Julie Dawn Fox
HomeAway travel expert
A trip to the Algarve can be a journey through the centuries. You’ll find remains of Roman homes with remarkable mosaics, medieval architecture, Baroque and Rococo decorative arts and contemporary sculptures. The most enduring influence on the culture and architecture of the Algarve is that of the Moors, who occupied the region between the 8th and 13th centuries AD. Even its name comes from the Arabic Al-Gharb, meaning “the West”. The former capital, Silves, features one of the best castles in Portugal among its highlights. The Portuguese finally regained control of the Algarve in the 15th century, but plenty of evidence of previous and ongoing intercultural influences remain.
These days, luxury design hotels and private yachts are as common a sight as weather-beaten fishermen and their brightly painted wooden boats. Fishing and agriculture are still important industries for the Algarve but since the 1960s, tourism has developed at a staggering rate. With more and more international flights, intercity trains and motorways connecting the region with Spain and the rest of Portugal, it’s hardly surprising that over 10 million people come to the area each year. Many of them don’t stray far from the beach but if you’re looking for a dose of culture to go with your sunshine, try these places.
Julie's guide to the Algarve's cultural highlights
Although the history of Silves dates back to the Romans, it’s the remarkably well-restored red sandstone castle, built during Moorish times, that dominates this quaint little town. As you walk around the battlements, look out across curved terracotta roof tiles, pretty cobbled streets and church towers to glorious countryside. Within the walls, you can explore the ruins of royal homes and try to imagine the lions that apparently used to roam the gardens. Don’t miss the underground cistern which provided water for the castle in times gone by. Every August, Silves brings the past to life during a 10-day Medieval Fair with street performers, parades, actors and more.
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A stroll around the historical centre of Faro will take you from 9th-century city walls, through the ages, to a delightful 16th-century convent, which houses the Archaeological Museum. Many of the Roman artefacts found in the region are displayed here and the building itself is worth visiting for its gargoyles, cloisters and watchtower and 18th-century Rococo decor. You should also visit the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), tucked inside a Carmelite church. When it was built in 1816, the monks decorated its walls with over 1,200 bones and skulls from their cemetery as a gruesome reminder of our own mortality.
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Refreshingly artistic Monchique
Visit the mountains of Monchique to sample the fresh water springs in the forest surrounding Caldas de Monchique. If you have time, take advantage of the therapeutic thermal waters which were popular with Romans and European royalty. Monchique itself affords fabulous views from its many lookout points. It also sports a surprising number of bronze statues. Ceramic fans should check out the workshop and showroom of award-winning ceramicist Leonel Telo while art and craft lovers will find plenty of local handicrafts for sale like the X-shaped “scissor” chairs. If possible, visit during the annual fair at the end of October or the sausage fair at the beginning of March.
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Portimão’s sardine culture
Portimão’s former fish-canning factory, “Feu Hermanos”, is now a prize-winning museum which celebrates the deep local connection to the river and the sea. Exhibits cover prehistoric times through to the 20th century, charting the transition from rural life to industrial times. The best section uses the original work areas and a vintage video of the factory in full swing to take you through the sardine canning process from the delivery of fish to the handling, production and packaging. There are also two temporary exhibitions of photography and art. Afterwards, head to one of the outdoor grilled sardine ‘restaurants’ near the bridge for an authentic local meal.
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Roman ruins at Milreu
Imagine the life of wealthy Roman families from the 1st century BC to around the 6th century AD by visiting the remains of a peristyle villa with columns surrounding a courtyard. The interpretation centre will help flesh out the mental picture gained from exploring the temple, bathhouses and agricultural buildings. The most photographed features are probably the well-preserved mosaics, especially the ones depicting fish and marine life. As an added bonus the site is surrounded by beautiful countryside. You can also visit the gardens and azulejos at the 19th-century Rococo Palace of Estoi while in the area.
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Refreshingly artistic Monchique by Curtis Foreman
Portimão’s sardine culture by Pedro Ribeiro Simoes
Algarve Holiday Homes
Palm Villa 39A and its sister property, Palm Villa 39B are two semi-detached attractive villas situated in a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Vilamoura, around 2km from the town centre. The next town of Quarteira is also only 5 minutes drive away. ...
This country villa is situated on a cul-de-sac without traffic. Very peaceful location, with its own garden (200 sqm), its own private pool, a putting green and views of the sea. Close to the quaint town of Santa Barbara de Nexe. Only 15 minutes t...
2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (both en-suite) + cloakroomFully equipped kitchen with washing machine, dishwasher & microwaveLounge/dining room with patio doors to balconyAir-conditioning throughoutUnder floor heating in bathroomsDaily ma...
This very contemporary and bright apartment is perfect for couples travelling together and is located close to amenities in Encosta do Lago. Accommodation comprises of a lounge/dining room with wood burning fire access to covered terrace and a ful...
What do you want to do today? Take a refreshing dip in the swimming pool or work on your tan? Play a friendly game of tennis? Enjoy a long and leisurely hike through one of the most beautiful natural areas in Portugal? Work on your golf swim at a ...
This is a very special four bedroom villa set on three levels. Beautifully furnished and decorated throughout, this accommodation offers a relaxing holiday.
The villa consists of an entrance hall leading onto a lounge/diner with fireplace. The bal...
This two bedroom ground floor apartment in Quinta do Lago is very bright and airy, with a spacious patio and an open design. The beautifully landscaped gardens have flower beds and a small lawn area. The master bedroom opens onto the patio and enj...
This is a spacious and contemporary apartment offering two en-suite bedrooms to sleep four people. The bright living/dining room has been comfortably furnished with a good amount of seating and had cable television. There is a dining table at one ...
This villa is decorated and furnished to a very high standard for a luxury break. The spacious accommodation is over three floors to easily accommodate up to 10 people.
The ground floor comprises of a large entrance hall with guest cloakroom, whi...
Specifications: 6 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, guest cloakroom Large living room with modern fireplace and plasma screen, cable television, DVD player, sound system Dining roomTV room/snug off the kitchen Contemporary kitchen with all modern appliances ...