Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal, cornered against the immense Atlantic Ocean. This Portuguese region has been home to many civilizations throughout the years. Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans and Moors all left a little bit of their heritage behind, which is still present in different fields such as architecture and art. In fact the word azulejo (tile) comes from zulaich, which means “small rock” in arabic.
When speaking about Algarve the first thing people mention is naturally the beautiful beaches. They are definitely a great reason to visit, specially if you’re in need of a vitamin D boost, but despite its stunning coastline Algarve is still an amazing destination. The peaceful vibe, the natural landscapes, the food and the historical heritage are also good enough reasons to visit.
So instead of soaking up the sun at the beach, we challenge you to discover the other Algarve.
Discover the Historical Heritage of Algarve
Only 8 km from Faro lies the historical village of Estói, where both these treasures are hiding from the crowds. The ruins of a roman villa in Milreu have a great historical importance as they date back to the 1st century. Afterwards it was probably home to a wealthy family due to the valuable archeological findings, such as beautiful mosaics, marble and ceramic finishes and decorative sculptures. Not far from here it is worth checking the jaw dropping Estói Palace. A local noble had the idea of building an opulent palace and its construction started in 1840. However it was only finished, alongside its gorgeous gardens, over 50 years later as the original owner passed away. Nowadays it is part of the Pousadas de Portugal network so you can literally wake up in a palace.
Hike up Serra de Monchique and then relax at a Thermal Spa
Serra de Monique is a chain of mountains in the western part of Algarve. The highest peak is Fóia at 902m. There are many hiking trails that cross the hilltops and the views are incredible. The contrast between the green vegetation and the blue sky is beautiful and many times you can be the only one to witness it, as the hiking trails are still off the beaten path.
The nearby town of Caldas de Monchique is famous for the thermal springs, which sprout at temperatures between 27°C and 31.5°C and are rich in bicarbonate, fluorine, silica and sodium. These characteristics make them suitable for the treatment of various problems and also give them relaxing properties, which explains why the roman considered them “sacred waters”. After a long trek these thermal springs are the perfect place to relax and recharge batteries.
Explore the moorish legacy while strolling around Silves
Silves belonged to various muslim kings for decades and it used to be known as Shilb. The presence of the north african moors in this southern part of the country explains the arabic legacy present in many corners. The red brick castle is a notable example of islamic military architecture and it dates back to the 12th century. Another great example is Silves cathedral, which used to be a mosque.
Even though its rocky history, the city is now a peaceful and charming place to spend the day and a stroll around the cobbled streets is a delightful experience.
Visit Alcoutim and the riverside beach of Pego Fundo
Alcoutim sits at arms length to our neighbour Spain, separated by the snaky river Guadiana. This small town has a great cultural heritage and the pace invites people to sit back and really experience this other Algarve. There are many old traditions that have been kept throughout the years, such as handmade blankets, rugs and pottery.
In mid June there is an arts and crafts fair where you can see all the lovely things made in the nearby villages and also taste some local delicacies. This event happens every year in a beautiful riverbank beach, a lovely place go for a swim and cool off within beautiful natural surroundings.
Get to know Ria Formosa Natural Park
Ria Formosa Natural Park comprises almost 18,000 hectares and is a must visit in Algarve. This stunning lagoon located near the sea offers spectacular sights and invites not only tourists, but also many other species to visit and hang around.
It includes a wide array of habitats which explain the diverse fauna and flora that can be found here, from rare chameleons, to clams and seahorses. It is also considered an important bird area, not only hosting a huge population but also being a pit stop for many others during their migration routes. The famous Portuguese water dog is also native from the Algarve, where it used to help fishermen.
For a really great experience you can explore ria Formosa by bike, boat or kayak and watch the sunset in this incredible reserve.
Wild Plants and Oranges
Every Portuguese knows the oranges from Algarve are the best. And they taste even better if you can pick them from the tree and squeeze them straight to a glass on a sunny day. They were brought from Asia in the 16th century and quickly conquered the southern part of our country. Even though they are not originally from Portugal, ours must be really good because their fame has travelled far. In Turkey the orange is called “portakal”, in Greece “portokáli” and in Romania “portocálâ”. Apart from the delicious citric fruits, in Algarve you can also find many wild bushes with edible flowers and herbs, such as rosemary, oregano and sage. The hot and dry weather is perfect for them to grow and they are available in any local market.
Take a Pottery Class
Porches is the pottery center in the Algarve. There was a time when this tradition almost disappeared but a willing couple decided to create a pottery business, hired local people and somehow it came back to life. Even the old techniques and traditional methods were saved, showing a tremendous respect for this art. There is no big machinery, everything is handmade and every single imperfection makes it a one of a kind piece. Pots, mugs, plates, vases are all hand painted with beautiful floral patterns that wow locals and tourists.
Learn about the cork and the related industries
Portugal is one of the main cork producers in the world, particularly in the regions of Algarve and Alentejo. It also produces cork of the best quality which is probably why the French insist to use ours to secure their expensive champagne.
Corktrees live long lives, which is great because the cork can only be extracted every 9 years. It is a time consuming process, but in the meantime we can be creative and find new and innovative ways to use it! Due to its particular characteristics it can be used in many different industries, from shoe making to building space ships.
Nova Cortiça is an historical cork company in Algarve and a hub for innovation concerning cork transformation. The guided tours they organize are a great way to understand the importance of cork to the local people and, on a bigger scale, to the Portuguese economy.
We advise travelling to the Algarve during Spring and Autumn and avoiding the busy months of July and August, when the sun is scorchingly hot and the amount of tourists can be a bit overwhelming. Finding alternatives to the beach is actually a great plan if you need some peace and quiet, want to escape the crowds and stay in beautiful natural surroundings. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to keep up with our latest news.