Have you been considering a family holiday to Portugal? Michelle, mum of 2, shares her experience of their family villa holiday in the eastern Algarve close to the Spanish border.
Albufeira, Lagos, Sagres, Portimao: the names of Portugal’s western and central Algarve resorts carry the ring of familiarity for generations of Irish holidaymakers. Yet surprisingly, the eastern Algarve, and especially the area close to the Spanish border, is almost as undiscovered among Irish and UK visitors as it is unspoilt.
A Place in Portugal!
We travelled there from Galway for two weeks in July 2012 and found a region of superb beaches within easy reach, great restaurants frequented by the locals, and a fine choice of well-priced accommodation.
We began the search wanting to find somewhere with self-catering, and a little off the beaten track, which offered our then 8 and 5 year olds easy access to a pool, so we decided to rent a villa.
James Villas brought up some superb accommodation, though often at price points well out of our reach. Through a combination of sites including Daft.ie, Ownersdirect.co.uk plus the popular Holidays Lettings site, we happened upon a solid option in a development between Villareal de San Antonio and Castro Marim, not far from the border with Spain.
Under €2,000 for two weeks for a four-bed villa (meaning we could have friends to stay during the period) with its own pool. Throw in cheap flights from Knock to Faro with Ryanair, plus the excellent value on shopping and local restaurants, and we had ourselves a pretty good deal.
Hiring a car at Faro Airport was simple enough, though finding our contact amid the mass of agencies milling around the Arrivals zone was more of a challenge.
Still, once we were on our way, navigating the motorway system proved easy enough, with good sign-posting all the way to our destination.
The villa was managed by a neighbour of the absentee owners, who provided us with a key and a brief tour. The accommodation was comfortable without being opulent, with a large lounge and kitchen, and a fine pool that our girls leapt straight into. A little disappointingly, our hosts offered no welcome pack such as milk and bread, meaning we had to hit the road to find a supermarket on the first evening.
That was a minor quibble, as was the fact that you had to drive anywhere for even the smallest errands. And of course, taking your own place means the kids don’t get to socialise unless you’re lucky with the neighbours.
All in all though, the accommodation provided the base for a superb holiday. With no set meal times we could come and go as we pleased, every night was a movie night for the kids, and we didn’t need to supervise them in the pool, as they are both strong swimmers. Families with younger children might prefer the option of railings around the pool if going down the villa rental route.
Food and Entertainment
We barbecued many nights with the fine local meat and fish from nearby supermarkets, or we dined out, having discovered a wonderful local restaurant early on. You’d be hard pressed to name a top-quality restaurant in Ireland located on the slip road off a motorway, but O Infante was a place apart.
It offered some of the best fish and meat (especially pork) dishes that we’ve ever tasted, and by week two they knew our orders by heart. We later found out it had a reputation throughout southern Portugal for its top-class food.
If beaches are your thing, there are plenty in this region too. Not only in Portugal, but just over the border with Spain too.
There, the prices we found were even cheaper and the availability of good supermarkets even better than Portugal, notably through the likes of Carrefour, with its appealing fish and meat counters and broad wine ranges.
We went at a good time of year, just as temperatures were hitting the mid-30s Celsius. Any later (we left around 20 July) and it would have been almost unbearably hot.
So if you fancy Portugal, but prefer to steer clear of the well-worn paths further west, you could do a lot worse than a self-catering villa or apartment in Eastern Algarve.
Let us know your Portuguese Experiences in the comments below