The Algarve’s wild western coast
The fishing village of Salema is located in the heart of the western Algarve – an historic and unspoilt region just waiting to be explored. The western Algarve is under one hour’s drive from Faro Airport, but it could be a world apart from the central Algarve. From the gentle and secluded coves around Salema to the remote wild shores of the west coast, pounded by the full force of the Atlantic and a surfer’s paradise, this is like no other part of Portugal. The western Algarve surrenders to the power of the Atlantic. It is all about nature and not about development.
The western Algarve. In summary
To the east of the western Algarve lie the historic ports of Portimao and Lagos. To the north are the cork forests and mountains of Monchique. To the south is the ocean, with Africa beyond. To the west is the wild western coast and Cape St Vincent, the most southwesterly point in continental Europe. Once off the beaten track, the western Algarve is tranquil and un-commercialised, where time genuinely seems to have stood still. The coastline varies from remote beaches and picturesque fishing villages to historic ports steeped in maritime tradition. Inland, the rolling countryside is speckled with quaint hamlets where the highlight of the week is the traditional open-air market, where local folk gather to buy and sell their fresh produce and wares.
Only a 15-minute drive to the east from Salema is Lagos. Its ancient maze of cobbled streets bustles with pavement restaurants, cafés bars and stylish shops. With a seafaring tradition dating back to the 15th century, Lagos was the base of Henry the Navigator before he set out on his voyages of discovery. The ancient walls are steeped with history, yet Lagos is also a vibrant town full of life, which goes on into the early hours! Tradition co-exists happily with the elegant new marina, positioned between the old town and one of the longest beaches on the Algarve, Meia Praia.
Sagres and Cape St Vincent
Right out to the west and only a 15-minute drive from Salema is the port of Sagres and the spectacular headland of Cape St Vincent, the most south westerly point in continental Europe. The ancient mariners, including Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson, passed by here on their voyages of exploration and called this the end of the world! Sagres became the headquarters for Prince Henry the Navigator in the 15th century. Here he assembled the best seafaring heads in Europe to push back the frontiers of the known world before he sailed west to discover the ‘New World’ on the other side of the Atlantic. It can be a powerful sensation to sit quietly on the westerly cliff top at sunset and almost hear the hissing as the sun settles into the sea.
Situated in the foothills of the Serra de Monchique, Silves was once a city of glittering minarets, bustling bazaars and the Moorish capital of the Algarve. It has the best-preserved castle in the entire region and was the scene of horrific medieval battles between Christians and Islamic Moors. Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land played an important role in the re conquest of the Algarve in the 13th century. A few of those who fell in battle are entombed in the cathedral next to the castle.
Today, Silves is a quiet market town in the midst of the Algarve’s main citrus growing and cork processing area. The town has a lively market, lovely shops and two festivals each year celebrating oranges and beer!
Inland from Salema is Monchique, a small market town set in beautiful hills and forests of cork oaks. Here the air is cooler, and the journey up into the hills makes a nice break from the hot coast during the summer months. You will see cork oak trees where the bark has been cut away with the cork piled up to dry. The shops are full of local produce, including baskets, rough woollen sweaters, soft leather slippers, honey and medronho the local firewater!
Six kilometres south and 300m below Monchique is the spa village of Caldas de Monchique, nestling in a beautiful wooded ravine surrounded by cork, oak, pine and eucalyptus trees. This is a haven of tranquillity and has been a spa for over 2000 years, where you can swim in the famous spring water. Eight kilometres above Monchique is the rocky summit of Foia, Algarve’s highest point at 900m. The winding road up to Foia is lined by restaurants famous for their barbecued chicken piri-piri.
Is the largest town in the western Algarve and has been an important port since ancient times. It is well worth visiting to see fish, particularly sardines, being landed. A relaxed lunch with fresh grilled sardines is a memorable highlight. There is also a fantastic regional market selling everything from hairpins to horses.
Is a small market town, dominated by the ruins of a Moorish castle is in the north west of the Algarve. There are several really spectacular, unspoilt surfing beaches in the vicinity, along with beautiful lush valleys.