Updated: Oct 15
The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, a 3 hour flight away from London, it is considered to be an idyllic holiday spot for families, couples, and friends a-like.
I don’t know about you, but when I scroll through Instagram, the main content I see relating to the Algarve is its beaches (called Praia in Portuguese). However, the surrounding North Atlantic Ocean brings cooler sea temperatures than one may have hoped for; I went at the end of August/beginning of September (2015) and even in summer found it too cold to enjoy the sea - don’t let that stop you from frolicking in the water though! The average water temperature in the pool is warm enough to enjoy a dip, especially after soaking up the blazing sun and for the little ones, or big kids (like myself) there are numerous water parks around the Algarve too such as Aquashow.
My purpose for writing this blog post is to share with you some interesting things I came across and learnt during the week I spent in Albufeira, that will hopefully allow you to see the Algarve from a more cultural perspective.
Portugal is a small nation that colonised countries across South America (Brazil), Asia (Goa), and Africa (Angola) – to name just a few! The reasoning of colonisation to be established included to source resources such as gold and agricultural goods, which would later greatly encourage importing and exporting between the nations, as well as spreading the religion of Christianity. The main denomination of Christianity preached throughout Portugal is Catholicism, which was introduced to Portugal when the country was part of the Roman Empire. The traditional importance of Catholicism has been evident in nearly every village in the country since the 16th century, when many beautifully crafted churches were built, often in highly prominent locations such as in the main square or on a hilltop overlooking the village. These churches can still be found throughout the country and are often the central hub to mark celebratory occasions, such as the annual village festas (festivals).
One of the best areas in the Algarve to get a feel for its heritage and cultural traditions that does not focus entirely on tourism is Loulé. Wandering through the pretty cobbled streets
within the historic centre you will find a treasure trove of clashing cultures such as an ancient castle, Gothic church, remains of Loulé’s defence system and much more! The ambience of life in this part of the Algarve is very relaxed and peaceful, but the pace swiftly picks up as people flock to the Gypsy Saturday Market and Farmers Market, the perfect time to observe local people going about their daily lives. Need I say that these markets are a great place to pick up some locally-made handicrafts and try some regional delicacies too!
Another image you may often see when scrolling through photos of Portugal on Instagram, are the infamous white-washed windmills. In the 11th Century, a number of picturesque windmills were built along the coast of the Algarve and were used as olive and corn mills. For anyone reading this that loves to stay in quirky and unique accommodations, quite a few of the region’s preserved, historic wind-powered mills on hillsides and water mills at the side of brooks have now been tastefully converted into self-catering holiday cottages/homes so you can spend your holiday or a few nights living in a piece of Portugal’s heritage! How amazing is that?!
The first thing I noticed when we were driving around Albufeira, was how each roundabout had its own unique feature, from fountains to statues. Some have stories attached to them, others are simply what you see – pieces of art. Either way, I was constantly amazed and began thinking back to the one’s here in the UK and how boring they are. The most extravagant thing I’ve seen on a roundabout in the UK is a nice display of flowers! The artistry carries on over to the path as well; It is a tradition in Portugal to display the name of your house on ceramic hand-painted tiles. For those who love street art, murals, grafitti etc… the place you need to head to is Lagos.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the beaches of the Algarve, well a material that can be found on the beach has been produced into an artform. Every year since 2003, the Algarve holds an International Sand Sculpture Festival (FEISA), which runs from June – November, where 60 professional sand sculptors shape beloved cartoon characters, animals and celebrities using 100% real sand!
Music & Dance
Whilst Portugal has held on to its traditional music of Fado, which translates as “destiny” or “fate” usually incorporates lyrics resonating sadness, poverty and loss, their colonisation of various countries worldwide is emulated in its music and dance culture. Influence of the colonised communities who settled in different areas of Portugal allowed the nation to appreciate the diverse range of rhythms and beats from different cultures. Modern genres ranging from rock to hip hop are commonly played on the radio and in bars/nightclubs etc…
It is said that the traditional folk dance called Corridinho originates from Eastern Europe and became popular in the Algarve during the 19th century. Corridinho, known to be a couples dance, is always performed in pairs. We were lucky enough to be able to take part in learning some simple steps at the hotel we were staying at! The choreography seemed quite simple when watching the professionals and I began to have flashbacks from when I used to take country dancing lessons at primary school, thinking it would be a doddle to have a go at! But of course, as they taught you more and more, the steps became slightly more complicated to follow – on the first go anyway! Nonetheless, it was great fun and I highly recommend you to either watch a performance or have a go at Corridinho when you next visit the Algarve!
Wine and Dine
You are probably well aware that Port is the famous drink of Portugal, it’s right there in the name after all! But, did you know that Portugal has an extensive collection of other locally brewed alcoholic beverages? This includes wine, beer, liquer and the notorious aguardente aka fire water, which is usually consumed in the form of a shot. Aguardente de Medronho and Licor de Amêndoa Amarga are associated with the Algarve, so be sure to try one, if not both on your trip!
Being a coastal location, it may be obvious that you should try the seafood when in the Algarve and let me tell you now that I haven’t tasted such a delicious piece of seabass since! However, one item of food I very rarely eat and that can be tasted by vegetarians as well, is the local jam! We got to try a variety of flavours as part of a Jeep Safari tour around the Algarve, but the flavour that most stood out to me was the fig jam. Yum!
Every destination in the world has an area that is ‘the place to be’ and for Albufeira, that is
Avenida Francisco Sá Carneiro - aka “The Strip”. Around 2 miles away from the town centre, it’s the hub of Albufeira’s nightlife, with open-air discos and bars that stay open until the early hours of the morning that is popular with all ages from teens, to the more experienced socialites. For those travelling with young children or wanting to see a different side of “The Strip”, why not check it out in the daytime? There’s a variety of shops and restaurants located in between the bars to enjoy a brunch or lunch during your morning stroll.
For something a little more luxurious, head to Villamoura, the biggest marina in Portugal, located on the western side of the Algarve. Within this tourist complex alone lies a plethora of entertainment: golf courses, tennis courts, casino, remnants of an ancient Roman village a variety of dining options and much more! Whilst tennis is one of a handful of popular sports played throughout Portugal, football tops the list with a number of talented and well-known football players including Cristiano Ronaldo hailing from different regions of Portugal.
How else was I supposed to drink from such a long straw?!