An hour’s drive from the Algarve’s capital Faro, Lagos makes an ideal base for exploring adjacent coastlines. Far enough away from the manicured, Brit-friendly resorts hogging the coast around Faro, this working fishing port has more than its share of quality restaurants and inviting bars to cater for visitors while the narrow streets of the Old Town, rowdy market and lively town squares where po-faced old men in faded flat caps gather give a glimpse of a more authentic Portugal.
Blessed with some of Europe’s best beaches and year-round sunshine, the Algarve is a favourite among beach bums and serious surfers alike. For the latter, the south-west corner – west of Lagos on the south coast and north to Arrifana on the west coast – offers the better choice of breaks. The mixture of sandy beaches, point breaks and small, protected bays dotted along the adjacent coastlines means you’ve a good chance of finding surfable waves in most conditions.
With some of the best beaches found at the end of unsigned dirt tracks, it’s worth hooking up with a local surf camp or hiring a 4WD and grilling the locals for directions.
Food and drink
The number and standard of restaurants and bars in Lagos is impressive. Retiro da Trinidade, beside Trinidade campsite, does a mean steak cooked at the table on a hot stone while Casinha do Petisco, in the centre of town, is renowned for its pork and clam creation, as well as good steak and prawns. Most bars shake decent cocktails (3 Monkeys does one of the best Caipirinhas you’ll swill outside of Brazil) and stay open till around 2am.
Flights and beds
Charter and low-cost flights call at Faro Airport, around one hour west of Lagos by car. There’s a decent youth hostel in town and a rather cramped campsite, located within about 10 minutes’ walk of the town centre.
Worth a look
Cliffs and coves
On the town’s southern side, ochre cliffs ravaged by wind and water form clusters of protected coves and caves, with distinctive arched ‘doors’ providing a thoroughfare between beaches. Follow the Avenida dos Descobrimentos (main road through town) up the hill and edge your way along the cliffs towards Sagres or take a boat tour from Dona Ana beach.
Although much of Lagos was toppled by an earthquake in 1755, the ruins of its fortification remain, including some walls from the 16th century, a governor’s castle and an ancient slave market. Most prominent is Forte Ponta da Bandiera, which guards the entrance to the town’s harbour, and the military chapel of Santo Antonio.
While Lagos is far enough west to have escaped the frantic development of the central coast, the newly constructed marina stands in marked contrast to the narrow, cobbled lanes of the Old Town. Accessed via a footbridge from the promenade, you’ll find a string of modern bars, cafés and restaurants, many of which are run by British expats, overlooking rows of yachts and boats finding port from the Atlantic.