FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Algarve: Sunny Disposition

Oct 1, 2010
2010 / October 2010

The Algarve is a renowned golf destination, but I didn’t come to golf. I came for the beaches, the cafés, the castles, the history and the pottery. And I found them all in abundance.

Blessed with more than 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, Portugal’s southernmost region has long been a favorite vacation destination for European travelers. More recently, it’s gaining a foothold among North Americans seeking fun in the sun.

Stretching from Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east, on the banks of the Guadiana River separating Portugal from Spain, to Cape St. Vincent in the west, on the Atlantic Ocean, the Algarve comprises 2,090 square miles. It’s a long, thin, horizontal region with almost 100 miles of east-west coastline, less than 25 miles across at its widest point north to south.

The Algarve’s mild Mediterranean climate — warm, dry summers and moderate winters — serves to enhance its reputation as a mecca for year-round relaxation. And while the warm summer weather draws vacationers in droves (the population swells from an estimated 400,000 permanent residents to well over a million during the height of the tourist season), the sunny days and just-cool-enough evenings of spring and fall may be a better fit for travelers who’d rather avoid long lines and boisterous crowds.

My visit in early May offered the perfect climate for soaking up rays on the beach (and on dramatic cliffs overlooking the sea), exploring historic villages and sipping delightful Portuguese wine while toasting the sunset over the Atlantic.

I arrived in Faro after a pleasant overnight flight followed by a lengthy layover in Lisbon. Having never been to Portugal, I wasn’t familiar with Lisbon Portela Airport, but I’m not usually stymied by airport traffic patterns. This time, though, the airport threw me for a loop. Signage was almost non-existent as I circled the lobby after clearing customs and immigration. Few shops or kiosks were open for the day at the early-morning hour of my arrival, but I eventually found a merchant who, after clearly trying to avoid my approach, softened when I asked, using my few words of Portuguese, where to find the connecting flight to Faro. She pointed upstairs and out. I followed her directions and found myself on the curb without a clue until I spotted a tiny sign designating the bus stop for transportation to the domestic terminal.

True: I’m a travel professional and a bit of pre-trip research would have helped me avoid my temporary confusion. I mention my experience now only because I later discovered I was not alone in my puzzlement. João Máximo, a native of Portugal and the director of sales and marketing at Vila Vita Parc in Porches, commiserated when I confessed my tale of woe, then unabashedly admitted he, too, had fallen victim to the confusing airport system.

Upon returning home from a Las Vegas trade show a few weeks prior, he and an associate relaxed contentedly while waiting for their connection to Faro only to discover, much too late, that they had missed their flight because they failed to realize the domestic terminal was in a different building. The “new” domestic terminal was built in 2007, but confusion still reigns supreme. Forewarned is forearmed.

But I digress.

Faro International Airport is a traveler-friendly facility with easy-access rental car locations. Within minutes of arrival, I was on the road, heading west toward Porches. In the interest of time, and with jetlag settling in, I opted for the quickest route. Motorway A22, completed in 2003, replaced the scenic EN125 as the primary east-west route through the Algarve, reducing travel time significantly. Today, it’s possible to travel from Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Lagos (just a bit shy of the region’s westernmost point) in under an hour.

There’s a time for efficiency, and there’s a time for wandering. I was in a get-there-fast frame of mind, so I decided EN125 could wait until the next day.

Porches is a small town often overlooked on maps. A short drive south of the historic town of Silves, it is, in some ways, a suburb of Armação de Pêra. Both began as villages focused on seafaring ventures, but while Porches remained true to its heritage as it embraced the benefits of tourism, Armação de Pêra took a more direct route, in effect bulldozing the old to embrace the new.

This is a tale of two cities.

