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

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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

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