If you’re looking for the region with the prettiest beaches and the most breathtaking coastlines in Portugal, I’ll let you in on a secret… it’s not the Algarve.
Weren’t expecting that were you? I know, I know, everyone and their mom raves about the Algarve but I’m here to tell you that while that area is beautiful, it has nothing – I mean nothing – on the Alentejo region on the Western coast.
The best way to see it? A roadtrip.
Truth be told, we hadn’t planned to visit the Alentejo region at all – frankly because we hadn’t really heard anything about it (told you it’s a secret). We had planned to drive straight from Lisbon to Lagos and spend two days exploring the Algarve. But by some stroke of luck, while we were in Lisbon Matt stumbled upon this blog post all about the Western Coast and threw it out as an idea. Would it make the drive a little longer? Yes, it would. Did it look like something I wanted to do? Yes, it did!
Using that blog post as our guide, we left from Lisbon early one morning and started our drive down the Alentejo coast. While our route was just one day, you could easily make this a multi-day roadtrip. Honestly, I would highly recommend it!
We had no idea what to expect and added it to our itinerary very last-minute so we just had the one day to spare. Knowing what we know now, we would have gladly traded our time set aside for the Algarve for more time on the Western coast.
What makes this region so special is that it is not well-connected via public transport. Therefore, the only real way to reach these towns is to rent a car or hire a driver. The trade-off for the extra effort is that you are welcomed to these preserved little villages that are truly hidden gems. Villages of whitewashed houses, mom-and-pop restaurants, old men walking around with their hands clasped behind their backs, and stunning beaches speckled with locals. No tourists, no noise, no Instagram-famous shots you “have to get”. Simply beauty around every corner for you to discover.
This is a stark contrast to the Algarve which is geographically stunning but easier to get to and as a result, a much more popular vacation destination. Apparently the Algarve is one of the go-to holiday hotspots for the British and the main city of Lagos is extremely popular with backpackers and study abroad students. Nothing against any of these groups (obviously a destination is fantastic if so many people love it and want to visit) but I personally don’t love places where I have to question if the food is authentic or if it is geared towards tourists, or where it feels like the shops are just trying to draw in visitors, or anywhere really that makes me feel like like I am being ripped off.
Below are a list of the main towns and sights we stopped to see along our route. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but if I had to I would say the cliffs of Cabo Sardão, the town of Vila Nova de Milafontes where we stopped for lunch at A Portuguesa (the adorable pink-hued restaurant pictured above), and all the in-between towns and landscape along the way.
One thing to note about a drive down the Western coast is that it isn’t like the PCH. You won’t be driving directly next to the coastline with a view over the water the entire time. Instead, the highway is a little inland and you’ll drive into each village or beach you want to visit. You will be treated to all kinds of different scenery – some areas were tall yellow grass and horses while other areas were covered in vineyard and others in farmland. The drive reminded me a lot of Napa and Sonoma which you know made my heart happy!
*Sidenote: I’m realizing as I’m adding photos to this post that I hardly took any! Truthfully the area was just so breathtaking that a) it was near impossible to capture in a photo (you can’t do the scale and the colors justice) and b) my head was turning every which way just trying to take in the beauty in the moment. I would look one way and be captivated by a view and then Matt would tell me to look another way and there would be some other stunning vista. It’s a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong 😉 but I want to be clear that these photos are just the tiniest taste of what the area has to offer!
Where we visited in Portugal’s Alentejo Region
Vila Nova de Milafontes
Praia da Franquia
Zambujeira do Mar
Praia do Carvalhal