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The Algarve: a Portuguese treasure

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Our top 10 experiences in the southernmost region of Portugal

On the southernmost tip of Portugal, the dazzling Algarve region offers long stretches of fine sand fringed with golden-hued cliffs topped with fishing villages. The ‘west of Andalusia’ (Gharb al-Andalus), as the Moors called the region during their 500-year occupation, is home to countless beauties that will amaze all those who love nature and architecture. Here are some experiences you simply mustn’t miss when holidaying in the Algarve…

Chill at Praia da Marinha

This is undeniably one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve. Some say the world! And they might be right about that. Head to the clifftops to fully appreciate the beauty of this long cove with its impressive rock structures sculpted by the sea. At low tide, you can access the surrounding coves. You may well stumble upon its pretty neighbour: the secret Praia do Carvalho cove.

Stroll along the Siete Valles Colgantes trail

This trail starts at the Praia da Marinha, and just saying its name Siete Valles Colgantes (Seven Hanging Valleys) sparks the imagination. It is one of the most beautiful coastal hikes in Portugal and a must-do during your visit to the Algarve. Explore cliffside trails with stunning panoramic views, white sandy coves and natural pools with crystal clear waters for a refreshing dip or two.

Explore the Benagil sea cave

It’s hard to believe that this cave below the Siete Valles Colgantes trail was a secret known only to local fishermen for years. Now, the Benagil sea cave is a natural symbol of the Algarve and, beyond that, a picture postcard of Portugal. It can only be accessed from the sea. So why not travel there by kayak from Lagoa? You’ll be able to take your time discovering the cave and secret beaches, gliding inside the cliffs at whim. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins.

Marvel at the Ponta da Piedade

It’s a headland, it’s a peak… it’s the ‘point of mercy’ south of Lagos! The beauty of the Ponta da Piedade, another natural wonder, rivals that of the Benagil sea cave. This windswept coastline carved out by the swell now features a tangle of sculpted rocks, vaults, tunnels, secret caverns and more. From the sea, the spectacular cliffs take on a whole new dimension. Whether you’re exploring in a kayak or, more leisurely, aboard a small fishing boat, treat yourself to a breathtaking view of this wonderful geological spectacle. The sunsets here are simply amazing!

Wander around Ferragudo

On the edge of the protected waters of the Rio Arade estuary, opposite Portimão, don’t miss Ferragudo, a charming and sleepy little fishing village with traditional houses and a pretty seafront. Head to the harbour early in the morning when the fishermen return with the catch of the day to secure yourself the promise of some delicious grilled fish or an excellent cataplana, an Algarve speciality. This seafood stew is traditionally served in a scallop-shaped copper pan. And it’s perfect for sharing!

Discover the sand sculptures of Lagoa

The FIESA or Festival internacional de escultura em areia (International Sand Sculpture Festival) is the largest sand sculpture event in the world, organised at SandCity, just outside Lagoa. Each year between spring and autumn, this 6-hectare open-air museum welcomes the best sand sculptors from the region and around the world, who construct over a hundred sculptures, some of which are more than 10 metres tall! This festival will inspire childlike wonder in even the most sensible of grown-ups!

Dive into the past of beautiful Tavira

The city and its exceptional historical heritage straddle the River Gilão. Tavira bears the marks of its various occupants: Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and then Christians. A ‘Roman’ bridge with seven arches – actually of Moorish origin – and a 10th-century castle, also built by the Moors, are just two sites worth visiting. Patrol the city walls, which now defend a Mediterranean garden, or climb to the top of its tower to enjoy a lovely panoramic view of the city, its churches – it is home to more than thirty! – and cobbled streets lined with houses featuring hipped roofs and walls tiled with azulejos.

Observe wildlife in the Ria Formosa

South of Faro, the Ria Formosa wetland is an incredible wildlife sanctuary. Hidden in its maze of islands and lagoons, you can discover approximately 1,500 species. Its residents include western swamphens, an endangered species with elegant blue-grey plumage and the park’s symbol, as well as kingfishers, chameleons and friendly Portuguese water dogs. The Algarve is where they originated! They were once the loyal companions of fishermen, diving to release fish stuck in their nets!

Storm the Moorish Castle of Silves

Enjoy the tranquil atmosphere and authentic charm of the former capital of the Kingdom of Algarve as you gaze at some of the remains of its prestigious past. Start with its imposing Castelo de Silves, which was built between the 8th and 13th centuries. It is one of the most remarkable monuments in the region and the most beautiful fortifications dating back to the Islamic era in Portugal. The impressive red sandstone 11-tower sentinel with Moorish architecture overlooks the city, and provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the Algarve’s Moorish roots.

Visit the previous end of the known world at Cape St. Vincent

Welcome to the southwesternmost point of Western Europe for a spectacular face-to-face with the elements. Listen to the waves crashing against the cliffs and the winds battering the peaks. Until the 14th century, the Cabo de São Vicente was the end of the known world. It speaks for itself. Nature in its rawest state! At sunset, choose your ‘end’ of the horizon, take a seat and admire the view… As impressive as it is inspiring.

 

Photos credits : ©iStock

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