The Guardian Algarve Travel Guide - Kevin Gould 13 June 2015
There are three Algarves. I’ll call them the Mystic East, the Dead Centre, and the Wild West. Most people flying to Faro will end up at the popular resort towns of the Dead Centre such as Vilamoura, Albufeira and Lagos, leaving a whole lot of Algarve relatively free of visitors. But if you do fetch up in such a resort, a 20-minute drive will deliver you to some of southern Europe’s most scented, empty countryside.
Our Mystic East is the borderland. The Guadiana river separates the Algarve – where humility is regarded as a strength – from brasher Spain. Inland, it’s possible to meander for miles through enchanted valleys, hear birdsong, see few people and find peace. The east’s coastal margin is where the ocean is tamed by the sand islands, salt pans and azure lagoons of the Ria Formosa natural park, where flamingos and dolphins abound.
The central Algarve coastline has been relentlessly developed, but even here there are havens of old Portugal with its carob, fig and almond trees, where time treads softly and slowly and life’s pleasures are priced with locals in mind.
To the Arabs who ruled here for the best part of 900 years, Al Gharb – “The West” – was the end of the world. Go west today and you’ll find wind-brushed cliff paths and superb swimming coves. Turn north at Cabo de São Vicente and there are miles of surf beaches, inland from which white villages huddle amid sheep-nibbled farms and ancient forests.
With the Gulf of Cádiz and the Atlantic beyond being among Europe’s most fertile marine areas, and a climate where mangoes and bananas thrive, visitors eat extremely well – and surprisingly cheaply – here. The Algarvian kitchen excels at honest, hearty dishes, and the local beers and wines from the region, and neighbouring Alentejo, are world-class and inexpensive.
In recent years, a few smart visionaries have opened tiny hotels that succeed in being chic yet open-hearted and warm. Visitors staying at one of these will feel cared for – and lucky. So, with 300-plus days of sunshine, abundant budget flights, excellent roads and deep traditions of hospitality and affordability, the only question worth asking is: which Algarve to visit?
Looking east for a good investment
As far as location is concerned, the Algarve’s real estate agents have seen a change in buying trends in recent years. New buyers have started to look further afield for their ideal home. East Algarve, previously overlooked as a destination, is now recognised as presenting value-for-money homes and a desirable lifestyle. Tavira, for instance, offers a wide range of property, from Quintas in the hills to riverfront apartments and traditional townhouses. The maximum spend on a home here is rarely in excess of €500,000, with most residential properties falling within the €200,000 to €400,000 bracket. And, with a recovering economy in an area growing in popularity, there are some well-priced commercial opportunities too. What’s more, the east is full of delights. The Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, which stretches from Faro to the village of Cacela Velha near Tavira, is a perfect leisure spot for all the family, in particular walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers and photographers. Being a short drive from the airport, close to shops and beaches, and having quality golf courses near at hand too, the area in and around Tavira poses an appealing alternative to central Algarve.
Heading west for great value
To the west, the municipality of Vila do Bispo includes notable surf resorts and beaches such as Sagres, Zavial and Praia Castelejo. This area is attracting an increasing number of property sales, most likely because prices have remained lower than in many other parts of the region. In fact, buyers can expect to pay up to 50% less for a house in Vila do Bispo than in Lagos. Similarly, property in Aljezur represents excellent value-for-money. In this largely unspoilt arm of the Algarve which borders Alentejo at its northern edge, the average price for an apartment is around €160,000 and house prices average out at about €315,000.
What type of property do people choose?
So, what’s the most popular style of home among foreign residents? The survey revealed that a third of expats living in the Algarve had opted for a house or villa in a rural location, with 10% having their own pool. A fifth of respondents had chosen apartments in urban areas or in small towns or villages. However, according to estate agents in the region, today’s buyers are investing in a far broader range of property. At the end of the day, it’s important to choose a holiday home or permanent residence in an area that meets your needs, as well as your budget. Whether you’re looking for the top sports facilities, the best beaches, luxury living, good schools or an escape-from-it-all country abode, the chances are you’ll find what you want here in the Algarve. The sunshine, well that’s a guaranteed bonus!
Where do people want to live in the Algarve?
It only takes one visit to Portugal’s south coast to understand why so many expats buy holiday property in the Algarve or, in fact, relocate to the region. There are plenty of good reasons to retire to the Algarve. But it’s not just the Algarve’s promise of a temperate climate and over 3000 hours of sunshine each year which attracts so many people to its golden shores.
In a recent survey of expats living in the Algarve, of which 75% of respondents hailed from the UK, a fifth of those who took part said they lived in Lagos. Lagos is a relatively small but densely populated concelho (county) which includes tourist hotspots such as Praia da Luz, as well as the fashionable areas around the town and marina.
A further 14% lived in the Loulé area, the largest concelho which includes the exclusive coastal resorts of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. The research also placed Albufeira and Silves as favourites among foreigner residents. That said, a staggering 60% of all respondents told us they had lived in the Algarve between seven and 30 years, meaning that many would have moved to the region at a time when the well-known resorts along the coast were the main attraction for property hunters.