The Algarve region—touted as Europe’s favorite secret—is in the southern part of the Portugal, located between Faro and Lagos. It is known for its great beaches, boating on the Atlantic Ocean, world-class golf courses, outdoor activities, and delicious cuisine, including six Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Algarve is home to 130 beaches that cover nearly 125 miles of coastline. Temperatures in the region range from 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 60 to 65 Fahrenheit degrees in the winter. Visitors are treated to a glorious 300 days of sunshine a year, making it one of the sunniest places on earth. Eighty-two of the region’s beaches have the Blue Flag certification from the Foundation for Environmental Education, which means they follow a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety-related and access-related guidelines. Among the most popular beaches in the region are Meia Praia in Lagos, Ilha de Tavira across from Ria Formosa natural park, and Praia da Marinha, located between Carvoeiro and Albufeira.
The 2019 Michelin guide lists 26 Portugal restaurants—six with two stars and 20 with one star—a majority of which are in the Algarve. Among those with one star is Restaurante Bon Bon, headed by Chef Rui Silvestre. The chef uses local food and wines to create food he calls “artisan cuisinier” that highlights local foods, herbs, and wines. Another great eatery is the Vista Restaurante at the Hotel Bela Vista and Spa, run by Chef Joao Oliveira, winner of the Boa Cama Boa Mesa guide’s Gold Fork award, the country’s version of a Michelin star.
While in the region, visitors should be sure to try local Algarvian scarlet prawns, razor clams, grilled sardines or octopus, Iberico ham made from pork fed with acorns, salted codfish, and clams in a cataplana, a traditional dish cooked in a clam-shaped copper pan. For dessert, there’s the country’s signature Pastel de Nata, pastries filled with a sweet custard topped with a sugar brûlée. Another popular dessert is Doce Fino, an almond paste-based marzipan that comes in different shapes such as fruit and animals.
The Wines and Ports
Portugal has long been known for its port, a fortified wine—authentic Portuguese port bottles are marked with “Porto” on the label. The Algarve is home to four wine regions (Denominação de Origem Controlada): Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa, and Tavira. The region is known for its white and red varietals from wineries including Quinta dos Vales, which produces a range of red, white and rose wines at different price points. It also features the art of owner Karl Heinz Stock. Other wineries in the region are Paxa Wines, Quinta do Barranco Longo and Quinta do Francês.
The Algarve is home to 34 18-hole and six nine-hole golf courses. Five courses in the region have been ranked among top 100 golf courses in continental Europe and six made it into the recent Rolex World´s Top 1000 Golf Courses. A jewel in the crown of the five courses near the Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort is the D. Pedro Victoria Golf Course, designed by the late Arnold Palmer. It has hosted the Portugal Masters since 2007 and was home to the World Cup Championship in 2005. Considering its pedigree and facilities, greens fees are quite affordable, at under $200 for 18 holes. Other nearby courses are The Old Course, Millennium, Pinhal, and Laguna.
Thanks to its location on the Atlantic Ocean, the Algarve is the perfect place for water activities. Companies like Albufeira-based Dream Wave offer jet ski and boat rentals. It also offers a dolphin-watching tour in a 10-seat jet-powered boat or a larger boat. Dolphins aren’t always out during the tour, but when they appear, it’s a magical sight. To guarantee seeing dolphins, consider a visit to Zoomarine, a water-based family theme park located in Guia that offers a chance to interact with the mammals. The park also features an aquarium, a 4D movie theater, and a wave beach with water slides and sand.
Ponta da Piedade
Located near the coastal city of Lagos, this series of cliffs, pillars, and tunnels were formed over thousands of year battering by the seas in the region. There are spectacular Ponta da Piedade viewing spots at the top of the cliffs, but the best way to view them is by boats that are stationed at the marina in Lagos. They cruise along the coast, where you can see the amazing caves and rock formations up close and personal. Some caves even have their own private beaches.
Cabo de São Vicente
Located at the bottom of Portugal in Sagres, this fortress dates back to the 16th century and was used to fend off pirate attacks. Before that, it was a medieval convent that was allegedly the burial site of St Vincent. A lighthouse was built on the site, which sits on a cliff 60 feet above the sea, in 1904 and is still in use. The site is marketed as “The End of the World.”
The Algarve is a rich fishing and agricultural region. Products grown in the region include oranges, lemons, limes, figs, carob beans, strawberries, and the oak trees that provide cork for wines and spirits. Visitors can do a jeep safari through the countryside and see villages, examples of the region’s architecture and sample the food of the region, including honey, cheese, jams, sardine paste, and flor de sal (salt flower), a light salt with the consistency of a snowflake seen on tables everywhere. There are also popular Portuguese liqueurs such as medronho, made from wild strawberries and figaro, a brandy-based drink.
Arts and Crafts
The Algarve is home to a thriving community that produces both traditional and modern pieces across different media. Crafts found in the seaside town of Lagos includes jewelry, the country’s iconic ceramic tiles, embroidery, clothing, pottery, baskets, paintings, and leather.