When it came to resorts on the Algarve, I felt like Goldilocks: Praia da Rocha was too windy, Albufeira was too British, Armação de Pêra was too built-up, but then I came to Carvoeiro (pronounced ‘carv-way-roo’) and it was just right. From its early beginnings as a tourist destination in the 1960s, this former fishing village on the western Algarve has attracted visitors from northern Europe, Spain and other parts of Portugal, but it hasn’t achieved the fame or infamy of some of the other resorts on the Algarve. Whether it is the small but perfectly formed town beach, the disproportionate amount of excellent restaurants for such a small town, the three near-by golf courses, the stunning sandstone cliffs, the pretty coves, the boats trips to the caves around the coast, the breathtaking sunsets, or the well-organized nightly entertainment and other annual events, such as Black & White Night and the End-of-Summer party, there is something alluring about this town that has led to us returning year after year and making this seaside town the place we judge all other resorts against.
The town is built around the main square and the roads leading off it, where the majority of restaurants and bars are (particularly Estrada do Farol (or ‘Restaurant Hill’, as it is more commonly referred to), Rua do Barranco (the ‘out road’), Rua dos Pescadores (the ‘in road’), Estrada do Monte Paraíso and Rampa da N. Sra. da Encarnação). The town has retained a lot more of its charm than many of the other resorts on the Algarve. The white buildings built on the hills around the town centre have remained low-rise and in keeping with the traditional buildings of the area. The town square overlooking the beach has three excellent bars and there is live music on every evening throughout the summer, which is guaranteed to get people dancing.
As of 2016 Carvoeiro now has its own Michelin Star restaurant, Bon Bon Restaurant at Sesmarias. The popular Slide & Splash water park is a short drive from Carvoeiro.
A fascinating insight into life in Carvoeiro in the 1960s, when it was still a fishing village on the cusp of mass tourism, is described in David Wright and Patrick Swift’s 1965 book, Algarve: A Portrait and a Guide. David Wright (1920–1994) was an author and poet. Patrick Swift (1927–1983) was an Irish artist and ceramicist who rented a house in Carvoeiro. He founded Porches Pottery, which still exists selling hand-made traditional pottery.
The following are some of the reasons we love Carvoeiro.
Algar Seco and Escadinhas
The western area of the Algarve has a coastline of sandstone cliffs which have been eroded by the wind and sea. Algar Seco (meaning ‘dry cavern’ or ‘sinkhole’) is one of these. It is a stunning rock formation 1 km east of the town centre. There are steps leading to rocks which consist of grottoes and blowholes. It is popular with snorkellers. At dusk the colours of the rocks change as the sun sets. There is a lovely bar and restaurant hidden among the rocks as Algar Seco, called Boneca Bar. The walk down a steep flight of steps is worth it to sit with a glass of wine and watch the sunset.
Near Algar Seco are the Escadinhas (steps) which, although steep in places and with dangerous drops, are worth climbing down to see the rock formations. The steps go through the cliff and lead to caves and narrow pathways.
There are several beaches in and around Carvoeiro. All the beaches have soft golden sand and are surrounded by stunning sandstone cliffs. You can also walk along the cliffs to reach many of the beaches. There is also a pleasant walk from Algar Seco to the church near the town square along a recently erected boardwalk.
Carvoeiro Beach – This beach is in the centre of the town. It is one of the few beaches in the area with access for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Boat trips in pretty fishing boats run from here. You can also do water sports from this beach.
East of Carvoeiro:
Vale do Covo – 1 km from the centre of Carvoeiro, below the Tivoli Carvoeiro Hotel. It is a very small beach reached by climbing down 113 steps. It is only accessible when the tide is out. If you find the tide is in the bar at the Tivoli Hotel is a nice place to have a drink and enjoy the view of the cliffs and the sea.
Centeanes –2 km from the centre of Carvoeiro. This is one of our favourite beaches. It is a sandy beach surrounded by sandstone cliffs.
Carvalho (Smugglers’ Cove) – 4 km from the centre of Carvoeiro, at Clube Atlântico. There are a lot of steps down to a narrow tunnel through the cliff, which will lead you to the beach. It’s quite a small beach, but maybe due to the difficult accessibility it doesn’t get too crowded. It’s another of our favourites.
Benagil –5 km from the centre of Carvoeiro. There is a very steep slope down to the sandy beach. Another one of our favourites. You can take a boat trip from here into the caves.
Marinha – 8 km from Carvoeiro. A sandy beach surrounded by beautiful sandstone cliff formations and blowholes. It has deservedly been listed at number 3 in Trip Advisor’s ‘Top 25 beaches in Europe’.
West of Carvoeiro:
Paraíso – 400m from the centre of Carvoeiro. This is a very small beach and there are 115 steps down to the beach, so check the tide is out before venturing down there!
Caneiros – 6 km from Carvoeiro. This beach in Ferragudo is the nearest to Sesmarias. It has watersports and the Rei das Praias restaurant ( which has been included on Condé Nast’s Gold List 2016 of the best restaurants in the world) holds beach parties on some evenings.
While we are not golfers ourselves, we are really proud of the three golf courses which are very close to Carvoeiro.
Vale de Milho – just after Vale de Centeanes, near Rocha Brava to the east of Carvoeiro. Has a nine-hole course and a relaxed atmosphere. No handicaps are needed to play here.
Pestana Gramacho – at Sesmarias, to the north-west of Carvoeiro. This is an 18-hole course, with a handicap of 27 for men and 35 for women.
Pestana Vale da Pinta – next to the Gramacho course at Vale da Pinta). This is an 18-hole course. It also houses the Pestana golf academy.
Boat trips in fishing boats go around the local coastline and into the grottoes, including into the stunning Benagil beach sea cave, named in the Guardian‘s ’10 of the world’s best natural wonders … that you’ve probably never heard of’. Trips run from Carvoeiro beach and Benagil beach. An hour’s trip costs around €20.
Carvoeiro is ideally located for touring around the Algarve. It is a short drive away from the main motorway that runs the length of the Algarve. It is also a 10-minute bus journey from Lagoa, which is a major bus terminal for buses to other parts of the Algarve.