48 hours at the Algarve.
A sunfilled lifestyle.
The Algarve has long been a refuge for those wishing to escape the northern European winter, seeking a much more mild and temperate climate instead. Eversince the 60s, people have been coming to the Algarve in search of a slow-paced, sunfilled lifestyle. What they found was much, much more. With more than 300 sunshine days a year, the Algarve is picture-perfect most of the time. It also boasts some of Europe’s finest cuisine, luxurious accommodation and most impressively, unspoilt natural beauty.
A liberating and adventurous feeling.
Almost immediately upon arriving, you appreciate the special feel of the Algarve coast. With its deep red earth, stunning beaches, the gentle but refreshing breeze and the way the rich coloured sunsets cast light upon the sand dunes, the magic of this place spectacularly unfolds before us.
The Algarve is located in the most south western part of continental Europe, and with this comes an underlying sense of adventure and tranquillity.
There are two distinct characters to the Algarve; that of the south coast, which could be described as a more developed and populated holiday region and the west coast, which has a far more distinctly raw, and natural feel to it.
Eager to start our day, we take a drive along the impressive meandering roads of the south-western coast, much of which lies within protected national parkland. As we wind our way through Eucalyptus bordered roads with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, you could almost imagine yourself deep in the Australian outback.
The power of nature.
We eventually arrive at the west coast. Stepping out of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, it is quite clear that this is an entirely different place, a vivid experience of the elements. The gale force winds, enormous cascading waves – some of which reach over 15 metres in winter. The dramatic sheer slate cliffs and the surf of the Atlantic all come together superbly, manifesting the power of nature. Here, fishermen who sit atop the 20 metres high cliffs, dangle their lines below in the hope of catching fish in the fresh Atlantic waters. Surfers dotted throughout the shimmering surface of the ocean, braving the towering Atlantic waves.
Surrounded by oranges and lemons.
We make our way back to central Algarve via a short detour across the Barragem do Arade. This is one of several dams located across the inland portion of reservoirs that provide water to the Algarve. These great masses of water, surrounded by undulating hills, offer a quaint and picturesque alternative to the more populated coastal regions of the Algarve. As we criss-cross through the mountainous surroundings, we are enveloped by the citrus tinged scents of oranges and lemons, these being one of the largest industries in the region.
The Moors introduced citrus fruits, as well as other influences in 711 when they conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. We eventually arrive at our afternoon wine tasting session.
Cave de Vinhos – the wine cellar.
We eventually arrive at our afternoon wine tasting session. Vila Vita Parc Hotel was built in the early nineties and has become internationally renowned for its luxurious quality and exquisite service. Chef Sommelier, Artur Rodrigues welcomes us to his cellar door with a difference. We are taken eight metres underground to the hotel’s “Cave de Vinhos”. Entering the main room of the wine cellar is like stepping into a medieval castle vault.
This may be due to the antique iron fixtures and imported ancient bricks used to construct this impressive cavern. With a stock of over 25,000 bottles and over 1,100 different wine references, there is a wine for even the most discerning of connoisseurs. We sample some of Alentejo’s finest accompanied by a delicious selection of tapas and fresh local olive oil.
An extraordinary view.
At night we make our way round an unsuspecting corner with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class to be presented with an extraordinary view – Silves. This is the former capital of the Algarve and is a small town loaded with historical significance. The rulership of Silves has changed hands many times throughout history and was once described as the “Baghdad of the West” under Moorish rule. It lies atop a hill and is crowned by a mostly intact castle built between the 9th and 12th century. As we walk up the steep and narrow, stone-clad streets, we marvel at the unspoilt and authentic nature of our surroundings, this being quite a rarity in modern-day Europe.
Seafood at its best.
The following morning, we awake to yet another sun-drenched winter day. With no time to lose, we head over to the seaside town of Galé to meet Dieter Koschina. Dieter is the Head Chef of the world-renowned Vila Joya restaurant and has been the proud bearer of the elusive two Michelin Star rating since 1999. We were fortunate enough to catch him on his day off and were interested to hear what he had to say about life in the Algarve. Dieter has travelled to every corner of the world in search of culinary inspiration and praises the Algarve for “the freshest seafood” he has ever tried, he goes on to explain that the cold Atlantic currents are to thank for this. Maintaining two Michelin Stars is a time-consuming daily endeavour for Mr. Koschina, but, with frequent time-outs on the beach just a few steps from his restaurant, he is always up for the task.
A well-kept secret.
One well-kept secret has to be the “Quinta dos Avos” teahouse, located on the outskirts of the sleepy inland town of Algoz. The teahouse is a family run business that uses local, home-grown ingredients. This hidden jewel can be easily missed by the unsuspecting passer-by. Carob and almond biscuits, a variety of tea blends, honey, jam and liqueur are all hand-made by Maria Encarnacao and her family and are sold in small, delightful packages. There is a tea blend for every taste and the traditional Portuguese ambience is perfect for a relaxing afternoon breather.
The element of surprise.
One of the greatest appeals of the Algarve has to be the element of surprise. This region has somehow managed to stay relatively under the radar and is thus a wonderful source of adventure for those seeking something a little different to the typical holiday. Sadly, our 48 hours is coming to an end. What an incredible experience of such a beautiful part of the world.