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Portugal's Algarve region is a classic destination for family holidays: the moderate climate, fantastic beaches and purpose-built resorts make it especially good for families travelling with small children, while the vast array of sporting options means teenagers will never get bored. And whether you’re looking for peace and quiet or something a bit more lively, the wide range of family-friendly accommodation on offer along this coast has it covered.
Wherever you stay on the Algarve, outdoor activities are a must. All of the busier resorts offer a good selection of watersports. Calm waters on the south-facing coast make this the best spot for canoeing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and jetskiing and the place to find pedalos and banana boats. This is particularly true at the western end of the Algarve. Surfing is also possible if you head a little further north, while rock-pooling is great fun for tots.
The Algarve is also a top spot for golf and tennis – the coast has some of the best courses anywhere in Europe, so if you want to learn with your kids, it’s an ideal place. Many hotels in the region have tennis courts, and coaching is often available.
Head for the beaches. With 200km of coastline and natural white-sand beaches stretching all the way from Spain to the Atlantic, it’s never too hard to find a deserted stretch. Good supervision and Blue Flag approval make the Algarve’s beaches particularly well-suited to children. The most famous beauty spot is Praia da Marinha about halfway between Albufeira and Lagos.
Venture to Albufeira at the centre of the Algarve, offering great family beaches, including Falesia. One of the most popular tourist resorts on the Algarve, this a family holiday destination par excellence, with child-friendly accommodation ranging from campsites to hotels and luxury villas. It's also the starting point for dolphin-watching and cave trips aboard RIB boats.
Ten kilometres outside Albufeira you can see sharks, sea-lions and tropical fish at ZooMarine, an oceanographic themepark focusing on education and marine life, with shows and dolphin experiences. For water-themed fun of a different kind, try the slides at Aqualand, also known as 'The Big One', with its 36m-drop Kamikaze to keep thrill-seeking teens happy. It's 15km from Albufeira, with regular buses running between major resorts and the park.
Use Albufeira as a stepping stone to some of the Algarve’s best beaches. Head 2km east of the resort to Oura for a good selection of bars, restaurants and watersports. Further east still, visit the beach at Olhos d’Água, which remains fully integrated into a typical fishing village.
Head west of Albufeira, to the purpose-built resort of Vilamoura, with two good beaches and a great range of facilities, including golf courses. A good choice of boat-trips and excursions are available from Vilamoura Marina, and the self-contained nature of the resort makes it a great choice for families with very young children. The biggest watercoaster in Europe is the main draw of the Aquashow family park just outside Vilamoura.
Continue west, to the area surrounding Portimão, boasting a number of interesting resorts. Praia da Rocha offers unadulterated fun, with plenty of watersports, horse-riding and nightlife to keep everyone entertained. The resort’s quieter neighbour, Praia do Vau, has a more peaceful setting and a handful of restaurants. Alvor is one of the best resorts in this area – smallish, with a good choice of restaurants and accommodation. Situated at the beginning of the lagoon system that runs along the coast, it’s an excellent spot to take a break from the beach to indulge in a spot of bird-watching or nature trekking. Visits to caves, snorkeling and fishing trips can all be arranged from Alvor through Trigana Sailing Adventures.
Further west still, the cobbled streets of Lagos offer a break from the busier tourist resorts of the Algarve, without your having to miss out on the beach – outside the town’s medieval walls, the beach of Meia Praia offers a good range of watersports and the chance to take a boat-ride to explore coves and caves.
Head for the hills. The Algarve doesn’t have to be all about commercial resorts – travel inland slightly and you'll find green rolling hills and pretty country villages. Those travelling with older children should consider basing themselves around Faro or Tavira right at the eastern end of the Algarve.
Food on the Algarve is very international – it's a popular destination for many Europeans and for family holidays, so you'll find everything from fast food and international options to traditional local dishes.
Portuguese cuisine, based around fish, is closely related to Mediterranean cookery. Beachfront restaurants are an excellent place to sample the fish and seafood on offer. We recommend caldeirada de peixe (fish stew) and cataplana de amêijoas (clams steamed in a copper pan). To satisfy sweet tooths, try pastel de nata – a small custard tart dusted with cinnamon.
The Algarve has excellent weather all year, making it ideal for family holidays at any time. Because it's on the Atlantic, it stays a little cooler than some of the Mediterranean destinations, with temperatures reaching around 29°C at the top of the high season. Even so, you'd expect to have sunbathing weather from late May to early October. It's also worth considering a visit at Easter, as the climate is very dry and the weather is cool enough to allow you brush up on your sporting skills.
From May to October, check out the spectacular sandcastles at FIESA, a fantastic international sand sculpture festival held annually in Pera.
There are flights to Faro from just about any UK airport you can name, making the Algarve a stress-free family holiday destination. Flight times are around 2½ hours from London, or 3 hours from Glasgow.
Plenty of charter flights are available, as are scheduled flights and budget options from major cities.
Family holidays in the Algarve start at around £1,000 for four in the low season. Bargain-hunters may pick up last-minute deals for even less than this, but you can easily spend much, much more in high season.By Rhonda Carrier
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