8 Things I love About The Algarve
Why The Algarve?
We bought our home in the Algarve about fifteen years ago and have holidayed there regularly ever since, but surprisingly perhaps, rather than growing slightly bored with it we have just grown to love it more. As we continue to holiday there at least twice each year I become more and more convinced that it is an almost perfect destination for a holiday for people and groups of all ages and it offers much to provide amusement but also plenty of opportunities to relax. I have chosen just a few of the things I love about the Algarve to whet your appetite.
For a country that boasts 300 sunny days a year this is a big positive. It can be very hot in July/August up to 35 or 40 degrees sometimes but if that’s a bit too hot then opt for spring or September when temperatures are pleasantly in the high 20’s. However one of the things I love is that there is often a cool breeze which makes it very comfortable and of course there are plenty of beaches and pools if you need to cool off!
2 -Fabulous Beaches
Lying on the Southern coast of Portugal it has miles of beaches to suit almost every taste. There are beaches to the West that can be very rocky and depending on the tide may leave large rock pools. Just off the coast there are magnificent caves though a boat trip is needed to see them. Towards the East there are the famed long golden stretches of sand. There are also the salt marshes that visitors often fly over as they arrive into Faro. Of course it is the Atlantic Ocean so the actually sea can be pretty chilly and changes with the tides but some beaches will have strong currents and big waves so a degree of caution is necessary. Many beaches will have flags to show when it is safe to swim, and if you are prepared to walk a little bit it’s one the places where you can still find your own stretch of deserted sand.
3 - Varied Flora & Fauna
We have enjoyed some great walks in the hills to the North of the Algarve and in places like the Rio Formosa where there are a great variety of birds to look out for. Vines, olive almond and pomegranate trees abound and there are the vibrant colours of bougainvillea and the aromatic smells of wild rosemary as you walk. It is still a place where you will see herds of goats being taken to new pastures as well as donkeys, beautiful butterflies and dragonflies, cicadas and of course a fair array of insects and the odd snake, though the only variety you are likely to come across is not likely to cause serious injury and will quickly get out of your way.
4 - Delicious Food
Eating great food alfresco, to my way of thinking, has to be one of life's great pleasures! In addition to the simple fare of fresh bread, local olives, tomatoes and goats cheese, perhaps with some figs to finish off, there are loads of restaurants serving excellent fresh fish and often at a fraction of the price you pay in the UK. Sea bream, bass, sole, salmon, swordfish tuna, octopus, sardines and prawns will appear on most menus and you simply can’t visit the Algarve without trying one of the Baccalhau (salt cod) recipes, there are hundreds of different ones, one for each day of the year I believe, but my personal favourite is cooked with potatoes and cream Bacalhau com natas – yum. Another one of the famous dishes of the Algarve is a cataplana a sort of stew usually with fish and rice but it can come in with meat and vegetables. For those with a sweet tooth try the famed custard tarts, pasteis de natas or many of the delicious almond cakes even better with a Galao (milky coffee) or even a ‘puddim’ (crème caramel) though there is such a great variety of fresh fruit that the health conscious can also find plenty to finish off a meal.
5 - Delightful Wines
Although perhaps not one of the most popular wine producing countries of Europe it does produce some excellent wines, especially from the Douro Valley and Alentajo. There is also Vinho Verde (green wine) which is white and with a slight fizz –perfect when drunk really cold on a hot day. But Sangria is a favourite in many restaurants and there is always a variety of beers to choose from. Obviously too there is a range of spirits and Port wines which can be taken straight or served with a mixer and ice. There is also a locally produced spirit called Medronho a kind of fruit brandy– perhaps more of an acquired taste but worth having a sip at least.
6 - Festivals
Like many European countries the Portuguese love a fiesta – there are shrimp festivals, fisherman’s festivals by the coast, corn festivals and snail festivals inland, several ‘religious’ festivals and summer carnivals in various towns. Many of the towns and villages hold Bailles during the summer months. In keeping with most good festivals these involve, eating drinking and dancing, some- like the Loule summer carnival involve elaborate processions. Definitely worth seeking one out if you are in the Algarve during the summer months.
7 -Entertainment for All Ages
The Algarve is full of contrasts. There are plenty of places to go to amuse children and families, in addition to the beaches where endless sunny days can be whiled away building sand castles or running in and out of shallow waves. But there are also zoos, water parks, an annual sand sculpture display, nature reserves, bike hire, and boat trips, everything from Catamarans to Pirate ships! For the sporty there is golf, tennis, fishing expeditions, go -Karting, jeep safaris, buggy safaris and also a huge range water sports on offer - from simple snorkelling to parascending including of course banana boat rides!
For those who want evening entertainment there are many bars hosting live music and there are lively towns known for their nightlife like the Albufeira ‘strip’ but also plenty of quiet waterfront restaurants up and down the coast, and a range of ‘shows’ from Fado (traditional Portuguese music) to musical nights at the Vilamoura Casino. Loule also hosts it own blues and Jazz festival in July of each year and many well known artists and bands make an appearance at Lisbon.
8 - Interesting History
The Portuguese were a nation of explorers and the country has had a varied and interesting history. The name Algarve goes back to a time of Moorish rule (Al - Gharb - The West) and Moorish influences a can be seen in the architecture and culture. When four ships under Vasco de Gama successfully navigated the Cape of Good Hope in the Fifteenth Century the way was opened for Portugal to become a significant commercial power.
In terms of historical places to visit there is a medieval castle (what's left of it) in Silves but much work has been done to show how the town would have functioned in years gone by and each summer there is a week of medieval 'fun'!
There are numerous fine churches to visit such as Sao Lourenco whose domed interior is covered in azulejos (tiles) dating back to 1730, a 'modern' cathedral on a hilltop in Loule and in Faro there is a famous 'bone' chapel, which although small, has an interior lined with human skulls - not for the faint hearted. In Estoi not far from Faro there is a palace which is well worth a visit plus throughout the region there are fishing ports, pottery shops and artists workshops to visit, numerous inland lakes or Baragems and smaller fonts, like the one at Bemola or Alte which are lovely it you want to have a picnic by a river instead of the sea. Many towns have small museums and to get a sense of how the Western tip protrudes into the Atlantic then a visit to Cabo de Sao Vicente in the extreme West is a must.
A Final Word
As you can probably guess I could have gone on - but I have to draw a halt somewhere. I must mention however the warm and welcoming people of Portugal - we have come across many and have been welcomed in to many homes, shared many meals and been helped in all sorts of ways by these wonderful folks.