Albufeira is a thriving tourist destination, with many visitors being attracted by the city’s clubs and bars, as well as its beautiful, sandy beaches. However, the beach and party lifestyle isn’t all there is to the region. Consider taking a four wheel drive, or better yet, a quad bike, for a driving tour of Albufeira’s surrounding countryside. The twisting roads, warm breeze and spectacular views all make for a fantastic experience.
It doesn’t take more than a glance at the arid countryside of the Iberian Peninsula to see that water is in short supply. Irrigation, sanitation and hydration needs are often supplied by desalination plants, especially in coastal regions, but much of the water is also obtained from rivers inland. In order to maintain a good supply of water year-round, rivers have been dammed. As a result, water has pooled between the crags of the rugged landscape, leading to the formation of sprawling reservoirs, which are tapped in order to meet water demand.
These reservoirs can be an impressive sight, and some are in excess of 20 miles in length. The two closest to Albufeira are the Barragem de Odelouca and the Barragem do Funcho, both within a 12 mile radius of Albufeira and both around 5 miles long. Consider leaving early and taking a quad bike for a brisk, early-morning ride. The smooth expanse of water and the clear air make for a beautiful start to the day.
Fonte Benemola & Rocha da Pena
A little over 10 miles outside Albufeira is the Fonte Benemola. This protected site is where a spring rises to the surface, giving rise to an oasis of lush greenery amidst the desert-like landscape that surrounds it. Park your vehicle and take a gentle walk (around 90 minutes) around the spring, enjoying the coolness and shade of the area.
As well as being a pleasant contrast to the surroundings, this is a protected area due to its high biodiversity. Keep an eye out for plants and animals you may not see elsewhere, and try to give yourself as long a time as possible to wander around and explore at your own pace.
Close to Fonte Benemola is another protected area and excellent hiking trail, called Rocha da Pena. One to visit on the same day, assuming you have time (it’s a 3 mile trail, worth spending a few hours on in order to really relish the scenery), Rocha da Pena is famous for its wild boar. Additionally, it’s one of the higher points in the area, promising outstanding views of its surroundings. As it’s only a short drive north of Fonte Benemola, it doesn’t take long to travel back to Albufeira afterwards.
Serra de Monchique
Around 15 miles northwest of Albufeira, you’ll find the Serra de Monchique. These mountains are beautiful in and of themselves, not to mention the views they command of the low-lying countryside around them. The mountains are well-forested and geologically fascinating, making for a lovely drive along winding roads. Additionally, you could visit the spa town of Caldas de Monchique, famous for its geothermally heated waters and alleged healing properties, to wash off the day’s dust.
How to get to Albufeira:
Already itching for the open road? You can drive to Albufeira from London – in about 24 hours. On the bright side, you’ll have 1,475 miles of beautiful French, Spanish, and Portuguese countryside on which to feast your eyes. It’s sure to be the road trip of a lifetime.
Alternatively, you can take the train to Lisbon Santa Apolónia train station, with changes at Paris and Irun. The journey takes about as long as driving, but you can book a night train in the last leg that will have you speeding across Spain in your sleep. Once in Lisbon, you can catch a local train to Albufeira, about three hours away.
By far the easiest way to get to Albufeira, however, is to fly. A flight from London to Faro takes just under three hours. Easyjet, Ryanair and British Airways, among others, all offer flights to Lisbon starting at around £80.You can arrange for a Shuttle Direct driver to pick you up and transfer you from Faro to Albufeira, about a 45-minute drive away.
Where to stay:
Agua Marinha – With an outdoor pool, free parking and on-site bike rental, Agua Marinha represents low-cost, high quality accommodations. Its parking and bike rental make it especially suitable for those who would like to tour the region’s countryside.
Monte da Vinha II Apartments – For a little more space, consider Monte da Vinha II Apartments. Each apartment is comfortable, well-priced and self-sufficient, and also includes a space in the on-site garage, which can be valuable if you’re planning a driving tour.
Vila Joya – In the luxury category, the decadent Vila Joya boasts beautiful rooms, two outdoor pools, a spa and a world-class restaurant. The restaurant was ranked in San Pellegrino’s worldwide top 50, and it has two Michelin stars. Meanwhile, the hotel also features free parking, making it fully equipped for your vehicle tour.