Even those staying in Portimão head for the beach first thing in the morning. The favorite is Praia da Rocha, a creamy yellow strand that has long been the most popular seaside resort on the Algarve. English voyagers discovered the beauty of its rock formations around 1935. At the outbreak of World War II, there were only two small hotels and a few villas on the Red Coast, most built by wealthy Portuguese. Nowadays, Praia da Rocha is booming. At the end of the mussel-encrusted cliff, where the Arcade flows into the sea, lie the ruins of the Fortress of Santa Catarina. The location offers views of Portimão's satellite, Ferragudo, and of the bay.
Although Praia dos Três Irmãos is more expensive, you might want to visit its beach, 5km (3 miles) southwest of Portimão. From Portimão's center, you can take a public bus; they run frequently throughout the day. The bus is marked PRAIA DOS TRÊS IRMÃOS. Departures are from the main bus terminal in Portimão, at Largo do Duque (tel. 28/241-81-20).
Praia dos Três Irmãos has 15km (9 1/3 miles) of burnished golden sand, interrupted only by an occasional crag riddled with arched passageways. This beach has been discovered by skin divers who explore its undersea grottoes and caves.
Nearby is the whitewashed fishing village of Alvor, where Portuguese and Moorish arts and traditions have mingled since the Arab occupation ended. Alvor was a favorite coastal haunt of João II, and now summer hordes descend on the long strip of sandy beach. It's not the best in the area, but at least you'll have plenty of space. Alvor is accessible by public bus from Portimão's center.
Penina (tel. 28/242-02-00) is 5km (3 miles) west of the center of Portimão, farther west than many of the other great golf courses. Completed in 1966, it was one of the first courses in the Algarve and the universally acknowledged masterpiece of the British designer Sir Henry Cotton. It replaced a network of marshy rice paddies on level terrain that critics said was unsuited for anything except wetlands. The solution involved planting groves of eucalyptus (350,000 trees in all), which grew quickly in the muddy soil. Eventually they dried it out enough for the designer to bulldoze dozens of water traps and a labyrinth of fairways and greens. The course wraps around a luxury hotel (Le Méridien Penina Golf & Resort). You can play the main championship course (18 holes, par 73), and two 9-hole satellite courses, Academy and Resort. Greens fees for the 18-hole course are 80€ to 120€; for either of the 9-hole courses, they're 50€ to 65€. To reach it from the center of Portimão, follow signs to Lagos, turning off at the signpost for Le Méridien Penina Golf & Resort.
Amid tawny-colored rocks and arid hillocks, Vale de Pinta (tel. 28/234-09-00), Praia do Carvoeiro, sends players through groves of twisted olive, almond, carob, and fig trees. Views from the fairways, designed in 1992 by Californian Ronald Fream, sweep over the low masses of the Monchique mountains, close to the beach resort of Carvoeiro. Experts say it offers some of the most varied challenges in Portuguese golf. Clusters of "voracious" bunkers, barrier walls of beige-colored rocks assembled without mortar, and abrupt changes in elevation complicate the course. Par is 72. Greens fees are 60€ to 95€. From Portimão, drive 14km (8 2/3 miles) east on N125, following signs to Lagoa and Vale de Pinta/Pestana Golf.
Visit www.algarvegolf.net for more information on courses in the Algarve region.