With sunny weather, mild temperatures and over 200km of coastline, it’s little wonder that Portugal’s Algarve region is one of Europe’s most popular beach holiday destinations.
For the more energetic, the Algarve is a sporting haven too. The region boasts some of the best golf courses in Europe, often located in the midst of stunning landscapes. And for fans of more extreme sports, the Algarve has the perfect conditions for paragliding, caving or scuba diving.
The Algarve isn’t all about sun-worshipping and sporting activities, though. Venture away from the resorts into the less developed parts of the region, and you’ll experience all the diversity of the Algarve’s scenery and culture, including quaint fishing villages, historic towns, verdant vineyards and wildlife-rich nature reserves.
Heritage and nature
With their whitewashed walls, ornate chimneys and hipped roofs, you won’t want to miss the distinctive and picturesque Algarvian architecture, heavily influenced by the region’s Moorish past, and a key feature of attractive villages like Alcantarilha (above). For some of the best views, however, head to the town of Tavira, where from the ramparts you can truly appreciate the amazing roofscape with its many layers of history.
If nature’s more your thing, then both the coastline and mountains have much to offer, with plenty of walking trails and interpretation facilities. One of the Algarve’s most impressive natural paradises is the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve of over 170 square kilometres that forms an area of transition between the land and the sea. Among the hundreds of different birds you may be lucky enough to spot a purple swamphen, a rare species found nowhere else in Portugal.
What to buy
If you’re keen to take away an authentic souvenir of the region, the Algarve’s traditional hand-painted pottery and ceramics are definitely worth a look. One of the area’s most well-known producers is in the town of Porches, where the Porches Pottery, founded in 1968, has helped to revive the region’s historic pottery industry. Visitors to the pottery can even watch while its decorators create their vibrant and flowing designs.
Don’t forget to try some of Algarve’s excellent wines, too, which are little known in the UK but have a deservedly good reputation among both the locals and wine connoisseurs. To ensure the highest standards, four wine-growing areas of the Algarve have protected designation, or DOC, status. Portimão, for example, is well regarded for its light, smooth reds and soft but flavoursome whites.
Where to stay
As you’d expect, the Algarve has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. Many holiday companies offer affordable package deals to lively resorts like Albufeira and Praia da Rocha, with a wide choice of hotels and facilities on offer. Alternatively, Algarve villa breaks are a great choice if you fancy combining the buzz of a resort with the luxury and flexibility of your own self-contained holiday home. Many even come with their own outdoor pool!
If you prefer somewhere quieter and more traditional, then a rural Algarve guest house is likely to appeal – providing warm hospitality in characterful surroundings, and the ideal base for exploring the lovely Algarvian countryside on foot or by bike.
How to get there
Getting to the Algarve is a doddle, too. Many budget airlines fly to the international airport at Faro – the region’s capital – from airports across the UK, with flights from London taking just two-and-a-half hours. From the airport, it’s an easy 20-minute bus or taxi ride to the centre of Faro, where there are further bus services connecting to other resorts across the region. If you prefer the freedom of having your own transport, then all the familiar car hire brands are, of course, represented at the airport.
So, whether you’re looking for a lazy beach holiday, an adrenalin-filled adventure or a rich feast of culture – all washed down with some local wine, of course – there’s definitely more to the Algarve than you might have realised.
No wonder the official Algarve tourist blurb refers to the region as “Europe’s most famous secret” – but it’s a secret that’s just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
Photo credit: Emmanuel Wuyts
For more about visiting the Algarve, check out the official Visit Algarve website.