Gorgeous, wild and surprisingly uncrowded, Portugal’s Costa Vicentina is an outstanding alternative to the beautiful but very touristy southern Algarve coastline. It extends from near the popular resort city of Lagos west to the famously scenic lighthouse at Cabo São Vicente, then north up the coast all the way to Odeceixe (where the stunning horsheshoe beach is an attraction all on its own).
At this point, the Algarve gives way to the Alentejo, but the coastline remains ruggedly spectacular all the way up to the picturesque little fishing village of Porto Covo. The entire region is part of the massive Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, ensuring its natural beauty and untamed landscapes remain protected from the ravages of development and tourism.
Boasting untrammelled beauty, phenomenal beaches and world-class surfing, it is an ideal destination for families and adventure seekers alike, which is why it is surprising that the Costa Vicentina Portugal retains such a relaxed and authentic air. While millions of foreign tourists flock to the southern Algarve every year, this wonderful series of traditional villages and incredible beaches sees just a fraction of the visitors its neighbour gets, attracting mainly Portuguese families and avid surfers. This is a chance to see a more unspoiled Portugal.
Costa Vicentina Map
The Best Costa Vicenta Surfing
Almost every beach along this part of the Atlantic coast of Portugal has surfable waves, although they vary greatly in size, consistency and overall quality. Whether you’ve been surfing all your life or just looking to catch your first wave, it is easy to find a Costa Vicentina surf spot to match your level.
Praia do Amado
One of two top surfing beaches near the small village of Carrapateira, Praia do Amado offers some of the best and most consistent waves in all of Portugal. It has even played host to many international surfing events over the years. There is no development along the beach itself, which is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic swell, and it is the top choice for most expert surfers. Amado Surf Camp rents boards right on Amado beach and offers accommodation in Carrapateira. There are a couple beach bars open in high season where you can watch the sunset.
Praia da Bordeira
Located a little bit north of Praia do Amado and about the same distance from Carrapateira, this huge, open beach (3 km long) is the most popular one in the area. Even though it is also frequented by wind surfers, kite surfers and even families just enjoying the soft sand, it features terrific surfing waves year-round. The best ones are usually found up toward the north end of the beach. In Carrapateira, R Star Surf School has everything you might need to both buy or rent, or if you have a vehicle you can check out the Algarve Surf School and Fun Ride Surf School, both based out of Sagres.
Praia da Arrifana
One of the most varied surf beaches in the Algarve, Arrifana has easy beach breaks at each end perfect for beginners, or plenty of wilder, trickier swell on the reef break near the harbour. In general, the waves are slightly tamer and easier at high tide, turning sharp and technical when the tide is out.
Praia da Amoreira
One of the more varied breaks, Amoreira is popular because there are sections suitable for every skill level during the best of the high tide waves. However, it is fairly exposed to the strong ocean winds and weather so it pays to keep an eye on the forecast before heading out. Atlantic Riders surf school rents out gear and offers lessons from right on the beach.
The Best Costa Vicentina Beaches
Most of the beautiful beaches along the Costa Vicentina are designated Blue Flag beaches, meaning they adhere to strict environmental and cleanliness standards. All of the surf spots mentioned above are also popular with regular beach lovers. With its long, flat walking area and photogenic sand dunes, Praia da Bordeira appeals to regular folks, plus a handful of nudists. Praia do Amado has unique rock formations and fascinating tide pools to check out. Praia da Amoreira is located where the Aljezur river meets the Atlantic Ocean, allowing families to enjoy the calmer, warmer river waters and Praia da Arrifana is wonderfully wild. Its huge cliffs also make it one of the most scenic beaches on the Costa Vicentina. Of course, there are many other excellent beaches as well:
Praia de Odeceixe
Also located where a river meets the sea, Praia de Odeceixe is a huge favourite of photographers for its spectacular horsheshoe beach formed by the winding Ribeira de Seixe. A small cluster of houses with a couple hotels and restaurants sit on the hill above the beach, where visitors can choose their spot to enjoy the big ocean waves, the calm river water, play beach volleyball, go surfing or even do a little fishing in the teeming spot where the fresh and salt waters meet.