I arrived in Porches to set up shop at Vila Vita Parc, a 5-star resort property set on cliffs high above the Atlantic Ocean. The approach to the hotel was mainly residential, so I assumed I was in a fairly quiet area. The following day, I woke to a glorious sunrise and decided to take a stroll along the cliff walk. I was enjoying the oceanfront solitude when a turn in the path revealed a city of high-rises I couldn’t quite connect to my location: a mirage of sorts. That afternoon I asked José Vila-Nova, head butler at Vila Vita Parc, about my vision.

He shrugged sheepishly. “A mistake of the ’80s.”

Maybe. Maybe not. The high-rise metropolis, deserted in early May, was once a sleepy fishing village. At some point in the not-too-distant past, the powers that be decided the fishing village could become a profitable vacation destination. For three months each year, Armação de Pêra overflows with tourists who flock to its pristine beaches. While the high-rises preside over the landscape, a bit of the old Pêra remains readily accessible for visitors who are willing to stroll a wee bit off the beaten path to discover winding streets still lined with open-air cafés.

Due to its location on the world map, the Algarve has long been a center of dispute. Through the ages, Phoenicians, Romans and Moors have ruled the territory, all vying to own its rights to the sea. It’s the base from which Henry the Navigator initiated his 15th-century exploration of the New World. Among all of its influences, the Moorish character remains most evident in its architecture — tiled roofs, whitewashed houses and minaret-like chimneys.

Silves, a short drive north of Porches and Armação de Pêra, is a perfect example. (It’s also interesting to note that Armação de Pêra is part of the Silves district, so there exists a balance between the old and the new.) Evidence suggests the hillside village dates to 1000 B.C., but its heyday is traced to the early 11th century when, during a Moorish occupation, it became an important center of commerce.

Visitors today wander the narrow cobblestone streets, usually heading up, up, up until they reach the ruins of the town’s Moorish castle. Reopened to the public following a $1.5 million restoration that includes signage, a café and a guest information area, the castle ruins are now one of the town’s major historic points. Others include a 13th-century cathedral, located just a short walk from the castle; an archaeological museum housing items dating back to the Stone Age; and Ponte Romana, a Roman-era bridge rebuilt from the original in the 15th century. Take in the sights, then stroll through the town, stopping along the way to check out shops or grab a cold drink at one of the many outdoor cafés.

For a different point of view, head inland to the town of Monchique. Located in the Serra de Monchique between two peaks — Foia and Picota — Monchique is about as far away from the Algarve’s beach culture as you can get. The relatively quiet village centers on a small town square with narrow hillside streets radiating from the hub like spokes on a wheel, lined with shops and cafés. The drive to Monchique reveals panoramic vistas of the landscape and ocean at every twist and turn. For an even more dramatic view once you arrive, climb to the now-unoccupied 17th-century Franciscan monastery high above the town.

On a clear day — and it’s almost always sunny in the Algarve — you’ll be able to see all the way to the coast.


Lodging

Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa

Just a 20-minute drive from Faro International Airport, hotel highlights include expansive swimming pools with cascading waterfalls and its proximity to the Pinhal Golf Course. Rua da Torre d Agua Lote 4.11.1B, Vilamoura, tel 351 289 304000, $$$$

Sheraton Algarve Hotel

With Moorish architecture spread across 72 cliff-top acres, the hotel resembles an Algarve village, with breathtaking ocean views, nine restaurants, three swimming pools and five tennis courts. Praia da Falesia, Albufeira 8200-909, tel 351 289 500100, $$$-$$$$

Vila Vita Parc

This exquisite 5-star seaside oasis of well-placed guestrooms, suites and villas features fine dining, a spa, several swimming pools and a secluded beach grotto. P-8400-450 Porches, tel 351 282 310100, $$$$


Dining

Arte Náutica

The beach-shack ambience of this oceanfront eatery belies its reputation for succulent seafood and authentic Portuguese specialties. In warm weather, request outside deck seating. Armação de Pêra Beach, Armação de Pêra, tel 351 282 314875 $$–$$$$

