Cape Saint-Vincent was once believed to be O fim do mundo, one of the ends of the world that seamen and thrill seekers avidly dreamed and looked for. Its 75 metres-high cliffs kiss the sea and mark the bottom – or the beginning, of a land full of life and magic: the Algarve still intrigues and wins travellers’ love as it did hundreds of years ago. From its nature to its customs and traditions, this region has it all. This is why the Algarve is so special…
A coast of yellowish steep landscapes
Beauty spreads throughout 200 kilometres, with 150 astonishing beaches mixing white sand, rocks, a rugged landscape, and a brilliant blue hue shining from the sea. Between Portimão and Albufeira, Benagil beach boasts about one of the best gems in the south of Portugal, with a stunning, natural grotto where a hole in the ceiling lets the light pass through.
Figure 1. Benagil's grotto. Credit: Pixabay
Close by and protected by natural walls, Praia do Marinha delights every single visitor with charm and prettiness. One thing you must do is try the fish at the local restaurant, caught that morning. The sea bass is particularly special.
When gastronomy becomes a little piece of heaven
While on the topic of food, fish and shellfish might be the dishes par excellence, especially when locals slowly grill it over charcoal, as dictated by tradition. However, it could be considered a crime not to try the cataplana, one of the most appreciated bites when tasting the ultimate gastro experience in the Algarve. Its secret lies in using a clam-shaped copper pan that keeps all the aroma and flavour of seafood, rice and vegetables.
In order to celebrate summer and the richness of their local products, many villages host seafood and gastro festivals, Olhão and Faro being the most popular. You can find some in our What’s On section.
Figure 2. Cataplana in the Algarve. Credit: Shutterstock
Centuries of an eclectic tradition
As with landscapes and food, the Algarve is also rich in centuries-old traditions and customs. Local festivals are not just a memorable pastime, but an incredibly good way to discover and understand what is behind this land. Due to its strategic location, this region has always enjoyed a mixed blend of cultures. In fact, influences from the five centuries of the Arab occupation are still present today, with narrow streets and chimneys with different colours and designs being some of them.
However, if there is something that clearly represents the Algarve’s identity, it is music and dancing. The Corridinho is a bit like a mixture of polka and mazurka, played by accordions. This instrument has had a great influence over the Algarve’s music in the 19th century, when local musicians reinvented folkloric melodies.
Figure 3. Silves' Medieval Festival. Credit: Ricardo Liberato/Flickr
The secret of tiles and craftworks
Beautiful tiles in the Algarve and Portugal in general have been used to decorate churches and palaces since the 15th century. Over so many years, a symphony of tiles have created an important distinguishing mark. One of the most beautiful samples is located inside São Lourenço church, in Almancil.
Algarve’s older quarters are inundated of craft shops, where vivid ceramics, towels, linen clothes, or wicker works enrich the atmosphere.
Figure 4. São Lourenço de Almancil Church. Credit: Visit Portugal
What almost no one knows
Even if it’s true that the Algarve has become an extremely popular destination for tourists and expats, there are still a couple of secrets to be discovered. Observing the stars is free, and this region boasts about having 300 cloudless nights a year. How to gaze the stars is the visitor’s choice: walking over the coast, taking a boat trip or using a telescope. Some of the best spots to give it a try are Cape Saint-Vincent, Ponta da Piedade (Lagos), and Algar Seco (Lagoa).
From the sky to the ocean, the Ocean Revival project is a paradise for scuba-divers. It is an artificial reef integrated by a fleet of four sunken vessels from the Portuguese Navy. Although artificial is not always a positive word, that does not mean that visitors cannot enjoy this wonderful experience with corals and other sea animals.
Figure 5: Ocean Revival experience in Algarve. Credit: Ocean Revival/Facebook