In the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, surf's up on many of the beaches, golf greens overlook the sea, the climate is mild and the beaches quiet. That all sounds pretty good in itself, but there's more to it: the dramatic landscapes of Cape of San Vicente, for example, geological vagaries such as the orange rock formations of Lagos, or the nature-rich area of the Ria Formosa lagoon; then there are historic cities such as Faro and the lively nightlife of the small coastal towns.
All of these are great incentives to visit, but in summer there's an even more tempting invitation: sign up for a cruise on one of the ships that ply the waters off the Algarve's spectacular coastline and enjoy exploring sea caves, sunbathe on a lonely beach, sample freshly-caught sardines hot from the grill, to the accompaniment of live music, or swim with the dolphins.
The view of the Algarve from the sea is something very special. The scenery of the Natural Park of Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina dominates the coastline, with its unspoilt beaches and vertiginous cliffs, such as those of the Cape of San Vicente. In ancient times, this was thought to be the very end of the inhabited world, and the tip of the Iberian peninsula looks out over the Atlantic ocean from a height of 75 metres. It is crowned with an old fortress transformed into a lighthouse; the sunsets from this spot are breathtaking, and when it is foggy, the atmosphere of magic and mystery is complete.
There are a variety of cruises available to suit all tastes, and everyone will find an option to explore this part of southern Portugal that appeals. You simply have to choose whether you want to spend unforgettable moments visiting the sea caves and grottoes, snorkelling or diving, swimming or exploring the amazing rock formations of the Ponte de Piedade. You can relive the spirit of discovery of the ancient Portuguese explorers, sailing across the waters in a modern caravel – the typical fifteenth century sailing ship – at the mouth of the River Arade, or navigate the rock formations and cliffs in a catamaran. Or simply indulge in luxurious relaxation and sign up for a cruise between Albufeira and Vilamoura.
Perhaps you'd prefer a boat trip with the focus on bird watching and nature in the Ria Formosa Natural Park area, which will give you plenty to tell your friends about. Or maybe you'd prefer to tell them how you let the wind be your guide and slipped between the peninsulas, islets and channels of the Ria Formosa lagoon, or reached Santa Maria Cape on Deserta Island, and discovered a vast sandy expanse covered with vegetation and a fine ocean beach with crystal clear waters.
TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
Where to stay
Pousadas of Portugal, Portugal's network of state-run hotels, has three establishments in the Algarve: The Pousada do Infante, in Sagres, the Graça Convent, in Tavira; and Estoi Palace in Faro. Also highly recommended are the Sheraton Algarve Hotel perched high atop a cliff in Albufeira, and the CS São Rafael Suite Hotel, a five-star resort for the whole family near the Praia de São Rafael and the city of Albufeira.