Sunday Times Travel Section 4th July 2010 . Stephen Bleach writes :

The Western Algarve is the most unspoilt, beautiful, wild, all-round-fabulous coastline in Western Europe. There are dozens of hidden coves and majestic cliffs, no golf courses, and of the very few people here, none is called Lee.

The western Algarve is the secret corner the developers never bothered with. They reckoned it was too remote (though you can get there in 90 minutes from Faro airport), too rugged (though that's exactly its charm) and too weird (which it is, a but, but in a good way). People have been saying the region will be the next big thing for years now, bit it's nver quite happened, mainly because there's been nowhere very nice to stay. Suddenly, there is, so now's the time to go, before everybody else does.

As you drive west from Lagos, and the high-rises in your rear-view mirror recede, the country gets slowly wilder, the villages smaller. The peninsula narrows and there's an almost palpable feeeling of the land beginning to run out - you're heading for the southwestern extrermity of Europe. It's frontier territory, with hippies holed up in the hills and midnight smugglers on the coast: untamed, a little raffish, and all the better for it.

Aside from the slighly otherworldly atmostphere, there are three good reasons to come here: beaches, walking and food. The first is the best. They really know how to make a beach around here. There's one for every mood: big or small, sheltered or breaker-blasted, deserted or with civilised cafes, There are dozens hidden down the little side roads to your left as you drive, all compelete with golden sand so fine, it squeaks.

My favourite is a bit of a local secret - they've even covered the sign from the village. (Take the tiny turn-off next to the bus stop.) When the road gives out, a narrow path through a lush valley of olive and fig trees brings you to 150 yards of perfect sand, penned in between yellow limestone cliffs. Remote and private, it feels like a smugglers' beach. And it is - not the cutesy Cornish contraband-brandy-in-1762 variety, either. Just last month, a hapless band tried to land four tones of hashish here in the dead of night, wheelbarrowing it up that idyllic path you just came down. They were promptly nabbed.

Never fear: such shenanigans are rare and nocturnal. By day, all is peace and a somehow enigmatic quiet. Your fellow bathers are chilled and smiling, and even in high season you can count their numbers on your sandy toes. It's on the sheltered south coast, so the water's calm, beach gently shelving, visibility perfect. Stay here all day, or, if you have time and children, all week.