The Algarve invites you to discover the charms and secrets of the history of Portugal that time does not erase.
From the golden sandy beaches to the explosion of colours that describe the natural beauty of the hills, the Algarve is revealed to you in multiple scenarios of historical and cultural interest, which together with its natural aptness both for entertainment and leisure activities make this region one of the most famous European tourist destinations.
Both in the charming coastal cities and villages strategically built on the hills, numerous traces of the Algarve history can be found. The architectural, archaeological and religious heritage allows recreating events and facts related to the Portuguese and world background. The geographical dispersion of the populations also provides a huge diversity of characteristics, customs and traditions enriching the region’s cultural inheritance.
Near Ria Formosa where a set of picturesque barrier islands lies, Faro is the district’s capital standing in the central axis of the Algarve. Its origin dates back to the Pre-Roman period. Today it is one of the most modern cities in the region, with an important commercial, tourist and cultural activity. Within the walls that surround the historic centre, small houses coexist stand side-by-side with important national monuments such as the Arco da Vila where you will find the Arab entranceway and the Municipal Museum at the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, as well as public interest buildings, among which the Cathedral of Faro. Various cultural routes invite you to discover the villages of the municipality, as Estoi, which homes a set of ruins known as the Ruínas de Milreu, a former roman villa inhabited since the 1st century AD and classified as a national monument. The charms of the capital of the Algarve are also connected to the paradisiacal islands of Culatra, Farol and Deserta, located in Ria Formosa belonging to the municipality. In these wonderful refuges along the ocean, the white sand and the quiet and clear waters provide unforgettable moments of complete relaxation and pleasure.
Setting off from Faro to Barlavento (West) we find equally attractive municipalities, both for their natural landscapes and historical and heritage significance.
Loulé is proudly the largest council in the Algarve covering the coast, the barrocal lowlands and the hills. With its origins in the Ancient Neolithic period, this historic city was conquered from the Moors during the Christian Reconquest in 1249. Its narrow streets lead to monuments such as the Alcaidaria do Castelo, housing several cultural venues among which the Municipal Archaeological Museum is worth mentioning. The castle dates back to Arab rule and it was rebuilt in the 13th century. A huge part of its walled perimeter is still visible. The rich historical heritage of the municipality also includes important evidence namely the Archaeological Station of Cerro da Vila (in Vilamoura), the Igreja Matriz, the emblematic Mercado Municipal (Market Hall), the ruins of the Salir’s Castle and the Church of São Lourenço in Almancil are of interest. This unique temple worth visiting due to its interior covered in hand-painted azulejo tiles dating back to 1730, which show scenes from the life of its patron. The beauty and peacefulness offered by the Barrocal and the Serra invite to long tours particularly to the typical villages such as Alte, one of the Portuguese settlements which remains faithful to its origins and traditions giving it a picturesque environment. The entertainment is also a reason to visit Loulé. In addition to the traditional pagan and catholic festivities, the city hosts annually the Med Festival, an important reference in the guide of the biggest World Music festivals in Europe.
Heading west we enter Albufeira, considered the Algarve's tourist capital for its diversity of hotels, restaurants, evening entertainment and vibrant nightlife and still the huge expanses of sand. The Clock Tower, the city’s hallmark the Igreja Matriz, the Capela da Misericórdia (Chapel of Mercy), an ancient Arab Mosque, and some traces of the castle wall, are part of the municipality monumental heritage. It also covers the municipality parishes including monuments as the Ermida da Nossa Senhora da Guia, the Church of São José de Ferreiras, the Paderne’s Castle and the Medronheira Tower at Olhos d’Água.
Standing in the heart of the Serra Algarvia (Algarve Mountains), Silves shows the most important evidence of the Arab presence in the Algarve. With winding streets paved with calçada portuguesa (Portuguese cobblestone), hidden interior courtyards and manor houses on every street corner, it has an impressive built and cultural heritage. Its red sandstone castle, surrounded by a curtain of ramparts and eleven turrets welcomes the visitors. Crossed by the Arade River, which gives it a particular romanticism and a poetic beauty, Silves was the first capital of the Algarve in the 11th century. In this period some authors even described it as being more important and bigger than Lisbon. If you want to feel the atmosphere of ancient times, you must not miss the Medieval Fair at Silves. For days on end (usually at the beginning of August), the city becomes a medieval market in the open, where you can buy traditional and unique products, enjoy centuries-old recipes, drink "the nectar of the gods" in a clay cup, watch Arabian and Medieval dance and music performances.
