Some of the best beaches -- including Praia de Dona Ana, the most appealing -- are near Lagos, south of the city. Follow signs to the Hotel Golfinho. If you go all the way to the southernmost point, Ponta da Piedade, you'll pass some pretty cove beaches set against a backdrop of rock formations. Steps are sometimes carved into the cliffs to make for easier access. Although it's crowded in summer, another good white-sand beach is at the 2.5km-long (1 1/2-mile) Meia Praia (Half Beach), across the river from the center of town.
One of the Algarve's most highly recommended outlets for scuba diving is Blue Ocean Divers, Estrada de Porto de Mós (Motel Ancora; tel. 96/466-56-67; www.blue-ocean-divers.de), one of the region's few fully licensed and insured scuba outfits. It pays special attention to safety, and its staff focuses on the coastline between Lagos and Sagres, site of numerous underwater caves and (mostly) 20th-century shipwrecks at depths of between 12m (39 ft.) and 35m (115 ft.) beneath the high-tide level. One dive with full equipment costs 50€; a PADI scuba course of 3 days and two dives costs 250€.
Palmares Golf, Meia Praia, 8600 Lagos (tel. 28/279-05-00; www.palmaresgolf.com), is not a particularly prestigious or championship-level course -- it's "medium" in both difficulty and desirability. Frank Pennink designed it in 1975 on land with many differences in altitude. Some fairways require driving a ball across railroad tracks, over small ravines, or around palm groves. Its landscaping suggests North Africa, partly because of its hundreds of palms and almond trees. The view from the 17th green is exceptionally dramatic. Par is 71. Greens fees are 63€ to 95€, depending on the season. The course lies on the eastern outskirts of Lagos, less than 1km (3/4 mile) from the center. To reach it from the heart of town, follow signs toward Meia Praia.
Another course is Parque da Floresta, Budens, Vale do Poço, 8650 Vila do Bispo (tel. 28/269-00-54). One of the few important Algarvian courses west of Lagos, it's just inland from the fishing hamlet of Salema. Designed by the Spanish architect Pepe Gancedo and built as the centerpiece of a complex of holiday villas completed in 1987, the par-72 course offers sweeping views; we find it to be more scenic and more challenging than the Palmares course. Some shots must be driven over vineyards, and others over ravines, creeks, and gardens. Critics of the course have cited its rough grading and rocky terrain. Some of these drawbacks are offset by a clubhouse with a sweeping view over the Portuguese coast. Greens fees are 25€ to 50€ for 9 holes, and 43€ to 80€ for 18. To reach the course from the center of Lagos, drive about 15km (9 1/3 miles) west, following road signs toward Sagres and Parque da Floresta.
Go to www.algarvegolf.net for more information on courses in the Algarve region.