For centuries, Portuguese kings held the title "King of Portugal and of the Algarve" and there is a reason for that. In fact, South Portugal is a world apart. Nowhere in the country has the Islamic heritage remained so alive, revealed in the most diversified ways: terraces and chimneys of traditional houses; norias (waterwheels); the way the earth is planted; the abundance of olive trees and almond trees; the language. The light that illuminates this land even in winter makes it different. Days are clear and the air is limpid. The bright sunshine penetrates the vivid blue sea, the white houses and walls, the golden sands. The climate is pleasant, providing the inhabitants of the Algarve the mildest winters in Portugal. According to an old phrase of Portuguese tourism propaganda, "summer spends winter time in Portugal". If it is so, its favourite place is surely the Algarve.
Tourism-oriented Algarve and the other Algarve
The Algarve coastline is duly famous both nationally and internationally. There are beaches for all tastes: from endless sand areas to small shells between rocky cliffs. Year after year, these exceptional conditions attract crowds of visitors.
But the truth is there is more to the Algarve than just the coastline. There is a world to discover placed between the sea and the mountain, where a quality nature-friendly tourism is steadily growing. From this point of view, Monchique Mountain is a world apart. However, Salir, Barranco do Velho, Querença, Cachopo or Ameixial are also names to bear in mind.
And what about the cities? Here you will find superbly preserved historical centres, inviting to endless walks. Faro offers us a city inside the walls, actually one of its best-kept secrets. Tavira has remained faithful to its traditions, and has restored the old quarter without changing its identity. In this city you will find the best collection of peculiar scissor-shaped roofs, masterpieces of popular architecture. Silves clearly reveals its Islamic roots, for in the 11th and 12th centuries this city was the most cultivated and prosperous of the South of the Peninsula. Lagos, situated in the western-most spot of the Algarve, the Barlavento (meaning the place from where the wind blows), is another outstanding example of the balance between tourism-oriented policies and the respect for roots and for city's identity.
In the other extreme of the province, in Sotavento (meaning the place where the wind blows to), lays Vila Real de Santo António, an unexpectedly rational geometrical city, resembling Lisbon's downtown, planned by Marquis de Pombal, and contemporary to this city.
Gastronomy, entertainment and leisure
It is also worth mentioning the best that years of tourism industry have produced: a rich powerful gastronomy based on traditional recipes and a diversified hotel offer driven by quality rather than quantity. In the most cosmopolitan side of the region, there is a high quality tourism offer that includes well-equipped modern marinas, in Vilamoura and Lagos, for instance, offering good options in terms of leisure navigation. There are plenty of excellent hotels, golf courses duly recognised for their quality and a lively night life. There is an international airport in Faro, a good highway connection between Seville and Lisbon and fast trains leading to the capital and the north of the country.