Where: Southern Portugal, Southwest of Europe
When: May – Sept
Happenings: Tourist resorts, watersports and golf
Remember to bring: your own sun lounger and a set of clubs
The southern province of the Algarve has been a development hotspot since the Moors were here in the 8th century, long before the charter planes started launching their own beach invasions each summer. Easily Portugal’s most popular tourist destination with over 25 million visitors annually, the Algarve stretches from the Spanish border to the pounding Atlantic surf of Cape St Vincent in the west. Most visitors don’t stick around in the airport town of Faro, preferring to head westwards towards Albufeira and Lagos to take advantage of the blue-green sea, cream sand and sunburst yellow cliffs tinged with orange highlights.
Finding that private, sheltered cove may be a problem in peak season in Albufeira, but finding an all-day English breakfast won’t. The town has wide ranging appeal, ranging from bars that open to well after midnight to family beaches. Down the road in Praia da Rocha, wave erosion has deftly carved out pillars from the cliffs, forming tiny islands of rock just offshore.
Lagos has all the trappings of any package resort, yet you can still get a taste of the region by savouring the day’s catch grilled at the waterfront. Lagos also has historical interest as the walled city dating from the 15th century is still present, as is the building said to be the venue for Europe’s first slave market. Rounding off the potted history lesson, town has wonderful renaissance and baroque churches such as St Sebastian and St Anthony, with the latter having a small regional museum attached to it.
Vilamoura strives to be upmarket so the main action is not at the beach but at the swish marina, casino and golf course. If you’re not on a yacht, into betting or on a golf green, fear not, for people-watching the beau monde and their laser-bleached smiles is very much the done thing. The best example of this activity is done at clubs starting at 2am.
Cape St. Vincent
“Sportugal” really lives up to its nickname at Cape St. Vincent. The water is colder and rougher than in the east, giving you a firm slap on the back. Therefore it’s a place to meet wave-obsessed Antipodeans indulging in spot of surfing and windsurfing. The best time to surf is September to May.
Quieter than further west, Faro is notable for nearby sand bar islands. Accessible by ferry when the tide is in, these islands are reminiscent of fishermen’s villages of a bygone era. When the tide is out, the mudflats are ribboned by canals that are inhabited by crabs, flamingos and herons. This earmarks the start of the Ria Formosa National Park, which also has enough species of bird life to satisfy even the most ardent birdwatchers. Not so quiet is Faro’s annual motorcycle rally in July.
By Nadeem Saeed