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PORTUGAL: The Alluring Algarve

Updated: Apr 3



 

European Travel: Winter vacations sunshine is achievable with a visit to the Algarve in southern Portugal. With a two and a bit hour flight from London, the Algarve is a great place for holidays all year round.

 


Portugal's southernmost gem, the Algarve, beckons with its long, sandy beaches, delicious seafood, and many golf courses, making it an ideal retreat for Europeans seeking sun-soaked warmth and a short flight from London. Its diverse regions provide distinctive experiences to visitors, so having a clear objective for your holiday will aid in deciding where you want to stay.


April-May and September through October are the peak season for the Algarve, though visiting in the offseason had advantages. In the winter, the weather in the Algarve can be unpredictable; there is plenty of rain and the Atlantic Ocean is cold. Still, the temperatures average a civilised 14 degrees Celsius with 6 hours of sunshine. While many shops and restaurants are closed for the season, and some have disappeared from GoogleMaps entirely, there are enough people around and things going on so that in the winter, we can consider the Algarve as tranquil rather than 'ghostly.'



Off-season is a good time for an inaugural visit to the region as the crowds are minimal, there is no traffic, and the weather is still pleasant enough for long walks with a bit of al fresco dining, if the rain holds off. This is a good time to familiarise oneself with the surroundings, and minimal crowds allows visitors to appreciate the dramatic coastline without the distractions of beach umbrellas or an ocean overrun with jet skis and banana boat rides.


From the dramatic cliffs of Ponta da Piedade to the expansive stretches of sand in Praia da Marinha, each pristine and golden beach offers a unique charm. The crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean provide a befitting backdrop to the charming towns that dot the Algarve coastline, bursting with history and culture.





Faro, the capital of the Algarve, welcomes visitors with its historic Old Town, cobblestone streets, and South Modern and Art Deco villas. The Faro Cathedral features impressive golden ornamentation and a haunting ossuary, or bone crypt. A With Locals walking tour with is a great way to get a feel for Faro's history, culture and plans for the future.





The Ria Formosa Natural Park, a coastal lagoon system that acts as a barrier between Faro and the sea, is crucial in supporting avifauna. This expansive area is a resting haven for migratory birds and a winter habitat for a significant waterfowl population. Notably, flamingos grace the region with their presence from November to March. The Ria Formosa Natural Park is a hub for ecotourism, offering numerous hiking trails for birdwatching accessible by foot, bicycle, or boat.





Sagres is the farthest southwest of Faro, where the Atlantic is its most austere. This lovely little village is a haven for surfers and boasts a considerable fort that spreads across the arm of the Pont de Sagres. Between the fort and the sea is a charming little chapel and a wind compass said to have been used by Henry the Navigator in the 15th century.



East of Sagres is Lagos, another enchanted coastal town that boasts medieval architecture, lively markets, and a bustling marina. Lagos is one of the most popular resort towns in the Algarve, providing a glimpse into the region's past while offering a delightful blend of tradition and modernity.



Central Algarve consists of bustling market towns like Loule and harbour towns popular with yachters. The Golden Triangle is a mini region in the central Algarve that consists of the resort town of Vilamoura and the resort complexes of Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo at the seaside, connecting at the top with the countryside city of Almancil. One will witness expensive houses with impeccable sea views in these areas. Vilamoura has a bustling marina that was buzzing in February, with many restaurants, pubs and a fabulous 36-hole minigolf. Padel, tennis courts, multiple cycle paths with bike hire, and golf are great alternatives for sporting people who want to avoid getting into the cold sea. There is always plenty to do.




The Loule Carnival is one of the most significant yearly events in the Algarve. Akin to Brazil's Carnival or the Marti Gras in New Orleans on a much smaller scale, the Loule Carnival boasts vibrant costumes, lively samba melodies, oversized characters, and celebrity performances to entertain the many visitors.The event runs for three days and has been going strong for 100 years, except when we were there when the bulk of the parade was cancelled due to rain. It was an unfortunate event.



To the east of Faro, in the direction of Spain, you will find the warmest regions of the Algarve, further expanses of the Ria Formosa, and the Reserva Natural do Sapal wetlands park. Tavira is a lovely resort town with a vast offshore sandbank stretching 11 miles. The sea is reachable only by ferry or quaint train that shuttles beachgoers to and from the ocean.


Not far from Tavira is the fisherman's village, Santa Luzia. This village has been bleached white by the sun and enjoys an expansive, Palmeiro-studded, esplanade between itself and the sea.

It is known for its octopus, with coves or octopus pots strewn to every corner. Summertime sea safaris depart from Santa Luzia, but in the winter, a walk along the water's edge or an al fresco coffee at a seaside cafe is a great place to view the sea, take stock of life and while away the hours.




No trip to the Algarve would be complete without delighting in its exquisite cuisine. The region's culinary landscape is a tribute to fresh seafood, locally harvested produce, and an array of Mediterranean flavours. Guests can savour dishes like Cataplana (a flavourful seafood stew) or perfectly grilled sardines, immersing themselves in the culinary treasures that characterise Portuguese fare, whether in traditional taverns or quaint roadside cafes. Personal highlights include the simply-grilled Sea Bass or Dorada paired with delightful Portuguese wine, culminating in a shared indulgence of Pão de Deus or a delectable Pastel de Nata at the Sol E Sombra restaurant in Quarteria. As not all restaurants are open in the off-season, so it is always best to call ahead!


In every aspect, the Algarve is a testament to the beauty and diversity that Portugal offers. Whether you seek the tranquillity of golden beaches, the charm of historic towns, the flavours of exquisite cuisine, or the embrace of nature's wonders, the Algarve welcomes you with open arms regardless of the season. It is a destination that captures the essence of Portugal and leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of those fortunate enough to explore its wonders.


 

 

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