While Lisbon and Porto attract culture-seeking travelers, Portugal’s Algarve district, in the south, snaps up those in want of nothing more than a sunny, beachy getaway. There is no shortage of resorts along the region’s stunning coastline, but these hotels are the best of the beach-fronting bunch.
The 180-room luxury resort Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa has a small but beautiful golden-sand beach area surrounded by high cliff walls. While the beach looks slightly less manicured than similar beaches in the area, guests don't seem to mind. The beach is outfitted with sunbeds, umbrellas, and towels, plus there's a lifeguard hut. Note, however, that access to the beach is down a long set of steps carved through the cliffside, which may be tricky for children or guests with mobility issues. During the high season, the hotel has food and drink service during certain hours. Marine lovers should take note that the largest natural reef in Portugal rests right off the coastline of the Vila Vita Parc, making it an ideal spot for divers and snorkelers. The resort can also organize cave trips, fishing trips, rented yachts, and water sports such as kayaking or canoeing. However, guests must take the hotel's free shuttle boat service to the nearby beach of Armacao de Pera to take advantage of the seasonal water sports.
Factor in Blue & Green Vilalara Thalassa Resort's location on a stunning golden beach surrounded by rocky cliffs and its world-class thalassotherapy spa, and it's easy to see why this quiet and romantic resort is a favorite among couples. Although the hotel is located on a cliffside, access to the resort's beach is easy (except for those who have mobility issues). The breathtakingly pretty stretch of golden sand looks out onto dark blue waters and tall, free-standing rocks. The higher location of the resort lends to less background noise for those on top of the blue loungers. Guests can use the loungers and umbrellas for free. Note that the sand is full of rough shell fragments, so travelers might want to wear shoes.
Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel is set within a protected nature preserve on Algarve coast, and has a large and quiet natural beach area. The stretch of beach located along the chic luxury village resort follows suit with the rest of the natural vibe of the resort: it's a flat, tide-varying beach with sea grass mounds, a wooden boardwalk, and rocks along the property line. Since the beach (and its tides) aren't ideal for sunbathing, the resort has made a raised beach hangout area with all the fixings -- including a beach club and a restaurant. If you're looking to go in or on the water, there's a water-sports center on the beach offering kayaking, windsurfing, and off-site surfing. In fact, this section of the beach gets fairly windy and is an ideal spot for windsurfers.
Suites Alba Resort & Spa is a secluded three-pearl resort overlooking some of the region's stunning seaside cliffs. It's far from attractions in Carvoeiro, but it has direct access to Albandeira Beach, just below the main grounds, which is the largest of the three sheltered beaches at the base of the cliffs -- all accessible to hotel guests. A short pathway leads to the sand, which is surrounded by towering limestone rock formations and lush vegetation. It's not an uncommon sight to see wedding parties on the cliffs, with white chairs surrounded by huge Arabesque candles.
The 323-room hotel is Crowne Plaza -- located directly on Vilamoura Beach -- is one of the most luxurious hotels in the area. Vilamoura Marina, home to plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, is just an easy five-minute walk away, and the town’s famous casino is right next door to the hotel. There are also many other great beaches a short drive away, including Falesia Beach and four smaller ones between Vilamoura and Albufeira. There is a gate at the pool area leading to the deep, sandy beach, where sunbeds are available for a daily fee and a beach bar offers food and drinks.
The upscale, 250-room Vidamar Resort Algarve is situated right on the dunes of Salgados Beach and is part of an extensive development midway between the Algarve tourist resorts of Armacao de Pera and Albufeira. The lovely long stretch of beach is a few minutes' walk via a footpath that runs directly from the hotel across the dunes. There is a cluster of restaurants within a five-minute drive of the hotel, at the end of the nearby Praia da Gale. The property practically overlooks part of the 18-hole Quinta dos Salgados Golf Course, while the Salgados Lagoon Nature Reserve is a short walk away.
The 154-room Dom Jose Beach Hotel is a mid-range property with an excellent beachfront location along the pedestrian promenade in Quarteira. The sandy beach is lovely, and guests can rent lounge chairs and straw umbrellas at the hotel's private area, though the beach can also get busy. Drinks and ice cream are available, and numerous restaurants, bars, shops, and activities are within an easy walk of the hotel. The pool is small, but overlooks the beach, and there's an adjacent nine-hole mini-golf course.
Situated on a cliff on the outskirts of Alvor, the upscale Pestana Alvor Praia is surrounded by landscaped gardens with direct access to Tres Irmaos Beach (Three Brothers Beach) -- one best beaches in the touristy Algarve region. The walk down to the beach takes just a few minutes, but there's also an elevator for those who are unable to make the short hike. Below the cliffs, a wide golden-sand beach stretches out toward the west, with little sheltered coves along the eastern shore, and with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas to go around. Beach towels, lounge chairs, and umbrellas are free for guests and are readily available by the outdoor saltwater pool.
The 20-room Vila Joya is a luxury boutique perched on a hill Praia da Gale beach on the Algarve coast. While the beach is technically public, rocky outcrops at either end give it a private feel. There are no beach services, but a few beachfront restaurants are within a five-minute walk, and Albufeira -- with its many shops, restaurants, and busy nightlife -- is 10 to 15 minutes away by car.
Without a doubt, the best feature of this clifftop hotel is its direct access to stunning Praia do Vale Covo, a scenic beach set in a cove. It's one of the best locations and views of any hotel in the Carvoeiro area. Unfortunately, after all that natural beauty, the interiors at the hotel are a big letdown. And note that reaching this beach will be a challenge for the mobility impaired, and that it's only usable at low tide. The hotel also has a dive center with basic and advanced PADI courses.
The Salgados Dunas Suites is an upscale complex set on immaculately landscaped gardens overlooking the dunes of Salgados Beach. The relatively secluded location means there's little within walking distance, except of course the lovely wide stretch of golden sand. Its 155 rooms and suites are spartan yet stylish, with many featuring sea views -- though bathrooms are disappointingly small. There are nine outdoor pools, including three for kids, but they can be chilly in cooler months. A deluxe spa, quality dining, and direct beach access via a wood-planked footpath complete an impressive resort.
The Pestana Dom Joao II doesn't look like much from the road, but around the back, its gardens and pristine sunbathing lawns paint a prettier picture. The backyard spills on to the wide sandy Tres Irmaos Beach, making the hotel's access to the sand even easier than at many of the other hotels along the coast. Rows of thatched umbrellas provide shade for the beach lounge chairs and there's an on-site dive center where guests can rent scuba gear. The Pestana Dom Joao II is one of the top hotels in Alvor, falling just behind the more modern Pestana Alvor South Beach next door, with which it shares facilities.
For travelers wanting to be right on the beach, it's hard to beat the location of the 84-room, upper-middle-range Hotel Oriental. It sits directly on Praia da Rocha, at the quieter eastern end of the the strip of restaurants and bars that make up the hotel zone in Portimao. Free beach towels are provided, and non-affiliated beds are available on the beach for a small fee. It's only a five-minute walk to the heart of the action -- filled with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs -- though keep in mind that this part of town is desolate and boring during the off season.