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Home to wonderful golden sand beaches warmed by over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, the Algarve coastline of southern Portugal stretches fromthe Spanish border at Vila Real across to Cabo de São Vicente, the most westerly point of continental Europe.
Being just 40km in width from north to south means the region can be easily explored within a relatively short period of time. The western Algarve is renowned for its sandy cove beaches and many traditional fishing villages while the east, with the region's capital at Faro, has flatter sandy stretches of beach and many pretty islands, accessed by boat, lying just offshore.
Forming a natural border between Portugal and Spain is the Rio Guardiana surrounded by a collection of pretty hilltop towns with stunning views out to sea and a renowned nature reserve. A pedestrianised bridge dating back to Roman times spans the gently flowing Rio Gilão which flows through Tavira, one of the eastern Algarve's most attractive towns with its maze of cobbled streets, interesting shops and river front cafés. Ferries depart from the town's fish market for the spectacular local beach at Tavira Island, where 14km of golden sand and a backdrop of rugged dunes await.
Heading westwards, small towns such as Estói with its Roman ruins and Loulé, in the rolling foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão and famous for its colourful market are both well worth a visit. Faro offers something for everybody including museums, an impressive Cathedral, an intricate network of bustling streets filled with all types of shops, various restaurants and many local cafés in which to sit and watch the world go by.
Almost halfway along the Algarve's 180km of coastline sits Vilamoura, home to one of Europe's most vibrant marinas flanked by a promenade of convivial waterside cafés, boutiques and a tempting selection of international restaurants. Pristine stretches of wide sandy beaches, world class golf courses and a wealth of sporting facilities all contribute to its wide appeal.
Stretching to the west of the erstwhile fishing village, now well established resort of Albufeira are glorious golden sandy beaches. Vale de Parra, bordered by a fertile plain and low hills fringing the Atlantic Ocean, overlooks the picturesque and intimate coves of Castelo and Coelha at São Rafael as well as the sweeping golden crescent of sand that is Galé beach. Bustling Armação de Pêra marks the end of this huge expanse of beach and has some excellent fish restaurants.
Heading inland Monchique is a small hill town famous for its smoked meats and locally crafted x-shaped chairs. Nestling in a valley of eucalyptus, pine and cork oaks is the pretty spa town known as Caldas de Monchique whose natural springs date back to Roman times and are reputed to have healing powers. Fóia, at 902m the highest peak on the Algarve, affords breathtaking views, on a clear day, of both the south and west coastlines.
The important fishing port and regional centre of Portimão lies at the mouth of the Ribeira de Arade, which has its source in the hills of Monchique. Offering excellent shopping facilities it is also famous for quayside restaurants where the tradition is to eat freshly caught sardines, barbecued over charcoal and accompanied by salad, fresh bread and the local 'vinho verde' (young red or white wine).
Lagos is the gateway to the western Algarve, an area of glorious beaches and peaceful villages. Originally established by the Moors this fortified city is steeped in a rich cultural history with walls dating back to the 15th and 16th Centuries, narrow cobbled streets, an eclectic array of churches, an excellent daily market, many traditional craft shops and a wealth of first rate restaurants.
Enjoying an ideal climate of mild winters followed by hot and sunny summers, cooled by pleasant sea breezes, the Algarve lends itself perfectly to outdoor living. However, this lovely region has so much more to offer than just wonderful beaches! Probably the most famous of the wide variety of sporting facilities available is golf with various championship courses dotted along the coast and more being planned all the time. World class facilities include the famous Royal Course at Vale do Lobo, the recently opened Millennium course and four other celebrated courses at Vilamoura. Tennis, horse riding, scuba diving, surfing, water skiing, sailing and fishing are but a few of the other activities on offer.
There is also a variety of walking trails through woodland in the Serra de Monchique, along rugged cliff tops, or amongst the flora and wild grasses of the coastal sand dunes. Several nature reserves are home to huge varieties of wildlife with storks, flamingoes, eagles, owls and vultures among the many species. The Rio Formosa wetlands of the eastern Algarve provide habitat for a diverse selection of indigenous and migrating birds. Within this protected area, accessed via a short, scenic boat trip from the mainland, the islands of Faro, Farol, Culatra and Armona all boast beautiful, natural beaches.
Portugal as a nation boasts a rich history and this region is a full contributor to that heritage. There are castles, forts and ruins to explore, interesting museums to meander around, statues, monuments and churches to visit. This coastline was also the departure point from which several epic voyages of discovery were launched hence Henry the Navigator features prominently in local history.
There are some fine reds, whites and rosés to be sampled and all at very reasonable prices.
The Algarve - A fascinating land of stunning beaches, diverse sporting facilities, wonderful countryside and lovely cuisine waiting to be explored and enjoyed... with a charming population waiting to welcome you!