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A chill-out/all-action Algarve family holiday in Portugal

A chill-out/all-action Algarve family holiday in Portugal
Kirstie Pelling
Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie Pelling of the Family Adventure Project and her family go all around the world in search of fun taking advantage of holidays and half terms, with kids in tow and an eye toward getaways that suit everyone in the family. Here, she describes how to have an active Algarve family holiday that makes everyone happy.

Is your family split down the middle when it comes to the ideal holiday? If part of the family likes to kick back on the beach while the rest wants to ramp up the action then Portugal’s Algarve may be your dream ticket to a week away. Kirstie took her family on a non-stop sunny adventure at the far edge of Europe.

You might not know that there are 74 Blue flag beaches on the Algarve coast: 74 chances to find the perfect surf, the right kind of sand, the safest kind of sea and the best beach bar for a family that can’t agree on anything.

But if there’s one thing my family firmly agrees on after a week in the Algarve with, it’s that the Portuguese know how to do a beach. On our spring break these spacious chunks of gold form the basis of our itinerary. The air is warm and the sea is cool. Conditions are perfect for swimming, surfing, caving, strolling, sea kayaking and bagging beaches at our own pace.

Beginning surf beaches in Portugal

Did I say the sea was cool? That’s not technically correct. It is the Atlantic, for goodness sake! After half an hour in the water 7-year-old Hannah was beginning to turn blue. But we couldn’t come to The Algarve and not have a go at family surfing. Especially when the biggest wave in the world (a whopper at 100m!) was once bagged by a surfer along the coast in Nazare.

“The Algarve gets a fantastic amount of swell. The waves are as good as anywhere in the world,” our instructor Matt Shears from The Surf Experience in Lagos shouts as he gives me a shove. I’m not sure my wave is record breaking, but my dude moves are quite impressive. I even manage to kneel up. Almost. Before I’m plunged, chin down into the white stuff, choking on surf and sand.

surfing in Praia da Arrifana, Portugal
Surfing at Praia da Arrifana

Kayaking in Portugal

It all seems very different in a kayak with a paddle in my hand. The splash of the body board is replaced by peaceful bobbing as we hover on the gentle blue while cormorants perch on sandstone rock above us.

One of the joys of visiting the Algarve on a family holiday is viewing the curious rock formations that dot the coast. The jutting outcrops give each beach a different character and add layers of extra colour to the panorama. They also create some great obstacles to kayak around. Caves have been carved into the cliff side and we paddle into the cool depths of the ‘kitchen’ and the ‘cathedral’ on an ocean kayaking trip with before making our way for lunch to Praia Dona Ana beach. The great thing about a kayaking trip is all the family can do it as long as they can swim. (Although I’m not sure all the family are actually paddling.)

on a rock in the Algarve
Rocking out in the Algarve

The coastline blessed with beaches

In the course of a week, we bagged a range of stunning beaches, trying a different activity on each one, from swimming near Sagres – the most southwestern point of Europe – to taking a promenade stroll on the honeypot boardwalk of the Praia da Rocha. We had coffee in beach bars and lunch on terraces. And then it was time to spread our wings.

Going into the trees

We began with a treetop walk, where we had fun swinging, zipping, hopping and skipping several metres above the earth on Parque Aventura high ropes course in Albufeira. It has enough levels to challenge each of us to our limits; Hannah opted out after two sections, while 10-year-old Cameron took on the whole lot — at the same pace that he takes life.

high teas climbing in Algarve
Clipping on to go for a walk in the trees

Active holiday ideas with kids in Algarve, Portugal

We explored the interior, first on horseback from Quinta do Paraiso Alto riding stables near Bensafrim where we picked our way through open country, brushing lightly through almond, fig and cork groves. And then we swapped horse for Jeep. As we enjoyed his kayaking so much, Dutchman Frank Joopman from took us on safari of his adopted home, briefing us on the rich history and even richer landscape of the region.

The land is beginning to come to life as we drove slowly uphill off road, stopping to walk through whitewashed traditional village, to visit producers of honey and medronho, to wander through rows of oak trees with their half-stripped cork bark and smell the oranges and the eucalyptus that bring income to the locals. We passed women irrigating terraces, men baking in the sun and hikers making their way to the top of the highest mountain in Southern Portugal. And then we hit the top of the Serra de Monchique, where the Volta ao Algarve, the bicycle race, was going on. As keen cyclists ourselves, we cheered on the Brits in the peloton and wished we had enough time to do one of Frank’s downhill biking days.

Should you go to Portugal with kids?

If you have family members who like relaxing at the beach, while others want to spend their holidays shaking off real life and the office with some action and adrenaline, then The Algarve is definitely worth a look. We are not a beach family. We hate sloppy suncream, sand sandwiches and crowded places. But this coastline surprises us with its range of clean and stunning beaches, and options for adventure in, out and above the sea. Next time we just need to find that 100-metre wave.

Read more from Kirstie Pelling on The Family Adventure Project

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About Kirstie Pelling

The Family Adventure Project is a family travel website specializing in family travel and active adventure. The Wickes family have spent the last two decades having active adventures around the world; hiking, biking and getting out of their comfort zone on four continents. It is run by Kirstie Pelling and Stuart Wickes.