Further to the West, an ancient notable site of Silves, Lagoa, was granted administrative autonomy in 1773. Churches, fortresses and buildings from which stand some of the most imposing chimneys of the traditional Algarve architecture are part of the historical heritage of the Council. Among other important monuments stand out the Convent of São José São José,the Church of Misericórdia and the Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz in Lagoa, the Fort of Nossa Senhora da Encarnação dating back from the end of the 8th century in Carvoeiro. In the Parish of Porches you should visit the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha located in a magnificent promontory. By the sea, we enjoy other natural wonders the municipality has to offer such as the cosy Praia da Cova Redonda and the famous Praia da Marinha, considered one of the ten most beautiful in Europe. An unforgettable experience in Lagoa is the visit to the sea caves in Benagil, the largest and deepest in the region, located in the parish of Carvoeiro, where you will also find the unusual rock formations sculpted by wind and sea of Algar Seco. The scenery invites you to a unique day spent at the seaside.
Considered one of the main centres of economic development of the Algarve due to its bustling tourism, Portimão owns remarkable archaeological remains, notably the Alcalar megalithic monuments which can be found in the village of Alcalar near the city of Portimão. Several objects belonging to this important settlement with over five thousand years were recovered and can be seen in the Museum of Portimão, a must-see space. The museum has also a permanent exhibition depicting the fishing and canning industry established on the banks of the River Arade during the 20th century.
However, it is in Lagos that the Algarve gains more importance in the history of Portugal. This ancient maritime city played a relevant role in the Portuguese Age of Discoveries as it was chosen by Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator) to lead several expeditions on the West coast of Africa. A replica of the majestic caravels that furrowed the seas by that time can often be visited near the marina. From the African continent also came the first slaves brought to Europe. This historic event is depicted by the old Mercado dos Escravos (Slave Market) from the 17th century, standing in the city, still surrounded by imposing secular ramparts. The historic centre and the Castelo dos Governadores (Governors' Castle) are well worth visiting.
Surrounded by the immense Atlantic Ocean on three fronts, the municipality of Vila do Bispo impresses with its natural beauty. It is impossible to remain impassive towards the huge cliffs cutting the landscape; the sea with its imposing character and the pure and wild nature along the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. The municipality had an important participation in one of the most prominent chapters of the Portuguese history: the maritime expansion. In the 15th century, the beginning of the Age of Discoveries brought new vigour to the Algarve territory. As Lagos, Sagres (one of the most touristic villages of the municipality) is to remain forever linked to the Portuguese maritime expansion. Even today, at the tip of Sagres, a giant stone finger can be seen pointing towards the Atlantic Ocean in a clear allusion to the courage of the Algarve navigators. Sagres Fortress and its huge Compass Rose covering part of the ground and the Cabo de São Vicente (Cape of St. Vincent) the southwesternmost point of Europe are a must-see. Watching the sunset in one of these locations in Sagres is a moment of pure magic.
The journey towards the west area of the Algarve leads to Aljezur, where upon arrival we first spot the castle ramparts erected at the highest point of this secular village, seat of the municipality. Symbol of the long struggle between Christians and Moors, the fortification built during the Arab period (10th century) still preserves two towers and a cube-shape cistern covered by a vault. In addition to visiting the castle and the historical centre, flanked by ancient white facade houses and colourful borders painted around windows, the tour in Aljezur is not complete until you see the municipality beaches, particularly famous among water sports fans such as surfers, body boarders as well as fishing lovers.
The main appeal you get from Monchique is the communion with the luxuriant nature. This is the municipality with the highest mountains in the Algarve. The fresh air and the quietness that involve this region of deep shades and scents are particularly intense in Caldas de Monchique, which since Roman time have been famous for its waters with healing properties. This bathing-place offers the only natural Spa of the Algarve. A set of historic buildings sitting in an extensive wooded park inspire a relaxing walk. In the heart of this resort you can visit the Chapel of Santa Teresa with its panels of azulejos, a Portuguese painted ceramic tilework, from the 18th century.
