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Top 5: Algarve Uncovered

The Algarve is one of the most popular destinations in the world, offering sun, sea and sand in spades. But step off the beaten track and you’ll discover that this stunning region has even more to offer. On the first of what we hope to be a series of articles on the infamous Algarve, we present you with 5 unmissable experiences that will certainly have you wishing your holidays were coming sooner. Tested and approved by locals.

cork fashion_maison chaplin on flickr
Photographer: Maison Chaplin on Flickr

Cork up your style. Cork has been a way of life for centuries in the Algarve. In São Brás de Alportel, which has the longest cork producing history in the region, factories produce some of the best wine and champagne stoppers in the world, like the refined bubbly Moët & Chandon. A quiet town nestled in the hills of Serra do Caldeirão, São Brás presents you with an alternative view on the Algarve. Here you find the Cork Route, a tour which takes you through the hills, from the lush oak groves to the stacks of cork lying in the fields. Along the way, enjoy traditional delicacies from the Serra like rosemary honey. And for the most daring, why not ask for a glass of “Medronho” (pronounced meh-dron-yoo), a traditional spirit produced for many centuries in the region. But be warned: this is certainly not a drink for the faint-hearted.  More recently the Algarve’s cork has also taken the fashion industry by storm, as cork-based eco-friendly fashion accessories such as umbrellas, handbags, belts, watches and hats hit the fashion runaways worldwide. You can find several shops in town that sell these.  A MUST HAVE!

surf sagres ponta ruiva_sven engelman author
Photographer: Sven Engelman

Surf's up! It’s not exactly the Hawaii’s north shore or Fiji, but it does have some of the best surfing waves in all of Europe. The Algarve’s west coast has been on the world surfing circuit for some years now, and some spots even host internationally acclaimed competitions every year. Kelly Slater, Andy Irons and other surfing celebs have all surfed the Algarve’s swells, and some visit it every year. The town of Sagres is the place where the surfing culture and way of life all come together, and most locals are experienced surfers. You can find here charming little café-pubs and lounges, plenty of surfing shops and schools, and you can even rent your own board and wet suit at most places. Although it has the relaxed small town feel to it, Sagres is also home to a multicultural environment, as many German surfers, British and other nationals, have long established themselves in the area.  At the edge of Sagres, lies Cabo de S.Vicente (or St. Vincent’s Cape), with a picturesque lighthouse; the breathtaking scenery literally makes you feel like you’ve reached the end of the World! After all this is the most western point of Continental Europe, a place of raw nature, where the land ends and the sea begins.

Guadiana River. Photographer: Pedro Rebelo via Flickr
Photographer: Pedro Rebelo via Flickr

Follow the river. Flowing through South Eastern Portugal, the River Guadiana acts as an international border separating the Portuguese regions of the Algarve and Alentenjo, from the Spanish regions of Andalucia and Extremadura. A trip up this river is an experience you won’t regret as you get to enjoy the real Por-tugal, practically unspoiled. Enjoy breathtaking sceneries composed of picturesque whitewashed villages on the banks of the river, colorful orchards, green pastures and sun-kissed olive groves. You can go either by boat – boat excursions are available from Vila Real de Santo Antonio - or you can drive through the countryside road and venture into the little remote towns nestled in the hills instead.

Silves Castle. Photographer: Grufnik via Flickr
Photographer: Grufnik via Flickr

Travel back in time. The Moors invasion of the Algarve started around 711 and only ended in the 13th Century when the Christians re-conquered back the region. Due to the Moorish conquest of Iberia, the region was called Al-Gharb Al-Andalus: Al-Gharb (الغرب) meaning "the west", while Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to the Muslim Iberia. Under Moorish rule, the town of Silves was the capital of the Al-Gharb. Visit Silves for a step back in time, where the ancient Moorish castle still towers above the city, offering magnificent views. But if you really want to drink in the spirit of the historical Algarve, the best time to visit is during the annual Medieval Fair, hosted somewhere in late-July early-August (for exact dates you can search the festival’s Facebook page here).

Photographer: Aldeia da Pedralva.
Photographer: Aldeia da Pedralva.

Experience village life. Finally, you are in for the ultimate authentic experience when you stay at one of the Algarve’s typical villages. We recommend the picturesque Aldeia da Pedralva to the west (pictured here), and Estoi fur-ther east. Life is taken slowly at the village, and things like the smell of fresh baked bread in the morning or sitting on doorways while chatting with neighbours on warm Summer evenings, are still common place. Pedralva is a small picturesque village who has suffered a massive rebuilding and now stands as an active tourism project, while keeping much of the original design and feel to Portuguese village life. Here you can rent vintage-chic VW campers, book birdwatching and surfings trips, or simply go biking along the coast. Estoi is an historical village, and 2 things you just cannot miss are its 19th century palace, transformed into a charming boutique hotel called the Pousada Palacio De Estoi, or go shopping for local produce on the farmers market, which happens every second Sunday. We would love to hear your thoughts on our selection, and why not share with us your own Algarve experiences and travelling tips?! I would like to thank Aldeia da Pedralva and Sven Engelmman (a local resident from Sagres) for the images provided.