Every time I emerge from the dunes and see the endless expanse of sand along the winding river my heart sings. Praia da Amoreira sits on the Algarve’s wilder, western coastline, near the town of Aljezur but, unlike the region’s many glorious beaches, this is a beach with a split personality. Set up camp along the broad sandy banks of the Ribeira de Aljezur as it makes its sweeping escape into the Atlantic. An idyllic stroll westward takes you from tranquil cliffside curves out into the roaring force of the Atlantic – a surfer’s dream. But the greatest pleasure is the river itself – hop in and let the water gently carry you on a lazy river like no other.
My favourite beach in the world is Portinho da Arrábida near Setúbal. This is a small alcove-like beach, south of Lisbon in Arrábida national park. Its relative inaccessibility has protected it so far from overcrowding. To reach it you pass through some truly beautiful hilly green scenery. The beach is of fine white sand and there’s a desert island about 200 metres offshore to swim to. It’s best in May and June, out of the holiday season.
We love Praia da Adraga on the Atlantic coast, 19km north of Cascais, and easily accessible (by car) from historic Sintra. It’s a wonderful place to escape the summer crowds. Somewhat more sheltered than nearby Guincho, yet still great for surfers, it combines dramatic cliff scenery and golden sands studded with black volcanic rock formations reminiscent of semi-submerged dragons. Though it feels off the beaten tourist track, there’s a spacious car park, toilets and showers, a little shop and a delightful restaurant (dine in and takeaway).
Praia do Carvalhal, near Comporta, is just over an hour’s drive from Lisbon. A family I was staying with drove me there to show me the benefits of not heading for beaches too near the capital. It’s not usually crowded and has a lovely stretch of white sand curving round a sheltered turquoise sea where you can swim easily. There is even a small library on a rustic terrace where visitors of all nationalities can leave or take beach books, often novels that have been read while sunbathing. Try the seafood at the casual restaurant Dinis: it’s run by a fisherman and barefoot waiters will serve you octopus salad and crisp white wines on the beach.
Linha de Cascais is the train line running along the coast from Lisbon to Cascais. Any beach along here is worth visiting but my favourite is Praia das Avencas near Parede station. Named for the medicinal avenca plant (an evergreen fern) that grows there, the beach is tucked away under the cliffs, which providie welcome respite from the afternoon winds. Designated an area of biodiversity, the small beach is a favourite among snorkelers but often goes unnoticed by tourists. For food or drinks, head to Bar das Avencas overlooking the beach – perfect for a caipirinha and sunset.
In Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, there are a vast number of amazing beaches. One that I find is overlooked by most tourists is Praia de Garajau, on the south coast and backed by huge cliffs. The only way you can access the beach is either by cable car or a long walk down a winding road. Once down there, Garajau offers tranquil views with breathtaking blue waters contrasted against the grey stone beach. It’s also a natural marine reserve with a vast number of fish species.
Praia do Amado is a stunning beach in the western Algarve, a 40-minute drive from the popular city of Lagos. This beach can be hard to find however, as the signposts guiding to it have been smothered in stickers by surfers who wish to There is a surf school on the beach for newbies to try their hand, or for more experienced surfers to brush up on their techniques. The clear waters are surrounded by beautiful cliffs that protect the more relaxed beach-goers from the north wind. To top it all off, beach vendors are never far off, serving delicious hot doughnuts!
The most wonderful beach I’ve been to is on Armona Island to the east of Olhão and part of the Ria Formosa natural park. I visited with some Italian friends while doing an EU Erasmus-funded placement in Seville. Olhão is easy to reach being near Faro, but you can only get to the island via a few ferry crossings a day, and with no cars on the island, you feel totally cut off from the world. A boardwalk leads to beaches that are wide, windy and deserted. We pottered around on the sand and collected clams, which my friends later cooked with garlic and pasta. You can stay in pastel-coloured beach huts facing the Atlantic, and eat incredible stews with vinho verde at the handful of restaurants. Total holiday bliss.
The beach at Praia de Benagil is hidden away in a lovely silent cove reached only by rock-hewn steps – get there early and you may have it all to yourself. A short swim away is the Benagil sea cave, a mystical aquatic pantheon with golden sunlight streaming in and bouncing off the red-hued sandstone walls on to a secluded sandy beach. Try the seafood at the family-run Sul Mar restaurant just half a mile away off the M1273 road, well away from the overcrowded eateries closer to the coast.
Our favourite beach in the north of Portugal is Praia Forte do Paçô, nestled beneath the ruins of an 18th-century fort. This lovely white-sand beach is a short walk through dunes from the car park and sheltered by cliffs and granite boulders. Our children enjoyed the warm natural paddling pools and we braved the Atlantic for a cooler swim. There’s a kiosk and a lifeguard from June to mid-September, but this beach is not overcrowded even in midsummer. We took a picnic and played “storming the castle” in the ruins of the fort.