses or homemade sausages that are perfect as starters. Try the local medronho brandy that is the ideal accompaniment for sweets, which are made with local produce that reflect the village’s heritage – honey, figs, and almonds.
Have in mind that many before you have come here, fallen in love with the country, and stayed. Some come back every year. Others have never been here.
But be certain that you’ll see the Central Algarve as many have not. Through our knowledge and your eyes, the memories that you’ll create will be unique and your own to tell…
Day 1 – Arrival to Faro
Individual arrival to Faro Airport and rent-a-car vehicle pick up. Drive to Albufeira.
Sra da Rocha
Day 2 – Discover the Villages
We suggest starting this day with a wonderful journey through the contrasts of the Algarve. From the cosmopolitan Albufeira town, drive northwards towards Paderne. This small village, located on a gentle hill, stands quietly, with its white houses and decorated 18th century chimneys.
Paderne is full of contrasts and history. There’s a castle built by the Moors and a cobblestoned bridge that is preserved since the roman times. The watermill and the weir at the foot of the hill still maintain its traditional milling operations.
Continue northwards, along the Serra do Caldeirão, to reach Alte. Famous for its cool waters of Fonte Grande and Fonte Pequena, this small village invites you to enjoy a leisure day by its pools. Nevertheless, we also recommend to wander around the village streets to see the decorated chimneys, the coloured parapets, and its 13th century church.
As you drive south, on an especially beautiful stretch of road, you find Boliqueime.
Located on the slopes of a small hill, at the beginning of the Barrocal – the area between the coast and the hills of the Serra do Caldeirão – Boliqueime was once a centre of commerce trade. Merchants from Flanders were among the earliest to import the best figs, almonds and carobs from this area. Along with the sweet juicy oranges, famous all through the world!
Springtime brings a burst of colours
Day 3 – Serra do Caldeirão
Our dedicated program today takes you to the rolling hills of the Serra do Caldeirão, between thyme and lavender scents, carob trees, the tranquil sounds of the streams and the tradition of skilled craftspeople.
From Albufeira, drive to Loulé. Its castle was built by the Arabs and rebuilt in the 13th century. In the courtyard, there is a well and the arch of the old gate marked the entrance to the settlement. Nowadays, in the shops around the walls, you can still find traditional handicrafts like pieces of copper, clay, hats and baskets. The palm basket making is an age-old skill, carried out by women and the baskets were used for packing figs, almonds and carob beans. The ex-LIBRIS of the town is its municipal market building that some say that is one of the most beautiful markets in the world!
Drive to Salir, a village on the edge of the Serra, whose origins are lost in time. The village is an outdoor memory of the past. In the castle, there are traces of a Celtic past, but the fort is of Arab origin.
The local cuisine is rich and original, and some things to try are xarém (maize porridge) with pork crackling, or mountain soup. Goat and sheep cheeses or homemade sausages are perfect as starters while the medronho brandy is the ideal accompaniment for sweets, which are made with honey, figs and almonds.
Later in the day, reach Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, in search of the tile makers who have been there for centuries. The air is full of the aroma of holm oaks and almond shells, burning in the ovens where the various different types of tiles are baked. In the orchards all around, almond and orange trees flourish, and pieces of the original stone can be seen peeping through the whitewash on the walls of the single-storey houses.
The beauty of the Ria Formosa
Day 4 – Free day
This is the day to take the time to rest or wander around town and explore the local traditions. There are numerous monuments to discover, whether your preference is related to the historical background of the town or just exquisite architecture.
There are lovely beaches in Albufeira, and a variety of activities available to do in the nature, like a boat tour, or a walking tour.
Holidays in Albufeira
Day 5 – Ria Formosa
The day will be dedicated to the Ria Formosa, a system of lagoons of great natural beauty. In has been attracting visitors for ages, for the exquisite seafood, beautiful fishing villages, and fabulous beaches.
Drive from Alfufeira, to begin in Faro, the capital of the Algarve. It’s a town of ancient origins, with its own style and a distinct personality. The city has been moulded by earthquakes, fires, sackings by pirates and military action. Faro has been the capital of the Algarve since the 16th-century.
