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Brief History

A quick recap of time

Human presence on the Algarve dates to Neolithic times, with the region being witness to various visitors ever since including Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans, Visigoths and the Moors who ruled for over 500 years from 711. During this time, the region was known as ‘Al Gharb’. It was not until the 13th Century that the Moors relinquished control to the Kingdom of Portugal and from 1471, King Afonso III, reigned as ‘King of Portugal and the Algarve’. This separateness from the rest of Portugal remained for many centuries with the region being a semi-autonomous area.


In the 15th Century, Prince Henry the Navigator based himself near Lagos, directing various maritime expeditions which established Portugal as a major power during the era of the ‘Voyages of Discovery’. Lagos became the region’s capital and it was not until 1756, the year after the great Lisbon earthquake, that Lagos lost its seat of power. The earthquake and the accompanying tsunami damaged and destroyed much of the coastal region except for Faro which was protected by the sandy banks and islands of the Ria Formosa lagoon, now a natural park. During the Napoleonic wars, Spanish troops occupied the Algarve in 1807 but were driven out the following year and after the establishment of the first Republic in 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarve ceased to exist, with the Algarve being fully incorporated into the Portuguese Republic. From the 1960s, the region became a popular destination for holidaymakers attracted by an excellent year-round climate (over 3000 hours of sunshine annually with virtually no rain during summer months), relatively low prices and of course what are now regarded as some of the finest beaches in Europe. To this day, the region remains one of the most popular summer destinations for both the Portuguese and European markets and now also attracts a growing number of foreigners who have settled permanently.

The coast with its various towns and cities is where much of the 450,000 inhabitants live and work, either in traditional industries such as fishing and agriculture, or service industries - the main sector being tourism. The cosmopolitan towns of Faro, Lagos, and Portimão act as administration and shopping hubs and provide a distinct contrast to the slower rhythm of life in the hills. The resorts of Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago, Albufeira, Vilamoura and others have become established holiday destinations known on a national and international level. The sleepier towns of Tavira, Silves, and São Bras de Alportel provide a reminder of the past with their cobbled streets, historical architecture and relaxed atmosphere. To the east, the coast is flat and bordered in part by the large expanse of sandbanks, lagoons, and islands which form the beautiful Ria Formosa natural park, home to a myriad of waterfowl and marine life. To the west, the coast is more dramatic with cliffs, caves and little bays providing scenic backdrops and picturesque beaches and ending with the towering cliffs of Cape St. Vincent, a windswept land once thought to be the end of the World. Heading north along the ‘Costa Vicentina’, the Atlantic breakers create dramatic seascapes bringing Europe’s finest surfers to ply their skills over the waves. The Algarve has much to offer the visitor from sun-drenched beaches, excellent cuisine, friendly people, a slower pace of life and stunning landscapes. We hope that you enjoy your experience and wish to return again and again to sample the many delights of the Algarve. FURTHER AFIELD East: The graceful Guadiana river forms a natural border with Andalucía, discharging into the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean at the handsome town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Fine townhouses, pretty streets and a bustling commercial centre make for an attractive place to visit. Why not catch the ferry across the river to the white washed Spanish town of Ayamonte? - ideal for a tapas lunch in the many vibrant squares dotted around the old centre. Upstream from Vila Real, fortified Castro Marim stands guard over vast salt flats and the river beyond. Heading west towards handsome Tavira, the coast is dotted with low-key resorts and charming fishing villages and beyond Tavira, waterfront Olhão, is gateway to explore the outer islands of the Ria Formosa. Reaching the regional capital of Faro, head to the old citadel, perfectly preserved – a microcosm of old-world charm. Central: Stroll through the enchanting gardens of the resplendent Palácio de Estói; visit the colourful Arabesque market place of Loulé, then head north through the ‘barrocal’ to the white-washed villages of Alte, Salir and Querença. Explore deeper into the splendid Serra do Caldeirão for spectacular vistas across undulating hills of ancient cork, carob and olive. Heading back to the ‘litoral’, for a touch of the high life, visit cosmopolitan Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo, perhaps followed by a round of golf at renown Vilamoura? Finish your day at a beach side eatery while taking in a beautiful sunset over the Altantic. West: Walk along the cliff top trail taking in the emblematic beaches of Praia da Marinha and Benagil; enjoy delicious seafood in bohemian Ferragudo, roam the narrow-cobbled streets of medieval Silves up to its magnificent red sandstone castle. Head north to the high hills of Monchique, perhaps stopping en route for a tipple of the invigorating local firewater, Medronho! Travel across the mountain ridge through forests of sweet-smelling pine and eucalyptus down to the Costa Vicentina, a truly fabulous coastline of expansive beaches offering excellent surf and an amazing array of flora and fauna. Visit the impressive lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent – witness to many a sea battle, then reach historic Lagos, frequent home of Henry the Navigator.