5 Best Places & Things to do on the Algarve, Portugal
By: Sheila Fogarty
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To me the Algarve is all about the views; it has an amazingly wild coastline from the monumental cliffs at Porches, famous for its ethnic pottery, to the salt flats of the Rio Formosa at Tavira.
Photo By:Sheila Fogarty
Lagos - Photo By Beto Frota
There’s a lot to love here, and I can think of fifty-five things and places to share with you but as I only have 5 (sob), let’s stick to the Eastern Algarve, closest to the Spanish border, and square that away.
Pedras D'el Rei (Ria Formosa), Algarve -Photo ByBeto Frota
My personal favourite views on this end of the Algarve are sunrise over Tavira, and sunset from Mesos do Cume in the hills over Sao Bras de Aportel. So let’s start with Tavira, as this town is quintessential Algarve, in the colonial style. It is set on both sides of a river leading to the sea and has been a centre for fishing and commerce since the Romans. Over the past 8 years has been persuaded into the 21 century – gentrification includes clean streets and open cultural areas; Web access at Town Council building for free and as are Wi-Fi hotspot in the stunning square by the river. This town couldn’t be prettier and more Portuguese if it tried – it’s an absolute must.
Tavira - Photo By Graça Vargas
Two things you to do while in Tavira are: take a boat trip out on the Ria Formosa, a designated nature reserve at sea. If you’re lucky you’ll be there in time to see the flamingos – stunning. Any ornithologist out there, this area is a birdwatcher paradise; so check the Birdwatchers Society for trips.
Still with the Ria Formosa, if you like walking there are some amazing trails; from the salt flats of Tavira you can walk all the way along the coast to Moncarapacho ; some 10 miles or so – Hiking is also big in the hills around Tavira, why not head off up in the national park to the village of Cachopo.
Heading west and a little inland from Moncarapacho, my next favourite town is Sao Bras de Aportel. If you take the road from Tavira via Sta Catarina you will see why the Portuguese national cycling team use this route to train and you’ll the get a full sense of how high into the hills you are going in just a few short miles. About 12 miles west and 5 miles inland, you’ll find Sao Bras; known for two things, its good air and its history – especially, where cork is concerned. In these parts, cork is a crop and at the lovely Museo do Sao Bras you can see how it was used and even buy a wallet or purse – these are authentic souvenirs, and make lovely gifts. If you’re lucky, you might be in Sao Bras when there is a Fado concert on, this is the music and song of the people, soulful stuff – another must.
Sao Bras de Aportel - Photo By sparklestream
Before, we head further inland to see the sunset over the entire coastline; we are heading a click or two further west to Estoi, and its magnificent palace. To be fair, the palace at Estoi was probably just a summer place for some really rich family, but it’s just this that gives one a sense of the opulence of the Protégés during their period as a world colonial power. The entire main floor, on the second level is taken up with three drawing rooms in high Rocco Style – these people were extraordinarily wealthy and to be fair classy too. The palace is now a stylist Pousada, national historic hotel.
Now to sunset – taking the road inland from Sta Catarina, we travel high into the hills for about 40 minutes on a very winding road that eventually gives way to a camino, or dirt track, then just round the next bend past is the tiny village of Alcaria do Cume and the lovely restaurant Meses do Cume (tables on the top) – the views from here are breathtaking.
This restaurant is run by a charming retired Dutch couple and the menu is both traditional – during the Gastromonica do Montes weeks in March – and international / mediterrean at other times. But, what you must do is ask for advice on the best Portuguese wine to have with your meal; Portuguese wine is only now being recognised for its very high standards and excellent variety of tastes.