The Authentic Algarve: 5 Ways to Get Beyond the Beach Towels
by The Vagabondish Team | December, 2012
With more than 300 days of sunshine, it’s not surprising that the Algarve has become Portugal’s most popular year-round beach destination. As a convenient transport hub, Faro flights touch down in the center of all the action, landing within easy access to first-rate amenities, such as pristine beaches, upscale shopping, championship-quality golf courses, and bars boasting mind-blitzing, two-for-one drink specials.
But should you tire of walking fifteen minutes to scout out a sandy piece of sunbathing real estate, seek out a more authentic Algarvean experience. Here are a few things you can do to venture beyond the high-rise hotels and beach umbrellas.
Take Timeout for a Stroll
You’ll discover quickly that locals are never pressed for time, so it’s wise to heed the Portuguese expression, “Put on your clogs,” which means slow down. Start with a walk along the mosaic-paved streets or one of the plentiful seaside promenades braced between whitewashed villas and superb views of mythic-looking rock formations. If you happen to venture further inland along a winding country road, you’ll likely encounter roadside shrines—dedicated to the Virgin Mary or the local saint — meant to offer protection to weary travelers.
Head for the Hills
If you fancy flora other than squat palm-trees, you’re in luck! A springtime hike inland will stir up the heavenly aromas of wild thyme, lavender, and fennel. A view down into the valley will reveal a landscape blanketed in almond blossoms. A local legend states that a Moorish king planted the original crop of almond trees to remind his captured, homesick bride of her native snow covered land. The gesture worked! And the white blossoms cured her ailments and courted her affection.
Roam About Ruins
Just north of Faro, take a daytrip to Estói, and view remnants of Megalithic stones, and the Roman site at Milreu. Amidst the crumbling columns are the remains of one of the earliest known Christian churches, dating back to the third century AD. For a touch of the macabre, visit one of the surrounding chapels fortified with of human skeletons, or if you’re a fan of neo-classical architecture take a tour of the candy-colored Pink Palace.
Hit the Surf
If you prefer being in the water to being beachside, then by all means dive right in. Rated as one of Europe’s top surfing destinations, and the less tourist-saturated village of Sagres is the surfing capital of the Algarve. Brave beginners can take lessons in the gentler waves, while the pros can opt for the same 5m swells that attract participants in the World Surfing Championship held nearby. If you are a diver, windsurfer, or fishing enthusiast you too will find plenty to fill up your sun-soaked days.
Peer Through the Eyes of Explorers
Sagres is also the site of Prince Henry the Navigator’s navel school, which attracted some of the greatest astronomers, cartographers, and adventures of the 15th century. From the top of the jagged cliffs, see if it’s possible to make out the distant landmasses of Africa and America, or try to imagine that the colorful fishing boats below are just launched caravels bound for new, uncharted worlds.