Praia de Monte Clerigo
Not far from Aljezur, Praia de Monte Clérigo is a pretty little beach with decent surfing and a photogenic jumble of houses at the south end, many of which are filled with seasonal expats. At the north end is a nice set of cliffs with a few tricky routes you can climb, or you can just take the road around to reach the top. At low tide there are a lot of interesting tide pools to explore.
Praia da Pedra Agulha
This relatively unknown, pebbly beach is easily reached from Carrapateira. It is not the sandiest or the best for swimming or surfing, but what it does have is the very cool islet of Pedra Agulha just offshore.
Praia do Beliche
About 3 km from Sagres, Praia do Beliche is surrounding by 40-metre high cliffs that provide some protection from the wind and bigger waves. It is one of Sagres’ best surf beaches and is very popular in the summer.
Praia da Murracão
Yet another stunningly scenic beach in the Carrapateira area, lovely little Praia da Murracão is unique in that it features a colourful blanket of vegetation that runs right up to the ocean. Offering a very different look than most beaches in Portugal, you probably want to time your visit for low tide since the beach almost disappears when the water is in. Oh, and the road is pretty rough, so an off-road vehicle is recommended.
Praia da Quebrada
Just south of Odeceixe, Praia da Quebrada has an interesting set of traditional fishing huts to add a touch of local flavour to the scene. The beach itself is wide, sandy and located in a nice cove surrounded by wind-swept dunes but there are particularly strong currents here so take care when swimming.
Best Costa Vicentina Hikes
With all that great scenery and exceptional beaches, it isn’t surprising that Portugal’s best long-distance hiking trail (and one of the best coastal trails in all of Europe) runs the length of this stupendous coast. The Rota Vicentina is an extensive network of trails, some of which are located inland, but the best follow the coastline, known as the Fishermen’s Trail. We hiked a 180-kilometre route from Sines to Sagres and it was pretty incredible.
Even if you aren’t willing to commit that much time to your coastal walking, it is possible to follow these well-marked trails for as long as you choose in either direction along the coast from any of the villages. Some people just turn around and head back, others continue on to the next village and take a taxi or bus back to their home base. There are loop hike options from some of the villages as well that incorporate part of the Rota Vicentina and add other local trails.
There are also a good variety of inland trails, many of which are included in the Rota Vicentina’s Historical Way section. This variant follows the pastoral agricultural land and lush valleys of the interior down to eventually rejoin the Fishermen’s Trail just before the famous Cabo São Vicente lighthouse.
Another long-distance option is the Via Algarviana, a 300-kilometre hiking route that goes from Cabo São Vicente all the way to Alcoutim on the Portuguese-Spanish border (or vice versa), following the scenic hills and highlands inland away from the coast. There is also a good variety of public transportation along this route, making it possible to pop in and hike small sections of it if you prefer.
Best Things to Do on the Costa Vicentina
Once you have visited the beaches and fit in some surfing and hiking there are still many other things to do on the Costa Vicentina.
Visit Cabo São Vicente
Described as the most southwestern point in all of mainland Europe (not the furthest west or furthest south, but if you combine the two, apparently…), Cabo Sao Vicente (Cape St. Vincent) features a dramatically located lighthouse at the very tip of the point. The lighthouse is still in use and is one of the most powerful (and important) in Europe. This memorable highlight spot commonly serves as either the starting or ending point for people hiking the Rota Vicentina (although the trail does continue on to the east). It is built on top of the remains of a 19th century Franciscan monastery and offers amazing views.
Wind / Kite Surfing
With big waves, big winds and big beaches, it isn’t surprising that southwestern Portugal is a superb place for both wind and kite surfing. Basically all the best surfing beaches are also good choices for these alternative options, although the general conditions make it possible to enjoy both on pretty much every beach along the Costa Vicentina.
The hiking trails along the ocean tend to be pretty sandy and occasionally rocky, so these are best only tackled by experienced mountain bikers. However, the trails slightly inland are usually perfect for all skill levels. The landscape is generally pretty flat and the quiet dirt roads criss-crossing the vast agricultural fields can be combined into almost any length circuit. Most towns and villages along the way have at least one bike rental shop where you can also get helmets, locks and maps of the surrounding areas. Aljezur even has guided e-bike tours of the surrounding Costa Vicentina area.