Caniço

Talk about a dramatic entrance! An elevator transports guests from the clifftops above a scenic cove to the beachfront venue serving Portuguese-influenced Mediterranean cuisine March to November. Praia dos Três Irmãos, Alvor 8500-072, tel 351 282 458503, $$-$$$

Porches Velho

Housed in a 200-year-old wine cellar, Porches Velho remains true to its Portuguese heritage with traditional cuisine and fado performances every Friday night. Rua da Praça 8400-477, Porches-Lagoa, tel 351 282 381692, $$–$$$

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

#globility

Insta Feed
Daily
Jun 30, 2022

London’s Historic Wiltons Celebrates 280th Birthday with Exclusive Dining Experience

First opened in 1742 by George William Wilton, a seller of oysters, shrimp and cockles near Haymarket in London, Wiltons continued drawing diners with its delicious food for more than two centuries. This summer, Wiltons celebrates its 280th birthday and its place as one of London’s most beloved fine-dining establishments with a unique dining experience.

Los Cabos Sets Your Vacation Apart
from the Rest

Whether you prefer a villa on the beach or an ultra-luxe suite downtown, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in Los Cabos.

Daily
Jun 30, 2022

New EDITION Reykjavik Offers City’s First Luxury Lodging

Resting on the edge of Reykjavik’s Old Harbour next to the soaring, sparkling glass edifice of Harpa concert hall and conference center, the brand-new Reykjavik EDITION brings a new level of swish lodging to Iceland’s capital city. Steps from Laugavegur — the city’s main shopping street — and an easy walk to a wide selection of museums, restaurants and cafés, the newly opened hotel delivers high on luxury and service in a location ideal for becoming fully engaged in the energy of this spirited capital city.

Daily
Jun 30, 2022

OMNIYAT, Dorchester Collection Break Ground on AVA at Palm Jumeirah

Recently, more than 345 million people globally watched OMNIYAT light up the sky for the launch of AVA at Palm Jumeirah, Dorchester Collection, Dubai thanks to more than 500 drones. Now, OMNIYAT will once again illuminate the sky with one light to signify the groundbreaking of AVA at Palm Jumeirah Dorchester Collection, Dubai.

Celebrity is celebrating Spring with 25% off Cruise Fares!

There’s no better time to plan the vacation you’ve been missing. Step aboard with your better half, your friends or the whole family and reconnect, reunite and rejoice with 25 percent off cruise fares for all guests. We’ll also help everyone get there with 25 percent off airfare from 20 major gateways across the country or $100 savings per person on flights from all other gateways when you book your air travel using Flights by Celebrity.*

Daily
Jun 29, 2022

Luxurious Getaway at Ocean Casino Resort

Enjoy a relaxing getaway at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City. Whether your visit is for business or leisure, the resort offers a variety of amenities and programming.

eFlyer Deals
Jun 29, 2022

Sip & Savory Offer at Palacio Provincial in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

In time for summer, the recently opened Palacio Provincial hotel in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, launched a new exploration-driven offer. The Sip & Savory Summer offer includes a mixology tour for two adults, a sweet or savory welcome amenity and a hotel-branded gift.

Discover a Journey Filled with Wonder in 2022

ISN’T IT TIME? It's time to treat yourself to the vacation you deserve, and Celebrity Cruises® offers the perfect escapes. With an award-winning fleet of ships that sail to more than 300 destinations around the world, Celebrity will take you almost anywhere you want to go in style. Enjoy stunning staterooms and suites, culinary experiences imagined by Michelin-starred chefs and intuitive service. Celebrity makes sure your vacation is effortless from the start, which is why drinks, WiFi and tips are Always IncludedSM on every sailing.

Daily
Jun 29, 2022

Monticello NY Opens Art Space Center in Former 1940s Buick Showroom

Monticello, New York, population 6,400, is an old Catskill town in Sullivan County that thrived from the 1950s–70s, with hundreds of country resorts. Although the town lies just a two-hour drive from Manhattan's cultural attractions, Monticello always seemed light years away in terms of cultural ambiance.