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Algarve's 10 most scenic beaches offer tiny bays, caves or monster surf

Algarve beach: Prainha

Portugal's Algarve region has a great variety of beaches to choose from. There may never be agreement as to which one is the prettiest, but following is a sampling of some of the best beaches.
By Michael Juhran, DPA

Ponta da Piedade
The beach setting around the light tower of Lagos is incomparable, with its 20-metre-high cliff formations. The beach with its arches, grottoes, caves and small bays is one of the most impressive and best-frequented destinations in the Algarve. The bathing area Praia da Boneca right next to it can only be reached on foot via a steep path and a narrow gorge, and is only accessible at ebb tide.

Praia do Camilo
About a kilometre away from Ponta da Piedade, this beach attracts sunbathers to its similarly picturesque setting. Starting from a nice restaurant up on the cliff, a wooden stairway of 100 steps leads to two small bays, both suitable for bathing, which are connected by a man-made tunnel.

Prainha
Craggy cliffs, carved out over time by the sea, divide up this beach into various sections which at ebb tide can be explored by visitors. In the western part, one can reach the 7-kilometre-long sand beach of Alvor and in the east there are tiny bays. The cliffs and rocks offshore are a magnet for snorkellers.

Praia do Carvalho
Just reaching this small beach east of Carvoeiro is a challenge. It is accessible only via a steep tunnel stairway which was hewn by hand in the rock. Cliffs line the bay on the right and left. Daring cliff divers plunge from up to 12 metres into the cool seawater.

Praia de Benagil
Further east, on the beach of Benagil, is a huge cavern that is a major tourism attraction. At ebb tide, one can either swim or paddle into this cavern dubbed the "cathedral." This calm stretch of beach is ideal for stand-up-paddlers, kayakers and excursion boats running between Carvoeiro and Albufeira. Many quiet bays can be reached only from the water.

Praia Marinha
Many times, Marinha has been put on lists of the world's dream beaches. Mighty 30-metre-high cliffs protect the beach from the wind. On the western side swimmers can explore rocky entrances and grottoes. But the beach also illustrates the dangers of the Algarve's rocky shores. In 1998 a chunk of a cliff broke off, crashing onto the beach. To this day its remnants make access to the western part difficult.

Praia do Martinhal
On the Algarve's southwestern tip, this beach is particularly popular among families with children. The gently sloping beach has a wooden walkway for baby prams, and there are life-guards, several restaurants and a large hotel specialized in hosting families and children. At nearby Cabo de São Vicente, swarms of tourists will gather every evening to watch the sun setting in the Atlantic.

Culatra island
Offshore from the city of Olhão lies the tiny island of Culatra, the setting of the Ria-Formosa lagoon, a nature preserve with kilometres of sand-dune beaches. About a thousand local fishermen, mussel farmers, restaurant workers and lighthouse keepers live here. The island is almost exclusively visited by the Portuguese. It is accessible by boat only, and there are no hotels. Those guests seeking to stay overnight can find private lodgings in the fishermen's huts.

Praia Odeceixe
There is scarcely a place that can offer more variety than Odeceixe. In the north, the Seixe river brings fresh water to the beach, creating a large tongue of land, one which at ebb tide provides protection against the powerful waves coming in off the Atlantic. Out at sea, surfers are waiting for the perfect wave. Those who wish can go swimming in the river or go paddling upstream. Further south there are shale cliffs. These surround the Praia das Adegas, one of the few beaches in Portugal reserved for nude bathers.

Praia do Amado
This is the place where surfers, and those who wish to learn surfing, come to. A stiff breeze constantly blows along this long stretch of beach situated between red and ochre-coloured rock formations in the north and the grey shale in the south. The breeze creates a variety of wave conditions, something that has attracted numerous surfing schools and has made the beach an ideal venue for surfing competitions.

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Travel Magazine: Algarve's 10 most scenic beaches offer tiny bays, caves or monster surf
Algarve's 10 most scenic beaches offer tiny bays, caves or monster surf
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