Algarve - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I like to think of myself as a traveler and not a tourist. A tourist brings home tacky dishtowels and snow globes, drinks a dozen or more Watneys Red Barrel in one sitting, never greets a local in their tongue and more than likely, leaves with a parting gift of a STD. If this sounds like you, there are a few towns in the Algarve that you will love! Think of it this way, Nashville, Tennessee became the hen/bachelorette night capital of the world because they know how to deliver a good time not because it's the country music center of the world or that it has become a foodie destination.
The Algarve is kind of like that too. They know that sunshine, beaches and booze are the recipe for a fun day and night. It almost seems inconsequential that the miles of beaches, breathtaking caves and cliffs, the delightful food and the people are second seat. One of the towns we visited, Lagos, on first blush seems like a party city and perhaps it can be but this is a city that is steeped in history. One must look a little deeper in Lagos. Weave your way through their intricate little streets among traditional homes. Walk the seashore along a beautiful promenade. You will find that Lagos has a lot to offer beyond nightlife.
We had two terrific meals in Lagos, Mar d'Estorias and Arribale. We would highly recommend both. We also sat outside at a Apulian restaurant, Scartuccio Pucceria, having drinks and their hospitality was spot on (and their pizza looked amazing).
Albufeira is what it seems like, a place to rage. And it's too bad that its town beach and marina area are somewhat overlooked but I suppose it's not why folks visit Albufeira. Our opinion may also be tainted by the restaurant that stiffed us. Castelo do Mar took a reservation for six and when we showed up at the appointed time, they were closed.
I will say this, if you're looking for a place to just chill, our AirBnB in Albufeira could not be more spectacular. You can sit on this deck morning, noon and night and be happy. Check it out here
There are many 4 & 5 star locations in the Algarve but we can only report back that we checked them out and didn't stay. Quinta do Lago is truly a magnificent property. It is self contained with many restaurants, bars, spas, golf courses and even its own medical center. Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura are 4 star properties that are also self contained but noticeably of a different quality of Quinta do Lago. Keep in mind, Portugal is less expensive than almost anywhere you have ever been. Not only are accommodation prices (5 star for ~€300 per night) less than what you might expect but food and liquor costs are low as well. You can get a wonderful meal with wine for about €25-30.
Our last stop was Tavira and it is a wonderfully quaint town straddling the Gilão River. It is mostly Moorish architecture including a 12 century, 7 arched bridge but you will also find some Roman architectural influences as well. We had our best meal of the trip at a little restaurant called O Tonel that serves traditional Portuguese and Mediterranean dishes. We also stayed at an AirBnB that we loved. Check it out here. Tavira is also a short drive (1 hour) from one of Europe's finest small cities, Seville in Spain.
There is truly something for everyone in the Algarve but if you tend to be a traveler and not a tourist, be careful of the crossfire.