The Algarve is a holiday haven, packed full of character. With almost year-round sunshine, golden beaches and fresh local delicacies, the Algarve is a location which will likely entice you back again and again.
Each visit to this area of Portugal can be different from the last, as there is so much to see and do and the Algarve is one of the most unique holiday locations in the world. With a coastline stretching almost 100 miles, UNESCO protected parks and nature lands, this region of Portugal offers one of the best tourism experiences in Europe.
However, if you’re looking for travel experiences which are slightly different from the usual holiday offerings, then the Algarve has plenty to offer. Here is an alternative guide to visiting the Algarve.
Things To Do in the Algarve
Underground Wine Tasting
8 meters underground, the Cave de Vinhos wine cellar is over 150 years old and holds 11,000 bottles of wine, from a number of different regions in Portugal and locations across the world. The Algarve is home to endless vineyards and wine regions, meaning that wine tastings and experiences are plenty.
If you want a wine tasting experience which is unique and memorable, then a visit to the Cave de Vinhos is a must. As well as wine tasting, the cellar also hosts private dinners for up to 12 guests and cheese and wine tastings throughout the day.
The Chapel of Bones
Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) is in the village of Alcantarilha and is perhaps one of the spookiest, yet most intriguing, buildings you will ever see. At first glance, you might think that the chapel is merely just decorated with bones, but actually the walls are constructed from femurs mixed with mortar. The bones in this chapel are the remains of 1,245 monks, whose bones were displaced during the building of the chapel.
Fresh Oyster Tasting
The Algarve is renowned for its seafood dishes and sure you can order oysters at a seafood restaurant, but why not go on a fresh oyster tasting trip? On this excursion, you can eat oysters which have been plucked straight from the ocean and opened right before your eyes.
There are numerous food tours and oyster tasting experiences which leave from Ilha de Culatra in Ria Formosa, where you will learn all about oysters from a local producer, try fresh oysters and enjoy a crisp, cold glass of white wine, all by the ocean.
Norvacortica Cork Factory Tour
Something which many people don’t know about the Algarve is that it is famous for quality cork, which is used by global brands such as Rolls Royce, NASA and Moet Chandon. Cork oaks line much of the Algarve countryside and tours around cork farms and factories are a great way to learn more about the history and get an insight into the cork industry and the Norvacortica factory is one of the most popular.
Places to Stay in the Algarve
Depending on the amenities you want nearby and who you are travelling with, there are plenty of places to stay in the Algarve which are popular with tourists.
If you are looking for a fun-packed holiday with plenty of family-friendly activities, then Albufeira is the destination for you. Albufeira is perhaps the largest and liveliest town in the Algarve and has something to offer everyone. You’ve got a charming historic centre at the heart of the town, whilst “The Strip” is just a stone’s throw away and is full of late-night clubs and bars.
Albufeira beach is one of the best in the region and with beautiful water and sand stretching along the length of the town. Albufeira is an extremely popular holiday destination and has almost completely handed over to tourism, so if you are looking for traditional Portuguese culture, other destinations may be best.
Vilamoura is a sprawling resort with 4 golf courses, a large marina and beautiful sandy beaches. The town is well known for its luxury and sophistication and is one of the pricier destinations in the Algarve. Vilamoura has a mature atmosphere and is more catered towards older people, golfing enthusiasts or those looking for a little extra luxury.
Vale do Lobo
Vale do Lobo is a luxurious and self-contained resort and is unique to Portugal. Vale do Lobo was the first major development in the Algarve and today is the largest luxury resort of its kind in Portugal. With endless facilities and services, all located in a unique area, Vale do Lobo is a must-visit if luxury is at the top of your holiday list. There are two highly accredited golf courses – the Royal and the Ocean – in Vale do Lobo, which are perhaps the biggest attractions.
Famous for its markets and laid back atmosphere, Loulé is located in the middle of the Algarve. This historic market town is steeped in history and even has a 13th-century castle. The traditional cobbled streets are lined with bars, restaurants and cafes and there are plenty of charming shops packed with pottery and handcrafted goods all from within the local area. For a true taste of Portuguese culture, a visit to Loule is a must.
There is also the Loule Carnival, which is one of the biggest highlights of the year in the Algarve’s calendar. This colourful carnival takes place in February over three days, usually starting on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday, and has been said to rival Brazil’s world-famous Rio Carnival with its dancing and costumes.
Traditional Dishes to Try in the Algarve
Portuguese food is heavily influenced by Mediterranean cuisines and relies heavily on fresh seafood, which it has in abundance and spices and olive oil. A visit to Portugal, and the Algarve in particular, will bring you a whole host of tasty traditional dishes to try.
Cataplana de Marisco
Cataplana de Marisco is a dish which originates in the Algarve and is a true seafood feast. This dish gets its name from the copper pan in which it is cooked – a cataplana, which is a dish with rounded sides and is connected by a hinge which opens and closes like a clam would. Onions, tomatoes and garlic are stewed with white wine, chorizo, clams and prawns.
Cozido à Portuguesa
Cozido à Portuguesa is a dish which is often referred to as a Portuguese boiled dinner, but is better known as a traditional stew. Whilst the ingredients sometimes change, depending on where in Portugal it is prepared, it is essentially a platter of slow-boiled meats, sausages and vegetables. In the Algarve, you’ll traditionally find it made with a mixture of potato, lamb, chicken and fresh mint.
Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Natas is perhaps Portugal’s most known, and most loved, dish. These palm-sized desserts are made from puff pastry which is filled with a yellow custard, made by whisking egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and cream which are then baked until golden. Whether you choose yours topped with powdered sugar or cinnamon, they are traditionally eaten for breakfast, as a snack or for an evening dessert.
Natalie Wilson is a freelance writer in the travel niche, and can provide advice on anything from hidden gems to the best Algarve villa accommodation. When not writing, Natalie can be found reading a good book with a cup of tea or planning her next travel destination – the Amalfi Coast is next on the list. You can connect with her on Twitter @NatWilson976.