In recent years, the Algarve region of Portugal has become Europe's playground, attracting people from colder northern climes who want to spend their summers relaxing in the sun, strolling on the beach, or playing a few rounds of golf. Steeped in history, the Algarve offers warm temperatures, a variety of ways to relax, and special Portuguese culture and cuisine. It's an ideal vacation destination.
Southern Portugal is growing in popularity as a tourist destination for Americans as well, as more and more visitors discover the ease of transport, wide-spread spoken English, high standards of accommodation, and the warm hospitality of the people. Guests can enjoy small rustic fishing villages, posh resorts and spas, pristine beaches, and a wide variety of recreational activities.
While the region offers so much to do and enjoy, here are a few of our favorites:
Silves is a historic city, with a heart that has been unchanged for 500 years. It's an appealing contrast to the more modern developments on the coast, and allows visitors to go back in time and experience a more traditional Portugal. Once a mighty port, the city was well-defended, and the ancient walls still stand today. In Silves, make sure to tour the 12th century red brick castle that dominates the city. The castle was the site of many famous battles and sieges, and has ingenious defensive works and fortifications. Most impressive are a system of rain-fed cisterns, designed to last defenders throughout a siege, which were so effective that locals used them as a source of water until the 1920s.
Shop the Olhao Fish Market
If you want fresh fish, visit the Olhao Fish Market early in the morning, when fish and seafood are unloaded directly from the boats at the port into the halls of the market. If you don't feel like cooking, the numerous cafes and vendors will happily prepare some ocean-fresh delicacies for you. And the Olhao Fish Market is worth seeing just for itself. It includes a farmer's market, with fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and spices, where locals come daily for the best produce. You can stroll the shops or take in the scene relaxing in a jazz cafe on the promenade, overlooking the boats in the marina and people-watching. A visit to Olhao is a step away from the normal bustling tourist crowds, and take in the local pace.
Play a round of golf
While golf isn't a traditional Portuguese past-time, Algarve boasts world-class golf courses with breathtaking views. The best are in the coastal town of Vilamoura, where the weather is mild enough to play golf all year long. The community of Vilamoura carefully balances the comfort and convenience of golfers with respect for local culture and support for indigenous flora and fauna, creating spectacular courses that are uniquely Portuguese. And the courses in Vilamoura were the first in the world to be environmentally certified. While there are several clubs to choose from, the one of the oldest and best is Oceanico Old. Oceanico Old follows the English school of course design, and laid out to take advantage of the natural contours of the landscape, lined with spectacular umbrella pines.
Algarve is a special destination for those who want to relax and experience the best of nature, historic sights, and warm, stress-free culture. For those reasons, Algarve is seeing a tourism boom in recent years, so although there is ample accommodation in the region, it is smart to plan ahead. Many Europeans have holiday homes there, and the population swells in the summer. With a little planning, you can experience the best of traditional Portuguese nature and culture, and the best of modern convenience and comforts, in one spectacular setting.
Be sure to check out our photo tour of all the Mediterranean's hottest destinations for 2018!