Algarve: Introduction

  • © BirgitT,

    © BirgitT,

Discover The Algarve!

Clean seawater, fresh air, heavenly beaches, natural bays, sheltered coves, rocky cliffs, barrier islands and a subtropical climate. This place ticks all the criteria for those hungry for a holiday – and it is only a two-and-a-half to three hour flight from the UK. It is no wonder that this coastal region on the south-western outskirts of Europe is a premier holiday destination for tourists from around the world! The Algarve stretches across a 150 km (93 mi) span from Spain to the Atlantic west coast. Nature has split the 50 km (37 mi) deep coastal strip in two.

To the west is the Barlavento, characterised by a dramatic rocky coast and to the east, the Sotavento, defined by endless sandy beaches, dunes and lagoons. In more recent times, the as yet untapped Algarve hinterland has also begun to attract tourists, especially fitness fanatics and nature lovers, to one of the most beautiful regions of Europe.

Hikers and cyclists are now spreading the word about the Algarve, joining the golfers, surfers and sailors who have already been singing its praises for some time. At this point it is worth mentioning that up until 40 years ago the delights of the Algarve were unexplored by the Portuguese people themselves and it was thought to be ‘at the edge of the world’. The only activity was in the harbour towns, and those residents not involved in the fishing industry were engaged in agriculture.

The local inhabitants, the Algarvios, come across as Mediterranean, however they are a cultural mix, with influences from North Africa and the Arab world, a legacy from when the Iberian peninsula was conquered by the Moors in the 8th century. They called the coastal strip of their new kingdom with its abundant sunshine ‘al Garb’ from which the word Algarve originated. With their knowledge of agriculture and science, they brought about a truly advanced civilisation characterised by active trade and religious tolerance. In the course of half a century they became integrated with the local population.

A cosmopolitan region par excellence

Sadly very few buildings from the Moorish era remain intact because so much was destroyed by the Christians when they conquered the area again in the Reconquista. The Kingdom of Portugal was founded in 1139 under Alfonso I, who called himself ‘King of Portugal and the Algarve’. This makes Portugal one of the oldest nation states in the world. More buildings were destroyed in 1755 when a devastating earthquake struck the Algarve. The determination with which the region was rebuilt was second to none and it is for this reason that nearly all city centres are rebuilt in the 18th century style.

In 1910 Portugal was the first European country to do away with the monarchy and to proclaim itself a republic. In 1932, Prime Minister António Salazar installed an authoritarian dictatorship with the help of the secret police or PIDE. Ten per cent of the Portuguese population fled in a wave of emigration. A revolt broke out on 25 April 1974. The people who had come out into the streets placed red carnations in the lapels of the rebel soldiers’ uniforms and into the barrels of their guns – this was the peaceful almost bloodless coup that became known as the ‘Carnation Revolution’. It ended half a century of dictatorship and led to Portugal joining the community of Western democracies in 1986. With it, the Algarve began to turn into a cosmopolitan region par excellence.

With the rate of tourism increasing over the past 20 years, holiday establishments began to spring up unchecked along the coastline. Here the tourism buzz can be felt day and night. However, the magic of the coast itself remains unspoilt and thankfully great care has now been taken not to subject its natural beauty to exploitation. Strict conditions that are intended to prevent indiscriminate development have been introduced, alongside non-intrusive tourism in the form of the ‘ Via Algarviana’ – a 240 km (150 mi) inland hiking trail – and systematic recycling are indicative of the emergence of environmental consciousness.

The west coast Costa Vicentina is an area of outstanding natural beauty,and was declared a nature reserve a number of years ago. Many visitors regard this wilderness as the most impressive coastline in Europe. Here, waves of colossal force batter the cliff walls, the surf spraying hundreds of metres. The Algarve west coast and the Algarve hinterland lead their own quiet existence and are literally cut off from the bustling coastal zone by the A 22 ‘Via do Infante’ motorway.

Surrounded by unspoilt nature, only very few people live in the Algarve hinterland now, mainly the elderly who live in remote houses or villages where time seems to stand still. Life there seems to be centred on hubs like Loulé, Silves or Monchique, while the surrounding administrative districts are becoming more sparsely populated by the year. Young people have been leaving to work in the coastal cities to enjoy a more modern lifestyle. However, this trend seems to have abated somewhat recently, with young families staying on where they grew up or returning home.

The Algarve hinterland comes into its own

Today more and more tourists are discovering the enchanting, tranquil and mountainous Algarve hinterland and the untarnished west coast, where eco-tourism is making a name for itself. These areas are best explored on foot or by bicycle. The rewards are constant – pure, unspoilt nature at its best. The flora and fauna are rich and diverse, nature lovers and birdwatchers will be impressed by the many migratory birds they will come across in the protected breeding places along the lagoons and cliffs.

With more than 3000 hours of sunlight in a year, the Algarve is picture-perfect on most days and lives up to the promise of an ideal holiday: heavenly beaches, sand castles, turquoise skies, tanned smiling faces and colourful fishing boats bobbing up and down in the water. Many attractions and events – especially in the summer – are additional magnets for all generations. Optimal conditions for surfers, sailors and divers allow them to pursue their hobbies all year round. Not to mention the golfers!

Tee off on one of the 40 golf courses

The Algarve’s mild climate draws them here from all over the world. They have the opportunity to play a round of golf at close on 40 venues that have been seamlessly integrated into nature. Exclusive holiday establishments and golf courses have opened in Tavira, Vilamoura, Quinta do Lago, Carvoeiro, Alvor and Lagos over the past few years. These fine resorts are almost like self-contained islands.

On the whole, life in the Algarve is permeated by all aspects of a tourism orientated existence. What always comes across is a hospitality that is very refreshing. At times things may take a little longer than elsewhere but you will always experience the true Algarve and its friendliness when out shopping, walking, at the market, sipping a bica or simply asking for directions. It is almost as though the harmony of nature is mirrored by its people.


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