Aljezur is located off the beaten track in Europe’s southwesternmost corner. The actual tip of the continent is Sagres, but Aljezur, which lies further north, is the heart of the Western Algarve proper. It is a paradise for surfers in search of the open Atlantic’s waves, but also for visitors of all sorts attracted by the stunning and unspoilt beauty of beaches such as Arrifana, Monte Clérigo, Amado, Odeceixe or Bordeira, and the majestic cliffs that lie between them. This is all part of the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, which means the scenery is protected from the devastation one finds all along the Mediterranean Coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Even by the standards of the Algarve, this is a very different sort of environment. Maritime pines, cork oaks, strawberry trees and a variety of shrubs, as well as grazing and agricultural land cover the rolling hills as they make their way towards the Ocean, providing the area with the sort of rustic magic that is sadly absent in most of Southern Europe’s coastline. No high-rises to block out your view and no high-ways to bring about the kind of mass tourism one finds on the Algarve’s South coast.
Getting around Aljezur
Public transport is not great in the area, so you do need a vehicle of your own. The best way to do it is to rent a scooter in Aljezur. The area requires a certain pace for full enjoyment, and a motorcycle provides the sense of proximity to nature that a car will never provide. In Aljezur you want to be in the scenery, not merely looking at it through a window frame. But let’s get back to the things you might want to know before coming.
Central Aljezur: Aljezur town, Vale da Telha, Arrifana and Monte Clérigo
Bang in the middle of the municipality of Aljezur, which spans around 320 square km, with a total population of 5800 (according to the 2011 census) there is a town of the same name. It has two parts to it, the old town (Aldeia Velha), with its narrow cobbled streets winding up the mountainside towards the castle, and on the other side of the river, the new town (Aldeia Nova), the less attractive new town. Although this is a coastal area, the town lies inland, a 20 minute scooter drive from the closest beaches. Closer to these, sprawling over the adjacent plateau, is the Vale da Telha development, where fortunately construction ground to a halt a few years back after an order from the government in Lisbon put an end to what was effectively construction in a national park. The urbanisation, made up mainly of one-story houses built on large plots, most of which remain vacant and covered by trees and shrubs, has since become a home to many new guesthouses and surf-camps. Covering most of the stretch of highland between the Arrifana and Monte Clérigo beaches, Vale da Telha is where you are most likely to stay if you visit Aljezur during your holidays.
Arrifana has an old fort overlooking the ocean, with vast views extending all the way to Sagres. Below it a little fishing port remains highly active, ensuring that Aljezur is one outstanding place for those of us who love fish; corvina and sea bass being some of the local favourites. But Arrifana is especially famed for its fabulous beach at the foot of a cliff, a favorite for surfers during the winter months, and more of a family beach in the summer, when the swell is smaller and surfers tend to prefer the more north-facing Monte Clérigo, with its picturesque little houses climbing up the mountain-side.
Carrapateira and Borderia in the South, Odeceixe in the North
Further south, about a 30 minute 50CC scooter ride winding through the countryside, you will come to the area of Carrapateira. First you hit Bordeira, a tiny inland village of white-washed traditional houses set at the foot of the pine- covered hills. A little further on, the road bends out towards the sea-front and the fabulous beach of Bordeira, which doesn’t come fully into view until you reach Carrapateira, another hillside village and the main hub for access to Bordeira beach and Amado, also excellent surf spots. The dirt track between the two, “Estrada da Praia”, is one of outstanding beauty, and not to be missed. Further north, on the opposite end of the municipality, about the same distance going north as Carrapateira is going south, lies what many consider the most outstanding of Aljezur’s coastal jewels, Odeceixe. Here you will first come across the quaint inland village, with it’s pleasant cafés and cobbled streets, and then, following the river plain, you reach a sea-side hamlet, perched on a promontory overlooking the final meander of the Seixe river as it spills out into the Atlantic, forming a beach which is practically an island in itself, connected to land on only one of its sides, wow!
Be a smart beach-hopper!
Whether you are going to spend the afternoon basking in the sun in Odeceixe beach, trying to catch some waves in Arrifana or Monte Clérigo, or going into Aljezur town to run an errand, if you are driving a car you are bound to stumble into the same problem every-time: parking. Aljezur teaches us that the size of the population or the number of cars in the area are not what determines how easy it is to park, but it is rather the ratio between the former and the number of parking spaces available. Driving down the hill to Monte Clérigo is indeed beautiful, but driving around the little parking lot at 3 km/h behind a few others scanning the surroundings for free space, only to find yourself crawling back up the mountainside at a snail’s pace to end up parking 300 meters up the mountain on the side of the road, is not what you have come to amazing Aljezur for.
Aljezur on a scooter is a different story; not only will you feel the breeze and that sense of being inside the scenery, you will also be able to park. Right by the beach or in the centre of town. Every single time. Surfboard? You can rent them at the beach! Beats lugging them up and down, to and from, the beach, and the whole messy business of sticking them inside your car, etc. Do you need a credit card? No you don’t. Are you going to contribute to beach-side gridlock and global warming? A lot less than if you’re driving a car. How much will you be spending on petrol? A lot less. How much fun will it be? So much more. The bottom line is Aljezur is a great place to spend some time if you want to get away from mainstream beach madness. The whole area is blessed with outstanding natural beauty and beaches to die for. And the best way to enjoy it is getting around Aljezur on a scooter. Whether you are in Aljezur for the surf or just to enjoy a relaxing holiday, allow yourself to slow down and breathe in the freedom. You won’t regret it!