The Algarve has a temperate climate, with long warm summers and
mild winters. From June to September the temperature rarely drops
below 20°C (68°F), with daytime temperatures rising as high
as 30°C (85°F) in August. Coastal breezes usually keep things
bearable and there is an average 10-12 hours a day of sunshine.
Winter days are often warm and sunny, but the temperature can drop
to 13°C (55°F) overnight. Rainfall is in winter, but you'd
be very unlucky not to have a few sunny days during a week's holiday
even in those months. Winter is arguably also the best time to visit
as there are few other visitors and the countryside is cloaked with
blossoms and wildflowers from December to May. To see today's weather,
southern Algarve coast stretches 150kms east to west, though Faro
divides it into two distinct areas. Beaches to the west of Faro
consist mainly of small coves backed by cliffs, but to the east
long sandy islands have formed between the sea and land, and beaches
are accessed by ferry. The land side of the sandbars form lagoons
that make up the Ria
Formosa nature reserve, a haven for birds. All the main beaches
have life guards and many hold the European Blue Flag for their
of water, cleanliness and safety. Most also have bars and restaurants.
The west coast beaches are very different - open to the winds and
Atlantic Ocean rollers, they are excellent for surfing though the
dangerous currents require caution.
interior landscape varies greatly and changes dramatically with
the seasons. The slopes of the Serra de Monchique in the west are
covered with woods of cork and chestnut, stripped to a stark beauty
in summer. The coastal plain is a mass of fruit trees, vines and
dry stone walls,
at its best from January to May when almond and orange blossoms
give way to a stunning display of wild flowers. The remote northeast
is dotted with ancient whitewashed villages where craftsmen and
farmers go about their business as they have for centuries.
THERE AND AROUND
Flights to the Algarve
land at Faro
airport, about 6kms west of the city and less than 3 hours from
London. Plenty of car hire companies
have offices at the airport, while a taxi costs about €35 (£20)
for the half-hour trip to Tavira. There is also a bus service to
Faro's central station, from where you can get a bus or train to
most Algarve towns.
The inexpensive and efficient Algarve Rail Link runs the length
of the coast, connecting Lagos in the west with Vila Real St Antonio
on the Spanish border. It also connects to the main Lisbon line
(a 3-hour journey from Faro). An extensive bus network also links
all the main towns and resorts.
A new dual carriageway runs from near Albufeira eastwards to the
Spanish border and beyond, while the older N125 main road runs along
the whole south coast.
is the staple diet in the Algarve. Grilled sardines are hugely popular,
but tuna, swordfish, sea bass, clams, calamari and cuttlefish are
also caught locally. Chicken piri piri -- chicken grilled with chilli
and olive oil -- is a speciality, and there are some excellent restaurants
serving international cuisine.
The Portuguese are a sweet-toothed nation and pastry shops can be
found everywhere. Try the fig pastries, custard tarts, angel cake,
or egg yolk, almond and caramel confections.
Port is world famous of course, but its wines are also of good quality
and very inexpensive. The wineanorak
site has a good guide to the country's wines.
Algarve has been inhabited since prehistory, and successive waves
of invaders - Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors - have
all left their mark. It was the Moors who named the region "al
Gharb", meaning "the western part". They were expelled
from the province in the 12th century after 500 years of occupation
and their influence is especially apparent in the buildings of the
eastern Algarve, with their curious pyramid-shaped roofs and tiled
Algarve played a prominent role in the Age of Discovery after Prince
Henry the Navigator founded a school of navigation in Sagres. In
the 15th century, many Algarvians were aboard the Caravels that
voyaged to Africa, India and the East, capturing trade routes that
opened up the New World and for a short time made Portugal the richest
country in Europe.
After a turbulent 20th century - much of it under dictatorship -
Portugal is now a member of the European Union, though it remains
one of the poorest of the members. To read more about the country's
history and culture click here.