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Lagos Beach, Algarve | Photographer: Jose Manuel

Situated on the extreme South of Portugal, tucked between Spain, the Atlantic ocean and Alentejo, this part of the territory was the last to be conquered from the Moors by the Portuguese king Dom Afonso III, in 1292. Traces of the Moorish presence are still seen in its unique terraces, chimneys and whitewashed houses.

In Portugal's Algarve, the distance that was difficult to cover back in the 13th century is no longer an obstacle thanks to the modern highway and coastal road and Faro international airport. So why not visit this charming region, with its idyllic temperatures (average temperature in winter of 14째C and 24째C - 57째F and 75째F - in summer, rarely going below 12째C - 53째F- during winter and reaching as high as 28째C or 30째C - 82째F or 86째 F - in July and August), which are ideal for playing golf and other sports.

In the northern part of Algarve, the ranges of Espinhaco de Cao, Monchique and Caldeirao shelter the coast from strong winds. This brightly colored region, with its fig trees, orange groves and almond trees in blossom, is also the most verdant and fertile. The southern coastline consists of a long stretch of fabulous sandy beaches, broken up by extraordinary rugged red cliffs and fantastic grottoes.

Apart from the wealth of available water sports facilities (the marinas of Vilamoura and Lagos deserve special mention, amongst the various ports and harbours), there are other alternatives, such as tennis courts, famous golf courses, luxury hotels or quaint holiday resorts and an exciting nightlife.

Albufeira

Albufeira is one of the favorite towns in Algarve for those wanting to be seen in one of the most popular beaches in Algarve as well as taste the outstanding cuisine and a great nightlife. Popular with foreigners, young people and sun and fun seeking, Albufeira stands as a must spot to visit.

Accommodations in Albufeira

Faro

The capital of the region, with a medieval wall and a large number of monuments: Cathedral (Romanesque-Gothic origin), Nossa Senhora da Assuncao Convent (Renaissance), Sao Francisco Church (16th-18th centuries). Museums to visit: Infante Dom Henrique, Regional Ethnographic, Ramalho Ortigao and Antoniano (next to Santo Antonio do Alto Chapel). Also worthwhile visiting are the beautiful churches of Sao Pedro da Misericordia and Nossa Senhora do Carmo. Roman ruins of Milreu in the suburbs.

Accommodations in Faro

Lagos

Enclosed within 15th century walls, with its Manueline window, are the magnificent churches of Sao Sebastiao (Renaissance portals and 17th and 18th century tiles), Santa Maria or Misericordia (16th-19th centuries), Santo Antonio (Baroque) and the very old Sao Joao Chapel (8th-9th centuries). Other points of interest: Regional Museum, Governors Palace, Pau da Bandeira Fortress and the old slave market. Charming marina.

Accommodations in Lagos

Monchique

Amongst the beautiful houses on the slope stand the mother-church (Manueline), the Misericordia Church (with a Baroque retable) and the Senhor do Pe da Cruz Chapel (17th century). Nearby, look for the famous thermal spa of Monchique and Foia (2959 ft high), overlooking the hills and the ocean.

Accommodations in Monchique

Olhao

The square-shaped flat-roofed houses, with their Moorish-style terraces, are this fishing town셲 ex-libris. Behind the mother-church (17th century) you will find the Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos Chapel.

Portimao

In this fishermen셲 town, visit the mother-church (14th century, rebuilt in the 18th century), the Colegio Church (17th century), and the Town Hall. In the suburbs, the renowned Praia da Rocha (with its Santa Catarina de Ribamar Fortress), and the Roman ruins of Abicada.

Sagres

It was here that five centuries ago Prince Henry set up a school of navigation, which played a crucial role in the Portuguese Discoveries. Apart from the Nossa Senhora da Graca Chapel, you can visit the magnificent fortress (originally built in the 14th century, and later altered) and the 15th century rosa-dos-ventos (a 141 ft diameter compass card). Nearby, on the extreme southwestern tip of the European continent, is Cabo de Sao Vicente (Romans Promontorium Sacrum), opening on to a vast horizon of sea and sky.

Silves

Stones of different times and cultures overlap in this town: the castle and walls are of Arab origin; the Gothic Cathedral (having undergone several restoration work) was built on the site of an ancient mosque; the 12th century bridge was built where formerly stood a Roman bridge. The Cross of Portugal also deserves special mention (16th century religious sculpture), as well as the following examples of Manueline motifs: the Nossa Senhora dos Martires Chapel and the Misericordia Church. The Archeology Museum is built around an almost unique Arab water cistern, dating from the Almohad period.

Accommodations in Silves

Tavira

With its inviting long beaches, typical roofs and chimneys, this picturesque town offers a beautiful view over the Gilao river and its Roman bridge. Churches to visit: Santa Maria do Castelo (13th-18th centuries), Misericordia (Renaissance), Nossa Senhora das Ondas (17th century), Sao Jose (with Gothic and Manueline elements), Sao Paulo and Carmo (17th-18th-centuries). If you are browsing along the Travessa de Dona Brites, you will see beautiful medieval houses, with Gothic windows and portals. In the suburbs, at the village of Luz there is a Renaissance church, which has been a pilgrimage place for many centuries.

Other places of interest

Albufeira, Alcoutim, Aljezur, Almansil (beautiful Sao Lourenco Church, a Baroque masterpiece), Alte, Cacela, Carvoeiro, Castro Marim, Est척mbar, Lagoa, Loule, Moncarapacho, Monte Gordo (casino), Ponta da Piedade, Porches, Sao Bras de Alportel (Sao Bras Pousada), Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, Vila do Bispo, Vilamoura (casino and marina) and Vila Real de Santo Antonio (marina).

Regional gastronomy

  • Fish soups
  • Fish and seafood
  • Tuna fish cooked in onions
  • Sweets: fig, almond and egg sweets

Handicrafts

Wicker and osier crafts
Straw hats and baskets
Copper and tin objects
Wooden objects
Ceramics from Porches