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No photo filters needed here – the Algarve’s seas really are that startling shade of aquamarine and its beaches are even more spectacular than they look in the pictures. Those brochure-ready good looks have made the region’s glorious coastline one of the most sought-after destinations in southern Europe, but Algarve holidays are about more than just topping up that tan, splashing around in a balmy ocean and sipping sundowners on the sand.
Beaches made for bathing
Of course, the beaches play a huge part in drawing travellers to Portugal’s southernmost region.
There are more than 150 of them and they come in every conceivable size, colour and style. To the west of Faro, the regional capital, you’ll find the biggest and best-known Algarve holiday resorts, from the fun-loving town of Albufeira to family-friendly Praia da Galé.
This sun-drenched portion of the coastline is typified by long, golden stretches of shoreline, most of which is dotted with beach bars, seafood restaurants, hotels and sun loungers.
Head west, slow down
Head further west still and the tourism infrastructure peters out, giving way to a wildly beautiful region.
Here, you’ll find yourself scrambling down russet-coloured cliffs to reach deserted sandy bays, where dolphins play in the surf and seabirds wheel overhead.
The laid-back east
The eastern Algarve is Portugal at its sleepiest and most traditional: a landscape of olive groves, cork trees and whitewashed houses, where life moves at a slower pace and tourists rarely venture.
Unpeel yourself from the coast
Most visitors spending holidays in Algarve destinations stick to the coast like Velcro, but inland the region is gloriously undeveloped.
Scattered around the wooded hills of Monchique you’ll find dozens of postcard-perfect Portuguese villages, whose cobbled streets and red-roofed houses remain untouched by the ravages of modernity. Buy olives from a local market, lounge about in a rustic pavement café, or don your hiking boots and conquer the 902 metres (2,959 feet) of Foiá.
You’ll find most all-inclusive Algarve holidays on the coastline between Quarteira and Lagos, which are both popular beach resorts in their own right.
For cheap holiday deals, Albufeira and Praia da Rocha boast a heady mix of sun-kissed sandy beaches, tip-top hotel infrastructure and stellar nightlife that makes them popular with visitors looking for family package holidays to the Algarve.
The area between Almancil, Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo, on the other hand, is known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ because of its emphasis on luxury all-inclusive Algarve holidays.
If you’re after a lavish but cheap holiday to the Algarve in 2020, try an up-and-coming package spot such as Ferragudo or Vilamoura.
Silves and Tavira, on the other hand, are both rich in history and sure to appeal to culture vultures.
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