Between Vilamoura and Faro, Quarteira was one of the first holiday resorts to be developed on the Algarve. A tiny fishing village was replaced by hulking tower blocks and modern hotel buildings in the 70s and 80s. These aren’t to everyone’s taste, but as far as laid-back holidays go you could not ask for more from Quarteira.
There are Blue Flag beaches in both directions, complemented by the immense infrastructure of one of Europe’s largest tourism complexes. There’s a posh marina, more restaurants and bars than you could hope to fit in, ten golf courses and a directory of companies offering activities on both water and land.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Quarteira:
1. Vilamoura Marina
There’s nothing understated about the marina in Vilamoura: The water is encircled by upscale hotel, dining and shopping complexes, while the harbour has a legion of snazzy luxury yachts.
It can be enough just to buy an ice cream or cold drink and go on a gentle wander under the palm fronds to gawp at these vessels.
Football fans might get a thrill knowing that a couple of the establishments on the waterfront are licensed by famous players: There’s the 7 Figo Bar and the CR7 shop, and there are no prizes for guessing who they’re affiliated with.
2. Cerro da Vila
There are Roman ruins where you’d least expect them, a few moments from Vilamoura’s modern marina.
But in truth the Vilamoura has been inhabited since long before even the Romans, with Bronze Age graves discovered in the area.
Cerro da Vila is made up of two residences, easily identified by their polychrome mosaic flooring and vestiges of stucco on their walls, but also baths, a necropolis and a system of tanks that would most likely have been for salting fish.
At the interpretation centre you’ll find out how the site was occupied after the Roman Empire, by Visigoths and then Moors.
3. Praia de Quarteira
Right in front of the hotels and apartment blocks, this beach has been seducing holidaymakers since the 1960s when Quarteira was still a humble fishing village.
The environment has changed a lot since then, but the upside of all this development is that you’ll never have to go far for provisions, a meal or beach toys for the little ones.
These services and the cleanliness of the beach earn Praia de Quarteira the Blue Flag every year.
The beach is two kilometres of light sand washed by gentle waves and screened by breakwaters every couple of hundred metres.
If you’ve promised yourself an afternoon of culture away from the beach, Loulé is on hand and is in the same municipality.
There’s a medieval castle here, built by the Moors in the 8th century and under their control until 1249. The square-shaped Torre Albarrã is a vestige from the Almohad Caliphate in the 12th century.
The centre of Loulé is a charming place to idle around for an hour or two, with a top-class market, fragments of its defensive walls and several pretty churches on the menu.
Quarteira is a golfer’s idea of heaven.
There’s no other way of putting it, when you have seven highly-rated courses at your fingertips.
Golf is integral to the lifestyle in Vilamoura, and there are even private tutors (unaffiliated with the clubs) who will write up itineraries for you and give an intensive week-long course to give your game a shot in the arm.
If you’re a seasoned player and are happy to pay for quality, the Victoria Clube de Golfe will be up your street, with an 18-hole championship course and top-notch practice facilities.
Novices or people looking for a more affordable round can check out Balaia Golf Village or the Laguna Clube de Golfe.
6. Aquashow Park
More of an entire theme park than a simple water attraction, Aquashow has a lineup of pools, flumes and shaded areas to lounge in.
But there are also a handful of rides of the kind you’d get at fairgrounds.
A few of these, like the “Roller Coaster”, “Air Race” and “Top Swing” are wild enough to get a thumbs up from bigger kids and teenagers.
For littler children there’s a mini train, shallow pools and playground in water.
And finally the park also has animal demonstrations, with birds of prey and snake handlers.
7. Igreja de São Lourenço de Almancil
For more sightseeing, Almancil is less than ten kilometres in from the coast and has one of the prettiest churches in the Algarve.
It was started at the end of the 17th century, and in the 1730s the interior walls were coated with blue and white glazed tiles.
These are simply beautiful, and were painted by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, who was born into a family of master ceramicists.
The images are sharp and detailed enough that you could lose yourself for a while staring at the walls, vaulting and dome.
The altar is also splendid, and has the intricate gilded woodwork that is a signature of 18th-century Baroque churches.
8. Praia do Forte Novo
Shops and services are all well and good, but if it’s nature you crave the next beach along in Quarteira is the one for you.
