With a coastline just ten kilometres shorter than the Costa del Sol’s (at 150km v. 160km), the Algarve has always been a favourite sun-sea-sand getaway for British timeshare owners. And as the temperature warms up along the coast, many northern Europeans will be heading there this week for the spring break.
Famous for its special light, deep golden sunsets and deep blue sky, southern Portugal has become a celebrity favourite. Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck once quipped during a round of golf: “The sky is so blue, I’ve never seen a golf ball look so white as it flies through the air.”
Chances of a celebrity sighting on one of the golf courses at the five star Quinta do Lago are high but one of its most famous part-time residents loved the area so much he bought a vineyard there. Cliff Richard had been visiting the Algarve for over forty years and liked it so much that he put down roots in the region – literally. His winery – aptly named “Adega do Cantor” (“Winery of the Singer”) – is in the hills at Guia near Albufeira and it’s open for visits. Adega do Cantor produces its Nova Vida signature wines (if you can’t get to Guia for an onsite tasting, they’re available from www.winesvidanova.com).
The Algarve coast has an extraordinary variety of beaches and bays. Each one quite different from the next, from salt marshes to popular family beaches, to the dramatic Atlantic beaches (heading west) towards Cape St Vincent. You can stand on the windy cliffs looking west and south, with nothing but the sea stretching in front of you and because it’s so windy, it’s a very popular surfing spot.
Most of the Algarve’s timeshare resorts are near the popular beaches or golf courses, the busiest being Albufeira, while Vilamoura attracts the golf-and-yachting crowd.
Chances are your timeshare resort will be in Albufeira which is the liveliest resort on Portugal’s southern coast. The restaurants start filling up at seven, the bars are busy by eleven and if you’re not renting a car Albufeira would make a great base because virtually everything is walkable. Albufeira town is split into two: the Cidade Velha (the old town) and Oura Strip where a lot of the popular tourist bars are. It’s a great combination if you like somewhere relaxed but busy, and with a beach.
Just like Malaga and Palma, Faro’s airport gets very busy in the peak summer months and although most visitors bypass it on the way to their resorts, the town itself is worth exploring if you have time. Faro, like Palma and Malaga, has a year-round population – it’s not just seasonal – which makes it feel more authentic than some of the more summer-only resorts.
If you’re a culture vulture there are two museums worth seeing: the Museu Municipal and Museu Maritim. There’s also the Archaelogical Museum which is housed in a 16th-century convent and has a Roman Mosaic unearthed in Faro in 1976. This amazing piece of mosaic is ten yards long with a handsome portrait of Neptune – complete with moustache! – at its centre. It’s also worth seeing the famous Teatro Lethes which used to be a church and is now a charming little opera house by an Italian family who made their fortune in Portugal after being shipwrecked en route to London. Faro has its own main sandy stretch of beach is Praia de Faro.
This small scale fishing town still retains a lot of the authentic Algarve experience. Quieter than many other resorts, it is expanding to meet the growing number of families who holiday here. The town’s beach, Praia do Carvoeiro is a lovely sheltered sandy bay with cliffs protecting it on both sides and there are lots of friendly bars and cafes around the main square where you can sip “um galao” (a milky coffee) and take in the sea views after you’ve left the beach.
There are only two roads that lead down into town which meet in a small square behind the beach and parking can be difficult but Carvoeiro overall is an ideal self-catering holiday destination, with plenty of shops in town and a large international supermarket on the Lagoa road on the outskirts of town for stocking up on those holiday store cupboard essentials.
Don’t miss a trip on a fisherman’s boat. It’s a great way to see more of the coastline and get another perspective on the Algarve’s astounding natural beauty.
Lagos is a lovely town to explore (it’s quite hilly). There’s a very good beach, Praia Porto de Mos, at the far end of town surrounded by stunning cliff views and crashing surf. The sort of place where you could easily while the day away just gazing out to sea over a simple lunch, or strolling along the strip of beach where the water meets the sand, then finishing that really good book after a leisurely wander around the town in the afternoon.
It may be the Algarve’s largest purpose-built holiday resort but Vilamoura has bags of style. Centred on a chic marina dotted with cafes and restaurants right at the edge of the water, there’s a very international mix of cuisines here in the marina, making it the perfect place for dinner at the end of a sun-soaked day.
Vilamoura is the place for top golf. It’s famous for its excellent championship courses, and like its neighbour Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura is all about the five star lifestyle.
To view the selection of Algarve resorts through RCI and Interval International, visit http://www.gotimeshare.org/sponsors/RCI and http://www.gotimeshare.org/sponsors/Interval-International