We hadn’t visited the Algarve since making the big move back to Portugal late last year, so we wanted to fit in a long weekend there before Easter. Charlie’s Dad had only really visited the country’s most well-known region during the summer months, when the it’s sometimes uncomfortably busy and the sun gets pretty hot, so I wanted to go in Spring to show him the true beauty of the place. Pristine beaches surrounded by lush countryside, flowers in bloom all around – and quiet. Living in the centre of Lisbon can be stressful at times, so we were keen for a bit of peace and quiet.
My family has a little country house just outside of the historical city of Silves, in the centre of the Algarve. It’s the perfect refuge from busy city life, with its white chalk softness, idyllic views over mountains and hypnotising fragrances originating from orange blossom and wild-growing jasmine. You can just close your eyes, take it all in and daydream. If you haven’t got a toddler and two cats bringing you back to reality every few minutes that is!
Silves sits proudly on top of the hill, its Moorish influence dating back to around AD716, the beginning of a tumultuous history that saw it change from the prosperous capital of Algarve to a second-tier city. It may seem at first sight a little rundown and quiet, but as you roam uphill you start to uncover Silves’ history and beauty. The streets are filled with charm, and the castle, adorned with the fiery, earthy tones of this region, stands proudly on the hill.
We love being able to really relax in the countryside, and using the house as base, explore the different areas of the Algarve. From here it is incredibly easy to drive up Monchique, the Algarve’s lush mountain, to be surrounded by gorgeous vegetation, beautiful villages and hiking trails with a seaview. It’s worthwhile to visit the spa town and show the kids how honey is produced.
Beach (Lagos & Salgados)
This year we tried to find the best child-friendly beaches near us: the ones I thought would offer the most natural playgrounds, with dunes and rock pools, not completely deserted so we can people-watch, and with sand fit enough to to bury ourselves in!
After a bit of online research and racking my childhood memories, we ended up going to the strikingly beautiful Praia Dona Ana in Lagos (30 min drive from Silves) and the very child-friendly Salgados beach (20 min drive). We had a blast both times, in Dona Ana because Cholly was mesmerised with the caves, some rock pools and lots of english-speaking kids for him to play with, and in Salgados because the water was lovely and warm, the beach stretches for miles, and the sea had enough waves to be exciting and fun to splash around for a few hours.
Praia Dona Ana (Lagos): Families with young babies/toddlers should be aware that you need to walk down dozens of steps to reach the beach, so it’s not practical if you’re also carrying a lot of stuff.
Praia dos Salgados: The beach has a large car park, is huuuge, and has a lovely restaurant on-site, with excellent toilet and shower facilities – practically made for families. The downside is that the restaurant is rather pricey, and a smallish bowl of (delicious) clams set us back €18.
Slide & Splash Water-Park
If, like us, your idea of a great day out is one filled with adrenaline, then I can’t recommend Slide & Splash enough – an enormous water-park in Lagoa, only 15 minutes from Silves. It has a newly-improved kids play pool, with both big and little slides set to make children of all ages ecstatic.
I remember bringing Cholly here when he was 6 months old, because it was so much easier than faffing on the beach – he could crawl on the grass, go for a paddle and sleep under the shade of palm trees. Now at 2 he’s big enough to ride the scariest slides and absolutely loves it!! It’s like Peppa Pig’s World all over again!
- The food here is not high-quality, and naturally expensive, because it is after all a theme park. So bring a packed lunch and some snacks to keep your kamikaze slide energy up.
- Make use of the park’s lockers so you can explore knowing with peace of mind.
- It’s a pretty expensive day out, so we recommend you buy your tickets online to save 15% off the ticket price.
- If you get there early enough, put your towel next to the palm trees near the kids pool. Free sunshade and very convenient for pool, toilets and other rides 🙂
How to get to Silves:
Most airlines fly to the Algarve (Faro airport) or to Lisbon, making family travel to the Algarve fairly easy. Silves is a short 40 minute drive from Faro airport or 2 1/2 hours from Lisbon.
Where to eat:
For some of the best seafood in Portugal I strongly recommend you go to the Rui restaurant. Not cheap, but a guaranteed delicious feast and the best customer service you’ll see around. Really good value.
Where to stay:
Vale da Vida (Airbnb) – Beautiful house sleeping 4 people, but is a little expensive at £97/night
Camping: If you’re happy to sleep under the stars, then you can stay at this beautiful camping site, with great views over the surrounding mountains and only 1km from the centre of Silves.