Where Life’s a Beach
The Algarve literally translates to "The West" in Portuguese, which is odd since it's the southernmost region of Portugal. For locals and sun-worshipping Europeans, The Algarve is the place to holiday with a bounty of beaches, rum-running resorts and picturesque towns that run the gamut from sleepy fishing village to party central. You can still find sugary stretches of sand still untouched by development if you want to get away from the 12 million people who visit The Algarve each year.
Let's start with the most visited: Lagos has plenty of beaches, bars, restaurants, hotels and parties – especially in summer. This is where the young and beautiful come to play. One of the world's most photographed beaches, Dona Ana is surrounded by gorgeous rock formations that take on shapes: a birthday cake and the sphynx to name a couple. For those who feel the need to repent for knocking down too much port, visit the Igreja de Santa Antonio church. Plain on the outside, the interior is a richly-gilded extravaganza. Blue-and-white azulejos – Portugal's famous tiles- fill every inch of the nave.
Today's capital is Faro, and it definitely leaves the impression that you are actually in Portugal, as opposed to a resort town. Most just "land" here and then rail off to one of the "beachier" towns. But there's enough to do here to occupy a day. The preserved medieval quarter has a vibrant nightlife, and holds what may be the most macabre church in Europe: The Bone Chapel. Carmelite monks built the Capela de Ossos by displacing a cemetery that was here, so the bones were salvaged and recycled. Artistically arranged in tidy rows, arm and leg bones frame the entire chapel interior, while hundreds of spooky skulls greet visitors.
Looking for that sleepy fishing village? Tavira is a classic, set along side the Rio Gilão. With a history dating back to the Romans, you'll find the requisite ruins of a castle, an old Roman bridge and Gothic churches. Stroll the cobbled streets, stopping at cafes, enjoying the authentic atmosphere. Head to the port to watch fisherman take stock of their daily catch.
After sightseeing, head to the parish of Vila Nova de Milfontes. Established in 1468, the village was frequently attacked by pirates and a fortress, commonly called Saint Clement's Castle, was built in 1602. There is plenty to protect here – with its fine beaches, clear water and incredible natural beauty including coves hiding small waterfalls.
For an all-out party, Albufeira is the largest resort in the Algarve. "The Strip," near the Montechoro section of town, is known for its bars, cafes, clubs and frenetic energy. The Old Town has its share of drinking holes, too.
It may be best to end your trip of Bacchanalia at Sagres Point. This shelf-like promontory lies a few miles from Cape St. Vincent, which is usually taken as the southwestern-most tip of Europe. Also home to a fortress and a plaque honoring Henry the Navigator (known for initiating European exploration), this is the continent's dead end.
Breathing in the salty air of the Atlantic is the perfect salve after your vacation in the wild "west" of Portugal with a Eurail Portugal Pass.
Contributed by: Melanie, Marketing Project Manager, French American with Swedish and Italian origins, who comes from the Entertainment business and truly believes that traveling by train is the best entertainment experience ever!