VILA NOVA DE MILFONTES – 20km south of Porto Côvo – is the main and most attractive resort on the Alentejo coast, but though it gets very busy in high season, it’s Portuguese families who predominate, injecting good humour and a relaxed atmosphere. The attractive whitewashed streets of the old town huddle around a striking, ivy-wreathed sixteenth-century castle facing the estuary of the Rio Mira. Built in 1599 to guard the town from North African pirates, the small castle was a hotel for many years, but is now closed to the public. The town’s long, sandy river beach lies just a few minutes’ walk to the west. Swimmers need to be aware of the strong river currents – the town beach has roped-off swimming areas that you should heed – and even more so at the beaches either side of town, where the breakers can be fierce. Make sure you swim close to the locals, however, and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Even though the town beach is spacious, it gets busy in high season, when you might want to take the ferry (July & Aug daily 10am–7pm every 30min; €2 return) from the jetty at the foot of the castle across the estuary to Furnas, a long, sandy beach also accessible off the main coast road.