Best Costa Vicentina Villages
Maybe the best thing about the Costa Vicentina is the wonderful variety of fascinating towns and villages. Visitors can choose from a wide range of locations, from tiny traditional fishing villages to bustling commercial centres. Whatever your focus and preference, it should be easy to find the perfect fit for your visit. There were three that stood out as our particular favourites:
The fascinating town of Aljezur is located just inland from the coast and is actually split into two distinct sections. First, there is the New Town, with its nice main square, impressive churches, great restaurants and collection of hotels and surfing hostels. This is where most people stay. Then, across a small river and connected by an ancient Roman road, there is the Old Town, an atmospheric jumble of narrow Moorish alleys and buildings topped by the ruins of an old castle.
The Castelo de Aljezur may not have a lot of standing walls left but the views from up there are still pretty great and it is easy to envision this classic stronghold ruling over everything as far as the eye can see.
Those New Town church bells ringing every 15 minutes are kind of neat at first, less so after a few hours of hanging out on the balcony just across the square. At least they stop at night.
You should know…
The Mercado Municipal de Aljezur is a fascinating slice of traditional shopping that will definitely smell a lot like fish.
Another two part town, with Odeceixe village located a few kilometres upriver and popular Praia de Odeceixe found, rather obviously, on the ocean. Each has its pros and cons as a base.
The unusual, horseshoe beach formed where the Ribeira de Seixe meets up with the ocean. Wonderfully unique from up close or in photos from the nearby cliffs, Praia de Odeceixe allows the opportunity to swim in the warmer, calmer river or enjoy the typically impressive surfing waves in the ocean. Perfect for a family holiday.
Most of the shops and restaurants are found in Odeceixe and much of the walk between there and the beach is along the road.
You should know…
Just around the corner from Praia de Odeceixe is Praia das Adegas, one of Portugal’s few official nudist beaches. Whatever your stance on the concept, the graphic sign is worth a look.
Carrapateira has two of Portugal’s best surfing beaches within easy reach, making it a favourite base for the winter surf crowd. Time moves slower in this traditional Portuguese village.
The incredible waves of Praia do Amado draw top surfers from all over the world. It has even played host to international surf competitions. Meanwhile, Praia da Bordeira is just as close, much bigger and maybe just as good. You be the judge.
Once again, the town is not directly on the beach, although it is a pretty short walk and, let’s face it, if you’re staying in Carrapateira, really, is your schedule all that full?
You should know…
There is one pedestrian crossing signal in town but it is a bit unique. If you happened to down a few pints before heading back to your guesthouse this little guy can really mess with your perception of reality.
Other Costa Vicentina Towns
Even though Aljezur and Carrapateira felt right to us, and Praia de Odeceixe is a definite must-see, there are several other excellent choices, each of which offers a different set of pros and cons when you are deciding where to base yourself.
Once again, perfectly located close to several marvelous surf spots, as well as some of the best cliffs anywhere on the Costa Vicentina.
Praia da Arrifana. An outstanding beginner beach with good whitewash and manageable breaks. More advanced surfers can head out just a bit farther to take a shot at the wilder reef breaks.
There are only a few restaurants and one small shop in town, none of which are very convenient if you are staying in the new section closest to the beach.
You should know…
There are many different trails leading through the valleys between Aljezur and Arrifana, all of which will probably get you lost.
Vila do Bispo
The last stop on the way south to Cabo Sao Vicente, Vila do Bispo is the fairly functional commercial hub of the region, although it does have an interesting old town area.
The narrow, mazey alleys of the Old Town. Or all the cats hanging out in those alleys. Honestly, I can’t decide.
A little more urban with less of the fishing village charm of the smaller villages along the coast.
You should know…
If you are entering Vila do Bispo at 3 pm on a weekday when it is eerily empty and feels like a post-apocalyptic casualty of the zombie wars you will be correct in assuming the grocery stores don’t open until later.
