On popular beaches across Europe, you can borrow a beach wheelchair for free. This is great – it makes the beach so much more accessible to wheelchair users, and you can also go in the sea with your waterproof, buoyant beach wheelchair. I, however, did not do this as the sea was quite choppy!
I borrowed a beach wheelchair from the lifeguards at Praia do Barril. This was my first time using a beach wheelchair and I very quickly learned that, like everywhere else you go in a wheelchair, flatness is really important. Most beaches slope towards the water but some beaches are a lot flatter than others. Wheelchair users know that slopes are not easy work and when your wheels are plowing through sand, this becomes even more of a challenge! This beach sloped quite sharply and, consequently, I needed two people to pull me uphill.
Along the back of the beach, there is a wooden walkway. This is parallel with the sea and it leads you back to the main area where there is a restaurant, shops, and accessible toilets. However, there is a permanent ramp to get up to the main area and the ramp is too steep if you do not have very powerful arms, so you may need to be pushed up the ramp.
The accessible toilet is of reasonable size and has some grab rails to assist you.
Access to the beach is via a beach train. Efforts have been made to make this an accessible train and there is a ramp for boarding but your wheelchair will likely just fit in the gap between the seat bench and the front of the carriage. There is no other room to turn around and you need to reverse off or go straight forwards. It is a pleasant ride though, and there is a paved path that runs parallel with the train track. The people that had chosen to walk instead of taking the train did not look happy about being exposed to the baking sun!
Later on, we visited Praia Fuseta. This was a much less sloppy beach and it also had boardwalks leading down to the ocean although these were not perfect as there were some places where it was not all level but nothing horrendous. I would much rather have gone to this beach but it did not have beach wheelchairs. However, it did have an accessible toilet that was a lot closer to the beach itself.
The town itself was reasonably accessible with a number of dropped curbs. However, the main promenade next to the seafront was cobbled in places which made it rather uncomfortable for a wheelchair user. In fact, one of the screws on my casters was jolted around so much that it came loose and fell off! It was amazing that we found it again!
Most of the restaurants have an outside eating area so this is accessible; however, I did not find any accessible toilets. The food was worth it though – really lovely, really fresh and reasonable prices.
I stayed at the Real Marina Hotel and Spa. All of the rooms with the sea view seem to be accessible with adaptations for a wheelchair. Initially, I requested a city view room as it was cheaper but the accessible rooms are all Seaview rooms. The room was a decent size but there was no roll in shower, only a bathtub. A bath chair was provided upon request. You could get your legs under the sink and the bathroom was large. On either side of the toilet, there were 2 drop-down rails like the adaptations that you get in the Scandinavian hotels.
On the floor with access to the swimming pool, there is also an accessible toilet with the Scandinavian 2 drop-down rails. Likewise, on the ground floor, there is another accessible toilet with 2 drop-down rails, though it is worth noting that the hand towels dispenser is difficult to reach when the rails are down!