When it comes to sun, sea and sand holidays the Algarve is one of Europe’s undisputed kings, thanks to over 200 kilometres of sandy beaches, bath-temperature seawater and a string of vibrant and welcoming resorts.
This region was once the pioneering heart of intrepid global expeditions (the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthagians and Romans all used it as a base for maritime exploration) and the site of epic battles between Christians and Moors.
There is much more to the Algarve than sun-drenched beaches though; visitors are rewarded with world-class golf courses, chic hotels, historic towns and rich North African and Western art and architecture.
One of the main reasons for the Algarve’s popularity. Twenty-three 18-hole golf courses and a climate perfect for playing year round make the Algarve one of Europe’s premier golf destinations with dramatic sea views, challenging putts and luxurious golf resorts. For experienced golfers the Penina Championship Golf Course, at Le Meridien Penina Golf & Resort in the west of the region, is one of Portugal’s most venerated courses. Nearby Vale de Pinta is another of the western Algarve’s championship courses. This one, however, was firmly designed with a broader skill base in mind. Different teeing off points make it suitable for everyone from beginners through to scratch golfers. Heading east, the Old Course and the Victoria are also championship courses. For novelty golfing value, however, you might want to check out the Royal Course, where golfers have to clear three cliffs as they play its famous 16th, par 3, hole. If, like this writer, your golfing skills aren’t up to it, you can always head for Vale de Lobo and try out the crazy golf before dinner – great fun for all the family!
Coastal menus are dominated by fresh seafood and shellfish. Starters include sopa de peixe (fish soup) and gambas (prawns), with everything from crabs and tuna to swordfish steak and lobster offered as a main course. To taste something typically Algarvian plump for the cataplana stew of shellfish, spicy sausage and pork or bacon.
Those looking for fine dining are spoilt by the number of options available – just follow the Michelin stars. The only restaurant in the Algarve to be awarded 2 Michelin stars, Vila Joya has a stunning location to complement the stunning food. With one star each, Willies in Vilamoura, Henrique Leis and São Gabriel in the Golden Triangle (Almancil, Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago) are also a must, though you shouldn’t forget to try Casa Velha either! For fantastic beach-side dining, try lunch at the legendary Gigi’s in Quinta do Lago.
The obvious starting place is Faro, where the charming old town fans out from the striking 13th century cathedral. Enjoy the panoramic views from the cathedral tower across the rooftops to the lagoon and nature reserve.
Heading west, the resort of Lagos boasts fine sandy beaches, rocky coves and secluded bays, as well as an appealing historic centre, a stretch of medieval walls and an old fort.
Continuing westward, the coastline becomes progressively wild and rugged, as the European continent rushes towards its climatic rendezvous with the Atlantic swells at Cape San Vicente, mainland Europe’s most southwesterly point.
Tavira is an idyllic historical village, where a sprinkling of traditional whitewashed buildings, baroque churches and a ruined castle flank the tranquil Gilão River. This sleepy backwater’s other big drawcard is the Ilha de Tavira. Reclining just offshore this laid-back beach oasis is blessed with golden sands and crystal clear seawater. The Algarve boasts another gem in Silves, where whitewashed homes adorned with ornate tiles tumble towards the Arade River through narrow cobbled streets. Perched protectively above the town, the rugged castle and its sweeping views are a constant reminder of Silves’ distinguished past as the former capital of Moorish Portugal.
For the Family
As a family-friendly destination the Algarve is hard to beat. Many hotels and apartment complexes were built with children in mind and boast swimming pools and tennis courts. On the beach, children can claim their own patch of white sand with a flag-topped sandcastle. Thrilling water parks, innumerable beach based watersports, mini-golf (see above!) and child-friendly golf courses help to keep all the family happy.
When to Go
The Algarve is a great all year destination for golfers – the weather rarely drops below 15°C, whilst July and August temperatures peak in the early 30°Cs. September is a great time to visit – the temperature is a near constant 28°C and you won’t have packed family holiday crowds to contend with either.
Where to Stay
The options are almost limitless. The Golden Triangle remains a firm favourite, with regular visitors most likely to opt for one of the beautiful, and reliably consistent, villas. First time visitors can’t go wrong with the stunning Quinta do Lago hotel, a Leading Hotel of the World, where prices start from around £280 per night.
Faro is an easy destination to get to. Flights from Bristol, Manchester, London and Birmingham can start at as little as £100 return in September.