It’s the end of the world as we knew it – but well worth a visit
JAMES GREGORY SAYS THE ALGARVE ISN’T ALL ABOUT BEACHES, BUT IT’S STILL A SHORE THING
I’ VE BEEN to the ‘end of the world’ and came back with... sardines! I’m not talking about some kind of apocalyptic event (Trump hasn’t pushed the button yet, has he?). I’m describing one of Europe’s most historic landmarks.
Cape St Vincent, in Sagres in the Algarve, is the most south-westerly point in mainland Europe.
It was described as the ‘End of the World’ because it was believed to be just that – before the discovery of the Americas across the pond.
The Algarve has long been a popular tourist destination for Brits looking to soak up the summer sun.
It’s the most visited region in the whole of Portugal, so much so that it may as well be its own country.
And it’s clear to see why, with its glorious blue flag beaches, stunning hotel resorts and award-winning golf courses.
I’ve stayed in Albufeira before during a large family holiday when I was a child, but from memory I can only recall our time spent in the pool at the villa, our trips to the beach – and a day out at Zoomarine.
Now, like most people, I love a beach holiday. My last couple, in
fact, have been all-inclusive deals consisting of nothing but swimming in the sea, sunbathing and reading.
But if you’re in the Algarve and looking to get away from the beach for a couple of days, you’ll discover there’s a whole different side to the region.
After 17 years, I returned to get a flavour of the traditional Algarve.
We landed as the sun was setting in Faro after a three-hour flight from Luton Airport. A 50-minute transfer later, and we arrived at the Pestana Alvor Praia in Portimao – a traditional sleepy Portuguese village.
The hotel is located on the top of a cliff, boasting stunning views of the Atlantic which I was lucky enough to see from my bedroom balcony.
After a quick freshen up, it was down for dinner on the Sea Deck on the adjacent South Beach where we wined and dined on traditional Cataplana – a seafood stew – and fresh prawns.
On a table across the room from us, was a group on a golfing holiday, cheering intermittently after hearing the latest football scores.
Back at the hotel, breakfast was incredibly varied, with a great selection of cold and hot food including meats, cheeses, breads and pastries.
Now, I know I said there’s so much more to the Algarve than lying on a beach – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend any time by the ocean.
Far from it. The Algarve’s stunning, rugged coastline needs to be seen, and what better way than by boat?
Stretching from its border with Spain at Monte Gordo all the way to Europe’s most south-westerly point at Vila do Bispo on the west coast, there’s plenty to see, including dozens of blue flag beaches. But what makes the trip so special is the caves – and no cave list is complete without seeing the worldrenowned Benagil.
It’s not accessible by foot, and it’s nigh on impossible to swim there, so one of the only ways to see it is by boat tour from Albufeira marina.
The sailor will take you right up to the shoreline so you can really take in its beauty. If you kayak or paddle board, you can even gain access to the beach and take in the sunshine as it blasts through the top of the cave.
Once we were done exploring caves, our sailor alerted us that he’d received a call from one of his fisherman friends that migrating dolphins had been spotted a few miles off the coast. Travelling at a rate of knots, we were quick enough to catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat – a truly majestic sight.
What’s great about the Algarve is its diversity – one moment you’ll be relaxing on the beach, the next sipping wine, mingling with the locals in a traditional village.
A visit to the Algarve’s two national parks is a must for anyone who’s a fan of the outdoors. Costa Vicentina and Ria Formosa covers 250km of coastline, protected from hotel building because of its migrating bird population.
If you’re with a large group, the most enjoyable way to travel is on opentopped truck, the best way to take in the glorious landscape and catch a tan at the same time.
We were in Costa Vincentina. This part of the Algarve is known for its Neolithic structures – at the roadside.
But you can never really escape the beach in Algarve. Our tour guide took us to one which boasted a fossilised dinosaur footprint. It’s not something that’s well signposted so keep your eye out for it. We ended the tour at Cape St Vincent, or the ‘End of the World’, a fitting end to a day’s travelling.
If you’re looking for something to keep you active, then a safari tour taking in highlights such as these is definitely worthwhile.
A cool and comfortable bedroom at the hotel
The view from the balcony
IT’S not just the landscape of the Algarve that will take your breath away. The region has such a rich history, and like most places in Europe, it starts with the Romans. There are so many references to the Romans, none more so than Milreu ruins just west of Estoi. The first century Roman villa truly is a sight to behold. But you don’t even have to venture out of your hotel to experience culture. Not, that is, if you stay at the historic Palace of Estoi (above). A hotel has been built off the 19th century building offering 63 rooms and a swimming pool. The palace itself is open for guests to explore, as are the stunning grounds.
Catch a few rays on the ‘underground’ beach in the world famous Benagil cave
The Algarve coastline is stunning