Privileged by its proximity with the international airport, the city of Faro also represents an excellent starting point to discover the municipalities in the Eastern Algarve, characterized by friendly weather conditions.
Exhibiting Cubist architecture, unique in the region of the Algarve, Olhão is one of the municipalities undergoing a notable expansion since the 19th century. With an economy supported mainly on fishing, it is now awakening for tourism, taking advantage of its excellent location along the Ria Formosa and its enormous historic patrimony, an example being the Igreja Matriz, first stone building to be erected in the city. Characterized by the irregular layout of the white houses, the Olhão's historical city centre is a must stop place. Down the narrow streets, alleys and passageways, it is possible to observe the traditional roof terraces (açoteias) from where lurk the graceful Algarve chimneys embellishing the houses still disclosing doors and windows adorned with beautiful platbands. Another unavoidable building is the one housing the Municipal Markets. Olhão is renowned as well for its famous seafood Festival, which runs for six days in August, offering a lot of musical entertainment. The municipality additionally includes the must-see islands of Fuzeta and Armona.
A romantic city located on the banks of the river Gilão, Tavira was one of the Algarve’s main settlements during the Islamic period, from the 8th to the 13th century, due to the strategic location of its port and castle. Climbing the castle towers you can see a beautiful landscape stretching into the sea. Inside the castle ramparts stands the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo, just to mention one of the over two dozen churches and chapels that can be found in the municipality. In the Núcleo Museológico da Pesca do Atum (Tuna Fishing Museum Centre) traditions connected with this activity that represented an important economic source until the mid-20th century can be revisited. Not to be missed is the tour of the Roman Bridge that still allows the pedestrian link between the two halves of the city.
Even though much of the area of the municipality is located considerably far from the coast, Castro Marim, was entitled to a seafront by decision of Marquês de Pombal. Although it offers three of the most popular beaches to the East of the region, the main interest of the municipality lies in the village embellished by its imposing medieval castle. Within the castle fortification there are several traces of the Muslim presence and the ramparts still enclose the former Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy) and the Church of Santiago, the village’s first Igreja Matriz. This friendly village becomes every year, in August, a stage where the Portuguese medieval history is recreated. The “Castro Marim Medieval Days” is a rigorous remake of the medieval times that attracts thousands of local and foreign visitors to enjoy the colourful parades of Kings and Queens, exciting tournaments between towering Knights, street theatre and music performances, craftsmanship and gastronomy, all this taking place in a lively fair held within the walls of the castle.
The decisive power of the Marquês de Pombal is once again reflected in the Sotavento (Eastern Algarve). Planned in 1774 by the Minister of King D. José I near the mouth of the River Guadiana, to control the commerce on the Spanish border and develop fishing that later would lead to the canning industry, Vila Real de Santo António is one of the most unique cities in the region. The Pombaline identity is preserved in the buildings along perpendicular streets departing from the central square, raises the interest of the visitor who finds, throughout the municipality, several evidences of the first occupation of this territory. An example of buildings dating back to Roman times is the Cacela parish.
The strategic importance of the Guadiana River, since ancient times, appears to have also boosted the foundation of the picturesque riverside village of Alcoutim. The exploitation of copper, iron and manganese deposits has led to the creation of support and protection facilities for metal transport as Alcoutim stands at a spot where the river becomes tidal and vessels had to wait for hours until tides allowed them to sail down the river to the Atlantic Ocean. The Guadiana is still today an excellent resource to boost tourism and local economy. The Pego Fundo beach in Alcoutim is the only river beach of the Algarve. The municipality covering an extensive mountain area offers, among other points of historical interest, the 14th-century castle and the old mines.
From Alcoutim, the tour throughout the Serra Algarvia towards West leads us to São Brás de Alportel, a municipality with an important reserve of cork oak trees, an arboreal species of high economic expression in the country. This valuable natural heritage gave birth to the cork industry that placed the village on top of the world for several years as the main transformation centre of a product which competes in major international markets linked to fashion and tourism. The Cork route is therefore one of the municipality's major attractions in a tour taking the visitor to learn the techniques of preparation and transformation of this mystical product.