Places to visit on your Algarve holidays

The Algarve ii in the southernmost part of Portugal and is surprisingly small, stretching just 155kms in the south and 52 km north on the west. In short, you can traverse the entire area in just a day. Having said that, there are plenty of reasons for you to choose the Algarve as a holiday travel destination.

Today, the Algarve ranks as one of Europe’s top summer destinations. The population of the region almost doubles between June and September when the British, Dutch and German tourists descend in great numbers to experience sun-drenched sandy beaches, coves flanked by imposing cliffs and small sandy islands in the crystal waters of the Atlantic.

Most of the touristy coastal towns are marred by high-rise resorts which remind you of Spain’s Costa del Sol. But once you venture inland, you get to see quaint villages that are mostly untouched by rampant tourism. The architecture often has Moorish origins, although the Moors were defeated by the Portuguese as far back as the 13th century.

Below are five towns you should visit during your Algarve holidays.

Faro

The provincial capital of the region, Faro has an international airport and is the entry point to the region for most tourists. Because the beach is about 7kms from the city, most visitors choose to skip Faro and thus miss out on the city that is most distinctly Portuguese in all of the Algarve.
Some Roman and Moorish ruins can be found here and a 9th century Roman wall still surrounds the old town. You enter the old town through the 18th century Arco da Vila which was built post the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of the city and devastated large parts of the Algarve.
An unusual and macabre chapel called the Capela Dela Ossos or the Chapel of the bones is Faro’s main attraction. The skulls and bones of over a 1,000 monks line the chapel. The chapel is located within the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo which has some exquisite gold-leaf woodwork.
Visit Se, the cathedral, originally built in the 13th century. After the 1755 earthquake, only the tower gate and two chapels survive. It was rebuilt in Gothic and Renaissance styles and has some wonderful old tiles. Its peaceful cloisters are worth a visit. Faro’s Museu Municipal is housed in the 16th century convent of Renaissance Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção and has some interesting exhibits, including a 3rd century mosaic. Its two-storey cloisters are also quite unique

Lagos

Lagos is quite touristy but undeniably picturesque. The old city centre has lovely cobbled streets, roadside cafes, plazas and churches. You can still see parts of the Roman walls that guarded the city. This was an important naval centre and the Arabs built several fortifications here. Lagos became the capital of the Algarve from the 16th to the mid-18th century.
Outside the city walls are the many beaches which are considered to be some of the region’s most beautiful. Praia de Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo and Meia Praia are all great beaches. Ponta da Piedade is a promontory with caves and rocks and offers some superb views.
If you are looking for nightlife, Lagos is Algarve’s party capital. It is a happening place with lounge bars, pubs and restaurants catering to backpackers as well as the well heeled.

Tavira

The river Gilão flows through this charming city and a Roman bridge connects the two parts of the city. Tavira dates back to 2000 BC and was a prominent fishing port. With as many as 37 churches, it is aptly called the city of churches. The two main churches are Igreja da Santa Maria and Igreja da Misericordia. Like Lagos, Tavira’s cobbled streets, patisseries and plazas invite you to stroll and enjoy a coffee at one of its the streetside cafes. Golf courses have naturally sprouted on the city’s outskirts as tourism takes its toll.
The nearest beach is 3kms away and can be reached by taking a ferry to the sandy-bar island of Ilha da Tavira. The island lies between the city and the ocean and has two great beaches. Several restaurants and a campsite are also present on the tiny island.
Beaches near Tavira include Cabanas, Conceição, Santa Luzia and Barril. Most of them are relatively isolated.

Sagres

Slightly remote, Sagres lies close to Europe’s most south-westerly point – Cape St. Vincent. Today, very little of historical importance survives in Sagres and what draws tourists are its wonderful beaches. Sagres’ majestic cliffs overlook some incredible scenery and you can also see Cape St. Vincent in the distance. The Cape has Europe’s second most powerful lighthouse and has been built over the ruins of a 16th century convent.
Sagres’ beaches draw both sun-worshippers and surfers all year round because of its mild weather. Priaia da Mareta is the closest beach and has sand and pebbles. Surfers flock to the northern Praia do Tonel which has a long stretch of sandy beach. Another great beach is Praia do Martinhal which is located to the east of Sagres. There’s also Praia da Baleeira but the water quality is not always ideal for swimming.

Monchique

If you want to get away from the coast, visit Monchique. The little town sits between the two hills of Foia and Picota. After the heat of the coast, Monchique’s coolness and green surroundings provide a welcome escape. The views are spectacular and you will see the green hills sloping down towards the sea below. There’s also a spa town nearby.
While in Monchique, you can explore the surrounding mountains on foot and there are many walking trails. Biking and canoeing are other activities you can pursue.

The Algarve is also great place to visit during your Easter break. Read about the quaint traditions of São Brás de Alportel.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 21st, 2010 at 10:11 am and is filed under Algarve Holidays. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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