Visiting Portugal: the Algarve
The Algarve (Portugal)
We are introducing a new section to our travel posts: regions. In this group of posts we will talk not about a city, but a region. This week we are headed to Southern Portugal, to the Algarve.
How to get there: Plane, bus, train, or car
Arriving to the Algarve is fairly easy as there is a main airport in the city of Faro in addition to good roads for drivers or people taking the bus and train connections from around Portugal. Depending on how much you want to travel around while you are there, I would recommend renting a car as it will help you access beaches and small towns.
Three Cities to See:
While there are a plethora of cities that are packed with tourists and Portuguese (and Portuguese tourists) on the coast and in the mountains, these are the three main cities I would recommend:
1) Faro: The capital and most cosmopolitan city in the region, Faro is a great place to go if you want a night out on the town. It is also great because from the city you can access several smaller places on the beach (such as Quarteira or Albufeira) that have a lot of tourist places for Portuguese and foreigners alike.
2) Portimão: The second most populated city in Algarve, Portimão is a little bit quieter than Faro, but still has a lot of tourist action. This is most likely due to its ideal position between Faro and the Atlantic Ocean, on the beach but near to the mountains.
3) Lagos: Also known as a place for tourists, Lagos allows visitors close access to great beaches and has historical places to check out as well as good nightlife. A small town in the off-season months, it turns into a small city during tourist season as people from all over Europe head to Lagos to relax.
Two things to do in Nature:
1) The beaches: Southern Portugal is known for its beaches and for good reason—they are amazing. I personally prefer the ones on the Atlantic Coast to the Mediterranean one even though they are a bit colder (but still swimmable) as they feel fresher to me. One beach that I could not recommend enough is the Praia da Amoreira. It is a little bit of a pain to get to, but if you have a car it’s not an issue and totally worth it. This beach is fed by a river and you can ride the water in and out with the tide. In addition, it has a great beach and a decent snack bar.
2) The mountains: If you are not so interested in hanging out on the beach and turning into a gamba (a shrimp) as the Spanish would say, I would recommend heading up into the mountains. I spent about a month in the Monchique area and hope to be able to head back soon. It is quiet and nice, but you still have activity in the city center if you want to buy at a local market, eat local food, or go out.
One thing to eat: Fresh Seafood
Whether you buy it and make it yourself or eat out in a restaurant, the seafood in this region is delicious. If you eat out, which I would recommend doing at least once, the clams (in a white wine and garlic sauce), the octopus salad (served cold), and the piri-piri shrimp (careful, spicy) would all make it to the top of my list!
One thing to drink: Aguardente de Medronhos
This typical drink, known as ‘Firewater’ is made by a small fruit that grows in the Algarve region. The production of the drink is usually by small local farmers and they are very proud of their tradition. While I recommend that you try it (it is regional of course), be careful as it is quite strong—I personally didn’t need much.*
*Note, if you’re not a hard alcohol drinker, check out the beers as well—Sagres, a popular Portuguese beer is also made in the Algarve.