The Question: We're a young family seeking sun, sand and seafood in a quiet coastal village where the culture and language are warm and welcoming -- and completely different from urban Canadiana. Suggestions?
An ideal family holiday is built on two foundations: something for the kids, say white sandy beaches to roam and old fortresses to explore, and something for the adults. I'm talking really good coffee, inexpensive, delicious wine and fresh food. The Algarve region in southern Portugal has you covered on both fronts.
It also meets your desire for an oceanside escape. "The Algarve is just one endless beach after another," says Gwen McCauley, a Halifax resident who writes the blog Algarve Experiences (algarveexperiences.com). "The ocean is never far away. Even when you head inland into the hills, you'll come around a bend and see the ocean glittering off in the distance."
It's also an ideal region for families for several reasons, says McCauley, who found herself drawn again and again to the Algarve since her first visit decades ago. English is widely spoken, the regional capital of Faro is easy to get to (there's even some direct flights, parents, so breathe a sigh of relief!) and there is a range of accommodation, from villa rentals to hotels. (Oh yes, and these magic words from McCauley: "The Portuguese people love children so they will always find a welcome in any restaurant you enter.")
Since the area is relatively small – you can drive across it in a couple of hours – there are many choices for a home base. McCauley's picks? Stick to smaller towns or villages, such as Olhos D'Agua or Armaçao de Pêra, where you get beautiful beaches and amenities sans bar culture. (Instead of bleary twentysomethings stumbling home, the kids can watch fishermen unload their day's catch of sardines, red mullet or even squid.) Or pick a more rustic hill town, such as Silves, with its well-preserved castle, or go for agriturismo (farmhouse accommodation), which is peppered across the country, she says.
Along with its sunny climes and beaches, the region is known for its excellent food and wine, says Ana Silva O'Reilly, a native of Portugal who writes the blog Mrs. O Around the World (mrsoaroundtheworld.com). "Portugal has possibly some of the best beach restaurants in the world. They are located on each beach and one should abstain from burgers," she says. "It is all about the grilled sardines, seafood – grilled prawns or coriander and white wine clams are local favourites – and, of course, white wine sangria."
Sounds about right, doesn't it?
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