Before your plane has landed at Faro airport you may have caught a glimpse of the shimmering blue ocean. Through the ages the sea has dominated Algarve life, and today, it is the allure of the clear blue water and golden sands which brings holidaymakers to fill the beaches.
The Algarve is a place of variety, and in its short coastline there are golden sands, rocky coves and soaring cliffs. Whatever your dream of a perfect beach, with a little exploring, it is here to be found.
Let the sea come to your table. There is no place like the Algarve to eat fish. The Portuguese are connoisseurs of fresh fish and the quality they demand is reflected in the cuisine on offer in restaurants.
If you like it hot then try chicken piri piri. After deliciously grilling the chicken over open charcoal it is brushed with fiery hot local chillies in olive oil. It’s a good excuse to try the local beers which are light and similar to lager.
The Algarve is not well known for good wines, the summers are too dry and long. Further north there are many fine vineyards and wines from the Dao region are invariably worth drinking.
A Portuguese speciality is Vinho Verde. The name green wine has nothing to do with the colour but rather that it is bottled and drunk when young. The early bottling results in a slight fizz.
For a complete change from soaking up the sun by the pool side take a drive inland from Portimao and discover the wooded slopes of Monchique mountain.
Don’t fail to stop at the former spa of Caldas de Monchique where hot springs attracted people to take the waters.
On your way back down the mountain turn off to Silves. The town has recently been much improved and after climbing up to the castle and cathedral there are traditional restaurants near the river.
If there’s space left in your suitcase after you have packed the duty paid cigarettes at one third UK prices you might a bottle or two of brandy or port a worthwhile investment. Both attract good interest at the table for a low capital investment.
All Continental Villas properties are fully equipped, Please bring beach towels as the villa towels are not to be taken to the beach.
Although many UK products are available in the Algarve you may choose to bring your choice of sun tan lotion and special baby foods.
Except for July and august there may be cool evenings and a light pullover may be comfortable. Jacket and tie is only necessary in the smartest restaurants and the casinos.
Portuguese electricity is 220 volt and normal UK appliances will work. Plugs are round with two round pins and external earth. An adaptor can be bought at most airport shops.
Most shops and restaurants accept credit cards and banks have ATM’s to draw money. There are cash change machines and money changers as well as banks to change currency. There is a bank with ATM in Praia da Luz. Generally the rate and commissions are more favourable in Portugal than UK or through your credit card.
To rent a car in Portugal most companies will require you to be over 23 and have a valid full licence. Whilst driving you must have your passport and driving licence actually with you at all times.
A 3 day car hire may cost less than a taxi transfer from the airport to the Praia da Luz / Lagos area. Hiring a car at the beginning and end of your holiday can be a way to save money and get to see some of the countryside.
A car is essential if you wish to explore any of the inland countryside or the wild west coast.
One popular excursion is to first visit Sagres and Cape St Vincente. On the return turn north at Vilo do Bispo and follow the road past the massive wind turbines towards Aljezur. The west coast is to your left and virtually any lane will lead to a magnificent bay or headland.
After exploring Aljezur take the road south through the hills and woodland towards the village of Bensafrim and back to Lagos.
Past the high rise apartment blocks and crowded beaches of the Algarves better known resorts is the Western Algarve. This is the home of Continental Villas, a place of unspoilt beauty, secluded bays and dramatic countryside.
This western end of the Algarve coastline was protected from the worst of development by the traffic bottleneck at Portimao. It just took too long for transfer coaches to reach here from the airport.
Today Portimao has a new road and bridge and the Western Algarve has a national park to protect it. From Praia da Luz to Faro airport is less than 1 hours drive and to the protected beauty of the Costa St Vincente national park only five minutes.
After the long sandy beaches of Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Meia Praia the coastline changes. Here in the West Algarve the coast is rocky cliffs studded with picture book coves and sparkling white fishing villages. The coast has a more intimate feel and the communities are still closer to their Portuguese identity.
Visit Burgau, only five minutes by car from Praia da Luz and you will not fail to fall in love with this gleaming gem of a fishing village. A maze of narrow streets wind steeply down to a slipway where fishing boats are pulled up from the tide.
The sandy beach nestles in a cove which is straight from a picture postcard. Old fishermen mend nets and boats whilst tourists bask on the golden sands
For those who love the romance of really wild coastline, drive across to visit the rugged splendour of the West coast. Here prevailing winter storms sweep in from the Atlantic to carve sandy bays at the foot of soaring cliffs.
This is an uncompromising place and the villages stand inland, sheltering from the worst of the winters storms.
These beaches are favoured by surfers who ride the long Atlantic rollers which sweep in from the West. Above the cliffs may be seen hang gliders and parakites riding on the winds rising up the cliff faces.
Here too is the spectacular beach of Carrapeteira, a wide swathe of beach and a Sahara sized sand dune.
For a visit to explore the West Coast it’s a good idea to take a picnic and plenty to drink. The beaches here are undeveloped and many have little or no facilities. If you need a sun umbrella then take that too. What is fairly optional here is your swim suit so don’t be too surprised if you see people wearing little more than their sun tan oil.
Along the south facing Algarve coastline the fertile soil provided a traditional way of life which is still to be glimpsed in the inland villages. Many communities like Barao sao Miguel and Vila de Bispo have been hardly touched by tourism. Until recently farmers with donkey carts and ploughs pulled by oxen were a daily sight.
Inland from the farms and villages the land rises to the low hills and narrow valleys of the Serra. For miles the hills are cloaked in the sticky leaved rock roses the Portuguese call Arbustos. The land is dry and there are few houses. Where there is ground water forests have been planted. Eucalyptus for the paper industry and pine for timber.
Contrasting starkly to this ages old landscape is the stark modern technology of great wind turbines. Built to harness the prevailing weather the great white propellers seem to turn effortlessly in the lightest of breeze. They are an impressive sight and a reminder that time cannot stand still except on holiday.