The Algarve in the south is Portugal’s most famous region. It stretches from Cabo São Vicente (Europe’s most south-westerly point) to Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Spanish border and benefits from an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. It’s mild winters and long hot summers make it ideal for all-year-round holidays.
The province has an extremely diverse coastline with long expanses of beautiful golden sand and sea caves, nature reserves and islands. As a result, it offers the perfect conditions for practising water sports from surfing, water skiing and windsurfing off the beach, to sailing, diving, deep-sea fishing, motor and sailboat cruises. There are also over 30 golf courses to choose from, plus activities such as jeep safaris, horseback riding, tennis, clay pigeon shooting, lawn bowling or micro lighting. And alongside 5-star marinas you can still find quayside restaurants, where you can get delicious fresh fish grilled on a charcoal brazier.
But although mostly renown for its many coastal tourist hot spots, travel 30 minutes inland and you will enter a world of quaint villages, Moorish castles and market towns, where orange groves and almond blossom flourish, and donkeys are still used to pull carts.
The Western Algarve includes the Costa Vicentina National Park (the west coast), Sagres and Cabo São Vincente. The rugged coast here is particularly popular with naturalists and surfers alike. Cabo São Vincente and Lagos have historic links to the discoveries age and make for a great day of sightseeing. Lagos also features a maze of unique grottoes, which you can explore by taking a boat trip from Ponta da Piedade.
Going inland and uphill to the Monchique mountain range and Caldas de Monchique (a spa dating back to Roman times) has a distinctly old-world feel. Sit down at one of its rustic restaurants and order some chicken “Piri Piri” and a “medronho” (alcoholic firewater brewed from local berries). Foia at the peak stands at 900 metres high and is the highest point in the Algarve – from here, on a clear day, you can see across the province to the Atlantic Ocean.
Nearby, the ancient Moorish capital of the Algarve Silves hosts a number of different events throughout the summer, including a Medieval Festival amongst the remnants of its castle. Its 12th-century cathedral is also worth visiting.
Central Algarve and very specially the Golden Triangle of Almancil, Vale do Lobo & Quinta do Lago, abounds with restaurants, bars, night clubs and trendy shops, so it will appeal to those who particularly want to be at the centre of it all!
The capital city of Faro hosts the region’s only international airport. If you have a few hours to spare before or after your flight, the old town makes for a pleasant stroll but make sure to include a visit to the bizarre Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones).
Eastern Algarve embraces the Ria Formosa nature reserve and the outlying barrier islands that protect its lagoons which you can reach by ferry or a taxi boat. Armona, Culatra, Farol and Deserta especially have great expanses of sand, warm waters and some low-key beach bars deserving a day trip, whilst Tavira on the edge of the estuary with its bridge over the river Gião is famous for its oysters. The further east you go the towns get sleepier too, less affected by the hustle and bustle of the tourist season, like Vila Real de Santo Antonio and Castro Marim, located next to the river Guadiana on the Portuguese side of the border.
There is essentially, an Algarve for all!