United and diverse; this is the Algarve. A tourist destination comprising 16 municipalities, each with its own identity, charming scenery and special stories to share.
In the Algarve, your holidays will take on a historical flavour.
All around the region, you will find the chance to discover some of the charms and secrets of Portugal's history, which time has not yet managed to erase.
Spending your holidays in the Algarve also provides an opportunity for travelling in time, finding numerous testimonies to the different peoples and cultures that have come together throughout the history of this region.
From traces of the Roman presence to evidence of the long legacy of Muslim times, from the Christian reconquest to the epic period of the Portuguese discoveries, you will find all kinds of reasons for rediscovering the signs of a quite distinctive historical past.
The evidence of the human settlement of the Algarve dates back to time immemorial. Examples of this presence are to be found in the Neolithic remains from many thousands of years ago and the more recent, but no less interesting, Roman archaeological sites, now open to visitors.
Any trip into the region's past and its valuable history should also include a visit to the various archaeological museums, displaying a vast heritage that lies waiting to be discovered. As the home to a range of ancient civilisations, the Algarve was also visited by many other peoples, inevitably brought to the region by the immense sea that bathes its shores.
More than five centuries of Moorish influences left their indelible imprint upon the region, beginning with its actual name: Al-Gharb, meaning The West. The long Moorish occupation of the territory, which lasted from the 8th to the 13th century, is still to be noted in the names of the towns and villages, in the region's agriculture, in the architecture of the monuments, the lacework patterns of the balconies, roof terraces and chimneys, or the whitewashed houses still to be seen in many Algarve villages.
At that time, Silves was the central focus of the region because of its strategic geographical location.
In the mid-13th century, the Algarve was the last part of Portugal to be reconquered from Muslim rule. After a long period of forward pushes and backward retreats, the Christian reconquest enjoyed the valuable collaboration of the Knights of the Order of St. James, led by Dom Paio Peres Correia. The result was that, in the reign of Dom Afonso III, the Arab presence in the Algarve was brought to an end and the region was joined to the kingdom of Portugal.
Besides Silves, the cities of Tavira and Faro, the present-day capital of the Algarve, were definitively conquered from the Moors. This marked the foundation of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves.
Later, in the early 15th century, the beginning of the Portuguese maritime expansion brought a new lease of life to the Algarve and its people. Since then, Lagos and Sagres have remained forever linked to Prince Henry the Navigator and the Portuguese Discoveries. Even today, at the headland known as the Ponta de Sagres, a giant stone finger can be seen pointing towards the Atlantic Ocean in a clear allusion to the courage of the Algarve navigators, such as Gil Eanes, who set sail across the seas in search of new worlds to give to the world.
Many marks of this remote past, which is still very much present in the soul of the Algarve's inhabitants, are to be found scattered all around the region.
Paying a visit to Aljezur, Lagos, Silves, Faro, Tavira, Castro Marim and Alcoutim means discovering the grandeur of Portuguese history, its people and their traditions, in each museum, church, fort and castle of the region.
DEMOGRAPHY AND GEOGRAPHY
The Algarve is divided into three large strips, each of great scenic beauty:
– The coastline (litoral), where most of the region’s economic activity is centred. The Algarve coast is highly diverse; you will find steep cliffs dropping sharply into the sea, extensive stretches of sand, lagoons with many inlets, marshes, dunes and more. The rocks are predominantly sedimentary, such as sandstone and conglomerates. Morphologically, the coastline has a low altitude and mostly consists of flat terrain such as grasslands and plains;
– The barrocal is the transitional zone between the coast and the uplands, and consists of limestone and schist rocks. Also known as beira-serra (“edge of the uplands”) it is, traditionally, the main supplier of the Algarve’s agricultural produce, including the renowned medronho brandy, honey and cork;
- The uplands (serra) occupy 50% of the territory. They consist of schist rocks and some granite. The main upland ranges are the Serra do Espinhaço de Cão, the Serra de Monchique, where the highest point in the Algarve is located at 902 metres, and the Serra do Caldeirão, also known as Mú.
The Algarve’s geographical location confers special bioclimatic conditions on the region. The climate is temperate with Mediterranean characteristics. The sun shines for over 3,000 hours a year and the average annual rainfall is low.
The most important activity sector is the tertiary sector (commerce and services) due to the main economic activity - tourism.
The Algarve has one of the best climates in Europe, all year round. With little rainfall, generally occurring between the months of November and March, and plenty of sunshine, the Algarve offers outstanding weather conditions for year-round tourism.
Temperatures are high in summer, which is one reason why the Algarve is a top “sun and sea” destination and an authentic paradise for beachgoers. The region’s beaches, stretching for many kilometres along the coast, consist of fine, golden sand, and the sea is calm, with temperatures of around 22ºC in the summer.
Due to its terrain and geographical location, the Algarve is influenced by various climates: from the continent of Europe to the north of Africa, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Maximum temperatures vary between 15ºC and 31ºC over the course of the year. In winter, temperatures do not drop below zero and the sunny days draw many tourists from the colder countries in northern Europe at this time of year.
Air temperature in summer: 24ºC to 29ºC
Air temperature in winter: 15ºC to 18ºC
Sea temperature in summer: 21ºC to 24ºC
Sea temperature in winter: 15ºC to 19ºC
It was here that, in the 15th century, the Portuguese set off on the epic journey that led them to discover other peoples and cultures… and it is in the Algarve that we cheerfully welcome many of our visitors. Even the climate is mild and sunny all year round!
There’s no shortage of high quality beaches either. Sandy stretches as far as the eye can see, framed by golden cliffs, virtually deserted islands marking the boundary between Ria Formosa and the sea, and small coves sheltered by the rocks. The ocean, in every shade of blue and mostly calm and warm, invites you for long swims and to indulge in water sports.
And there are also the mountains, where people live in harmony with nature and maintain traditions that they love to share. And the cities. Silves preserves traces of its Arab past and Lagos from the time of the Discoveries. More cosmopolitan Portimão and Albufeira are bustling towns by night and day. Tavira is a showcase for traditional architecture and Faro, the gateway to the region, deserves a long stop to discover its beautiful historic centre.
To relax, you can have various treatments in the spas and thalassotherapy centres and in the Monchique Thermal Baths. There are also many internationally acclaimed golf courses where you can enjoy a spot of exercise. And hotels, tourist villages, resorts, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. In short, a varied array sharing a genuine love for hospitality.
You can use footpaths and cycle trails to get to know the region, such as the Algarve Way inland or the Vicentine Route along one of the best preserved coastal stretches. And boat rides are another ecological way to observe the flora and fauna.
At the table, you will be delighted with the fresh fish and seafood, either grilled or in a casserole. These are divine flavours which you can enjoy on a simple beach terrace or in the most refined Michelin-starred restaurants, where chefs turn out new versions of traditional cuisine. They are further experiences not to be missed on a visit to the region.