This is a great walk if you like at least some of these things: sun, sea, sand, a bit of exercise.
The itinerary can be varied to favor your preferences between these things. Allow for at least a 2-hour stroll.
OK, so you’re at the marina, with a mild hangover - too many Tequila Sunrises and Orange Campari's the night before. Actually, being a bit “babalas” (South African slang for an hangover) from the night before is a not a bad idea - otherwise you’ll be up at the crack of dawn wearing your intrepid explorer shorts, sensible shoes, clutching your binoculars, bivouac, and of course those all-important tide tables.
No, no, no! As well as looking like a real “prat” you’ll be way too early to sensibly accommodate a largely liquid lunch which obviously cannot occur before the sun is up in all its glory.
The ideal time to set out is around 11h30, but let’s not be too flippant about it. OK, so you’re at the marina in casual attire (swimwear underneath) and flip-flops.
Not a bad idea to have a bottle of water, and a hat - you won’t have much access to shade for the next two hours. You might want to pop into your local watering wall for one of those Portuguese custard tarts, but do try not to go into a pub at this stage, at least not for anything stronger than a coffee.
OK, so you’re at the marina, fed, watered and hot to trot.
Start your stopwatch (only joking) and stride purposefully south towards the new railway station, admiring its elegant structure, fit-for-purpose facilities, and ease of access, but at the same time noticing how much prettier the old one is. Continue walking along the right hand side of the platforms. To your right is the fishing port, where one of the industrial units is a restaurant, and you can probably already smell the fresh fish being grilled for the early lunches.
A little further along, some rather hairy gentlemen will be doing maintenance work on their boats – in this heat? Mad!
The railway curves away to the left, and the increasingly dusty road to the right. You actually want to go straight on, but probably best to follow the road for now (for footwear management reasons). There is a huddle of vans and old buses which are home to hippies and gap-years – don’t worry, they’re completely harmless - and besides, you were one once, remember?
After a hundred meters or so, are a couple of ruined buildings at which point you need to head left through the sandy car park towards Beach Bar Linda. For a really short walk, you could just sit down here and write off the rest of the day, but let’s satisfy ourselves with a quick look at the menu, before walking along the elevated walkway for another hundred meters or so to the next beach bar along, a yellow structure called Bahia.
You have four things to do here: go to the loo, buy a soft drink, switch from street wear to beach wear (shoes off) if not already done, and, most important, book yourself a table on the front deck for 1 hour 45 minutes later than it is now.
If you’re carrying stuff you won’t need on the beach, the guys at Bahia will usually let you put it away somewhere (at your own risk). You now have 1 hour 45 minutes to get to the far end of Meia Praia, have a rest, and get back to your table.
This walk is good exercise, and believe me, you will have earned your lunch. You are initially still in the touristy part of the beach, the first kilometer being populated by northern Europeans as well as Portuguese.
The middle section (kms 2 and 3 if you will) is more Portuguese, notice the “extended families” with three or four generations all happy in each other’s company in their ultra well equipped encampments. The 5-45 age group are throwing or batting things to each other, while the older and younger folk are helping each other in/out of the water.
Cold drinks and/or pastries are available from wandering salesmen, and there is the Duna Beach Club (actually an extension of the Tivoli Hotel) and several other beach bars if you feel the need.
Nowadays, these also have emergency/first aid facilities should you manage to hurt yourself. Otherwise stay at the waterline walking on the sand, paddling, swimming as you see fit. Admire the view: ahead you can see for miles on a clear day (a headland just short of Albufeira); behind, just Lagos – a joy to behold.
Planes will be flying overhead hauling advertising flags advertising sardine festivals, pre-election campaign slogans, and IKEA’s latest branch opening.
Depending on the state of the tide, you might also see people doing what looks like the twist, yes, like we did last summer, working their feet into the sand near the waterline. Apparently, they’re uprooting miscellaneous mollusks to be served up in restaurants tonight for your dinner, so leave them to it.
After the Km 3 mark (no, there are no signs) you pass the last beach bars near Meia Praia railway station and the old village, every house in which seems to have a Portuguese flag on top – surely the most patriotic village in the country.
After this, the beach becomes much quieter, almost deserted, but just as you think you’ve got the place to yourself, a fat naked German will emerge from the dunes, striding proudly down towards the sea.
Oh no, will he get to the waterline just as I reach that very same spot? Should I speed up? No, he’s already ahead of me. Slow down? Pretend I’ve dropped something and – oh, too late.
The last kilometer is slightly busier again, and the rocky breakwater seems almost in touching distance. Don’t be fooled, it gets closer only very slowly. Look at your watch, if you have already used half of your one and three quarter hours, turn around now and head back to Bahia (you don’t want to miss your table!), and try again another day, allowing yourself a little more time or walking faster. Otherwise, head on until you finally reach the rocks and can flop onto it for a break.
Whilst at the end, do take time to clamber up to the top and look across Alvor harbor, and the remaining 4km of beach towards Alvor itself.
I’m told there used to be a little ferry across the channel here, but there’s no evidence of where it might have gone from/to. Presumably, before these breakwaters were constructed you could walk/paddle straight across at low tide, continuing your walk all the way into Alvor and beyond.
Hope your maths is up to scratch, because its now time to work out how much time you need before you decide to get back to your starting point. So you’re heading back. Your right leg, which seemed longer on the outward walk, is now playing the part of the shorter leg, which feels funny at first, but hey, get over it.
Looking towards Lagos, you can just make out a tiny yellow blob in the distance which is Bahia, your lunch, your goal, your whatever. Try not to notice just how many tower cranes are employed in Meia Praia and Lagos.
In the unlikely event that you’ve had enough of the sand between your toes, or just want a change of scenery by the time you get back to Meia Praia village, you can cut through to the road, or even take a train or bus back to town. The beach walk will burn more calories, however, and will earn you your lunch.
The tide will have gone further in/out on the way back, so, once you’ve successfully navigated the nudist area without incident, you can observe how the various proudly constructed sandcastles have either been washed away or are now standing proud in the middle of nowhere. You’ve been going some time now and you are ready for a rest (and probably a pee). Bahia is now clearly visible, but is still some way off. Keep the faith, you will get there, they will not give your table away, you will be rewarded.
This beach has a curve to it, and there will be a point at which you are facing directly at Bahia. Depending how hot the sand is, you might want to cut straight on here, otherwise stick to the waterline until you’re nearer the steps at the end of their elevated walkway. You’ve done the hard bit, now look for the little blackboard reserving your table and make yourselves at home. Order something cold and wet while you ponder the interesting menu.
The rest really is up to you. Stay awhile, play awhile, just make sure you complete the short remaining walk back to the marina by happy hour. You’ll probably want to do this walk more than once, so for a bit of variety try Bar Linda or Sao Roque for a change of lunch.
Diary Notes: August 2007 - updated 2017.