It’s easy to see why the Algarve has become such a popular holiday destination over the past 30 years or so. Mile upon mile of superb golden beaches stretch along Portugal’s southern tip – and they really are golden, powdered down from the distinctive ochre-coloured cliffs that rise up behind.
Here and there, the cliffs are indented with bays or praias (beaches). Most face south but a few look out to the west.
The water’s clean and a welcome breeze helps sooth the skin against the summer’s highest temperatures.
Ancient Lagos is arguably the most appealing large town towards the western cape. Once the residence of Prince Henry the Navigator, it has a lovely 18th-century church, the Igreja de Santo António, as well as many fine old streets and the pretty arcaded square of Praça da Liberdade near the harbour.
The charm of the Portuguese themselves is a major contribution to the Algarve boom. They are among the kindest and gentlest of people. Many in this part of the country have Arab origins, for it was held longest by the Moors.
Today Faro (indicated on the map below), the provincial capital, serves as a gateway to the south for millions of holidaymakers, mainly Europeans, who flock to the Algarve for a few days of rest and relaxation in the sun.
Within easy striking distance of Faro is the Ria Formosa Natural Park where numerous wildfowl and waders, snakes, chameleons and various other species can be seen in their natural environment.
A sardine feast in Portimão is sure to have you rubbing shoulders with local residents and people of other nationalities as you sit elbow-to-elbow at long tables while men with rugged, weather-beaten faces grill shoals of the silvery fish over a flaming brazier.
Inland, the enchanting spa town of Monchique high up in the hills offers some refreshing respite in hot weather. Situated at an altitude of 350 metres, it has been a spa resort since Roman times due to the healing qualities of its mineral waters, which are known to aid the treatment of respiratory, muscular, bone and digestive problems.
Other places of immense interest include Silves, where a cathedral outside the ruined walls of a Moorish citadel tells the local history at a glance, as well as the lively town of Loulé which bursts into colour and song during the spring carnival season.
Since the 1970s, the picturesque fishing town of Albufeira in the central coastal region has been the undisputed tourist capital of the Algarve, in winter as well as summer.
Its golden beaches and pulsating night-life attract holidaymakers from all over Europe, who arrive in their droves during the summer months.
And you can’t visit the Algarve without seeing Tavira, one of the most attractive places in the Eastern Algarve. The town lies at the heart of the Sotavento, a rich, unspoiled agricultural belt where the pace of life is quintessentially Portuguese and the countryside abounds with natural beauty.