Tips when visiting the Algarve for the first time
If you are looking for a little history beyond the comfort of the hotel and the Algarve’s sensational beaches, here are some tips for places you shouldn’t miss!!
I should perhaps start this text by saying that I am Brazilian. I've lived almost two decades in the UK, but I'm Brazilian. As such, I confess I have always had the urge to prioritise countries and places that were as different as possible from my own.
Because of this, I always put Portugal off for later. Like someone who lives in Rio de Janeiro and is delaying their trip to Christ the Redeemer. But the joy of living is to be able to change, and understand that you can sometimes make up for lost time.
It took me a long time to decide to explore a country whose language is almost the same as mine. Foolishly, I felt that Portugal might look too much like Brazil, and so there would be nothing much there of interest. My great mistake makes me feel rather uncomfortable and now, here I am in love with this country that is so different from Brazil and yet, so familiar - with beaches as beautiful as Brazil, with delicious cuisine, with the regeneration of its cafés and restaurants, and bursting with history around every corner. In April, I went for the first time to one of the most popular regions of Portugal: the Algarve. For obvious reasons, the Algarve is a sought-after destination for any tourist, from solo travellers to families looking for a holiday alternative within Europe with guaranteed sunshine and reasonable prices.
But if, like me, you are looking for a little history beyond the comfort of the hotel and the Algarve’s sensational beaches, here are some of my tips for places you shouldn’t miss.
We start with one of the most vibrant and best known cities in the Algarve and also one of the most touristy. Albufeira has changed a lot and even the locals comment on the apparent transformation of the city and the disappearance of historical buildings. Even so, the old town still has its beautiful narrow streets that run down to the seafront, with some very inviting restaurants. If you are looking for peace and quiet, Albufeira is perhaps not the ideal location, but it’s worth it for its life and colour.
I strongly suggest getting away from the coast to explore the interior and mountains of the Algarve. The town of Silves has an imposing and historically important Moorish castle dating from the 8th century, plus vestiges of Roman buildings and a beautiful market with local produce. The town centre is also quite picturesque with well-preserved houses and beautiful churches. If you have time, visit the Cork Museum, which focuses on one of the region’s most important products.
This small town is located in the hills of the same name. You get there on a beautiful road that winds through cork and orange groves. The delicious Algarve oranges, considered small in comparison to those of neighbouring Spain, do not feature very prominently in the country’s export trade. So, take advantage of the trip to taste this Algarve delight. Monchique is also known for its sulphurous mineral water used in many spas and baths. The Serra de Monchique is a special place and on a clear day it is possible to look out over the Algarve and the Alentejo from the Pico de Foia. Do not forget to try Medronho, the typical brandy of the region.
One of the most beautiful cities in the Algarve, Tavira is a well-known tourist destination. Located very close to Faro, in the easternmost corner of the region, Tavira like Albufeira is quite busy, but retains the charm and tranquillity of the fishing village it once was. Nearby is the Ria Formosa, a group of lagoons that flow into the sea where various beautiful species of birds can be seen. Tavira still retains much of its Moorish influence dating from the eighth to the thirteenth century. This can be seen in the tiles, roofs, castle and mosques, as well as the charming whitewashed houses.
Very close to Tavira, is the city of Olhão. Formerly a small fishing village, Olhão still retains traces of the simplicity of its founders. Its beauty lies in the freshness of its produce, such as the fish and seafood sold in the market on Saturdays. Dotted with olive and carob groves, the Olhão region has a strong culinary tradition in the Algarve. When you are in Olhão, be sure to take a boat to one of the area’s beautiful unspoilt islands. I recommend Armona and Culatra, tiny islands with very few inhabitants and spectacular beaches. A good tip is to eat in one of the fishermen's houses on the islands themselves. Many cook freshly-caught fish and open their house to tourists and visitors at lunchtime.
The Algarve has many varied attractions for all types of tourist. It is almost impossible to list all the destinations, even the favourites, since they are so numerous: Loulé, Sagres, Portimão, Lagos, Ferragudo, Cacela Velha. I strongly recommend that you rent a car when you are there. The freedom to travel and explore various towns, villages and beaches shouldn’t be ignored. However, even if you don’t want to rent a car, be sure to visit the region anyway. There are many excursions possible to all these cities at very reasonable prices. You can explore the hidden corners of the Algarve in many different ways. What you shouldn’t miss is the spirit of the place. Keep your eyes wide open so as not to miss the almost indescribable beauties of this stunning part of Portugal.