A few weeks before our Easter holiday in Portugal, I read an article in The Times Travel section about the Best Beach in Europe – and guess what? It happened to be in Portugal.
So of course, we had to check it out during our stay. And despite a drive to get there, and growing expectations, I can see why it has been given this accolade.
Praia Da Amoreira on Portugal’s west coast ticks all the boxes when it comes to beach perfection. It’s a huge curve of flat white sand enclosed on either side by the headland, with rolling waves and sand dunes to play in. Not only this, but the gently flowing River Aljezur runs into the sea at the far end adding an extra dimension to this beautiful beach.
Now what you can’t quite get from the photos is the mini sand storm we were caught up in on the day we visited. This is, after all, the Atlantic coast which means for surf lovers it’s even more of a paradise. You can actually do stand up paddle boarding in the calmer water that runs into the sea. There is beach restaurant here, Paraiso do Mar, which sadly was closed on the day we were here, so we made do with munching on the remains of our picnic on its balcony watching surfers catch some waves.
We drove up from Cabo Sao Vicente along the winding, shaded coast road where every little track off it seemed to lead to a sweep of golden sand. The Cabo Sao Vicente is the equivalent of our Lands End, albeit without the tacky Wallace and Gromit theme park element (what’s that all about?)
This end of the world location is Europe’s most southwesterly point where you don’t really do anything apart from stand and gaze out in awe across the wild Atlantic Ocean and imagine what lies beyond – it’s actually East Virginia, USA.
On the same day we also visited Praia do Martinhal near Sagres, mainly to find something to eat. We struck lucky with my favourite type of restaurant, beach-side, shack-style with a boardwalk to the sand, serving fantastic food. There are not many places like Nortada where the fish is actually brought to you to inspect before it is cooked, very simply with boiled potatoes and broccoli.
We were actually staying on the south coast of Portugal, not far from Faro, a very nice town, and probably often overlooked as there’s a tendency to make a swift exit from the city you fly into.
The south coast beaches are longer stretches of sand backed by red and ochre cliffs. At this time of year they were almost deserted so we often found ourselves the only ones there.
Further East along the coast from Faro lies the lovely town of Tavira. We took a trip there and hopped on one of the ferries to the Ilha de Tavira, one of a group of barrier islands in the protected national park of the Ria de Formosa estuary area.
I was struck by how similar Portuguese beaches were to our own, especially on the west coast. Chatting to a couple we met at Praia Da Amoreira who were touring in their camper van, we both observed this similarity, especially to the Cornish and Welsh coastlines.
Praia Da Amoreira made me think of Porthor or Whistling Sands Beach on the Welsh Llyn Peninsula. I also remember searching out another best beach on another trip to Wales, worth the half mile walk to Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire, likened to beaches in Australia (temperature aside). Having visited Cornwall a couple of times last year, lovely beaches like the one at Porthcurno with its turquoise water and pale, golden sand, aren’t dissimilar to those in Portugal.
I guess when it comes down to it, the title Best Beach in Europe is subjective – and perhaps raises expectations when sometimes it’s nice to stumble across our own hidden gem.
We all have different things we like in a beach. For some of us it might be the solitude you feel on a deserted stretch of sand looking out to sea and for others it might be the whole seaside experience of candy floss, fish and chips and sticks of rock. I actually like a bit of both, depending on how I am feeling. So what’s your favourite beach?
For more info about the best beaches on the Yorkshire Coast click on my Out and About: Coast page here