Travel: Allure of the Algarve
PUBLISHED: 11:21 24 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:21 24 March 2015
An ancient city on Portugal's Algarve coast, Albufeira attracts visitors to its many charms. Rebecca Underwood reports
Every year, Portugal’s Algarve region welcomes more than seven million foreign visitors keen to take advantage of the temperate climate, long stretches of beautiful golden sandy beaches and the extensive and well-documented selection of excellent golf courses.
Albufeira is one of the region’s most popular coastal resorts. An ancient city, it was named Baltum by the Romans and renamed Al Buhera by the Moors and was, and remains, a thriving fishing port which prospered as a result of trade with North Africa.
The Christian conquest of the region began in the 12th century and in 1249 the Moors were ousted and the city became part of the Portuguese Algarve. King Manuel I awarded Albufeira a royal charter in 1504 and from then on it has been governed and protected according to Portuguese law.
Fast-forward to the 1960s and the increase in cheap air flights meant Albufeira rapidly emerged as a tourism destination and visitors today find a well-established resort.
Visitors can experience both the lively nightlife of the new town and the more sedate pace that the old town offers. The meandering cobbled streets and the central square, shaded by a canopy of palm trees, are ideal spots for a leisurely stroll. It’s fun to browse the colourful street stalls and charming shops, all bursting at the seams with leather and suede goods, delicate handmade lace, pottery in dazzling colours, intricately woven baskets and traditional gold filigree jewellery.
You are sure to have been persuaded to part with a few Euros and may well feel like a breather, so join the locals and stop off in one of the cafés. Don’t forget to sample the pastel de nata, a delicious custard tart dusted lightly with cinnamon, and take a few sips of the deliciously sweet and fruity Jeropiga made with brandy and wine. That should put the spring back in your step.
Keen golfers are blessed in this region, and the Quinta do Lago, which hosted the Portuguese Open, has 2,000 acres of breathtaking scenery with American-standard greens, bunkers and tees only 28 kilometres away – perfect for an afternoon’s game. Of course, many visitors come specifically to play golf in the Algarve, and Albufeira is a great base from which to do so.
For an afternoon at the beach, head for the soft golden sands of Praia dos Pescadores, or Fisherman’s Beach, in front of the old town. Or you may prefer the Praia do Tùnel, which is accessed through a tunnel between the imposing cliffs. A little further along the coast is Praia dos Olhos d’Agua; a traditional fishing village where you can see multi-coloured fishing boats hauling in their nets with the catch of the day.
Should you feel a little peckish, Pizzeria Frattelli, located within a stone’s throw from the beach on Edificio Varandas do Mar, is a trendy spot featuring an open kitchen and waiters buzzing around serving tasty homemade Italian dishes. My recommendation is to dine al fresco with the spaghetti gamberi and savour the succulent shrimps and clams, a glass of chilled white wine, and take part in the sport of people-watching.
After such a feast you may wish to work off those calories with a swim in the ocean or perhaps paragliding, water skiing or snorkelling. Another way of accessing marine life is to head to Zoomarine at Estrada Nacional 125 – Km 65, Guia. There are regular courtesy buses to the site, which pick up from most local hotels.
The philosophy of the park is conservation and environmental education and there are presentations featuring seals and sea lions along with a popular dolphin show as well as tropical birds and birds of prey.
For an unforgettable experience, book for a Dolphin Emotions dive and swim in the sparkling turquoise waters of a lagoon alongside a trainer to interact with these intelligent mammals for 30 minutes.
Zoomarine also features an aquatic fun area with water slides, a wave pool, swimming pools and a large expanse of soft white sand. For more action, jump on a raft and hurtle along the rapid river or take a spin on the big wheel.
There are a number of restaurants on the site which serve a wide range of dishes (including fish ’n’ chips), or you can take your own lunch and use one of the allocated picnic areas.
Albufeira features a wide choice of hotels. The excellent Vila Joya on Estrada da Galé is a perfect place to indulge in luxury, great food and views. It is a charming hotel with elegant Moorish architecture and offers 12 stylish rooms and eight sumptuous suites, all of which offer sweeping views across the Atlantic. Consider the Royal Suite Joia, which has a private Jacuzzi, a plush living room with contemporary furnishings and an open bathroom just right for an indulgent bathing experience.
For dinner, wander through the lush garden surrounded by towering palm trees and cypresses to Vila Joya’s gourmet restaurant. Recipient of two Michelin stars, the restaurant offers a first-class degustation menu, fine service and an extensive wine list. The menu changes regularly but you may be fortunate to sample the tender cheek of black pork. Selecting a wine from a cellar of 12,000 can be a daunting task but Arnaud, the sommelier, recommended the Quinta do Moura 2007, which was a perfect match.
Away from the hotel, Dom Carlos on Rua Alves Correia has an impressive five-course Mediterranean dining experience. The roast loin of black Iberian pork served with a Granny Smith pureé and Muscatel sauce is divine – especially when heightened by a glass of 2013 Filipa Pato Ensaios.
For a more casual affair and a delightful evening, visit Johnny Hooper’s Saxophone Bistro on Rua Almeida Garrett in the new town. Be sure to make your reservation well in advance, as it’s a popular venue, particularly with jazz fans (Herb Alpert praised Hooper for his ‘soul and great tone’). Guests are encouraged to sing along and when tambourines are passed around there’s no shortage of those keen to show off their skills. The menu features a wide selection of dishes. I had a succulent poached salmon fillet with a soy, sesame and apricot ginger sauce, served with a glass or two of Cardeal Reserva, Dao, 2009 – just delicious.
Monarch Airlines flies to Faro Airport (around 40 miles from Albufeira) from Gatwick and Luton with fares from £56.45 return. monarch.co.uk
Perhaps the easiest route to Gatwick Airport is via the Gatwick Express service, which departs every 15 minutes from London Victoria taking 30 minutes. gatwickexpress.com
To relax in comfort before your flight use one of No.1 Traveller’s Lounges in the North or South Terminals at Gatwick. no1traveller.com
To avoid the rush for taxis at Faro Airport, consider booking transport in advance with Yellow Fish Transfers. The company offers a punctual and reliable service with helpful English speaking drivers. yellowfishtransfers.com