The Algarve

The Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve is one of Portugal's most popular vacation destinations in all of Europe having warm dry summers and mild winters. The coastline has superb beaches, lively resorts and some of the country’s best golfing, natural parks and sandbar islands and lagoons. On the west side of the Algarve the remoter more, wilder areas lie, where surfers enjoy the restlessness of the Atlantic Ocean. Two of the largest natural attractions along the coastline are the popular Benagil and Zorreira Caves and the best way to reach them is by canoeing, kayaking or taking a local boat trip.

Faro is the capital city of the Algarve and the international airport is the gateway for many visitors arriving into southern Portugal. The Old Town is bounded by sturdy defensive walls, where the Cidade Velha sits on Roman and Moorish foundations. The cobblestone streets and leafy squares of Faro surround the landmark Cathedral and you will also find cafés and restaurants tucked discreetly between the rows of organised houses and artisans' workshops. There is an excellent museum exhibiting unearthed treasures of the area and from further afield. Beyond the small marina lies a stretch of lagoons and wetlands that are crawling with marine life. The beautiful natural park is also home to numerous islets and a massive sandbar with their own fabulous beaches.

Vilamoura is an upmarket coastal resort and a favourite for people wanting to play golf, having no less than five championship courses in and around the local area. The main esplanade is lined with designer boutiques and expensive restaurants and is fabulous for people watching, especially when Lisbon’s jetset crowd arrive in their designer best in August.

Albufeira is the main choice and tourist capital for many Algarve holidaymakers due to its central location, best sand beaches and resorts. Situated on sandstone cliffs above a sandy bay this was once a quiet fishing village with a bunch of whitewashed cottages, a chapel and a church. There are plenty of cafés, restaurants and entertainment venues to enjoy with great leisure facilities.

Lagos is another of the Algarve’s most energetic resort towns, however this one has more of a historical significance. Prince Henry the Navigator launched Portugal's Age of Discovery from Lagos in the 15th Century and the nobleman later became governor of the Algarve. The town's medieval collection of Castle Walls, graceful Churches and firm sea defences always captures the imagination of visitors. The coastline with its beautiful run of cliffs, caves and grottoes provide the backdrop to some of the most scenic beaches in the Algarve. A series of spectacular ochre splashed rock formations contrasting with the sparkling azure waters is definitely the best way to appreciate and explore this idyllic environment. Shopping is also very good in Lagos with a great choice of restaurants and cafés as well.

The West Coast is a remote, untamed stretch of coastline that most visitors love to visit. With precipitous sea cliffs, wide open beaches and a restless Atlantic Ocean that define its character. Surfers from all around the world are drawn to this region and Sagres is the surfing capital and hosts a leg of the World Surfing Championships. There are also some traditional villages, which are untouched by tourism. Here you will find some understated restaurants serving fresh seafood dishes and campervans holidaymakers. For a valuable cultural diversion, head to the town of Aljezur to visit the ruins of an 11th Century Moorish Castle, which is set on a hill with uninterrupted views of the valley below.

The Algarve has so much to offer and here are a few of the other areas worth visiting. Portimão, overlooks the banks of the River Arade and was associated with the Algarve's once thriving cannery industry. The award winning Museu de Portimão is one of the region's most engaging visitor attractions. Housed in a former cannery building, the museum chronicles the history of the town's fishing and canning traditions using state-of-the-art interactive effects. Offshore there is a fabulous artificial reef that attracts diving enthusiasts from around the world. Olhão is the Algarve's busiest fishing port and you will be hard pressed to find better seafood restaurants in the region than on the Avenida da República, the town's vibrant thoroughfare. Lying across a hill overlooking a fertile valley embroidered with orange groves, olive trees and vineyards, Silves is one of the most scenic towns in the Algarve. The landscape, however, is dominated by the town's splendid castle. The town itself has a delightful riverfront, lined with a small market and some excellent restaurants. Cruise boats from Portimão tie up here near the Old Bridge.

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