The Algarve - Playground of Portugal
by Felicity Walker
The Algarve area of Portugal, which covers the southern-most part of the country, is an incredibly diverse region. Any holidaymaker can find an enjoyable way of filling their holiday hours. Add in a warm, sunny climate almost year round, and it's hardly surprising that the Algarve region is the major tourist area in Portugal.
With all that sunshine, naturally many holidaymakers come in search of beaches, and they're not disappointed. With around 270km of coastline, including everything from wide sandy beaches to secluded inlets, there's something for everyone. Add to that a wide variety of accommodation with luxury resorts near bustling towns to quiet villages, and there's no doubt everyone is catered for.
The easiest way to travel to the Algarve from overseas is via airplane to Faro. This is the region's main town and commercial hub, but is still a pleasant place to visit. Most of the town was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, but even so, there are interesting buildings dotted around the town that are worth visiting. There is also a small remnant of the old town, Cidade Velha, and a walking tour through this area is fascinating.
The towns of Tavira and Silves are also highlights of the Algarve region for those with an historic interest. Tavira encompasses everything from castle ruins, churches from a range of architectural periods and elegant houses from various centuries. Silves was once the Mooorish capital of the Algarve, and its main claim to fame is the magnificent red stone castle which overlooks the town today.
For those who like more modern entertainment and a slightly faster pace, there is plenty of nightlife to be found in either Lagos or Albuferira. Even better, there are plenty of sandy beaches where you can lie back and recover! Lagos also suffered terribly in the 1755 earthquake, with very little surviving apart from the old town wall.
If you'd rather spend your time being entertained by mother nature, then the Algarve can deliver. Close to Faro is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. This is basically an extensive lagoon system which is home to an enormous number of wetland birds, as well as forming a vital link in the migration chain. The park's visitor centre is excellent.
You can also head further west, and watch the coastline become more rugged. Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent) is Europe's most south-westerly point. Barren and majestic, it's certainly an awe inspiring place to visit - but be prepared to face the strong winds that often batter the Cape.
The western coast of the Algarve is home to the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. This narrow strip of park was created in 1995 to amalgamate a number of smaller parks, in the hope of protecting the ecosystem from rampant development. The area is also home to many birds.
There are plenty of places to stay along the west coast of the Algarve, as well as beaches, however the Atlantic is a little rougher on this side and in places can be quite dangerous. Keen surfers are often to be found in this region.
It's worth visiting the inland part of the Algarve as well. There are a number of mountain ranges, with the Serra de Monchique being the most popular.
And if all else fails - the Algarve is home to a large number of golf courses, including 7 of Europe's top 100 courses.
The Algarve is an incredibly diverse region, it's hard to imagine that anyone could possibly visit without finding something of interest to see or do. So make sure you schedule a visit there soon.
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