Algarve Coast Attractions
The Algarve coast stretches from the Cabo de Sao Vicente to the border of Spain.
Cape St Vincent
At the western tip of the coast is the windswept Cabo de Sao Vicente, a rocky headland rising 60m/200ft above the sea, familiar in British history as the scene of the naval victory of Cape St Vincent over a Spanish fleet in 1797. On the cape is a lighthouse 24m/80ft high, with a light which is visible at a distance of 35km/22mi.The fortifications all around date back to the early 16th C., when the Bishop of Silves built the first lighthouse here together with defensive walls and a monastery. Most of these buildings were destroyed in 1587 during an attack by Sir Francis Drake's fleet. The buildings we see today were commissioned by Queen Maria II in 1846. Here in the 12th C. a ship bearing the body of St Vincent (martyred in 304) came ashore, accompanied by two ravens. The mortal remains of the patron saint of seafarers and vinegrowers were subsequently interred in Lisbon in a silver shrine in Sé Patriarcal.
Salema, Burgau, Luz, Portugal
Further along the N 125 side roads lead to the coastal resorts of Salema, Burgau and Luz, all with good beaches. Some large hotels and apartment blocks have been built around Salema in recent years. Burgau has retained its character as a fishing village, but the Praia da Luz in Luz is now a sizable tourist center.
Alvor, or Portus Hannibalis, as it was known to he Romans and Albur as it was called by the Moors, lies just 20km/12mi east of Lagos on the Rio Alvor estuary. Its people lived mostly from fishing until well into the 1970s but nowadays tourism is the main industry. Nevertheless, Alvor has been able to retain its original character as a fishing village. Small white fishermen's houses line the narrow streets of the town center. There are some restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops, but all in all it is still a village in character. Particularly attractive is the harbor with its fish market and simple shops. To the east of Alvor, however, there are largish hotel blocks at Torralta and on the Praia dos Três.
There is another big water pleasure park, "the Big One", at Porches, on the N 125.
Carvoeiro is frequently cited as a particularly successful example of the new-style coastal resort but development of exclusive vacation homes, etc. on the rocky hills above the old town center has reached such a pitch that the beautiful craggy coast and hinterland is almost completely smothered with Moorish style holiday villas. There are cafes and restaurants in abundance.
At the eastern end of Carvoeiro is the picturesque rock arch the "Algar Seco", where the sea has scoured strange shapes and caves out of the white limestone. These are best explored on foot. There is a small cafe in the middle of this "limestone world".
About 10km/6mi east of Albufeira is a planning development straight off the drawing board. The little holiday villages dotted over the hilly country side offer every conceivable leisure activity - golf-courses, marinas, etc. Building works near Vilamoura's marina revealed the remains of the original Roman settlement Cerro da Vila, and the "mosaic house" dating from the A.D. third century is particularly worth seeing.
Cabanas & Cacela, Portugal
The little fishing villages of Cabanas and Cacela, just east of Tavira, are still relatively free of mass tourism, with only a limited amount of holiday accommodation among their small white square-stone houses. They are good places for getting away from the crowds, and anyone wanting to enjoy a quiet swim from the offshore spit can get there on foot at low tide or be ferried out by fishing boat.
Farol, Culatra, Armona
These three lagoon islands are accessible by boat from Olhao several times a day between June and September, three times a day in winter. One boat goes to Farol and Culatra the smallest island in the west, and another to Armona in the east. The landing stages are on Avenida 5 de Outubro near the harbor. All three islands are of flat dunes with very good beaches. Hardly any houses are to be found, but there are a few simple restaurants and cafes.
Armacao de Pera, Portugal
From Porches and Alcantarilha roads lead south from the N 125 to Armaçao de Pêra. The uniformity of its plain multi story buildings, and its limited, more simple accommodation than that offerred by Carvoeiro is offset by its excellent and seemingly endless beach. It is popular with both Portuguese and foreign holidaymakers.
Nossa Senhora da Rocha
Just over 1km/0.75mi west of Armaçao de Pêra, on a high crag, is the 13th C. chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha.
Quinta do Lago
Quinta do Lago (estate by the sea), a few kilometers southeast of Quarteira, is an exclusive holiday complex, with comfortable villas and hotels in a park landscape. This pleasant scenery was the setting for the 1989 session of the NATO assembly in Quinta do Lago.
Quarteira, 3km/2mi south of Vilamoura, is not very attractive with its serried ranks of hotels and apartment blocks.
Vale do Lobo
20km/12.5mi beyond Tavira a road forks right to the resort of Monte Gordo, much favored by British and Dutch visitors, with its promenade, complete with gardens, running alongside the broad beach.