19 Sep 2013
Six things you didn’t know about the Algarve
Yes, everyone knows about the sun, the sea, the sand, and the string of cheap flights to the Algarve. But while the more touristy sides are well-trodden, the region has a few secrets if you venture just a little way off the beaten track.
1. It’s perfect for foodies
The Algarve is home to the only two restaurants in Portugal with two Michelin stars – one in Gale, on the edge of Albufeira, the other in Porches nearby. With seafood galore as well as fish straight from the coast, it’s great even if you’re on a smaller budget.
2. 70% of the area’s land is protected
You might not think it when you see the lines of resorts and hotels in some parts of the region, but there are two protected Natural Parks, one of which includes a 350km network of walking trails, the Rota Vicentina. You can also spot over 200 species of bird.
3. It will have the world’s largest artificial reef
With 150km of coastline, it’s already a great diving destination but the Ocean Revival Project is sinking four decommissioned warships off the Portimao coast. Scuttled metres from each other, they’ll create a huge artificial reef site in the calm waters to encourage marine life.
4. It has natural thermal springs
The Romans called them ‘sacred waters’. Set in the hills of the Serra de Monchique lie the Algarve’s natural thermal springs, 250m above sea level.
5. It produces the country’s best quality cork
Portugal is the world’s biggest cork producer, but the best quality comes from the Algarve, especially in the hills behind Sao Bras de Alportel in the Serra de Caldeirao.
6. There are ancient castles
In Silves, you can find the best-preserved castle in the Algarve, built on the site of the 11th century Moorish Palace of the Verandahs. The red sandstone structure fell to King Sancho I in 1189 after a three-month siege, and still overlooks the quiet market town.
Nearby, the 13th century Gothic cathedral, itself on the site of a former mosque, contains a number of Crusader tombs as well as a jasper statue believed to date from the 14th century.