A reasonable walk (or short drive) east from Cabo Sao Vicente, Sagres often serves as the starting or ending point for people hiking the Rota Vicentina (such as us, for example) and is the main city in the Vicentina area.
The Fortaleza de Sagres boasts a commanding location at the tip of a small peninsula with magnificent views of the ocean and the distant lighthouse at Cabo Sao Vicente.
The highway running through town feels pretty strange after so much time in those small villages.
You should know…
If your Spanish is better than your Portuguese, but still not that great, you may think the name Sagres may have something to do with “blood”, but it actually has something to do with “sacred”, which is at least marginally less disturbing.
The Costa Alentejana
Odeceixe is located on the border between the Algarve and the Alentejo. The stretch of coast running north from there is known as the Costa Alentejana and is very comparable to the Costa Vicentina in terms of gorgeous beaches, tremendous surf and classic villages and is a amazing destination in its own right. And, while the Alentejana Coast may not be as well known as the Costa Vicentina, most of its villages are located directly on the ocean, making them very popular beach destinations for Portuguese tourists.
Zambujeira do Mar
Known for its stunning location and iconic cliff-top church, Zambujeira do Mar is all about the views.
The chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar is a beautiful sight at any time of day but really comes to life at sunset, when locals and tourists alike stroll down to enjoy the colours and expansive view.
Most of the beaches near Zambujeira do Mar are pretty rough and tricky for swimming, although it is possible to seek out some sheltered coves and calmer areas.
You should know…
No matter how reassuringly you smile while quietly tiptoeing toward them, the nesting storks are never likely to fully trust you and will probably just fly off right when you are setting up for a great photo.
The slightly forgotten sister among this string of picturesque fishing villages, Almograve receives fewer tourists than its neighbours.
Farol do Cabo Sardao. This pretty lighthouse overlooking the ocean (as everything around here seems to do) is historically fascinating as well as impressive to look at.
Not a single McDonald’s to be found anywhere.
You should know…
The owner of the guesthouse we stayed in was very, very obsessed with the size of the previous guest’s huge biker thighs. I’m not sure why you need to know this, it just seemed like I shouldn’t be the only one.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
The most popular beach destination on the Alentejana Coast, Vila Nova de Milfontes gets packed with Portuguese families in the summer. You can watch the amazing sunsets from the dunes surrounding the lighthouse.
Praia do Farol (Lighthouse Beach) is the closest beach to town and is nicely squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mira River, offering a variety of swimming conditions, as well as a large selection of restaurants and facilities.
It is bigger than many of the villages in the area and can get pretty busy in the high season. Of course, that is still Costa Alentejana-busy, which is only about 10% of Algarve-busy, or 1% of Barcelona-on-a-Tuesday-busy.
You should know…
While Forte de Sao Clemente is still very pretty and a great backdrop for ocean/river photos, it is now privately owned and they won’t let you in (even if you tell them you really need to pee).
Porto Covo is a classic Portuguese fishing village and a terrific place to base yourself if you prefer quiet beaches and uncrowded streets.
With clean, wide streets lined with whitewashed buildings and little dashes of colour to draw the eye, Porto Covo could be a postcard of a traditional Atlantic fishing village.
The handful of touristy gift shops stock dozens of customized beach towels but not a single one with “Dean” on it.
You should know…
There are cliffs and beaches here, too, obviously.
The Algarve East of the Costa Vicentina
Starting at Lagos and heading east you’ll find the Algarve that most people are familiar with. Undeniably beautiful, with a stunning range of sheer cliffs fronted by unbelievable sheltered beaches, there are many reasons this section is so popular with tourists from all around the world. The weather is amazing all year-round, the scenery is unbeatable and there is a huge variety of resorts to choose from in all price ranges. Lagos, Portimão and Albufeira are among the most popular destinations, all boasting insane cliff scenery and a wide range of accommodation options.
Armacão de Pera (between Portimão and Albufeira) is a great little town where we chose to base ourselves for 7 weeks in March and April. We were able to hike on amazing trails every day, enjoying perfect weather (average highs around 15C) and rarely seeing more than a handful of other people. Over the course of our wanderings we also compiled an extensive list of the best viewpoints in the region, most of which can be reached with minimal hiking, in case you are more about the views and less about the sweating.
