Star Rating: ***
Pages: 247 (paperback edition)
First published in 2015 by Austin Macauley Publishers
For anyone looking to complete a road trip of the Algarve this is potentially a guide worth having. Full of insights and information ranging from the history of this area to where to eat whilst visiting a local village this book has a wealth of information any traveller could utilise.
Travel Guide Insights
A Brief History
Lovingly known today as the Algarve, it was initially known as ‘Al-Gharb’, meaning ‘The West’; a name given to this area of Portugal by the Moors during their 500 year reign. Over the course of time the Algarve has been a successful trading post for both spices and slaves, has developed a strong alliance with England and then was all but demolished during the 1755 earthquake that is believed to have measured 9 on the Richter scale. Trouble didn’t stop there however; in 1961 Portugal also had to contend with a war against the African colonials who were after the land for themselves.
An A-Z of Travel Tips
The second section in this guide book offers some handy hints, costs and useful phrases that will be beneficial to all. It explains the difference between taxi airport transfer services and normal taxis, how to budget properly for accommodation, car hire and eating out plus provides a list of well known local markets and supermarkets for each area you visit.
Make sure you remember the phrase ‘Prato do Dia’ which means Dish of the Day and is often the cheapest way to eat. This dish will include not only a main meal but also bread, olives, wine or beer, dessert and coffee. Sometimes all of this will cost as little as €6-10 depending on location. Come evening, and dishes are more expensive so check out the set menus which will only set you back perhaps €12-15.
Interesting facts about the Algarve
Below are just a few facts to whet your appetite. Once read if you are interested in finding out more, the pages of this book happily disclose them.
- Bacalhau, dry-salted cod, a delicacy in Portugal can be found in over 1000 recipes. For those trying the dish for the first time consider trying Bacalhau Pastels which will vary from restaurant to restaurant but will include small, deep fried portions that can be eaten as a snack.
- The oldest recorded Bookshop still stands in Lisbon – Livraria Bertrand dates back to 1732 and whilst it did have to be rebuilt in 1755 thanks to the earthquake it still remains the same today and has even branched out with over 50 stores now appearing across Europe.
- This area is one of the largest producers of cork and supplies nearly fifty percent of all cork to the wine industry.
- Portugal was the first country in the world to abolish the death penalty.
- Any visitor to Portugal must try the famed 18th century custard tart, also known as the Pastel de Nata, which was created by Catholic Monks to increase their income and was originally called the Pastel de Belem. Today, one baker in particular makes 10,000 of these little cakes each day.
- In Portugal, there are 800km of coastline with 80 beaches in the Algarve alone.
Cities, Towns and Villages worth visiting
In this section of the guide you are introduced to many different locations all worthy of your time when exploring this coastline.
You could visit the highly popular town of Albufeira, home to many lovely wineries and piri-piri Chicken. The village of Guia is nearby which is home to a well-preserved windmill, nestled in the grounds of Sir Cliff Richard’s very own vineyard, Adega Do Cantor.
Perhaps you have more macabre tastes and would prefer a visit to Alcantariha, to the chapel of real human bones followed by a trip to Algoz which not only has the largest golden beach in this area but is also the place of historic executions.
For history geeks this area of the Algarve is well worth considering with Forts (Armacao de Pera), Castles (Loule, Paderne, Salir and Silves) and Churches (Almancil and Sao Bartolomeu de Messines) spread across the coastline. Whilst for those that enjoy spending time outdoors you have the hot springs at Alte and the golf courses (there are 6 alone in Vilamoura) stretching along the country to tempt people away from their sun loungers.
It’s not just the beaches that lure people to Portugal. The Eastern area of the Algarve also has many hidden gems including Alcoutum, home to a 13th century castle with views over to the Spanish city of Sanluncar de Guadiana and its large white Fort. This is also a place for the adventurous where you can go kayaking down the Guadina River or take a Zip-line from Spain across to Portugal – it is the only one designed to travel between two countries.
You can also pass through the town of Castro Marim, which has been associated with the Knights Templar, visit the old Roman ruins of Estoi which dates back to the 1st and 2nd centuries whilst staying in a beautiful luxury hotel which was once a palace belonging to the Carvalhal family or you could visit Faro, the largest city in the Algarve.
Faro, once called Ossonoba when controlled by the Moors, is full of both Roman and Arab ruins, a cathedral lavishly decorated in 24ct gold leaf and a ghastly chapel whose walls are lined with the bones of over 1200 monks (Pechao has a further bone chapel for all that are interested).
If travelling around this area it is also worthwhile considering a stop-off in Sao Bras de Alportel, not only for its sea views, but for its church of two towers, a clock appearing on each one and Quelfes, the place where Napoleon’s troops were defeated in 1808.
This area was made famous during the 1990’s when it appeared on the British TV Sitcom, ‘One Foot in a Grave’ and is graced with many coved beaches and villages packed full of history.
Carrapateira is known as a surfer’s paradise with record-breaking waves and potentially “the best long beach in the Algarve, with its limestone backdrop cliffs” (pg 169). Continue along to Carvoeiro, travel up to its lighthouse during high tide, and you could be one of the lucky ones to witness the blow holes exploding sea water high up into the air or head to Estombar and visit the famous vineyard of Quinta Dos Vales, which is owned by the artist Karl Heinz.
This area is also home to many water parks and award-winning golf courses, along with the largest wine cooperative (in Lagoa) which is worth visiting to sample and potentially buy many wines from across the region.
Make sure to also visit Lagos, home to million pound yachts and a marina that Francis Drake failed to raid during 1587. The marina is now a beautiful place to wander but years ago it was home to 800 galleons left behind from the Armada which was led by Don Sebastiao in 1578. As if that wasn’t enough for the history books it is also believed that Columbus visited this very town.
For the hikers visiting Portugal, Monchique is a must. Home to the only official mountain in the Algarve sitting at a sizable 962m this is also a town of natural spring spas “reputed to house healing properties” (pg. 184) and a 17th century Franciscan Monastery.
What else does this book contain?
Not only do you gain insights into the towns and villages you should visit whilst in Portugal this book also contains useful phrases and many translations that anyone will need during their travels, a list of markets, antiques fairs, festivals, water and theme parks, golf courses and vineyards.
This is a great addition to any set of guide books you may have already purchased especially if you are interested in touring the Algarve and would like to know more about the smaller places, often off the tourist path. If however, you are happy to relax poolside, soaking up the sun whilst perhaps enjoying a glass or two of the local vinho then this book should probably stay on the shelves at the bookshop.
If you are a person that picks a guidebook as much for the images as for the information, I would potentially look for an alternative to this as the quality is slightly lacking and could cause people to ignore rather than visit some of these locations.
My advice: Don’t attempt to read it as a normal book but dip in and out as appropriate to the area you are exploring. Some descriptions become repetitive after a while; many of the towns are white-washed delights with Juliette balconies and it would appear that the author finds it difficult to describe them in any other way.
Disclaimer: We did receive a free review copy of this book in order to write an honest review for our readers. As such all words and thoughts are our own.