Algarve: multifaceted tourist destination
A region in the south of Portugal, crossed by a vast sea of shades of blue, the Algarve is internationally known for its mild and sunny climate, beaches, quality tourism, the cosmopolitan life of its people and city life, which ensure entertainment all year. But in truth, the Algarve region is this and much more. And everything is so close by, waiting to be discovered.
The Algarve is the southernmost province in Portugal. It borders Alentejo to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the south, and Spain along the River Guadiana to the east. Of all Portugal’s mainland regions, this is the one that, for historical and geographical reasons, is most well-defined, having been the last national territory to be conquered from Arab rule.
The origin of the name Algarve dates back to the Arab occupation: al-Garb means the country where the sun sets. Geographically, we can identify three natural sub-regions, which are also distinguished by the Algarve ways of life: the mountains, the valleys and the coast. Linked by the road network, whose main axes are Via Infante D. Henrique (A22) and National Highway 125, these sub-regions in fact provide different potential routes to explore the Algarve.
It is also common to divide the Algarve into Barlavento (Windward) and Sotavento (Leeward). This division stems from the winds that are felt in the region. Barlavento corresponds to the southern coastal region where the north wind blows, while Sotavento, in turn, corresponds to the remaining coastal strip to the river Guadiana. Barlavento, the western part of the Algarve, includes the municipalities of Aljezur, Vila do Bispo, Monchique, Lagos, Portimão, Silves, Lagoa, Albufeira and part of the municipality of Loulé. The area defined by the Barlavento occupies an area of 2,782 km2, representing 56% of the total area of the region. The Sotavento corresponds to the eastern part of the Algarve and occupies an area of 2,200 Km2. It includes the municipalities of Alcoutim, Castro Marim, Vila Real de Santo António, Tavira, Olhão, Faro, São Brás de Alportel and some parishes in the Municipality of Loulé (Ameixial and Salir). Faro is the most important city in the region, and is also the district capital.
The mountains occupy the entire northern part of the region, also covering the west coast. In this sub-region stands the Serra de Monchique, historical point of well-being and spa tourism in Portugal. Today, with the Spa villas it offers, it is a landmark destination for leisure, rest and contact with nature. The ascent of the Serra de Monchique, towards Fóia, unveils mountain landscapes and culminates with a view from the highest point in the Algarve, at an altitude of almost 1,000 meters, stretching to Cabo de São Vicente, in Sagres, at the extreme southwest of Europe. Along the way, there are the flavours of the mountain to be tasted, sausages, Black Iberian pork, traditional sweets, all accompanied by Medronho Brandy, a strong alcoholic beverage, or Melosa, a honey liqueur typical of the region. Monchique is worth visiting, but the hills of the Algarve are also made up of districts such as Alcoutim, in the Sotavento region, and Aljezur, where the mountains meet the ocean.
The route of the Barlavento valleys and coast includes the charming towns of Albufeira, Silves, Portimão, Lagos, its parish of Praia da Luz, Vila do Bispo to Sagres and Aljezur. Due to its unique urbanisation, facing the sea, all economic and social life focuses on a narrow coastal strip. Trade, culture, this is where it’s at.
The restaurants, authentic flavours, such as fresh grilled fish or more experimental flavours prepared in the kitchen, usually mark the beginning of a night that goes on until sunrise. Bars, clubs, trendy nightclubs and amusement arcades, such as the Vilamoura Casino or the Praia da Rocha Casino, do justice to the renowned Algarve night life. During the day, you can occupy yourself discovering monuments and historic sites that reflect the rich past of the region. The emblematic Castelo de Silves, Forte Ponta da Bandeira in Lagos, Sagres Fortress and the Megalithic Monuments in Vila do Bispo are just a few.
Varied cultural events are offered throughout the year in fine cultural facilities. This is the case with the visual arts and stage venues Tempo, Portimão Municipal Theatre, and Lagos Cultural Centre. This range of cultural alternatives comes together in Allgarve, an integrated programme of cultural events taking place every year between February and December.
For sports lovers, the Algarve offers superb conditions. The recent creation of the Algarve International Circuit, between Portimão and Lagos, put Barlavento on the circuit of major competitions, making the region a destination devoted to motor racing, as it is for golf, equestrianism and cycling. And the beaches of the Algarve, with their calm waters to the south, and turbulent seas along the Costa Vicentina, are suitable for a wide range of sports, such as canoeing, windsurfing, bodyboarding and surfing. Be they long and sandy or secluded areas between the rocks that impose themselves on the sea, the beaches are undoubtedly a strong argument for visiting the region. One more of the countless reasons to pick up the car and set out to discover the Algarve.