castle at night

Discover the hidden gems of the Algarve

From stunning landscapes formed by the sea and mountains and traditional towns in the hinterland, to ancient remains left behind from Neolithic, Roman and Moorish periods, the Algarve has much more to offer the UK visitor than the sun and sea holidays it is most famous for with a huge number of hidden gems to enjoy.

With sun and sea holidays a tradition for UK visitors, the Algarve offers so much more…discover stunning landscapes formed by the sea and mountains, traditional towns in the Algarve hinterland and ancient remains from the Neolithic period to the times of the Roman and Moorish occupations. Does this sound like the Algarve you imagine?

From the international hub of Faro travel East to find Tavira, a small charming town with castle ruins, 16th and 17th Century buildings and quaint cafes and boutiques for those who like to shop. Culture vultures will not tire as churches are in abundance, as is the Moorish influence. For a historical hotel with a difference the Pousada de Tavira, Hotel Convento da Graca, is a fascinating restored former 16th Century Convent. Also for sun worshippers, just off the coast of Tavira you will find the beautiful, unspoilt beaches of Ilha de Tavira.

From Tavira it is easy to discover the Ria Formosa Natural Park which protects the coastline along the eastern Algarve and is famous for the sand banks that create a refuge for a variety of aquatic species. Boat trips can be arranged along the coast to observe the wildlife and visitors can walk through the park and see flamingoes and the famous Portuguese water dog. These dogs have webbed feet and have been in existence for at least 2000 years. They were used to help fishermen by herding fish into the nets and can still be found in Portugal today. Also running along the northeastern border of the Algarve, towards the beaches of the south coast, the River Guadiana offers beautiful scenery. Enjoy a trip down this river and glide through areas of pastureland, past cultivated fields, ancient remains, and small traditional white stoned towns up to Alcoutim, the centre of an area which has been inhabitated since 400 B.C.

On the western side visit the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe, Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent) which boasts dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery and was considered the ‘world’s end’ in the Middle Ages. Nearby, it was in Sagres that the epic maritime adventures of the Portuguese began under the command of Prince Henry the Navigator. Here you can enjoy a fantastic view over the Atlantic Ocean from the headland. Stunning coves and beaches can be found along the western side including the magical limestone cliffs at Ponta da Piedade where the view from the top is brilliant, but if you take the steps down it is even better!

Take some time out to appreciate the local crafts of the Moorish city of Loulé, particularly its painted pottery, brass and copperware. The neo-Moorish market place of the 13th-Century Igreja de São Clemente and the Igreja da Misericórdia are also well worth a visit. Make the most of the warm hospitality of the local people as you relax over a loaf of bread and some chouriço sausage accompanied by the special Algarve medronho, a brandy made from arbutus-berries. Each February the vibrant town fills up with colour and cheer as visitors and locals enjoy a procession of floats with over-sized puppets, samba groups and music of the Loulé Carnival.

Discover the Serra de Monchique and the historic landscapes, towns and traditions of the Algarve hinterland. It is known for the traditional architecture of the houses with white walls, carved stonework and special ‘saia’ (skirt) chimneys. A natural Spa can be found in the town where visitors can be revigorated and pampered after climbing to the highest point in the mountains of Pico da Fóia which reaches 902 metres. Visit Silves, once a rich and powerful city but now a sleepy town lying in the foothills of the Serra de Monchique mountains. Believed to have been founded by the Phoenicians, Silves’ Cathedral and red sandstone castle ruin remind visitors of its rich and industrious Moorish past.

Not forgetting seafood lovers! The annual Festival do Marisco is held in August each year in the town of Olhão just five kilometres from Faro. This gastronomic event is an opportunity for local fishermen to show off their catch on one of the hundreds of stalls that line the fishing port, and also gives visitors the chance to sample some of the local delicacies. A wide range of seafood is available ranging from grilled sardines to fried shrimps and of course the traditional cataplana, a much loved Portuguese dish. Music and folk dancing accompany the festival, with performers encouraging both locals and visitors to eat, drink and enjoy the superb atmosphere.

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