The Algarve region is one of the most popular beach destinations in Europe. Every year, thousands of Europeans — and a sizeable fraction of the Portuguese population — spend their vacations enjoying the golden beaches and sizzling nightlife in the south of Portugal.
The Beaches of the Algarve
The biggest attraction of the Algarve region is undoubtedly the beaches. The coast of over 100 km long, and is divided into two areas: the colder, wilder waters ofSagres, which are excellent for surfing and windsurfing; the warm, gentle ocean around Tavira, popular with swimmers and sunbathers.
Along this varied coastline are countless number of large public beaches, small seclude ones, grottoes, bays and other private retreats where there’s nothing but you, a stretch of soft golden sand, and the endless ocean…
Despite the almost-endless length of the coast, there’s nothing boring about it. You could take a boat ride to explore the tiny bays and grottos hidden in the cliff formations of the Ponta da Piedade near Lagos, or you could take a short drive down to the Capo de San Vicentio, where if you venture to the edge of the cliffs, you’d be on the westernmost tip of the whole Continent of Europe.
At the Capo, and all along the coast, you can watch the local fishermen standing proudly atop the cliffs and casting lines down to the waters far below. You can even venture to the edge of the cliffs yourself, if you have a head for heights!
For many visitors, the only time to visit is during the summer high season (particularly August), when the towns, resorts and nightclubs are filled with fun loving visitors from around the world. For those who would rather avoid the summer crush, the best time is during the autumn and winter (October to March), when the crowds are smaller, the weather is still warm and prices are at their lowest during the year.
Town Attractions in the Algarve
Of course, there’s plenty to do off the beach as well. The Algarve has many historic towns scattered along the coast, from the posh areas of Quinta do Lago or Vilamoura, where the international ‘jet set’ crowd often relaxes during the summer, to the more touristy Albufeira and Portimao, where the majority of foreign visitors stay.
When packing for a visit to the Algarve, the only guide you need to follow is: ‘just the bare essentials’. Everything else needed can be bought in the thoroughly cosmopolitan towns. When it comes to clothes, just don’t forget a light sweater for the nights, which can sometimes be cool, and a set of smart clothes if you want to enter some of the more upscale clubs and restaurants.
Many of the bigger towns have a lively night scene, with many offering exciting night clubs and excellent restaurants, which often specialize in all kinds of seafood (in particular the cataplana, a local shellfish specialty). Due to the mild nature of the weather the Algarve is also ideal for many outdoor sporting activities such as water sports, golf in one of the numerous world-class golf courses, tennis, horse riding, and much more.
If you’d rather not stay in the larger, more commercialized towns, there are plenty of cozy, little towns and villages, along the coast which still retain much of their timeless atmosphere. Here, you can rent a cottage or a villa, often with their own swimming pool and olive orchard, for a real taste of life in the Algarve!
One of the most charming provincial towns is Lagoa, not only for a history which stretches back to the Moorish era, but also for its winery, the most famous in the Algarve. Visitors are welcome, by appointment, to tour the facilities, see something of the wine making process and taste the final product. It is in Lagoa (and other such provincial towns) where you’ll find the best place to sample the traditional Portuguese cuisine, with its strong, rough and ready red and white wines, peasant dishes filled with seafood freshly caught, and crisp, juicy vegetables. Definitely a food lover’s paradise!
By the way, when you’re in the towns, don’t forget to look up at the chimneys — they are one of the region’s most distinctive features! Each chimney is white-painted and unique; some are in the shape of animals, others in strange geometric patterns, but all are a legacy from the days when the Algarve was a Moorish stronghold. Don’t forget to look at the houses themselves: many are decorated with the famous azulejo tiles, which are each individually painted with scenes commemorating everything from Biblical events to historic occasions. Sometimes the tiles will cover the entire facade!
Natural Attractions in the Algarve
If you want to go off the beaten path, then you can try exploring Algarve’s beautiful interior. Often overlooked by tourists and still largely untouched, the wild mountainous lands just a few kilometres inland is an ever-changing panorama of jagged mountains, green hills, thick orange groves and blossoming almond trees.
One of the most popular ways to see the countryside is to take a horse-ride along the windy back trails which criss-cross the country. You can ride with a group, or if you have some experience horse-riding cross country, you can even go exploring on your own. You can also hike, rent a motorbike,
or even a venture out on a four-wheel drive to explore areas of the Algarve which few visitors ever see.
Here and there are dotted ancient whitewashed farm houses, as well as the occasional town. In contrast to the wholly cosmopolitan cities on the coast, the towns of the inland are often far more traditional, where life goes on much as it has for the last century, barring an occasional intrepid tourist now and again. It is a whole different world in the interior.
There are many other attractions waiting to be discovered in the Algarve, at any time of the year. Offering everything from beach frolics to mountain hikes, fancy restaurants and traditional feasts, there’s something in the Algarve for everyone.