Boat trip, island paradise and a beautiful sandy beach
Portugal’s beaches can certainly count themselves among the most beautiful beaches in Europe, as they often have the finest sand, are often kilometres long and are comparatively unspoilt – instead, they are often surrounded by dramatic cliffs. Furthermore, beach chair rental is much less common in Portugal than in Italy, for example, so you’ll find enough space at almost every Portuguese beach to spend a nice day with your children. The only disadvantage of Portuguese beaches is the low water temperature of the Atlantic Ocean, but this increases significantly the closer you get to the Spanish border and therefore to the Mediterranean Sea.
First, it grasps icily at your feet, warm from the sand,
and then withdraws far back,
and the shells and stones look like travellers running after the train.
But then a much bigger wave comes up
and throws everything even further upshore,
and then flushes around small feet
steadily sinking into the sand
and even up to trembling knees.
This fact makes the islands of the Ria Formosa off the western Algarve very interesting for family trips. Each of the islands has its own special charm, and all of them have endless, sandy beaches, which also offer a wondrous variety of bounty for small shell collectors.
One of the most interesting islands is Ilha da Armona, which is one of a few islands that is inhabited, providing some extra comfort for a day at the beach. What we really like here is that there are hardly any vehicles on the island, and after arriving at the harbour, you really feel like you’ve arrived on a quiet, paradisiacal island, which continental Portugal unfortunately does not have many to offer. Accordingly, our children could walk around more relaxed and explore the harbour and village.
The small village of Armona is permanently inhabited by about 1,000 inhabitants, and in the summer months there are many holidaymakers and day trippers. We were at the Ilha de Armona on a beautiful spring day and were overwhelmed by the colourful blossoms that were exhibited in the front gardens of the small island houses. Over the years, the houses themselves were often extended into quirky little shell palaces with a lot of love for the details.
The main path that runs through Armona is perfect for a leisurely walk. As soon as you reach the last houses of the village and the last bar, the path turns into a wooden walkway and leads to the beautiful, long southern beach.
Before that, you will pass small bars and restaurants, the campsite where you can only rent bungalows and a small, cosy playground where your children can let off some steam while you enjoy a coffee in the bar opposite.
On the south beach itself, there is another small bar, which can provide you with everything necessary for a nice day on the beach on the island. Of course, you can also have a beach picnic, but this will cause some difficulties with children, because everything that falls on the ground is no longer edible. With older children, you can also take a nice walk of about 8 kilometres to the other end of the beach in Fuseta. You can then also come back to Olhão from there by ferry, bus or train.
We collected shells, put our feet in the cool ocean, built sandcastles and got very frightened when a big motorised paraglider raced over the beach towards our youngest while constantly losing altitude. But then the most beautiful hours of the beach day for me followed: the late afternoon, when the sun finally cast longer and longer shadows, the seagulls came to the beach and gathered in small groups and the beach steadily emptied. The return trip in the evening by boat to Olhão had its very special charm at the end of a beautiful island day.
At the weekends and on holidays, the Ilha da Armona, along with most of the other offshore islands, is much more frequented than during the week, so you’d best avoid such days. In summer, there is some wind from southeast, the so-called Sueste, from time to time. This brings hot Saharan air to the Algarve and warms the sea considerably. Although the waves are so strong that you cannot swim out into the water, the water is very pleasantly warm on such days. By the way, in the whole Ria Formosa, you should take care not to swim or bathe around the channels that connect the lagoon with the sea when the tide starts, as strong currents can occur there.
Crossing to the island:
The journey is by boat from Olhão harbour and takes 30 minutes. Boats run almost every hour in summer. The current ferry schedule can be found here: www.olhaocubista.pt/horariobarcos.htm
GPS (parking lot directly at the boat terminal):
Directly in front of the boat terminal, there are paid parking spaces, but most of them are not free. However, barely 100 m further on, there is a large car park that is free of charge. But in summer it is also quite full.
Bring your own:
We strongly recommend to bring a sunshade, UV-T-shirts for the children and sun cream with a minimum protection factor of 50, as the sun is very strong here.
At the south beach itself, at the end of Armona and in the village itself, especially at the harbour, there are some cosy bars and restaurants.