However, you can sometimes be mistaken. It´s not always ´what you see is what you get´. Portimão surprised me during a week's holiday with a beautiful, hidden piece of nature.

It´s not the done thing to have never visited the Algarve as a resident of Portugal, so last summer it was time as a Northerner to discover more of the South. I admit, the sun does shine more in the Algarve and it is a little less windy!

So a visit was on the cards to the Algarve which included a week in Portimão. Antonio and I visited friends with whom we stayed. You probably know how it goes when you enjoy a holiday with locals: you see places you otherwise would never have seen. With their tips, routes and bicycles, my boyfriend and I went on daily trips.

Yes! Cycling! That is a glory itself. In Porto I had already given up on that, just give me a flat surface and that is mostly the case here in Portimão. We started our bike ride from the cosy, old city centre towards the beach. The cycle path ran for a long time along the river Arade, which later flowed into the sea. Obviously, this is not the Netherlands; the Portuguese are not used to swirling Dutch people or cycle paths. Let´s say that the bicycle bell has prevented a lot of suffering! We cycled on a boulevard, along narrow roads and on sandy roads with beautiful views. We stopped at a harbour where you can see where the money is: chic boats! In this environment we quickly saw the English and Dutch public increase. Not the student type of English or Dutch people that we are used to in Porto.

When we arrived at the beach, that Benidorm-like feeling came to the surface. My eyes can´t escape the many buildings, the most of which are hotels that provide tourists with their needs. Without tourists there is no economy, I realise that. But still: a tourist chooses a destination in the Algarve to enjoy nature, right? And 'the Portuguese vibes'?

Expats from our own country have gained a lot of ground here, you can see that from the menus in the restaurants. I have never understood why tourists can´t skip Dutch food during their holiday abroad. Don´t we want to enjoy the cuisine from that country? And yet… my soul did cheer a bit when I realised that I could get Dutch snacks around every corner.

After a snack we parked the bikes to then enjoy a walk on the beaches and we ended up on an idyllic beach where mass tourism and the ugly buildings were out of sight. So Portimão does have that beauty, only you need to know where to find it.

On another day, we discovered that a hidden nature reserve was waiting for us, just a little further on. At Praia João d ´Arens we paddled (supped) with our friends. This beach was fantastic! Our friends are passionate surfers who know how to find each bay, on foot or by surfing. This time we went paddle boarding. That was not as easy as it looks! While paddling, falling and swimming, we got to see beautiful views of the land from the water. From here you could also paddle to other hidden bays, which you cannot reach on foot. Great, but I didn´t see that happening by paddle. I went in all directions, except the right one.

Taking the advice of our friends, Antonio and I walked through a piece of paradise behind Praia João d ´Arens: Ponta João d´Arens. This nature reserve was located only metres above the beach and had panoramic views. While all the sun worshipers lay ignorantly on their towels all day, we took advantage of this and we enjoyed the silence with a spectacular view; of cliffs, rock formations, special birds and lots of greenery. Far below we saw the small bays that our friends told about. The bays that are sometimes used for secret encounters and where people think they can safely sunbathe naked. People look up for a moment, yeehoo!

This vast nature reserve is a must visit. And I would say: go there while you still can.
With disbelief we heard from our friends that soon this piece of nature will be destroyed. There are plans to build three new five-star hotels on this ground. Why? Because there aren't enough in Portimão yet? Together with other residents, our friends collected about 1,000 signatures to stop these plans. They believe that this piece of nature with all its biodiversity and landscape should be protected. Unfortunately, the city council has decided otherwise. It seems that money (tourism) is winning over nature, in a city that turns out to have a lot of flair. Has this municipality thought carefully that tourists may stay away when the nature they come for is no longer there?