Half way up to the hills of the Serra do Caldeirão, and crossing into the Barrocal you’ll find Estoi. The jewel in this large village is the Palace of Estoi, a sumptuous 18th century Romantic construction that was recently converted into a hotel and classified as a building of public interest. The Parish Church (16th/17th centuries), surrounded by buildings in the popular style, commands a delightful view from the top of its bell tower, on a level higher than that of the palace: it is magnificent when the groves of almond trees all around are in blossom (the Algarve’s snow).
The day won’t be complete until you experience Olhão. This traditional and ancient fishing village, with its terraced rooftop houses and minarets compose a patchwork of white cubes, and it’s not a place for a rushed visit. You will need to have time to stroll through the alleys, and the labyrinth of lanes and little streets discovering its unique corners. We suggest a visit to the market, built in the late 19th century, and classified as one of the best in the Algarve.
Stork’s nest in Olhão
Day 6 – Albufeira
Today is the day that we suggest a dedicated visit to the town that has welcomed you for the week – Albufeira.
The “Pau da Bandeira” viewing point is an excellent starting point! From here you can see the Maria Luísa beach and the Praia dos Pescadores that together create a truly colourful scene.
Not far behind you, the commercial town buzzes with life. Follow the steep lanes, to visit the historic centre and varied shops. There’s a bit of everything for those that visit Albufeira.
We suggest that you take the time to drive westwards and stop at Senhora da Rocha, a chapel with Visigoth capitals at the top of a promontory with fine looking views. There is nothing more serene than its enormous beach with calm seas and immense blue, lapping repeatedly on the fine golden sand reflecting the sun.
From here, drive westwards. We recommend a stop in Porches, in the outskirts of Lagoa. This small village is home to a tradition of pottery making and you will not be deceived if you stop to have a look! From small shops to open door ateliers, you will witness this long tradition, in the hands of knowledge dedicated hand that have been colouring these local handicrafts for ages.
Alte, Sitios das Fontes
Day 7 – Explore the East Algarve
Today we drive eastwards, to uncover the other Algarve beyond the cliffs, rocks and caves, sandy retreats and hidden gullies. This uniquely designed day will allow you to find out about diversity in other parts of the region.
From Albufeira, head to Tavira. This picturesque and relaxed town is a picture perfect card in itself. The Gilão River, which reflects the decorated ambience, divides the town into two parts, which are joined by a fine Roman bridge made up of seven arches.
It is said that Tavira comprises the biggest number of churches a town can harbour, over 30! But there is so much more…From the saltpans to the seafood, from the terraces with shades to the calm garden by the river, the town has everything to welcome you to a relaxed time.
From here, drive eastwards and discover Cacela Velha. Take the time and breath in. What you are seeing is probably the most beautiful view of the whole Algarve and no matter how many pictures you take, it won’t compare to what your eyes can see…
Continue to Vila Real de Santo António, driving on the road that runs alongside the deep green forest of stone pines where the chameleon’s live. Its imposing lighthouse marks the beginning of the land, where the sea ends. Separated from Spain by the strikingly beautiful Guadiana River, this modern and yet historical town benefits from a unique Pombaline style design, inspired by the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 1755
In Castro Marim, located northwards of VRSA, you’ll find a haven of wildlife. It was home to a roman port and a refuge for the knights of the order of Christ. The heritage of Castro Marim is deeply connected to the richness provided by the saltpans, the exquisite gastronomy and rustic traditional handicrafts.
Roman bridge in Tavira Venice of Algarve
Day 8 – Individual departure or extra days
Rocamar Exclusive Hotel
Rocamar Exclusive Hotel (4****) or similar
Basking in the sunshine of the Algarve, a refurbished hotel, with the beach at your feet, the sea in the background and all of Albufeira’s entertainment on your doorstep…
The Rocamar Exclusive Hotel has 88 Rooms, 52 of them overlooking the sea and Albufeira’s beautiful beach. Enjoy the view, the comfortable bedrooms and hotel’s excellent location close to the beach and Albufeira city centre.
The hotel is only for adults.
You must be adequately insured to join our Portugal Guided road trip holidays and Portugal Self-Drive road trip holidays. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.
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Please consult our Travel Insurance page, where you’ll be able to get more detailed info about insurance requirements and an immediate quote for your trip.