The Algarve: Surfing Portugal’s Southwest Corner

From gentle white water rollers to near perfect barrels and thumping reef breaks, the Algarve has it all  and being situated on the corner of the Iberian Peninsula means it has the widest swell window in Portugal.

11th September 2020 | Words by Sarah Arnold

An orange drops from a tree onto the roof and stirs me. I wake to the sound of a distant cockerel as the sun lights up the tipi. It is another sunny day along the Algarve coast.

Surf boards loaded onto van
The beauty of the Algarve is its not one, but two coasts with spectacular surf.

I'm staying at the Tiny Whale Surf Lodge, a well-presented retreat catering specifically to surfers. Before thoughts of breakfast, it is time to stretch out and complete sun salutations in preparation for the day. Over a surfers’ breakfast that includes making crêpes, we discuss which beach is likely to have the best conditions. Afterwards we haul the boards and wetsuits into the vans.

Praia do Beliche, Algarve, Portugal

The beauty of the Algarve is its not one, but two coasts with spectacular surf. In addition to the west coast, there are several beaches along the south coast which provide near ideal conditions. When the instructors from Jah Shaka Surf arrive, we check expected conditions again, and depending on the skill level of the group, a beach is selected. All of the beaches on both coasts are within a reasonable driving distance.

Wooden walkway to sandy Praia do Bordeira, Algarve, Portugal
What is immediately notable is how quiet the beach is.

The road to Bordeira is long and twists before ending at a cliff edge. The view below is incredible – the beach extends for three kilometres of golden paradise. What is immediately notable is how quiet the beach is – many holiday surfers prefer Amado beach just to the south, for its surf schools and ample facilities.

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The walk to the beach is an adventure on its own – a well-trodden wooden path alongside local surfers carrying their boards and after the descent, a sea river crossing that is sometimes chest high.

Surfing Carrapateira Faro Portugal

Although Praia da Bordeira is mainly for intermediate surfers, depending on the tide it can be a good spot earlier in the day for beginners learning new skills. After a morning on the waves and lunch, a change in tide can mean excellent conditions for advanced surfers and instructors. For others, it is time to relax on their boards and for others, a chance to explore the extensive sand dunes.

Castelejo beach, Algarve, Portugal
When the wind picks up, it becomes an epic spot for advanced surfers.

The road leading to Castelejo beach is characterised by stunning scenery, and although the walk down to the beach is not as tumultuous as Bordeira, the gradient is still steep. Castelejo provides excellent surfing even on days when the wind is relatively calm. But when an offshore wind picks up, it becomes an epic spot for advanced surfers. Those less skilled will lounge in the beachside restaurant sipping coffee and eating pasteis de nata for €2.50.

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After a long day of surfing and soaking up the sun, it is time to return to the surf lodge. On the ride back, a short sleep would be perfect, but the potholes and sharp turns make this all but impossible.

SUPing, Portugal

Returning to the lodge, some relax by the pool to catch the last of the sun’s rays while others attend the evening yoga session – just what the body needs after a day on the pounding waves. As pose moves to pose, the tension and tightness releases. Practising two times a day helps ensure the positive benefits are noticeable within a week.

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As yoga concludes, the smell of the freshly cooked dinner wafts from the kitchen. It may be a tagine, a Portuguese-style curry or perhaps the barbeque has been fired up. To finish, the chocolate dessert melts in your mouth.

Girlzactive, Algarve, Portugal

As the sun sets, the group gathers around the roaring fire. Marshmallows are toasted while surfing stories are swapped. One by one, everyone retreats to their room. The tipi is now dark and provides a restful sleep before tomorrow, when we will do it all again.

Still Water Activities

SUPing – When the waters are still as the sun rises, it’s the perfect time to grab a stand-up paddle board. Meander through the jagged rock formations along the coast led by an experienced guide or head out on a self-guided tour – daily rental from around €40.

Rock climbing – The cliffs at Lagos are perfect for rock climbing, regardless of your level. Lessons are available for beginners, while more advanced climbers typically head for the more difficult rocks at Sagres.

Hiking – The breath-taking coastline and cliff walk between Luz and Burgau is 10km from Lagos and takes in hills and long plateaus. After arriving in Burgau, soak up the rays on their small beach before having dinner at Corso Pizzeria nearby.

Mountain Biking – Close to Lagos are some of the highest mountains in the Algarve. The Mountain Bike Adventure offers several day-trips including all mountain, uplift service and cross country. Daily prices are 60-80.

Horse Riding – Departing from Bensafrim, a 15-minute drive from Lagos into the Portuguese countryside, horse riding tours can be booked with the QPA Horse Riding Centre. Trot through the countryside and along rivers.

Wine Tasting – Sample local organic Algarve wines at Monte da Casteleja during a 3-hour wine tasting. Here you learn about ancient and local ways of producing wines as well as their commitment to sustainability.

Sarah is a freelance writer and statistician based in Northern Ireland who is always looking for her next adventure.

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Images: 1, 4: Pawel Kazmierczak/Adobe; 2: Jah Shaka Surf; 3: Simon Dannhauer/Adobe; 5: Jaime Pérez/flickr; 6: Ronstik/Adobe; 7, 8: Juliette Moulen

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