Even those who have yet to visit the Algarve might have an inkling that the place is synonymous with crashing Atlantic surf, wide sandy beaches, and limestone and sandstone cliffs that are topped with pine trees. These, together with the sea stacks and quaint villages, are among the most photographed of the Algarve's many charms. However, innumerable small, out-of-the-way coves and caves await discovery by the visitor, as do several inland lakes, lagoons and salt marshes. Many of these wetland areas are important habitats for birds, both native and migratory.
Evidence of the Algarve's one-time Moorish rulers still abounds. As well as the old town walls in Lagos and several castles, the narrow streets and unusual chimneys in many of the towns and villages also hark back to the five centuries of Moorish rule. Several excellent local museums provide interesting displays and more information for the curious visitor.
Eating out is an intrinsic part of most holidays to the Algarve. As a coastal area, it can be no surprise that seafood features prominently on many menus. There is a wide selection of cafes and restaurants, where visitors can enjoy the catch of the day. Few places can be better to do this than Olhao, a fishing town with an early morning seafood market that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is an ideal spot in which to wander and admire the fishermen's latest catch, before retiring to a waterfront cafe for a breakfast of coffee and egg custard tarts (pasteis de nata). Local restaurants serve the seafood in a variety of ways that caters for most tastes. One of the more unusual, Cataplana, derives from the area's Moorish past, and consists of whatever seafood the fishermen have brought in, cooked in a clam-shaped copper pan, together with wine, sausage, tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Other meals are more straightforward but no less tasty: clams or barnacles served with nothing more than olive oil and garlic, octopus accompanied by a tomato salad, or sardines grilled to perfection. Chicken, often seasoned with peri-peri, forms another important part of many traditional meals in the Algarve. And, of course, a glass of sweet port to wash down a meal comes highly recommended by many locals and visitors alike.
Although situated on the Atlantic coast, the Algarve is blessed with a balmy, Mediterranean-style climate. Twelve hours of sunshine a day is usual in high summer but even the hottest spells are tempered by refreshing north-westerly breezes. Winters are mild, making Algarve holidays attractive all year round.
History and Sights
With its Roman and Moorish past, and long tradition of seafaring exploration, history imbues the Algarve. There are traces of the past everywhere. You can visit Sagres and Cape St. Vincent, from where Henry the Navigator, the fifteenth century prince, initiated so many of the voyages undertaken by Portuguese mariners. The walled old town in Lagos is another fascinating destination, as is the nearby town of Silves, with its red-brick Moorish castle. Algarve holidays can be as relaxing, energetic or stimulating as you wish. If several days unwinding in the resort town of Albufeira and enjoying its splendid beaches appeals to you, or even if you want to add in some history, our Algarve Coast and Country trip provides the perfect balance between relaxation and exploration. Remember, too, that the Algarve is a great getaway even during the cooler months of the year. If spending Christmas or New Year at home does not appeal to you, then a trip to the Algarve on our Christmas or New Year getaway could be the escape you are looking for. As well as the opportunity for some sightseeing in the Algarve and also across the Spanish border in Seville, we will make sure you enjoy some traditional and seasonal Portuguese celebrations.