Praia do Forte Novo has the same silky sand and calm waves, but with none of the high-rise buildings.
The beach is walled by a line of low orange-coloured cliffs, and on the foreshore is pine forest, hiding campgrounds, golf courses and a lagoon.
The further east you go the further you get from the resort and its towers, but there are still beach bars and sun loungers so you you’ll have the little luxuries at your disposal.
9. Museu Municipal de Loulé
This museum will keep you in Loulé a while longer, and charts the history of the whole area, including Quarteira.
It is on the ground floor of the castle and brings together the most interesting archaeological finds from the coast and rural areas.
These are in chronological order and comprise utensils, weapons, amphorae and stonework up to the Early Modern Age.
The museum floor also has glass panels that let you see the Roman and Bronze Age foundations of the castle.
Stand-up paddle-boarding has taken off in this corner of the Algarve.
And no wonder, as the activity has a shallow learning curve and is suitable for most ages.
It also helps that the calm, sheltered waters of the Ria Formosa lagoon are only a couple of kilometres along the coast, but the cliffs, remote beaches and caves closer by are also ripe for exploring on the water . You’ll be equipped with a wetsuit, life jacket, paddle and board and will led by a guide well-versed in safety and Quarteira’s coastline.
When people think of the Algarve’s coast is they’ll think of beach resorts, parasols and those reddish cliffs.
But the Ria Formosa is a thousand miles from that image: It’s a 170-square-kilometre natural park containing a lagoon, barrier islands and wetlands . At the marina in Faro there are tour companies taking you out to see traditional fishermen and shellfish farmers at work.
Bring an SLR camera if you have one because the birdlife is incredible as it’s a station for wintering birds like woodchats, little terns and red-crested pochards, but there are year-round residents like ferruginous ducks and purple herons.
The lagoon is contained by long barrier islands, and you can catch water taxis out to these for walks or to laze by the ocean in summer.
The Algarve’s largest city, historical seat of power and current administrative centre is close enough to merit a day out.
The old quarter is still encircled by its defensive walls, some pieces of which haven’t been altered since the Moors were in charge.
There’s a powerful Gothic cathedral, sequestered little squares and the monumental Arca da Vila gateway that links the old quarter with the harbour.
On the creepy side check out the bizarre ossuary in the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church, in which the walls are lined with human bones and skulls (belonging to 1,000 Carmelite monks) to remind worshippers of life’s brevity.
13. Off-Road Trips
If you haven’t rented a car it could be tricky to break away from the resort on rainy days or if you feel like mixing things up.
But the good news is the local companies offering quad bike and off-road buggy tours are happy to pick you up from your accommodation.
Both activities have stringent health and safety guidelines, and the difference between the two is that you’ll be riding a quad bike on your own but will be a passenger in an all-terrain vehicle.
They’re both great fun and you’ll discover just how diverse the landscapes around, from rocky riverbeds to lagoons and dusty desert-like hills with cork oak trees and pine scrub.
Buggy Safari, Algarve Buggy Tours and Quinta Quads all serve the Loulé area.
14. Other Sports
At up-to-date destinations like Quarteira and Vilamoura there’s a world of active fun if you get bored of being on your back.
There’s a go-kart track on the edge of town, as well as several stables organising lessons and expeditions along the edge of the lagoon or in the hills.
Vilamoura has a tennis academy with a dozen courts as well as a popular restaurant.
And if you’d like to use your summer getaway to detox and get fit there are even exercise clinics on the beach.
Then in the water you could rent a jet-ski, discover the coast on a guided kayak trip or book a waterskiing lesson at the marina.
15. Food and Drink
Cod is king in the Algarve, as it is in the rest of Portugal.
The traditional way of preparing cod here is quite simple; it’s normally baked and served with potatoes and cabbage.
That’s only one of many fish and seafood preparations on the menu, as there’s a cornucopia of soups, stews and rice dishes made with oily fish, shellfish or octopus.
And these ingredients are as fresh as can be, straight from the Ria Formosa or Atlantic.
For something sweet, It doesn’t matter where you are in Portugal you have to make space for a pastel de nata, which is a sort of custard tart in a pastry.
Like all of Portugal’s egg-based sweets the recipe originated at convents where nuns were given eggs by soon to be married couples hoping for children.