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The secret beaches of Portugal – and it costs you just £1.70 to get there

SURROUNDED by endless ocean, the hot sun beats down on me as I stroll the sandy beach in complete and utter peace.

The small island of Barreta is entirely deserted, bar the birds swooping through the sky and the fish circling the clear waters.

Barreta is just one of five islands off the coast of the Algarve

Barreta is just one of five islands off the coast of the AlgarveCredit:

I’m greeted with views of a rugged shoreline and horizons that are so stunning, you’d think I was in the Caribbean.

But I’m nowhere near the West Indies. I’m actually just a few hours from the UK, on the small island just off the Algarve.

Most of Portugal’s popular coastline is swarmed with Brits at this time of year — more than 2.1million of us visited in 2019 – with many heading to Faro or Albufeira.

Uninterrupted views from all angles

But a short boat ride from Faro port (and a couple of euros later), you could be sitting on the empty island haven of Barreta, collecting picture-perfect shells with not another soul in sight.

Also known as Ilha Deserta, Barreta is just one of five islands off the coast of the Algarve and part of the Ria Formosa, which is dubbed the “Caribbean of Portugal” thanks to its beautiful stretches of golden sand and shallow waters.

But what makes this one so special is that it is the only one which remains uninhabited.

Take a boat trip where you can go dolphin spotting

Take a boat trip where you can go dolphin spottingCredit: Visit Algarve

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There is just one restaurant on the island, Estamine, which opened in the 1960s but was recently rebuilt after it burned down last summer.

No scars remain now though. The stunning glass-windowed building has uninterrupted views of the beach from all angles, and offers up fish, caught only hours before being served.

It’s not just the food that’s sustainable either, the water is distilled on-site, and all of the electricity comes from solar panels too.

I gorged on salty oysters, octopus salads and deep fried prawns before being served the largest piece of sea bass I’ve ever seen and a soft chocolate mousse for dessert.

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The best part? Once I’d had my fill of delicious grub, all it took was a few steps and I was on the same stretch of isolated beach gazing at an empty ocean.

And I truly felt like I was the only person in the world, passing just one couple in the many hours I spent on the island.

Although Barreta was my favourite due to its tranquility, it’s well worth visiting some of the other, busier islands.

Slightly more built up, with a few cafes and restaurants, is the equally beautiful Isla de Armona.

The beach is found by walking through a single-track path surrounded by flower-covered houses and quaint cottages that wouldn’t look out of place on a film set.

And there were only a few other tourists soaking up the sun in utter peace with an ice cream in hand.

If you really want to immerse yourself in these undisturbed surroundings, then there are a number of idyllic self-catering cottages across the tiny island that can be booked.

But those after something a little more refined can take the 20-minute ferry back to the shore of Olhao, 10km east of Faro, and stay at 3HB Faro, the first five-star hotel in the Algarve city.

Infinity pool overlooks the winding roads

It’s not just the service and ridiculously comfy beds that put this hotel above others in the area, but also the little extras like the touchscreen Do Not Disturb panels, Marshall speakers and trendy copper rainfall showers.

The rooftop bar is a bonus too. From this peaceful spot you can hear the sound of church bells ringing out from the town below and there’s an outdoor infinity pool that overlooks the winding roads.

And It’s not just the rooftop pool that makes it difficult to tear myself away from the hotel on most evenings.

The fantastic on-site Habito restaurant serves authentic Portuguese food with a twist and the avocado hummus, pork belly and another chocolate mousse are simply divine.

Unwind in the evening on a peaceful rooftop bar where you can enjoy the sunset

Unwind in the evening on a peaceful rooftop bar where you can enjoy the sunsetCredit: Visit Algarve

And while I could have easily continued exploring the islands off the coast, I was tempted away from Faro by the newly renovated Patio Suite hotel in Albufeira.

It’s close to the famous Ramires restaurant that’s said to have some of the best piri piri chicken in the country.

The hotel was also the perfect base for a quick day trip to Lagos.

After a short train ride, I arrived in the romantic old town, home to fancy cocktail bars, where glasses of wine are just a couple of euros.

Plus there are tasty empanadas aplenty and shops filled with gifts and home interiors that will have your suitcase bulging on the flight home.

While I wasn’t short on beaches to choose from, Lagos’ best is Praia do Camilo, although it’s not for the fainthearted, with 200 steep steps to the bottom.

I was rewarded with bright blue seas and, while busier than the islands, it’s still quieter than many of the Algarve’s other sandy stretches.

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But if you fancy a guided tour of the beaches — without the tricky steps — there are boat trips too, that will take you around the coast where you’ll get to see dolphins and visit the famous Benagil Caves along the way.

So the next time you’re contemplating a holiday to the Caribbean, maybe opt for the southern coast of Portugal instead, where you’ll have a beautiful beach almost all to yourself and a glass of wine for just £2. What more could you want?

Portugal has lots of secluded beaches and coves to explore

Portugal has lots of secluded beaches and coves to exploreCredit: Visit Algarve

GO: Algarve

GETTING THERE: EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Faro from £106pp return, see easyJet.com

STAYING THERE: One night at 3HB Faro from £175 based on two sharing.

One night at Patio Suite Hotel is from £102 based on two sharing.

OUT& ABOUT: A dolphin and Benagil Caves catamaran tour costs from £24.58 (€29) per adult and £16.11 (€19) per child. algarexperience.com.

Boat transfers to for Estamine cost from £4.24 (€5). See ilhadeserta.com

For more info see visitalgarve.pt

There is plenty of history to explore around Faro's old town

There is plenty of history to explore around Faro’s old townCredit: Visit Algarve