When to Go to the Costa Vicentina
Summer is high season and when you will enjoy the hottest beach weather with average highs/lows of around 30/15 Celsius. Where the Costa Vicentina weather really stands out from the rest of Europe, however, is in its extremely mild winters. Even in January the average low is still a comfortable 7C in most places and daytime highs still reach 15-20C, perfect weather for hiking and surfing. Which makes the Rota Vicentina one of the very few European long-distance hiking trails accessible all year-round. Winter is also the best time to find big waves, and many avid surfers bring their campervans down and settle in for the whole season. Despite that, however, anytime outside of June-September is definitely off season and you will often find yourself practically alone. May and October are great months to visit, still featuring good beach weather (highs of 24C) with hardly any fellow tourists.
How to Get to the Costa Vicentina
Odeceixe marks the northern edge of the Costa Vicentina and is about 2.5 hours from Lisbon by car. There are also several daily Rede Expressos buses from Sete Rios station (3.5 hrs / €20).
The other end of the Costa Vicentina is Burgau, just west of Lagos, which is about a 3-hour drive from Lisbon or just an hour from Faro. Faro also has international flights, although not as many as Lisbon. There are also frequent Eva buses or trains from Faro to Lagos (2 hrs / €10).
There is some public transportation between the villages but having your own vehicle will allow you more freedom. A Costa Vicentina roadtrip will let you visit all the highlights of this amazing part of Portugal.
Where to Stay on the Costa Vicentina
With so many different towns and beaches to choose from there are many good Costa Vicentina accommodation options. However, there are a few specific places we can recommend:
Sol Mar in Odeceixe provides nice accommodation with a bar, free private parking, a shared lounge and a terrace. The rooms have private bathrooms and views of the surrounding countryside. They have bicycles they lend out and a very good breakfast.
We can highly recommend Casa Dorita, on Praia de Odeceixe. It has very reasonable prices in the shoulder season that include an excellent breakfast. There are some rooms with balconies and views over the beach and even our (cheap) room had a view to the side of the beach. The staff was friendly and helpful.
The Atlantic Lodge Aljezur has a great rooftop terrace overlooking the town square and church. We spent a few hours relaxing there in the sun admiring the view. The rooms are spacious and have decks. While the neaby church bells are fun and atmospheric they are also quite noticeable (every 15 minutes). Don’t worry, though, they stop at night. There was also an excellent self-serve breakfast that included made-to-order eggs.
We didn’t stay there but heard good things about the four-star Vicentina Hotel in the Old Town, with spacious apartments, studios and rooms that include kitchens and living rooms overlooking either Aljezur Castle or the nice outdoor pool.
The Arrifana Destination Hostel was modern, friendly and affordable. There aren’t many restaurants nearby but the hostel serves basic meals and there are snacks to purchase as well.
We stayed at Casa Da Estela and were warmly welcomed with sweets, snacks and a glass of port (naturally). There is a shared kitchen available and the owner provided supplies to make our own breakfast. All the restaurants and the only shop are very close by, as well.
Vila do Bispo
Lila’s Private Accommodation in Vila do Bispo had a large 3-bedroom apartment with shared living room, kitchen and balcony. It was the perfect place to share with a Belgian we had met hiking, as well as a couple of surfers who were down from northern Portugal for a little change of wave scenery.
Apartamentos Atalaia was tremendously helpful, accepting the package we mailed ahead from Lisbon and holding it for us until we arrived. We were very excited to show up and find a box with some clean clothes and our laptops. The hotel itself was excellent value, not to mention comfortable and friendly, with good beds, hot showers and excellent wifi.
The Costa Vicentina is a vast wonderland of ocean scenery, perfect for all types of surfing or just lying on the beach. The hiking and viewpoints are simply fantastic and even if you somehow get tired of all those incredible cliffs and amazing ocean views there are plenty more trails inland that are also perfect for hiking, biking or village-to-village road trips. Bottom line, the beaches, surfing and scenery are as good, or better, than anywhere in Europe, yet the Costa Vicentina is still relatively unknown to tourists outside of Portugal. We recommend getting there before that starts to change.
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